How publishers are crafting meaningful experiences to drive engagement — and first-party data

Andrew Sullivan, Chief Product Officer, OpenWeb

Paradigm shifts rarely announce themselves in advance. This is what makes the current moment so unique: It’s known that third-party data, the lifeblood of Web 2.0, is on the way out. 

Google’s cookie ban is imminent, and regulators are cracking down. The way forward will be first-party data gathered directly from customers and consumers. Acting on that knowledge in the waning days of third-party data has become essential: In a recent poll, 88% of marketers said first-party data collection was a priority for 2021. 

First-party data is far from a consolation prize. In many ways, it’s a superior animal to third-party data. For one, it has a much higher return on investment — after all, the data is collected by the publisher without relying on pricey intermediaries. It helps with all the things third-party data does — retargeting, pattern-identification, trend prediction, etc. — while carrying none of the privacy-related stigmas.

Operating outside the big third-party data warehouses and platforms builds trust with consumers, who, with each highly-publicized leak or Cambridge Analytica-style controversy, become ever-more alert to how their data is being used (or misused, as the case may be). A 2019 poll found that 72% of people would stop buying from a company or using a service due to privacy concerns, which first-party data goes a long way toward alleviating.

The question for publishers, then, is, what’s the best way to acquire first-party data? And the answer, as countless publishers have come to learn, is simple — on-site experiences. The more users engage with a site, the more the publisher can learn about them. Creating on-site experiences that boost time-on-site and increase the likelihood of return visits is more critical than ever in a first-party data-driven world. 

Personalize the experience to create greater value

All publishers post a range of content on any given day, and not all of it will be relevant to each reader’s interests. Sports websites might have readers who are only interested in football or hockey, while a cooking site might have readers who only want to see vegetarian recipes. For readers, this means a firehose of content that’s not aligned with their interests — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Allowing readers to track the topics they’re interested in — and pinging them with on-site notifications when relevant content is posted — transforms a website from a simple content publisher into a valuable, meaningful content experience. By helping readers find what they want, when they want it — seamlessly and quickly — publishers radically boost the odds of engagement. It also grants precise insight into readers’ interests, which can help guide editorial and increase registrations by providing a clearer sense of where a registration wall is likely to drive sign-ups, for example. 

Embedding interactive elements goes a long way

Interactivity is key to acquiring first-party data from readership — registered or otherwise. The allure of a quiz, whether frivolous or data-based, or real-time Q&As with editors and writers, are irresistible. 

By cultivating a sense of community, publishers can help readers become a part of the dialogue, ensuring that the site’s content doesn’t feel walled-off or distant. Showing the community that their interests and ideas are being taken into account will go a long way toward increasing engagement. 

Not every audience suggestion will be taken up, of course, but the data is clear that readers will take note and be more likely to engage if a publisher makes a good-faith effort to be open and responsive.

Building a community through comments is crucial

Newsletters, polls, live blogs, and quizzes go a long way, but nothing beats a vibrant comments section when it comes to publisher experiences. 

Granted, the term “comments section” is liable to give some publishers chills. It calls to mind a host of negative associations — flame wars, attacking authors, hate speech, etc. However, this is changing as technology and meaningful curation come into play. Comprehensive, AI-powered, multi-layered moderation technology is making it increasingly possible to elevate the tenor of online conversation. 

Publishers that stick to the old paradigm, in which comments are a kind of necessary evil, risk missing out on one of the richest sources of first-party data available to publishers and brands.

A well-moderated comments section with the best, most insightful comments prioritized will keep readers on-site for far longer. By fostering a community around the publication, it will keep readers coming back for the content, of course, and also for the meaningful connections they form on the domain. 

Accordingly, it will serve as a constantly-replenishing source of first-party data — information that can be used to improve ad offerings, increase registrations and subscriptions and better understand what’s resonating with readers.

The new paradigm: Shifting away from third-party data

At this point, a whole generation of editors (and marketers) has come of professional age in a world defined by third-party data. Change can be scary, but in this case, it’s for the best; minimizing reliance on third-party data is to everyone’s benefit. 

In the new paradigm, publishers wanting to learn about their readers will have no choice but to engage them — to provide the kinds of meaningful, communal experiences that make users want to stick around. It’s an exciting opportunity, and now’s the time to make the most of it.

Sponsored by: Openweb

More from Digiday

Sliders test article

Agencies hope connected TV and digital out-of-home will play a bigger role in upcoming elections and politics — especially for smaller media agencies that are handling many of the less visible races in the crowded political space. For a number of media agencies looking to place their political ad dollars down in this major election […]

How CTV and DOOH are growing this political season for smaller agencies

Connected TV and digital out-of-home are playing a bigger role in upcoming elections and politics – especially for smaller agencies looking to place clients’ dollars.

CMO Strategies: Advertisers identify the top attributes on ad-supported streaming platforms

This is the third installment in Digiday’s multi-part series covering the top ad-supported streaming services and part of Digiday’s CMO Strategies series. In this report, we examine which ad attributes matter the most to marketers on streaming platforms.