Newsletters, branded content help news media capitalise on first-party data

By Amelia Labovitch


Antwerp, Belgium

In today’s digital world, most consumers are accustomed to receiving some form of personalisation during their online experiences. Whether it’s an Amazon recommendation based on past purchases or a Netflix suggestion based on previous viewing history, there is no denying personalised content can be key to creating an engaging experience.

First-party data is the information companies collect about their consumers through interactions with their own products and services. This includes everything from basic identifying information like age, gender, and location to customer behaviour — likes, dislikes, search history, purchasing activity, etc. Companies can also collect this information explicitly by asking visitors to fill in a survey or provide questionnaires.

First-party data will become increasingly important as news publishers develop their personalised content.
First-party data will become increasingly important as news publishers develop their personalised content.

In today’s data-driven world, first-party data is essentially an online identity for a consumer of how a user interacts with your digital channels specifically. A first-party data profile can predict a person’s interests based on their existing Web site activity and the context of those activities. It allows companies to target them more effectively with personalised content and ads that are relevant to their specific needs or interests.

Importance of first-party data in the news industry

News publishers have been slower to adopt this trend, but it has become increasingly important as they seek ways to keep up with evolving consumer expectations around the quality of content delivery and personalised service.

In fact, across industries, 78% of consumers expect their favourite brands will offer them personalised experiences — something that can only be achieved through better use of first-party data by publishers themselves.

For publishers trying to engage readers with content they find relevant, personalisation is the key. Rather than pushing out content in bulk, many publishers now use powerful algorithms to generate curated content feeds for different audience segments or even on a user-by-user basis.

Though third-party data has been used extensively across the digital marketing industry in recent years, it is becoming less reliable as an advertising and personalisation tool due to the limitations being imposed on its usage by browsers and regulatory authorities.

In addition to these restrictions, because third-party data is taking information about all user behaviour across a variety of different channels, it can be hard to pinpoint which behaviour is most relevant to your specific channel. As such, publishers are increasingly turning to first-party audience data as a means of generating actionable insights that help optimise user engagement and retention strategies, as well as improve ad performance for advertisers.

Getting the most out of first-party data

As you can see, there is a rich source of data available to news organisations. But how can you use this data in a way that is meaningful to both your organisation and your reader? Let’s explore some interesting use cases:

Home page and article page recommendations

The world’s biggest news organisations are implementing personalisation of some kind on the key pages of their Web site. For home pages, having personalisation that incorporates known user interests in combination with diversity will help your reader find relevant content that may only be interesting to them. While on the article, using the article as a context item will allow for personalisation that surfaces similar but relevant content to keep your reader engaged.

One of many examples we have seen is De Telegraaf, which saw a 23% uplift in click-thru rate (CTR) on its home page using personalised article recommendations compared to manually curated content that is the same for every visitor.


Newsletters are becoming more important for news organisations to bring readers back to their digital channels. They also provide value to readers, justifying their subscriptions. By personalising these newsletters to show relevant articles on an individual basis, you increase the likelihood a reader will click back to your Web site while also reinforcing that this newsletter contains valuable content for the subscriber.

Mediahuis was keen to test this on its own newsletters and was able to consistently outperform the baseline CTR by at least 15% for popular brands and 19% for regional brands using personalisation.

Push notifications

As noted previously, push notifications have proven to be an upcoming channel for publishers. As we saw with Mediahuis, by using personalisation to define an audience of readers that will find your push notification interesting using the first-party data you’ve already collected, you can drastically reduce the churn rate of notification subscribers while also achieving a CTR 10 times higher compared to general push notifications to everyone.


With subscription revenue becoming a more prevalent conversation, knowing how to use a paywall effectively is a key component to winning out over competition. When it comes to personalisation, the recommender systems behind it can be used to not only enhance a paywall pop-up by showing relevant articles the subscriber will get access to but also to calculate the absolute best moment to show a paywall for each user.

Showing the paywall at the right time can be a make-or-break moment in the decision to subscribe. That makes this area of personalisation all the more interesting to keep an eye on.

Branded content

Another interesting area of revenue that is becoming more popular is branded content. This is content a news publisher pays a writer or company to publish an article on their Web site. Typically, the more views on the article, the more money the publisher receives.

Ensuring you use personalisation that allows for this kind of boosting will not only give your team control over the recommendations, but can also ensure this kind of content is shown to those with the highest likelihood of interacting with it.

Hello! Magazine saw the results first-hand with its CTR on this kind of content increasing five-fold over a 40-day period.


As digital media evolves, there is an increased need for publishers to adopt new strategies in order to compete with other entities. This means utilising first-party audience data as a way of understanding their readers better and serving them more personalised content in a variety of applications and across channels.

This will help publishers not only retain existing readers but also attract new ones through relevant advertising offers that fit their profile and increase their reader’s subscriptions.

About Amelia Labovitch

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