Design an effective paywall

Quick tips to help you design a paywall that is right for your product and effective at converting customers into paying ones.
Thumbnail of a mobile simple paywall UI
Thumbnail of a mobile simple paywall UI

Paywalls are the backbone of paid products. They are the critical point that people who potentially want to buy something from you will encounter the option to do so. They should be simple to explore, clear, helpful, and hopefully – exciting.

To design a paywall that will convert your users into paying customers, there are a few important things you should take into account. You'll want to...

  1. Understand your audience
  2. Choose the right paywall model
  3. Clarify any requirements
  4. Observe what others are doing

Let's jump into the first one - understanding your audience, and why that matters.

Understand Your Audience

No two paywalls are the same. Or at least, no two paywalls should be the same. Knowing, or at least having some idea, of who you're designing for is important.

I won't spend time going into the importance of user research, defining personas, or mapping user journeys right now, but what is important to know is that different people respond differently to different things.

Mind-blowing, I know.

But the crux of this is that, as a user, your state of mind and self-image describe exactly if a paywall will speak to you or not. And speaking to you means conveying if you're in the right place, that this is value worth paying for, and that you'll feel good and not like crap after giving someone else your money.

And this effect will source differently for different people.

Imagine, for example, two different people: the busy executive assistant purchasing a private jet service for their ego-driven boss, and a stay-at-home parent signing up for a grocery delivery service.

Think about their motivations. What's important to them? And crucially, when they're evaluating their purchase, how do they want it to make them feel?

When you begin to answer those questions for your audience, it becomes clear that recycling designs will come with varying mileage.

Designing effectively is important. And for paid products, the paywall is where it's at. It's you, the person who has something valuable to sell, meeting the customer in the exact moment that they may want to purchase something valuable from you. And in that moment, you'd better be dressed to the 9's. As they say.

So as you move forward in your paywall journey, keep that in mind. When you have an idea of who will be seeing, and evaluating, if your product is worth their money, it's time to choose which model makes sense for your product.

Choose a model

There are a few different types of paywalls that you might use depending on the type of content you're pay-walling and your user behaviors.

In a nutshell, the different models are:

Hard paywall

This type of paywall blocks users from consuming any content before paying. Typically this is most effective for brands that have high user awareness, ie, many of your potential customers will be well aware of and decided-on the value of your paid offering.


In a freemium model, some content is free, and some is paid and locked away. This can be beneficial in that it lets your potential customers "sample" the quality of your product before buying. However, it can also mean that people who are less engaged may never purchase.


Under this model, a user is allowed a certain quanity of content before they are blocked. This likely results in users getting the benefits of a freemium paywall, but with content of their choosing, which may lead to higher pre-purchase engagement, leading to potentially higher overall conversion.


The dynamic model is a form of the metered paywall that behaves uniquely per user. Ie, if the data indicates you're an engaged user, it may trigger a paywall at a different point than if you seem to be less engaged and therefore less likely to purchase down the road if not prompted sooner.

Why it's important

The reason it's important to take stock of your paywall model is that it is a product decision that needs to be made before you start designing, and one that will also most likely very much define success for, and inform, the resulting design.

For the sake of this article, let's assume that the product decisions have been made, and that you've selected your paywall model, and are now just concerned about the presentation of your product offerings.

It's time to figure out exactly what information you need to deal with in the design. The next section will help you identify those requirements, and more importantly, start thinking of questions you'll need to get answers to before you jump into the design.

Clarify requirements

This is where it's helpful to make a list of everything you need in your design.

Questions you might want answers to eventually might include:

  • Are there different product offerings or price tiers with distinct benefits or levels of access?
  • If so, how many are there, and what are they?
  • Are certain product offerings more important than others?
  • Is there existing copy or imagery that is non-negotiable and needs to be included? (for example, legal disclaimers)
  • Are you offering different payment periods? Do they affect the cost (is there a discount for a specific payment period?)
  • Do you know anything about existing customers? For example - which seems to resonate the most with your existing users?
  • If not, which would you imagine might?
  • Is there any functionality you need to feature?

Once you get your requirements as close to crystal clear as possible (there's always some give and take during the design process, but establishing as much of this up front as possible helps streamline things down the road,) you're ready to start designing.

Observe, observe, observe

There are many successful products out there doing things right. While I'm not advocating for copying a design piece for piece, learning and understanding the underlying mechanics of what makes successful paywalls successful is the most effective thing you can do to get an idea of how you should design yours.

Take the pieces that seem to be working well, apply them to your audience and brand, and the result will be something bespoke and effective.

Some paywalls that have created massive success for their companies:

Tinder Gold

Paywall for Tinder Gold that provides multiple options for payment terms, some at a discount
Photo credit: Maverick4840 (reddit)


Paywall for Canva Pro, Canva's premium offering, that describes all the value you'll get for paying
Photo credit:


Paywall for Buzzfeed+ which uses illustrations
Photo credit:

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