Data is a powerful tool for businesses. It’s one of the biggest drivers of success. However, there’s a looming hurdle regarding data collection that requires companies to be forward thinking and take action.

Many third-party data points, that have been used by marketers for over 20 years, are being cut off and cookies aren’t likely to stay around for much longer. Google, for example, has announced that by 2023, they’ll have phased out cross-site tracking and 3rd party cookies in Chrome browsers as well as Apple’s IOS 14 containing a new feature, allows users to opt out of tracking on apps.

What’s more, data privacy regulations and governing bodies are becoming increasingly important, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, consumers online now expect their experience to be personalized, which necessarily requires the company to collect and use their data. Given all this, first-party data has never played a more important role in the success of your business.

92% of leading marketers believe using first party data to continually build an understanding of what people want is critical to growth.” - Think with Google
Delivering accurate and relevant customer experiences is now the expectation, not the exception.” - Segment

This is why action needs to be taken now. Companies need to be in control of their data and this can be achieved through a 1st-party data strategy. It will allow them to collect owned, valuable, reliable and high quality data that can inform their business decisions and improve the user’s experience on their site.

In this white paper, we'll help you to get your first-party data strategy off the ground, with particular focus on how a registration wall is a simple but hugely beneficial way to do this. The article has been split in two, with this first part focussing on the theoretical side of data and regwalls, whilst the second will take a more practical view with advice on how and where to start.

Part 1:

  1. What is ‘data’ and what’s the difference between first-, second- and third-party data?
  2. Why should you adopt a 1st party data strategy?
  3. How to collect first-party data using a registration wall?

Part 2:

  1. Where to start with a first-party data strategy?
  2. Examples of registration walls in a first-party data strategy.
  3. Best practices for using first party data with a reg wall
  4. Integrating and using Poool’s registration wall

1: What is ‘data’ and what’s the difference between first-, second- and third-party data?

Back to the basics. Before getting started with any data strategy, it’s important to understand what different types you’ll be dealing with.

In general, data are units of information that are collected. There are four main ‘types of information’ that you can gather:

Behavioral = refers to information produced as a result of actions and interactions. This information isn’t static (unlike address, date of birth, etc). It tracks such things as how someone uses your website, what pages are visited, games played, items clicked on.

Demographic = statistical data about someone’s characteristics, including age, gender, location, occupation, income, etc. This is usually collected through forms filled out in the registration process.

Transactional = information about transactions/business events between you and customers, such as subscription purchases, payments, invoices for monthly payments, etc.  

Physiographic = this is the hardest data to collect but can be very powerful when combined with the other data types. It refers to information about personality, interests, attitudes, values and, more generally, why a user completes an action or reacts in a certain way. This data adds emotion to the static demographic information.

Note that this is only touching the surface, and third-party data providers will list many more data types that they can offer. However, these are perhaps the most relevant for online content-producers and should definitely be the focus of a data strategy to begin with.

First-Party Data and Registration Walls Part 1

We can now divide data into 3, categorized primarily by where the data comes from: first-, second- and third-party. Most people are aware of these three groups but they each have their own specificities which are vital to understand in order to best use data to benefit your business.

1.First-party data

First-party data is that which is collected by a company from its own sources, making them the primary owners of this data. It’s collected directly from your audience when they engage in your content, such as by visiting your site, using your app, calling your help centre, subscribing, etc.  

There are two central types of first-party data:

Declarative data represents any information that your users directly tell you, such as their name, date of birth, email address, etc. This is usually collected through forms or by signing up to a newsletter.

Behavioral data refers to what you collect when audiences use your site. It can include information such as their reading habits, time spent on a page and how often they visit your site.

As this data is collected by you, it’s considered very valuable for a number of reasons:

  • It’s highly relevant to your business
  • It’s accurate and of a high quality as you know how its been collected
  • First-party data is free of charge, with no need for partnerships or purchases
  • It’s compliant with data privacy laws (such as GDPR) and is the most transparent data-type because you own and collected it yourself

2. Second-party data

This refers to data that can be purchased from another company like your own. You could do this through second-party data partnerships or data marketplaces where you exchange data with other companies.

