First-party data collection strategies for publishers

The triple threat of new privacy regulations, the imminent end of third-party cookies, and the rise of tracking prevention is forcing many publishers to re-think their data collection strategy.

How will ad targeting work on the privacy-first web? Depending on whom you ask, some suggested alternatives include smarter versions of contextual targeting, unified ID solutions, Google Privacy Sandbox, and finally, a pivot to first-party data collection.

Of these, first-party data is the easiest to start with. You already have the audience, all you need is a framework and the tools to start collecting the data. In this guide, we’ll review the strategies that many publishers are already using to enrich their audience segments with first-party data.

First, what is first-party data?

First-party data is any information that is directly collected by publishers from their own audience or customers, this may include:

  • Personal data such as name, age, location, household income, etc.
  • Analytics data such as timestamp, URLs visited, browser, device, etc.
  • Other insights about specific on-site user actions, behavior, and interests
  • Data related to payment and purchase history

Since first-party data is collected directly from your audience and customers, it is generally perceived to be more valuable. Moreover, first-party data is available to you at no cost, as long as you have a first-party data strategy and the right collection tools in place.

Another area where first-party data has an edge is in adhering to newer privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, as you know precisely where the data came from and own it outright.

With third-party cookies nearing the end of their lifecycle and privacy regulations becoming more exacting in what they allow, advertisers will be inclined to buy inventory from publishers who have already laid the groundwork for collecting, analyzing, and segmenting first-party data.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

How to collect first-party data

Creating a fair value exchange

The first step to building a first-party data collection pipeline is creating tangible incentives to get your visitors interested in sharing their data. The incentive could be access to premium content, assistance, special offers, discounts, or anything else that’s valuable to your audience.

A value exchange such as the one described here relies on ongoing trust between the publisher and its audience, which means that you’ll also want to make it easy for users to withdraw consent from their data being used at any time, in addition to having adequate protective measures and fail safes in place to protect against instances of data breaches or misuse.

Simplified user registrations

Most websites that run a login system use emails as the primary identifier.

Shopping and e-commerce websites often require visitors to create an account before making a purchase, and in the process, collect valuable first-party data. Real estate and finance websites have also mastered first-party data collection, requiring users to create an account before showing property details (including photos), or for building stock “watchlists”.

Publishers in other categories need to be more creative in identifying opportunities to get users to create accounts. In terms of implementation, allowing users to sign up using their existing social accounts using universal login can help create a frictionless sign up experience.

User registration for first-party data collection

WSJ offers a universal login to new subscribers

Identity vendors such as Auth0, Okta, and One Login make it easy to configure and set up universal logins. Publishers with in-house dev teams can also build their own social login system.

It’s important to note that login walls have significant interaction cost for users and should therefore never be the first thing that users see. To optimize for conversions, you can use progressive profiling to collect data gradually instead (explained later).

Interest-based newsletter subscriptions

Gone are the days when most publishers had a single email list that you could sign up on. These days, it’s not uncommon to see a single publisher offering multiple newsletters tailored to the unique interests and needs of multiple user segments.

Apart from collecting more emails, this approach allows users to self-select themselves into distinct audience segments, making it easier for the publisher to package and put a premium on those audience segments based on specific advertiser interests and campaign goals.

Newsletters can be good way to collect user data

NYT offers multiple newsletters tailored to specific audience interests

There are two key advantages of deploying newsletters as a first-party data collection strategy.

First, newsletters are purely permission-based, as users sign up based on their own interest and can unsubscribe easily at any time. Second, newsletters allow publishers to activate multiple monetization techniques in addition to using the interest data for display campaigns, this includes sponsored content and running ads within the newsletter.

Interactive content and gamification

More than half of all Internet users access the web using mobile devices. Cross-platform content that is entertaining, engaging, and easy to consume can help accelerate data collection.

Interactive formats such as quizzes, calculators, challenges, or puzzles can be used to create interaction opportunities with users, as you collect new information to enrich their profiles.

Using interactive content to collect first-party data

BuzzFeed uses interactive content to accelerate the collection of 1P data

One publisher that has been successfully leveraging interactive content to build first-party data is BuzzFeed. AdExchanger recently reported that over 65% of BuzzFeed’s ad deals now use first-party data to target ads, meaning they are already more than halfway through their pivot.

BuzzFeed also launched an expanded services data suite called Lighthouse earlier this month. “Lighthouse allows advertisers to tap into BuzzFeed’s data to learn more about specific audiences through research and insights,” the release said, “providing a deeper understanding of the audiences a brand intends to reach as well as its affinities”.

Selective content locking

If you’re not quite ready to set up a user registration system, selectively locking access to content might be another way to start collecting emails and related user data.

To decide which content to lock, you could look at the analytics data that you already have. Using only Google Analytics, you can learn the webpages on your site that receive the most pageviews and have the highest average time-on-page to build a cohort of best-performing webpages.

Using content locks to collect first-party data

Content locks are a low-risk method of getting started with 1P data collection

During the testing stage, you’ll want to measure the percentage of users who exit the webpage without providing any information, so that you can fine-tune the scroll-depth or action triggers that prompt the locker and the amount of information that you ask to optimize for conversion.

Using progressive profiling

Central to the idea of building first-party data, or any form of user data collection for that matter, is progressive profiling. This means not overwhelming users by asking too much information before establishing trust and proving the value of what you’re offering in return.

Progressive profiling

Azure Active Directory is one example of an identity management solution that allows progressive profiling

Data must be collected progressively over a period of time, over multiple touchpoints and interactions. For instance, the first time a visitor wants to download a content asset on your website, you might only ask for their name and email address. Then, if they repeat the action in the future, you can use the new interaction opportunity to collect additional information such as designation, company, and website, to further enrich the user’s profile.

Most CRMs allow website owners to identify users with a cookie that was previously set and then dynamically update forms and other data collection tools to capture new data. Using progressive profiling allows publishers to build rich data profiles over time, without scaring users away.

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