How to Get Started on Your First-Party Data Strategy

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If you haven’t heard by now, third-party data[1] cookies are being phased out completely. Most major browsers have already dropped them, and Google has announced (or, has been announcing) plans for Chrome to stop supporting them soon enough.

On the plus side, the ad tech[14] industry will likely come up with a nice alternative to data cookies. In the meantime, the loss of third-party cookies has left publishers rooting around for other solutions to gain insight into their audience so they can improve on their website traffic numbers.

As of right now, the only thing publishers can do is redirect their focus on first-party[8] data[2] if they want to keep on keepin’ on, so to speak. This may be worrisome for most publishers, as there’s a sizable lack of sophisticated data collection platforms out there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hunker down and strategize for a first-party cookie[15] era and then eventually, a post-cookie era.

Ultimately, using first-party cookies will help you (the publisher[16]) capitalize on your ad revenue as it’ll allow you to get to know your audience much better. In this article, we’re going to dive into everything you need to know to get started on your first-party data strategy.

Keep reading to learn more.

What Exactly Is First-Party Data?

The first step in creating a solid first-party data strategy is understanding what first-party data is and how it can benefit you and your ad revenue.

Simply put, first-party data refers to any of the data you collect directly from your audience. As a publisher, you’re also a website owner, which means you get tens of thousands to millions of visitors on your site — which equates to tens of thousands to millions of first-party data resources, such as:

  • Email newsletter subscribers
  • Lots of feedback from surveys
  • Accounts created

With each first-party data gathering event, your page views will generate a multitude of data points that you can capitalize on when it comes to your next targeted ad campaign[17], understanding your visitors, and optimizing for the overall user experience.

Generally speaking, a single page view can generate up to 40 data points. Imagine how many data points you could generate throughout an entire day — or even a month! This is the exact type of data advertisers look for when running their campaigns and partnering with publishers for the most effective outcomes.

Now let’s zero in on why first-party data is so important.

The answer is actually pretty simple. First-party data is the information that your users offer up willingly. That means it’s not only compliant with GDPR[3] and other privacy regulations — it’s 100% accurate, and therefore, reliable.

That’s why it’s so important to create a solid strategy for collecting, storing, and utilizing first-party data.

Now, on to the strategy.

Collecting First-Party Data

When it comes to collecting first-party data, it’s best to break the process down into two categories:

  • The data to be collected
  • How to collect said data

It’s essential that you know the type of data you should be collecting and how you can collect it. It sounds oversimplified, but we promise you, it’s more involved than you think. It’s also something you want to get right, otherwise, you won’t get the results you expected.

The most important part of figuring out the type of data you need to collect is identifying the purpose behind your data collection. I.e., why are you collecting this data? How will it benefit you? What’s essential and what’s a waste of time?

Figuring out the purpose behind your data collection will allow you to identify the data points you need to collect on.

The two primary purposes that should come to mind are audience segment insights and advertising — but we’ll touch more on those later on.

Let’s talk about data points

Generally speaking, when it comes to collecting data you can collect on the following data points for both your audience segment[18] insights and advertising insights:

  • Clicks across a particular web page
  • Downloads
  • Newsletter sign-ups
  • Ad engagements
  • On-page media
  • User search queries
  • Forum posts, comments, and even topics
  • Web page metadata
  • Specifically frequented URLs

What can you learn from these data points? A whole lot:

  • The age of your users
  • Their gender
  • Their location
  • Their household income
  • Their marital status
  • Their family size
  • Their interests, hobbies, and things they dislike
  • Their personal preferences
  • Their browsing history
  • Their purchase history
  • Their social network usage

The list goes on — but you get the point. If you’re collecting data using surveys and offline CRM methods, you can upload them to create more granular and accurate user profiles as well.

Now, when it comes to collecting said data points, there are several different tools you can use. We suggest starting with the most simple and user-friendly ones:

Google Analytics

The analytics code on your web pages can and does collect several essential data points. If you haven’t been using analytics to understand your audience and the performance[9] of your website’s content, then you’ve been missing out BIG TIME!

Google Analytics[4] is the most obvious choice for collecting first-party data. However, you’ll want to make sure you have Google Analytics 360 so you can integrate it with Google Ad Manager[5] for optimal results.

What’s more, you can use Google Analytics to improve upon your ad revenue. This requires that you enable Google Analytics Remarketing and Advertising Reporting Features, which you can do using the following steps:

  • Keep the necessary data within reach. This would include the email address of the Google Analytics 360 and Google Ad Manager administrator, the name of the Analytics 360 account manager, the Analytics property ID, view IDs, and Google Ad Manager network ID.
  • Sign into Google Ads Manager 360 and using the drop-down menu, click Product Help > Request Email Support.
  • From there, click Issue Type > Google Ads Manager Linking > Answer the Questions > Done.

The purpose of doing all of this is to get approval to see that first-party data. Once you’re officially approved, you’ll be able to see your Google Ad Manager data in your Google Analytics.

You can get help directly from Google Support here.

Hotjar or Smartlook

If you’re new to the publishing world, you probably aren’t familiar with Hotjar or Smartlook. Both are heatmap tools for the internet and they work to help website owners gain insight into how their users are engaging with the content throughout their web pages. 

