A Digital Subscriber’s Pain

Our lives are inevitably moving towards the online. On average, every US consumer had 12 digital subscriptions in 2020. But there's a subtle pain associated with this..

A Digital Subscriber’s Pain

Our first customer interview for the SEO tool we are building surfaced unexpected pains of small business owners when it comes to digital subscription services.

I co-founded a CRM company in 2018 to improve the experience while booking appointments for dentists and beauty salon owners.

I could not have been more naive while working on this product. We had one early customer, a close friend of my co-founder. If I look back at it, simply putting it out this way and this first customer fails The Mom Test.

But we ignored that. We worked tirelessly throughout 2018 getting the technology up. Ruby on Rails, Bootstrap, React, End to End testing. We had it all. Or, to be honest, we had nothing. We had one customer who was too kind to give us any piece of negative advice.

We spent 2019 frustrating over why we fail to get any new active users. We promised ourselves we’ll never make this mistake again.

Entering 2020 — post lockdown. Dentist and Beauty Salons are even more cash-strapped than before the March-April lockdown and we kind of took the hint. We started looking elsewhere.

We realized that none of the founders was passionate about building CRMs. We were much more passionate about data analysis and AI. We then decided to venture in the land of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

In doing this, we decided to spend as much time as humanly possible talking to prospective customers. This piece of advice from Stephen Fry (the founder of Podia) was particularly inspiring with regards to how much customer feedback we should get at this early stage.

Our very first customer interview was an unexpected joy. We chatted with a US-based photographer who was looking at expanding her business to a new market. She wants to teach photographers how to get a great digital presence.

SEO is just one small slice of the pie


Early on in the interview, we learned that, although she was heavily invested in digital (using digital marketing, blogging constantly and performing keyword research), she acknowledged that SEO was just a tiny slice of the pie for her.

As a small business owner, she needed to find the most affordable acquisition channel. Surprisingly, it was the word of mouth that yielded the best results for her. Digital marketing was next (probably because it yielded immediate results). Content marketing was the last channel on her list. To split the Content Marketing even more thinly, paying for SEO tools (including keyword analysis tools, On-Page SEO Tools) was not the top of the list.

Our prospective customer was distraught about picking a paid SEO tool. ‘They are all so expensive’ she said. She would probably use that tool once or twice per week. It would not make sense for her to pay about $100 per month, considering that content marketing is not a top priority for her overall business.

We asked if she would be interested to use an SEO tool that’s Pay-per-use, she said ‘Absolutely’. ‘I’m only interested in booking an Uber, not renting a car’.

Most services start as free. As they grow the free offering shrinks.


During this interview, she confessed that she used all the free SEO and Keyword analytics tools out there.

There was one thing that she talked about which stuck with us. She’s been using some of those free tools as soon as they were launched. Almost always, these tools would eventually grow and more features and bump the pricing.

The free tool they used to offer is called a Lead Magnet. A Lead Magnet is used to attract the customer with an offering (usually a freebie) and get the user to perform a certain action. An example would be a webpage where you can input your website domain and you get a keyword analysis report back. The catch is that the webpage might ask for your e-mail to deliver your report.

This was somewhat close to what our user complained about. She told us that there were a few free tools she was using where they started shrinking the offering. They went from displaying 5 suggested keywords to just 3 and a ‘Read more’ link that prompts you to register.

These services are too aggressive wanting me to upgrade to the paid version.


We continued our conversation about the issues she was having with the existing solutions. The very next thing that popped up was that even the services with a free offering were constantly prompting her to upgrade.

Be it through pop-ups, inline messages hidden behind ‘Read more’ links or e-mails, the entire experience is daunting.

All businesses are for profit. It is highly unlikely that adding more prompts for a user to upgrade to the paid version would actually increase the conversion rate by a lot.

Our interview might spare you the effort of trying to understand one of the fundamental desires of modern digital subscribers. Most of them are willing to pay money for their subscriptions (on average, millennials have 17 digital subscriptions), but they want to use products that feel human.

If you are reading this, you are most likely either building a product of your own or have an interest in doing so. I’ll save you some time by telling you what your users want. They don’t want to feel used or coerced into buying your product.

To my experience so far, the worst thing you can do is to trick your potential customer into buying your product. If your ‘Read more’ button prompts the user to register or buy your product, you are doing it wrong.

You might end up with more sales than without using the trap. But in the end, customer satisfaction could lead to word-of-mouth references, backlinks through blog posts and social media shares if people are ecstatic with your product.

Just be human and treat your customers well.

We are building an ethical company at SEOly. Follow our journey here.

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