How Publishers Can Drive More Revenue with First-Party Data

7 minute read

Upland Admin

As publishers shift towards reader revenue, their marketing strategy is shifting too. No longer focused solely on marketing to advertisers, publishers must also focus on marketing to their audience. Accordingly, Digiday reports that the Washington Post has recently hired its first-ever CMO:

“King’s promotion adds the Post to a growing list of news publishers who have added a new kind of chief marketing role, one focused on driving consumer revenue rather than elevating the publisher brand in the eyes of advertisers…”

While not every publisher is hiring a CMO, many are making marketing-like overtures towards their audiences, and with that comes the marketing-like need for data. The platforms’ tight grip on third-party data means publishers need more of their own first-party data, not just to reach their audiences but to reach their revenue targets as well.

Fortunately, publishers already have a wealth of first-party data to draw from. Your audience’s onsite behavior provides valuable, actionable data about their interests and appetite for content. But how do you put that data to use?

Here are a few things publishers are doing to drive revenue with their first-party data.

Deepen audience engagement with personalized experiences.

The content your individual users consume provides powerful first-party data about the things those users are interested in. With email audience enrichment, you can put this data to use, improving your content recommendation by showing articles closely aligned with their interests. You can also use this behavioral data to exclude those articles a user has already viewed, making the most of your limited space while also keeping the experience fresh. These personalization tactics can be used onsite or in your email, as Apartment Therapy does with their newsletters.

Deepening your onsite engagement can prove more lucrative than pay-per-click sponsored content recommendation that sends audiences off-site, particularly if you offer paid subscriptions. More relevant content increases the likelihood of audiences finding value in your content, plus highly-engaged audiences are more likely to run up against your paywall meter.

Content consumption data can also help you tailor the experience when your site visitors are unknown. With data about the types of content passing visitors consume versus the content that paying subscribers consume, you can adjust your homepage to the audience, like Aller Media does.

“…a logged in subscriber on the desktop or mobile site [does] not see the same stories as non-subscribers. ‘The stories (on the open site) are put there to sell subscriptions. The subscriber sees more diverse content which changes more regularly and provides a better personal experience.’”

Of course, first-party data’s ability to better drive subscriptions doesn’t end there.

Tailor subscription offers to different types of paying audiences.

Publishers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have eschewed one-size-fits-all paywalls in favor of dynamic paywalls that adjust to the audience. This flexibility, INMA researcher Grzegorz Piechota has found, is the key to converting audiences who wouldn’t normally pay for publisher content.

Data from your known audience allows you to tailor the paywall experience to maximize conversions. When audiences frequently view articles from a particular content category, you may improve conversions by aligning your paywall messaging with that category. Adjust creative and copy to remind these audiences about the value of accessing this highly-relevant content.

Even without behavioral data for individual users, you may be able to estimate their chances of paying based on other traits (such as traffic source or geographical location) and use this data to adjust your paywall meter (or drop your wall entirely) when such visitors come to your site. For instance, a user referred from Facebook is typically less likely to convert to a paid subscription than users who visit, say, from email. Instead of pushing Facebook visitors towards a paid subscription, you may have more success promoting a newsletter signup.

Use first-party data to deliver hyper-targeted audience segments for advertisers.

Still, not every publisher can turn to paywalls, and even those that do typically supplement their subscription revenue with advertising. Fortunately, first-party data can help you drive more revenue here as well.

When Facebook and Google command 57% of digital advertising spend, your data about audience interests can pique the interest of advertisers. By enriching your email audiencewith behavioral data, you can segment your known users based on their content consumption. That way, you can sell advertisers direct access to thousands of people who regularly engage with a certain category.

You can use this data in direct-sold onsite advertising, or even in the inbox. Email gives you direct access to your known audience at any time, making it an ideal channel for delivering this highly-targeted advertising. With knowledge of what content email subscribers are consuming, you can segment your list according to their interests, maximizing your revenue from dedicated promotional sends.

Increase email engagement by growing your newsletter subscriptions.

Whether you monetize your email with advertising or just use it to drive clicks to your site, each email sent is another opportunity for revenue. And if you offer multiple newsletter products, each newsletter a reader receives is an additional chance to engage individual readers. Of course, you can encourage subscribers to opt into more email with newsletter cross-promotion, but you can also grow subscriptions proactively using your first-party data.

For instance, publishers with multiple newsletters often have email subscribers who don’t subscribe to a particular vertical’s newsletter yet often engage with content of that type anyway. Using your enriched email data, you can pinpoint these subscribers and show CTAs directing them to the more relevant newsletter, or you can automatically opt them into the appropriate newsletter yourself. Given they’ve already 1) found enough value in your content to give you their email address, and 2) indicated interest in the particular topic, they can typically be opted in with success.

These data-driven opt-ins can be particularly helpful when launching new email products. By identifying the interested segments of your email list, you can kick off new newsletters with a built-in audience and see returns from the investment required to create a newsletter right away.

Improve your lifecycle marketing efforts.

With first-party data from your individual users, you can experiment with tactics such as deploying personalized onsite calls-to-action or sending re-engagement emails that correspond with an individual reader’s place in the lifecycle.

For premium publishers, having insights into audience content consumption is crucial to successful subscriber retention. If a user actively consumes content in multiple categories, it’s possible they may be more likely to renew their subscription because they find value in a number of things you offer. Likewise, some publishers may find that encouraging content consumption across verticals may help retain subscribers.

Alternately, if a user’s content consumption is particularly strong in a single category, you might make sure that your efforts to earn a subscription renewal appeal to their interest in such articles. In a Nieman Lab year-end prediction for journalism in 2019, Brian Moritz points out:

“The implicit promise of a subscription site is that you are getting something worth paying for, something you can’t get anywhere else. It’s what my friend Dr. Andy Billings called the HBO model — as long as it has one thing you can’t live [without], you’ll keep paying for it.”

By using your first-party data to pinpoint that “one thing,” you can market to individual readers with the most effective messaging.

Supplement your other revenue streams.

Finally, having more first-party data from your audience can help you better engage, nurture, and convert them, no matter your product.

  • Publishers with multiple subscription products can identify the “power readers” in their audience and use personalized CTAs to upconvert them to a higher subscription tier.
  • Ecommerce publishers can segment audiences based on content consumption, then promote the most relevant products to these users.
  • Publishers that drive revenue with events can target engaged users with high interest in certain topics, then market topic-based events to these users with CTAs, ads, or email.

No matter your business model, unlocking actionable insights from your first-party data (and using this data to enrich your email audience) will be critical to driving revenue in the coming year. To learn how you can do more with the first-party data you already have, take a look at the Email Audience Enrichment solution guide.

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