Contributed by: Don WinnerBy DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - As you might have noticed I'm working out the bugs on how to take this website behind what's known as a "pay wall."
Meaning, starting on 1 December 2012, only paying subscribers will be able to read the full text of the articles published on this website.
As a result of this decision, I'm facing the same dilemmas as every other news organization that's taken the same step - and there are several important issues to consider.
First of all and most importantly, no one is going to pay $20 (cheap) for an annual subscription unless they know in their hearts and minds that the articles and information being published on the other side of the "pay wall" are well worth the price of admission.
Thankfully, in my case, I've been building up a dedicated reader base for more than eight years, and you guys "know me" and my website. So, to a certain extent, the sales pitch has already been done.
So, in that context, the first and most important element to consider are the readers themselves. Quality must remain high and consistent. Production levels must be maintained in terms of frequency and volume. Panama Guide will still be the absolute best place for English speakers to fill their clue bag, with regards to current events in the Republic of Panama. And the overall experience has to be valuable, easy, and painless.
The next issue to be considered are my existing advertisers. Moving the website behind a "pay wall" will almost certainly result in a short term drop in macro traffic levels - that's the bad news. The good news is that, on the other side of the "pay wall", paying subscribers have demonstrated they are highly motivated to keep reading this website. I suspect there will be a short term drop off as the cheapskates who are not willing to part with $20 bucks go wandering off in a huff, to read something else (of lessor quality). Then a new plateau or base level will be established, and after that traffic levels will once again begin to grow and rise over the long term, in a strategic sense. I've proven I can attract a 30% increase in traffic levels in terms of year-on-year growth with a free site. Let's see what I can do with this paid model. As long as the advertisers continue to get a good return on their investment, they'll continue to place their ads on this website.
And consider this - the people who are too "frugal" to pay the $20 annual subscription fee are also those who are least likely to patronize the businesses and services being promoted by advertisers on this website. While those who are willing to pay the subscription fee are the most likely to contact a real estate agent or a lawyer, check out a restaurant, or use a hotel they see advertised. So in that respect, this move will create a sort of "upgrade" to the quality of the readership.
The next issue to be considered are the search engines and SEO. In order to stay relevant, the search engines have to be able to know what's on your website.
To put the technical details in a nutshell, I am now going to be putting up two articles for every article published on this website. The difference will be in their content (what they contain), and which users can see what.
The first article will be visible to the general public, and Google. It will contain the Title (only) of the article, and the first line of the text (only). Behind the scenes this article will also contain what's know as a "meta description" and keywords, which tell Google what's in there. So, anyone who is not a subscriber will be able to get an idea of what's in the full body of the article. These articles will contain a link to the full version, as well as an invitation to subscribe.
Those people who are paid subscribers or "Members" will be able to see the full body of the article - which will actually be published in a whole different article.
And here's the truly elegant part. Paying subscribers who log on to the website will not even be able to see the "intro only" articles. The only thing you will have to do is log on (once) when you first arrive at the website. No further action is required, and you can surf like normal. No muss, no fuss.
I like this setup, very much. Here's a test that I put up this morning. If you are not logged on to your Panama Guide user account, you should be able to see this article: EU and Illegal Fishing Boats Flying Panama Flag (Test Article) and read it like normal. You will see the title, first line, the invitation to subscribe, and the other stuff I wrote below as comments on the test. If you click on the link in that article to try to read it without first logging on, you will be returned to the home page (rejected).
However, people who have first logged in on their Panama Guide will only be able to see the full blown article - EU and Illegal Fishing Boats Flying Panama Flag. Notice, if you're logged on, you won't be able to see the first article (test version) because it's invisible to logged in members who are paying subscribers.
Once you've paid for your subscription, all of this stuff is behind you. Just log on, surf, read, and enjoy your day.
Also, Members can set their preferences. I think right now anyone who logs in will stay logged in for up to eight hours, unless they decide to log off. That will make it easier for people who like to check the website several times during the day. Just log on once when you first open the website.
Of course all of this will create more work for me to keep things separate. No problem. I'm sure that once I get the details worked out, I will be able to plug the repetitive script into a hotkey, and I'll be slapping these puppies out like nothing.
I'm still consulting with the Geeks on the Hill to figure out the best way to get from here to there. This solution sounded like the best so far, and in fact I like it very much in practice. It will probably add a minute or two per article, something I can easily deal with. No problem at all.
The behind the scenes nuts and bolts of the Content Management System (CMS) would take come custom programming to be able to do the same thing in a more efficient manner, and that's what I'm exploring right now. There are people in this world who have really, really big brains out there who do these sorts of things for a living. But I don't want to get too custom, because that will bite me later.
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know what I've been doing for the past couple of days to move this change to the paid subscription model forward. I really appreciate all of you who immediately subscribed. Thank you very much. Please continue to play around with things over the next couple of weeks. Get used to signing in to your account when surfing this website. Readers are going to be divided into two groups - those who are paying subscribers, and those who are not, and that will be decided by logging on. In the coming days I'm going to purge all 5,000+ user accounts that do not belong to paying subscribers.
Anyway, I'm proceeding on into the future. I've been running this website for more than eight years now. Along the way I've experimented with practically every business model out there, and created a few new ones of my own. I've made this decision, and now I'll be living with the consequences - both good and bad. I have confidence in myself and my work ethic. But most importantly I have faith in my regular followers, readers, and fans - who have proven themselves over the years to be the best in the world. So yeah, sure, there are elements of risk. But I'm not worried - sometimes you just have to jump and trust that the chute will open when you pull the cord...
Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.