Both Hotjar and Smartlook allow you to track your users’ clicks, cursor movements, scroll depth, and much more.

Tracking Pixels

You should be familiar with tracking pixels by now, so we won’t go into too much boring detail about them. However, you can place a solid bet that every marketing technology and advertising platform you’ve come across have pixeled your web pages to place cookies so that anonymous user data[19] can be readily collected for marketing purposes.

For example, if you’ve ever run Facebook ads, the app will ask you to place their proprietary tracking and conversion pixels so they may track the traffic and conversion activity that happens through you. You can do the same by pixeling your pages.

Data Management Platforms

Data management platforms (DMPs) are designed specifically to collect first-party data and enable you to utilize that first-party data.

You can think of a DMP[6] as a sort of data warehouse. It’s the digital place (or software) that collects, sorts, and houses information. Then it “spits it out” in a way that’s useful to publishers like yourself as well as marketers and other businesses.

DMPs are arguably the best and most efficient option available for collecting useful first-party data. They’re pricey, but worth it.

Putting Your First-Party Data to Use

Onto the next extremely important part of your first-party data strategy: Figuring out how to apply the data you’ve collected to improve both your ad revenue and the user experience. 

To simplify the how, we’ll break it down by the analytics tools listed above:

Google Analytics

If you’re already using Google Analytics 360, you should know that there’s a method to compare and identify the ad units that are performing well per every 1,000 sessions. What’s more, the demographic makeup of the ad units being sold to advertisers is there in plain view, so you can check them out and determine whether certain segments have more valuable users to set your prices accordingly.

You can also share the remarketing list from Google Analytics to your Google Ads Manager. Using these lists, you can create audience segments and target them as they apply to your own campaign goals. 

While the above applies to ad revenue, this part will apply to the user experience — Google Analytics is mostly used to track user behavior while Google Ads Manager is used for ads. Once you link them, you can generate reports to help you evaluate exactly how your ads are affecting the user experience and how users are engaging with those ads.

From there, you can work on delivering better ads that add to the user experience rather than take away from it.

Hotjar and Smartlook

Both of these analytics tools allow you to see how users are engaging with your web pages. For example, where they usually click, where they spend time, how they navigate through your pages, etc.

This is some of the most accurate first-party data you can get your hands on when it comes to optimizing ad placement and content flow. 

Tracking Pixels

There are actually two ways you can use tracking pixels to optimize your ad revenue and the user experience.

This involves using something called “log-level data.” Log-level data offers up some of the most granular data when it comes to ad impressions. It includes everything you need to know about an ad impression[10] and ad request[11], including the cookie ID, timestamp, URL, viewability[12], and transaction data. 

You can access this data via your supply-side platform[7] (SSP) to understand the quality of your ad inventory[20][13]. From there, you can figure out which ad inventory is associated with better bud pricing and why, which inventories have a 90% fill rate[21], which have higher viewability, and more.

You can also use tracking pixels to create user profiles. All you have to do is analyze and create segments from your log-level data — it’s how Google Ad Manager does it. 

For example, you can use the geolocation, device type, operating system (OS), etc to form a segment and use that segment to get insight into how bidders are bidding for the user profile of that segment.

Using your tracking pixels, you can also collect valuable user data and offer those insights to advertisers as well as come up with a better content strategy of your own.

Data Management Platforms

DMPs are more straightforward when it comes to putting your first-party data to use — especially when it comes to improving your ad revenue. 

DMPs exist solely so that publishers can collect and utilize data to directly improve their ad revenue. Some DMPs even offer a marketplace where publishers can buy first-party data from one another and to advertisers where beneficial.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to your first-party data strategy, it’s all about collecting the right information and using that information properly to improve the user experience and your ad revenue. There are plenty of tools out there that can help you collect and make use of this valuable data, and even as a new publisher, it’s better to start anywhere than to wait around for all-party cookies to completely drop off the face of the earth. 

Think of it this way: There’s a growing demand for first-party cookies. By strategizing for this type of information, you’ll be ahead of the game as it won’t just benefit you and your website, but your demand partners as well.

1. third-party data. Third-party data is any information collected by an entity that does not have a direct relationship with the user the data is being collected on. Often times, third-party data is generated on a variety of websites and platforms and is then aggregated together by a third-party data provider such as a DMP.
2. first-party data. First-party data is the information that companies can collect from their own sources. In other words, every information about customers from both online and offline sources, such as the company's website, app, CRM, social media or surveys is first-party data.
3. General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] ( GDPR ) GDPR which is also known as the General Data Protection Regulation is a set of personal data regulations created for EU citizens. It changes the way businesses stores and collects data from its users from the EU.
4. Google Analytics. This is Google’s traffic tracking and analytics tool that gives publishers insight into traffic origins, popular pages on their website and much more.
5. Google Ad Exchange ( Google Ad Manager ) Ad Exchange is often referred to as the premium version of AdSense, and also a Google-owned ad network of sorts. To join Ad Exchange, publishers need to meet specific requirements such as 500 000 minimum monthly traffic, be invited or join through a Google certified partner. Recently Google has rebranded this product, and it is now called Google Ad Manager.

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