Smart features you can build on your site to collect first party data

The Publishers Playbook Newsletter

Last month I wrote about the need for digital publishers and media businesses to get focused on their data game.

This reminds me of 2018, when Google set deadlines for creating secure websites. Back then, many publishers were in denial about the implications of this change, and some got left behind. I can see this happening again. First-party data collection will soon become critical for unlocking new business opportunities.

If you missed July’s email, you can read Are you sitting on a goldmine of data?

One of the closing points I made was around better first-party data collection, and the ability of businesses to better commercialise their audience with their treasure chest of insightful data. 

Since sending that email, I’ve had readers ask what that looks like in a practical sense. Workshopping these kinds of products with teams is one of the joys I get working with digital publishers, so I thought I’d make it the topic of today’s email. 

Niche Publishers: website feature development for first party data collection

The power of communities

The first thing to realise when you’re a digital publisher is your emotional power. Publications are essentially communities, which audiences use to reinforce their sense of identity.

When audiences are this loyal and dedicated, they are pretty open to handing over more information to you, or at a minimum, interacting with your site more than simply just reading it. The hard part is actually already done. If people have made habits around your brand then you’re two thirds there.

Sending your readers to a longwinded survey might yield a lot of data, but it’s a quick way to turn people off – and rightly so. There are better, more strategic ways to do this.

It all starts with an email address, and snowballs from there.

There’s not really many ways around this. You need to own the relationship with your reader. Using social media, browser extensions or third party distribution channels like Apple News or Facebook Instant Articles won’t let you do this.

How to save data at every touchpoint 

When users are known, and do meaningful things on your site, you should take note. Then build a profile against that user. Here’s a few ideas:

Track categories of content clicked on in newsletters

A properly configured ESP (email service provider) should let you configure some kind of mechanism to know at a user level, what kinds of categories of content an individual user clicks on. 

This should never be used to assume that’s what a user is only interested in, but can help build trends about your audience. 

What a great way for a publisher to test out a new category or complimentary vertical and see with empirical data, its success, or lack thereof. All with minimal effort. 

User profiles required before commenting 

Niche or speciality publishers have a great advantage over traditional news media: their audience all have something in common. And they normally have strong opinions for the comment section.

Before letting people comment, require them to tell you more about themselves, even if it’s not public.

It reminds me when we used to run Australian supermarket Woolworths’ (now retired) community site where members interacted. It was an eye opening experience discovering how much information your average loyalist shopper is prepared to tell you about themselves and dedication to community. 

Run a tech or gadget site? Ask those readers what they spend the most money on between smart phones, gaming consoles or smart speakers. This gives you a potentially very lucrative segment that a future advertiser would jump at. 

Something in travel? Frequent flyer and hotel loyalty junkies like me, while temporarily grounded, still love telling people about their statuses, favourite loyalty program, how many miles they fly, how much they spend. Gamification psychology is your friend. 

Motoring? After the home, cars are peoples second biggest investment. They don’t change too often, so why not capture when they last bought something, what was it, did they pay cash or finance? Not to mention automotive die-hard fans. 

These simple examples demonstrate how you can understand and commercialise your audience, significantly better, just by asking a couple of extra questions.

Busting surveys out of silos 

It amazes and frustrates me at the same time, that businesses will often promote large audience surveys periodically, often with a reward or competition prize to get a greater segment size.

The problem is that these are often done by different departments and normally conducted on something like SurveyMonkey – which means that data is trapped in a silo, no additional context for those users. 

Surveys are a big investment from users, that data should be all connected and in one place for future use. 

Simple product development 

Building products or features on your site can be a smart way to get people to hand over more information without explicitly ask for it. They work even better when there’s some basic value for the reader. 

Finance and stocks  

If you run a finance-focused site, it’s a fair assumption your audiences are probably interested in their investments.

The addition of a simplistic portfolio manager, immediately provides value to financially astute readers. They can enjoy viewing their stocks while browsing your site or receive personalised stock quotes in their daily email newsletter

It’s also worth remembering Finance and Insurance related advertising often yield the highest advertising dollars.

Fashion and lifestyle 

I’m the last person to understand this demographic, but I know it exists. We worked with a major shoe brand for a couple of years and experienced the anxiety of running ecommerce infrastructure. When the latest Yeezys dropped the site was flooded with Reddit communities; 150 orders per second and limited stock. Perhaps that’s why we don’t work in ecommerce anymore!

Building a “virtual wardrobe” is a fairly rudimentary exercise in terms of technical complexity. However, when given the ability to create, document and share their prized possessions, I would predict a fairly high adoption by the right audience. 

So, a silver bullet?

Hardly. With the uncertainty around the programatic market in the future as we move away from 3rd-party cookies, having your ducks lined up will make that transition easier.

For business media companies, that has always been done through longer lead capture forms, webinars, white papers and things of that nature.

But for consumer companies, there has been a very lackadaisical approach to understanding their audience. There has been an inherent laziness tied to relying on programmatic advertising for all revenue. Suffice it to say, going forward, the successful consumer media companies will find opportunities to collect data about their users and understand them better.

– A Media Operator Newsletter

Thanks for reading. I’m personally optimistic about what will eventuate. With 3rd party cookies going the way of the dodo, more digital publishers will be forced to take a hard look at their business (and their audiences). That can only be a good thing.

Ben May

Ben is Managing Director of The Code Company. He is passionate about working with publishers on clever and innovative ways to solve complex problems. He works with The Code Company team on all projects, bringing his perspective and problem solving skills to deliver great outcomes.