Second-party data can be beneficial to add to your own data collection, but it’s only valuable if you can find a relevant company to exchange with. There’s little point in partnering with another business who has a completely different audience and market to you as this data won’t be relevant to your strategies. What’s more, whilst you know and control the collecting of first-party data in your own company, it’s hard to be fully aware of the value or accuracy of anyone else's data.

3. Third-party data

This type of data is purchased from a 3rd-party data company, such as Lotame, Onaudience, Oracle, Eyeota, to name a few. Third-party data can be extremely useful for enriching your first-party data, widening your audience and for targeted advertising. It’s usually focussed on behavioral and demographic data, but this varies considerably from company to company.

However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind when choosing a third-party data provider.

  • Are they compliant with privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA? The company should be clear on this point, otherwise contact them or look elsewhere for your data as this is hugely important
  • Is their data valuable? With 1st-party data, you know that it’s relevant to your business and is reliable to gain insights from. With someone else’s data though, it’s hard to check the quality. However, there are independent market standards and validation checks that should give you an idea of where that provider stands compared to market averages
  • What data do they provide? Their focus might be on data that isn’t really relevant or useful to you, so make sure this isn’t the case
  • Is it a good value for money? The pricing is marked at Cost Per Mille (CMP) and you should ideally compare this across a few providers before making a decision (and remember that 1st-party data is free!)
  • Do they have a good reputation? You might answer this question by researching who they’ve worked with, understanding their sources and asking around to see which 3rd-party business others work with.  
First-Party Data and Registration Walls Part 1
Data types: first-, second- and third-party data

2: Why adopt a first-party customer data strategy?

Without a doubt, data has been the power source for the internet economy over the last 20 years. Marketers have been dependent on data collection in order to monetize from advertising. Consumers online get access to content in exchange for their data, collected via cookies, which collect everything from the user's device, location, searching habits and more. However, as data protection and privacy becomes increasingly important, this model is at risk and publishers are being forced to find alternatives.

Subscription strategies are definitely a viable solution for many, asking users to pay for access to content. What’s more, users are increasingly more prepared to pay and can provide sustainable revenue for not only news journal websites but also brands, video streaming sites, e-learning platforms and more. Better still, even unpaid subscriptions (i.e. registering as a member on a site) can provide a solution to the lack of ad-revenue.

“Importantly, subscriptions don’t just have to be paid, free subscriptions can be equally powerful. From a marketer’s perspective, subscriptions are an incredible way to build a relationship with your audience. Consumers who sign up for subscriptions feel like they are part of a community. They have a connection to what you’re creating. The most evangelical fans eagerly wait to read the weekly newsletter, listen to the next podcast or watch the next episode. Subscriptions are a powerful tool to building brand loyalty.” - Kracov.

As Kracov’s article highlights, this is leading to a huge shift from dependency on 3rd party data to owned audiences. Therefore, a first-party data strategy is vital to your businesses success in the future of the internet.

  • First-party data is owned by you, guaranteed to be of a high quality and relevant to your business. What’s more it’s hugely cost-effective.
  • Changes to web browsers over the next few years are making the collection and control of first-party data ever more important. Google has announced their plans to phase out tracking cross-site in Chrome by 2023, which they currently do through using third-party cookies. This means that cookie usage is coming to an end and data is going to need to be accessed elsewhere. Given the importance of data for your business, a first-party data strategy is by far the best path to take and should be prioritized before cookies are gone for good.
First-Party Data and Registration Walls Part 1
  • As you own 1st-party data and are responsible for gathering user consent before collecting it, it’s the most transparent and compliant option in terms of privacy laws. For example, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) governs the collection and use of personal user information online within the EU. If you choose to purchase any third-party data, you’ll have to confirm that it complies with such regulations as these. However, this isn’t the case for 1st-party data as you yourself have this responsibility. What’s more, in regards to privacy, first-party data is the most trusted data-type, particularly from a user’s point of view. This is hugely important as trust is the foundation of building a strong and lasting relationship with your audience, which will benefit your business in a multitude of ways.
  • Personalization of a user’s experience online is pretty much an expectation in today’s world. But with all the difficulties and privacy concerns that come with collecting second- or third-party data, first-party data should be prioritized as the main tool for personalizing a user’s experience. It’s also, as mentioned, the most relevant to your site, so personalization and creating user segments using this data will be even more effective in achieving your business goals, including increasing revenue, improving retention and optimizing the user journeys.

