Media companies can get reader data without frustrating “speed bumps”

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Since Google’s third-party cookie announcement, we recognise as an industry that we need to find ways to authenticate users. And this needs to fit seamlessly into our customers’ experience without causing too much of what my colleague Ariane Bernardwho runs the INMA Smart Data Initiative), calls a speed bump.

I’m sure this isn’t news to you. But I wonder whether it’s a priority? Anecdotally, I hear a lot about the work being done but that it’s not yet top of mind for many CEOs. That time is coming soon. 

Without third-party cookies, we need to find ways to authenticate users and start building profiles. This is needed for a whole variety of reasons, not least that we can’t build effective products if we don’t know who our users are. 

Readers do not like road blocks to getting to content, yet media companies need to gather as much information from them as possible. The answer may be progressive profiling.
Readers do not like road blocks to getting to content, yet media companies need to gather as much information from them as possible. The answer may be progressive profiling.

Sign-up/sign-on needs to be as simple as possible to increase the number of people moving through the funnel and not interrupt their content experience too much, yet we want to gather as much data as possible. These two have the potential to conflict. How do we handle that within product? Data is generally gathered in other ways and at other times to build profiles — called “progressive profiling.”

My colleague Ariane pointed out that most registration happens when the user is trying to do something else such as read an article or sign up for a newsletter. If this “speed bump” is more than a few clicks, we risk getting abandonment or perhaps worse, “dirty data.”

To give you some idea of the scope of this, my colleague Greg Piechota, who runs the Readers First Initiative, told me: “Sign-up/check-out abandonment is a big problem across e-commerce, but news publishers seriously underperform. In the INMA benchmarking study, we saw publishers losing on average more than 90% users during the subscription check-out, while a broader e-commerce industry is losing only about 70%.” 


Granted, this is for subscribing — not just registering — but that is a staggering number. It goes to show that there needs to be some kind of value exchange to get people to sign up: a newsletter, access to more content, at minimum. The good news is that once people are registered, there is a positive correlation to subscribing.

And what about the dangers of this dirty data (which I think is my new favourite phrase)?  

This happens when people pick an answer that isn’t true. This is usually the easiest answer rather than the real answer: the top country in the list, the first allowable birthday. In the U.S., the two most popular zip codes are 90201 and 10001 — the former from a popular 1990’s  TV show, the latter from ease. If we rush people through or make them do something that is counterintuitive to what they want to do, we’re at risk of getting data that not only isn’t usable but can lead to more work, or worse, bad decisions. 

So if we can’t get information up front, how do we collect more data? 

This is where progressive profiling comes in (unless you are in a country such as Poland that has exceptionally strict regulations around this). 

One company I spoke to used micros surveys. Leading with a quick/fun polling question, they found many people were then happy to answer subsequent profiling questions. This needs to be smart to know what has been gathered already. They use standard ad units, which means it’s fairly simple to implement without having to add additional units/pop-ups to the page. And the ad teams offer up the space as it’s mostly them that benefits from the resulting revenues.

Other organisations build this into tools and utilities on the page: local school listing, event trackers, or I even heard about an astral event that asked people for their zip code, which then gave them specific data about what they would see when. 

Ariane points to incentivising profile completion because “only good data will actually improve revenue — not ... bad, empty data.”

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Jodie Hopperton

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.