Digital Publishing Guest Columns
4 mins read

Maximize publisher revenue streams with a first-party data strategy

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that flexibility is key across both work and life.

For digital publishers, the simultaneous drop in digital advertising demand and surge in user traffic and interest in news about COVID-19 drove a shift of investment and focus toward online subscriptions as the health crisis unfolded. Now more than a year later, we’ve seen both advertising spend rebound and mass traffic to news sites dip as current events quieted (for now, at least, as the pandemic continues to evolve). But that doesn’t mean that publishers should again put the bulk of their budget in one basket. The world landscape continues to be dynamic, so they will need a hybrid, balanced approach not only in planning essentials like how and when to return to office, but for revenue streams as well. The foundation of that strategy starts with first-party data.

The Google factor

We can’t talk about user and advertising data without talking about Google. The tech giant abruptly announced this summer that it won’t phase out support for or use of third-party cookies until mid-2023, setting their deadline back two years. (Google: Sorry, not sorry?) But this time shouldn’t be used to press pause and lose steam.

Rather, this delay offers publishers a precious asset: time. How should they use this pause? It provides some breathing room to understand the roles of privacy, consent and data collection for both publishers and brands in a new, privacy-centric advertising landscape that’s still evolving. Assess and test different tech solutions for acquiring and activating permissioned first-party data — which partners to work with? How will those solutions integrate with your existing site and ad tech stack? Do they provide strategic guidance in addition to technology? The tech decisions you make now will either enable or inhibit your approach to onsite engagement, content monetization and advertising once third-party cookies finally disappear.

Collecting the data

How you collect the first-party data you need, layer in context, collect and manage consent, and segment your audiences is the foundation for a successful data strategy that helps diversify revenue. It’s also an opportunity to think beyond narrow data collection to the overall relationship with your users. What value can you provide them in exchange for data? Can becoming a known user improve the overall site experience — making it more useful and personal. Points to consider as you begin building your first-party data cache:

  • Understand what data is most valuable for your key advertising clients and categories. Gender and age are the obvious categories. What else is relevant? What audience segments are they buying now? Determine what from that list is and isn’t being captured now.
  • Collect any and all anonymous data, then move toward permission and finally ask for authenticated data. With permissioned data, you can create detailed segments and better personalize. But it’s authenticated data in the form of logins and IDs, for example, that helps you begin orchestrating the customer journey. Not only will you improve the accuracy of your advertising with more trustworthy data, but it also serves as an organic first step in encouraging subscription sign-ups. 
  • Collect more data over time by thinking through the right moment in the customer journey to ask for it. At each stage, aim to understand how to move users deeper into the funnel with the right offers that will net you more data to round out your customer profile. Don’t try to collect too much data at one time — long registration forms depress user conversion and reduce data accuracy.

Liberating the data 

A good place to start in shoring up your first-party data strategy is ensuring all the data living in your organization today is accurate, clean and able to be aggregated for a complete view of the consumer. Historically, both publishers and brands have kept data around ad revenue, subscriptions, content engagement and customer profiles stored separately. Not only would these businesses benefit from having one platform with which to collect, manage, analyze and activate this data across the customer journey, they’d also do well to create dedicated roles when it comes to oversight of this most important business asset. This helps ensure every team that needs the data, from marketing to sales, has access to it and knows how to use it in the right way.

The first step is to hire or appoint a chief data officer who is responsible for data governance throughout the company. Their role is to get projects approved and prioritized, manage budgets, procure staff for the program and ensure full documentation. Other potential roles might include data owners, stewards and custodians.

Managing and activating the data

In addition to going with a single platform to manage the flow and activation of data, there are also consent management systems and identity solutions to consider. Quite simply put, you need consent to collect first-party data, and the more consent you get, the more data you can collect, leading to more personalized content and offers for your users. Consent management can help you turn privacy into a competitive advantage by boosting your opt-in rates, ensuring your data is available and clean, and optimizing your subscription and marketing efforts across your channels. Identity providers are necessary to help turn your data assets into known-user currency that lets you provide the right-timed offers and experiences to the right consumers across the right channels.

Vetting the above takes time — sitting through presentations, budget discussions and technical evaluations before you even entertain implementing that solution. By doing that work now, you set yourself up to have the right tech stack in place well ahead of 2023, and will reap the benefits of users receiving more personalized content.

Michael Silberman
SVP Strategy, Piano

About: Piano enables the world’s largest media companies and brands to accelerate their subscription, advertising, analytics and personalization initiatives in order to engage, monetize and measure content experiences. Piano works with leading global organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, NBC Sports, Insider Inc., The Economist, Gannett, Le Parisien, Nielsen, MIT Technology Review, The Telegraph and South China Morning Post. In 2020, Piano received Product of the Year from the Business Intelligence Group. For more information, visit