In this episode of Digital Marketing Madness, Meghan Williams discusses how to go about sharing content that’s hidden behind a paywall, including why you might want to share paywall content in the first place, and the best ways to share that content while providing value for your readers.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and this is “Digital Marketing Madness.” This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in the Boston, Massachusetts area, and today my guest is Meghan Williams. Welcome, Meghan.
Meghan Williams: Hi John.
How Do Paywalls Make Sharing Content Challenging?
John: Megan, today we’re talking about how and why to share content that’s behind a paywall. Why don’t you start off by explaining what a paywall is, and how they make curating content a little bit difficult?
Meghan: Sure. I’m sure we’ve all run into paywalls all over the Internet. There are lots of ways to make money online, and one of them is to charge people a subscription fee to access your content. That’s what we refer to as a paywall.
John: We sometimes see that with some of the bigger newspapers that have content online and things like that. They make you subscribe.
Meghan: Right. For example, I’m sure we’re all on 8 out of 10 free “New York Times” articles because it’s almost the end of October, and that’s how they try to hook you in and get you to pay to access more of their content.
That’s great for The New York Times or for major news publications. They’re trying to make money and that’s awesome, but it makes it difficult when you’re trying to keep your social media feed or your blog fresh with timely, relevant news because you want to link to those articles.
But if you do and one of the visitors to your site goes to click through it, they may just get hit with the paywall and not be able to read what you linked to.
John: For example, if you were going to write a blog post that was commenting about an article that was in The New York Times and then you linked to that article in The New York Times, people might click that link and then they don’t actually see the article. They just see “Log in here” or something like that.
Meghan: Exactly. We run into this with some of our legal clients. They’re law firms who have subscriptions to different publications. They want to share an interesting article or an article that they were featured in or an article maybe one of their partners wrote for that publication with their social following or with the blog.
But then that law firm goes to share that content and nobody who’s reading their blog has a subscription to that niche legal magazine.
John: Right. Maybe other lawyers might, but not their clients or whatever.
Meghan: Right. Then “what do you do”, is the question.
Should You Share Content That’s Behind A Paywall?
John: OK. So should you share content that’s behind a paywall, then?
Meghan: Yes, and the answer is for multiple different reasons that we were just talking about. Most of a law firm’s audience isn’t going to have access to that specific magazine, but maybe they do. Maybe some lawyers are in your audience and they do have access and so they’ll click through your link and get the content you’re sharing.
John: It’s worth sharing for those people that do have a subscription?
Meghan: Or maybe there are people in your audience who may decide they want a subscription and they didn’t know about this source of news until you shared it and then they realized that they would love to subscribe to that. That’s also good.
The third reason is that you should always give credit to your sources. The Internet is all about sharing, so if you’re talking about being featured somewhere or some news story that’s happening, it’s just good practice to link back to it.
Even if it is behind a paywall, that’s OK. The way to mitigate that with your users is just to let them know that “I’m linking to this article, but you’re going to have to pay to access it, so maybe just stay here and I’ll give you the gist and it’ll be fine.”
I’ve seen bloggers will link to a PDF and they’ll put in parentheses after the hyperlink text “(PDF),” so then you know it might trigger a download of a PDF or it’s going to take you to a different kind of page.
John: It’s sort of just fair warning to let people know when you click on this link you’re not just going to get another page, you’re going to get this document that’s going to try to download on your computer.
Meghan: Exactly. Then you avoid the issue of having users who are on your website and then they’re unhappy that you’re linking to content they can’t access, and so they stop following you and your website.
John: It could be as simple as just having the link and then having in parentheses afterwards the publication that you’re getting that link from, and then a little note that says…
Meghan: Like, “Subscription required,” or something like that.
John: …Yeah, subscription required. Good idea.
Meghan: That’s good. The other thing is to add value, which is what we’re going to talk about next.
How To Add Value For Your Reading Audience
John: So how do you add value for your audience when you’re linking to content that’s behind a paywall?
Meghan: The point here is that the reason that your audience is subscribing to you, your blog, following you on Twitter, following you on Facebook, and maybe not this news source that you’re linking to, is because they like what you have to say.
Just because this is a relevant topic for them doesn’t mean that they’d rather have read it somewhere else. They’re following you to hear your take, your angle, and get more information from you in your voice.
My recommendation to somebody who’s trying to share content that’s behind a paywall that the users aren’t going to have access to is two things. Quote liberally. Take big chunks of text out in block quotes. That can be helpful. Not too big, because then nobody will read them.
John: Right, and you’re going to get into some copyright issues there, perhaps, or maybe some duplicate content issues.
Meghan: Yep, that’s true too.
John: You can use those quotes from that document. If you’re a lawyer, then you probably know exactly how much you can use. [laughs]
Meghan: Exactly. The second thing is to add context. You have a nice chunk of quote, you take a big chunk of the article out and you say that and then you add value to it afterwards by explaining what they’re talking about or giving some additional context based on your personal experience or your experience at your firm.
Other historical cases that are relevant that aren’t mentioned in the article.
Those are all the kinds of things that people are coming to you for, so that’s what you should worry about instead of “Should I share this content or not?” Always share it. It’s always worthwhile to share it. Then the key is to really add that value.
John: At the very least, like you said, you’re letting your audience know that “Hey, I was featured in this article” or “I wrote this article” or something like that. Just the fact that you’re letting your audience know that, they immediately go, “Oh, that’s great. That person was featured in this publication.” It’s a trust factor right off the bat anyway whether they read the article or not.
It really comes down to — really, a good content strategy, in general, is just to find news items, things that are out there or other people’s articles that they’ve written, and then using some quotes of that article but then you add a lot of your own comments.
Make it a discussion, so you’re saying, “Hey, I just read this cool article over here that was by so‑and‑so. Here’s what they said. But here’s my take on it.
John: Maybe I think a little bit differently or maybe I totally agree with what they said. But here’s my take on it and I’m going to write a few paragraphs about my response to this other article,” or yeah, maybe you did get quoted in this article, in this publication, but maybe you have more to say.
John: Write another couple of paragraphs and add to it and add to that discussion and that’s going to be really interesting to your audience as opposed to just saying, “Hey, I was featured over here. Here’s the link.”
That really doesn’t add a whole lot of value. You’re just sharing a link.
Meghan: Exactly. In the sense of a paywall, they’re not even going to be able to read what you’re sharing. I think that in the future there’s going to be more and more of those paywalls out there. You’re going to have to subscribe. You can’t get content for free forever.
It’s good practice to think about how to not just throw links at your audience, but provide that context, which you can even do on Twitter. Even if you only have a hundred characters plus a link you can still provide a ton of value in just a quick snippet of what you think, instead of just saying “Check this out” or one word.
You can provide a little bit more value there and that’s really going to help you build a following, and people who aren’t just casually following you but who look forward to what you’re going to share next.
John: Because they’re interested in you and they’re interested in your opinions and they’re interested in knowing about what makes you tick and “what are the things that you like”, because you seem to be a good curator of really good content that’s out there on the Internet and some people are going to follow you for that reason.
John: That’s great information, Megan. Thanks for talking with me today.
Meghan: Thank you so much, John.
John: For more information about digital marketing visit McDougall Interactive.com and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher. We’ll see you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.