3: How to collect first-party data using a registration wall

So, now you know what data is and that first party data should be a priority for you to collect, but how do you go about doing this?

Think With Google published an article online explaining ‘How to unlock the power of first-party data’, outlining 3 key elements. One of these is to create a fair and transparent value exchange.

“...for a fair and helpful exchange to occur the company must offer something useful or valuable to the customer. This could be information, assistance, premium content, an app, or a special offer — as long as it incentivises customers to share a bit more information about themselves.
Provided the business is transparent and responsible with how it uses that data this creates an ongoing value exchange between company and consumer. The consumer gets something of value, and the company learns more about their audience - allowing them to deliver better experiences and more effective marketing through the use of the first-party data

This value exchange is exactly what a registration wall involves.

Generally, a wall is used on a website to block content and ask visitors for a value exchange in order to gain access. More specifically, a register wall asks a user to create a free account before being able to view content.

First-Party Data and Registration Walls Part 1
ITV registration wall

Once their account is created, the user will login at every visit to your site, across devices, and you can track their behavior as well as collect other valuable first-party data from the registration process.

  • Track how users engage with your content: normally, visitors to your site are anonymous and it’s difficult to collect valuable data. However, if every user is required to create an account, and login on every visit, you’ll gain an understanding of their behavior, habits, desires and needs as well as put all this information to a single user profile. This tracking and data collecting can also be done across devices, meaning you can compare, for example, behavior on your app vs on a browser to provide yet more valuable insights.
“Account creation is an invaluable step in the process of converting new visitors into frequent customers. Getting customers registered with your business allows you to access and manage their data in one central location.” - Segment

  • Form in the registration process: when a user creates an account on your site, they’ll need to provide some basic information at your request. This is usually demographic data such as gender, date of birth (age), location, job title, etc, as well as their email address. Even this small amount of data will be useful to you, providing the foundations of a user profile that can then be gradually added to. This is called progressive profiling and is arguably the optimal way to use a regwall to collect first-party data - you ask for the bare minimum from a user in the account creation stage, even just requiring their email, and then more information can be gathered as they engage with your content.
First-Party Data and Registration Walls Part 1
Harvard Business Review registration form

  • Create user segments: with data collected from registered users, you can create audience groupings and adapt a user experience depending on their context. This can be particularly useful if you’re using a regwall as part of a subscription model. For example, segmenting your audience based on their profile (age, location, job title) will allow you to present each group with an adapted subscription offer that has the highest likelihood of conversion for that type of user. For B2B companies, this segmentation means that any products that you might launch in the future can be directly targeted at potential customers on your site, and in a way that they seem most responsive to.
  • More affordable option for you: a regwall can be very inexpensive, providing a particularly useful option for smaller businesses that will enable you to achieve other goals aside from simply data collection. For example, by having users create an account, you can provide them with personalization features such as saving content for later or resuming content where they left it. Think of Netflix, where every user’s homepage is filled with different, personalized content.
  • Customer loyalty and closer relationship with users: when it comes to creating a community of members on your site, many assume they have to be paying users (i.e. as part of subscription). However, building a registered community can be free for the users, help to keep them loyal to your company as well as build a closer reader-media relationship. As you engage with users and provide them with value, your audience will grow organically.
First-Party Data and Registration Walls Part 1
WTTJ registration wall

A registration wall is therefore an extremely powerful tool for any online company in many ways, but particularly as a method of collecting valuable first-party data.

It’s important to note here that walls, in all their forms, aren’t solely reserved for news journalism websites. In fact, any content producer online can use a wall to ask users for a value exchange, from e-learning platforms and video streaming sites to brands and social media. If you want to see some registration walls currently being used by successful companies, take a look at our ‘7 Examples of Registration Walls’ article.

So, that’s the background information sorted. But what next? How can you employ this first-party data strategy with a registration wall? What are some best practices to follow to optimize a regwall to match this model?

Find all this and more in part 2 of this white paper!

Want to discuss your business and how a registration wall could benefit you? Let's book you in for a free demo!

And don't forget that we also have plenty of other articles on our blog discussing everything from paywalls and cookie walls to success stories and strategies.