Tips for taking control of your audience data
In order to better monetize audience data, publishers first need to stanch the bleeding. Audience data platform Krux Digital estimates that publishers are losing $850 million in potential revenue to third-party data collectors.
Publishers could see as much as a 5 to 15 percent revenue lift by capturing opportunities related to audience data, according to Tolman Geffs, co-president at investment banking firm The Jordan, Edmiston Group, Inc. In an e-mail, Geffs likened the opportunity to the revenue boost offline publishers can get from data monetization programs such as list rentals.
Publishers are increasingly aware of the opportunity they have to more effectively leverage the data collected from and about website visitors — and the threat posed by third parties scraping that data. The opportunity to capitalize on data-driven digital media buying has been a recurring theme at media conferences this year.
"Data leakage has always been a concern, and with the amount of noise in the space right now I think it’s legitimate that publishers should be very vigilant," Peter Naylor, executive vice president of digital media sales at NBC, said at PubMatic's Ad Revenue conference in October. "If you can contain it, that’s step one. Then a publisher needs to decide: Am I going to go ahead and monetize it?"
Here are five tactics to take control of your data, plug leaks to third parties, and make the most of the audience opportunity.
Audit the tracking tools on your site
Before publishers can take advantage of audience opportunities, they need a clear picture of who's already tracking their audience.
Vet ad networks
Auditing the tracking pixels on your website can help publishers evaluate the relationships they have with third-party data collectors such as ad networks. Likewise, publishers should adequately vet new relationships beforehand.
The issue goes beyond unauthorized tracking; publishers could be under-valuing their audience data. Better valuation of the audience can lead to higher CPMs garnered from ad networks.
Colella said publishers should review contracts with ad networks to get a crystal-clear picture of who's doing what with their audience data. "Do you understand what the contracts are saying in terms of data collection and how they’re going to use that data?" she asked. "Understand what they are and make sure you're OK with them."
Select the right ad networks to partner with can be difficult, noted Scott Meyer, CEO and founder at Better Advertising, which powers a tool to let consumers control data tracked about them. "It’s always a tradeoff: Whose going to give me the highest yield versus what they’re actually doing with my data?” Meyer said at the PubMatic conference.
In general, publishers are better off using fewer partners and focusing more on internal efforts, Jeremy Mason, vice president of The Audience Gateway at AudienceScience, said in an interview.
"As much as publishers can reduce the number of pixels on their site, the number of networks or exchanges or partners they work with, and really focus their efforts on marketing their on-site efforts will be more profitable for them in the long term," Mason said.
Develop a more data-focused staff
Technology can certainly help publishers bridge the gap between ad sales and technology, but it's not the silver bullet. Geffs said “staff and skills” will be required to lasso the data opportunity.
Speaking at the PubMatic conference, Zucker said publishers need to have people can “keep track of the trackers” as part of their job description. It might not be one single job, but it could be part of the job for people in different areas of the company, such as technology and business partnerships.
Naylor added that, depending on the size of the publisher, it might make sense to have an entire position devoted to someone in charge of data monetization. “I think it's one of the emerging jobs,” he said.
Todd Teresi, chief revenue officer of Quantcast, said he's seeing more sophistication among publishers that are beginning to analyze revenue more scientifically.
"You start to see a lot of people with math and economic degrees taking these roles of revenue and business management at publishers," Teresi said at the Business Insider Ignition conference in New York earlier this month. "That’s only going to intensify."
Align data management with privacy efforts
Better data management goes hand-in-hand with the topic of consumer privacy: Bad practices in either harms the other. Getting data in order helps privacy, which helps the publisher's trust from the consumer. Negative press about data collection has put data collection in the spotlight. Despite self-regulation efforts using opt-out tools from vendors like Better Advertising, the FTC is examining privacy concerns in online media.
NBC's Naylor said publishers should be peeking around corners and asking themselves: "If The [Wall Street] Journal called today looking for a reaction, what are we going to say?”
An explicit data policy and clear options for opting out of certain targeting practices will go a long way toward building trust with your audience — which in turn will make them more likely to share information with you.
Stats from both Google and Better Advertising suggest that when given a choice, consumers don't opt out of behavioral targeting entirely. At the same time, a recent Gallup poll found users said they oppose behavioral targeting ― which could just mean their views and actions do not coincide.
Better Advertising's Meyer said giving consumers more choice is another way to open the door for publishers to better capitalize on audience. “If the consumer wants out, you have to let them out,” he said. “Then you’ll be in a position to do the kind of data management to generate revenue.” It might seem paradoxical, but Meyer makes sense: If consumer trust is tarnished, the data opportunity is lost entirely.
Set goals for your audience data
Once publishers have a clear picture of their audience data situation — and its value — they can better develop a strategy to monetize it.
Publishers have different data propositions and audiences that are more or less valuable to different buyers. For instance, a B2B publisher might have a valuable niche audience or a large premium publisher might have a valuable expansive audience. Smaller, generalist publishers might find it valuable to buy or trade data on an audience exchange. Other publishers might not think it's worthwhile to focus on data at all, seeing more opportunity in pure contextual advertising.
"Understand what your plans are and have a strategy," whether it be buying, selling or trading data, noted Colella. She added that data can go beyond behavioral targeting in advertising; for instance, it can help publishers tailor content to the user.
Figuring out what is already going on and finding the right tools is the first step to capitalizing and managing audience data in the long-term. As NBC's Naylor said, publishers should "control it and then decide to leverage it."