Why Email Is an Easier Way to Establish User Identity

To better engage and monetize your audience, you have to know your audience. It’s no coincidence that the two platforms that command the majority of digital ad spend also collect the majority of first-party data on their users.

To better engage and monetize your audience, you have to know your audience. It’s no coincidence that the two platforms that command the majority of digital ad spend also collect the majority of first-party data on their users. To effectively compete with the duopoly and maximize audience value, publishers need the means to establish user identity, reconcile it across the multiple devices used day-to-day, and tie that identity to associated first-party data.

Of course, tackling the problem of user identity is easier said than done. Browser cookies are inherently transient, and result in different user identities for each of their devices. One common approach to resolving user identity is to add a registration layer, which effectively asks users to identify themselves. However, prompts asking site visitors to register or sign in are typically met with crickets. And customer profile or identity management technology that aims to resolve identity automatically often complicates an already-complex tech stack, only to achieve mixed results. Fortunately, establishing and reconciling audience identity can be as straightforward as tapping into technology you already have: email.

An Email Click Is a “Sign-In” to Your Site

For all its simplicity, email is a powerful key to user identity. As a direct link to the user, the email address is essentially a user’s home address on the internet, their identity. Publishers have long used this link to communicate directly with readers, but email doesn’t just allow you to reach your audience and bring them to your site. It identifies those audiences once they get there.

When readers click through an email link to your site, that click carries a token of that reader’s identity. This token is simply a unique ID on the URL that represent a known email address; you can work with your tech team to add one in your email platform. With this token on all email links and a little JavaScript on your website, each click functions as a sticky “sign-in” that establishes and reconciles visitor identity, regardless of whether that click takes place at home, on a mobile phone, on a work computer, and even on a brand new device.

An email click doesn’t depend on the user to explicitly sign-in. Onsite registration and sign in processes can only reconcile user identity if users consistently sign in — assuming you even convince your site visitors to register in the first place. There’s typically little incentive to complete a registration process (particularly when content is free), and even less incentive to stay signed in. Collecting a newsletter opt-in is generally a lower hurdle than setting up a username and password, and unlike user logins, each subsequent “sign-in” through the email address happens automatically.

Finally, email sidesteps the obstacles of customer identity or access management solutions, which use an array of tactics to identify users. While technologically advanced, these solutions aren’t infallible, as cookies are cleared and devices often replaced, leading to duplicate user profiles. Meanwhile, people tend to hang onto their email address for life, and email is the first thing they configure on new devices. This makes the email click a more reliable carrier of identity than cookies, registration credentials, or identity resolution technology.

Deriving Value From Audience Identity

Having established this “sign-in” to your site, you can collect first-party data about onsite behavior and content consumption and apply that session’s data to a consolidated user profile record. This gives you the ability to create a long-term user profile as long lived as that user’s email identity.

User behavioral data can be pushed into any number of existing platforms without requiring additional technology, for example Google Analytics, or customer data platforms (CDP). This consolidates your first-party data, with fewer additional systems in your ever-growing tech stack.

With audience identity and its associated data readily available for use across your channels, you can better engage and monetize your known audience. For instance, given that you already have the email address, you also already have an effective channel for putting data to use. With the direct link to your users that email provides, you can use enriched data to sell targeted audience segments to in-email advertisers, deliver personalized newsletter content, and nurture subscribers with marketing emails that closely align with their position in the customer lifecycle.

Another benefit of combining this new first party identity and data with your existing analytics instance is that it unlocks the historical data in your analytics you have already been collecting for years. This gives you deeper historical insight into user interests, allowing you to better answer questions about your readers and shape your content strategy to match your audience. When you know who your audience is, you are empowered to drive the most value from that audience.

The Power and Pitfalls of Using Browser Push Notifications

With the advent of browser push notifications, marketers and publishers now have a new channel to directly connect with their audience. Odds are, you’ve encountered browser push opt-in requests many times: browser-generated dialogs asking whether you want to “allow” or “block” notifications from the site you’ve just entered.

With the advent of browser push notifications, marketers and publishers now have a new channel to directly connect with their audience. Odds are, you’ve encountered browser push opt-in requests many times: browser-generated dialogs asking whether you want to “allow” or “block” notifications from the site you’ve just entered.

The ability to reach users immediately, no matter where they are, makes browser push a high potential channel for delivering breaking news or the day’s top articles. By using push to connect users directly with their best content a couple times each day, marketers and publishers can build valuable direct relationships with a broader audience.

That’s not to say browser push success is automatic. In fact, the wrong push approach can cut these relationships short before the first notification is sent. To implement browser push effectively, it’s important to recognize both its power and potential pitfalls so you can craft a strategy that doesn’t push people away.

The Power of Push

Apps for phones and tablets have been around for years, and many publishers use app push notifications to reach their audience and buzz their pockets to drive engagement, all without the algorithm interference of social or the deliverability challenges of email. However, the biggest obstacle here is usually the app itself — getting people to download your app can be tough, assuming you have the resources to build an app in the first place. Less than half of digital publishers have an app, and for those that do, audience penetration averages less than 5%.

With browser push, publishers get the same instantaneous reach of app push without the hurdles. Not everyone will download an app, but everyone uses a browser and browser push notifications are functionally identical to app notifications. They appear on your desktop or phone home screen, even if you are not browsing the web. And with all modern web browsers now supporting push on mobile and desktop, your potential audience is significant.

Even better, you have a good chance of converting this potential audience. Browser push tends to earn higher opt-in rates than other channels because of its low-hurdle opt in.

While some visitors may hesitate to hand over their email address, especially on mobile, you may succeed in asking them to complete a lower-effort action. Opting into push requires nothing more than clicking the mouse, giving publishers access to a sector of their audience that might be wary of giving up personal information.

The Pitfalls of Push

These benefits have led more marketers and publishers to incorporate browser push into their strategy, especially as increased browser support makes it more attractive and companies like OneSignal give them the ability to send unlimited push notifications for free.

Of course, wider use of push doesn’t mean that marketers and publishers are using it the right way. Those push subscribers who refuse to hand over their email address probably wouldn’t be happy to learn that free browser push services make a business of selling their user data. Making a serious push with browser notifications may require publishers to rethink the use of free push services. They’ll also have to rethink their push approach.

Many browser push strategies go awry at the attempt to obtain the opt-in. Often, marketers and publishers rely solely on the browser’s default permissioning request, that dialog box generated natively through the browser as soon as the page loads. While the default dialog does offer a low hurdle for your audience, it creates a high-stakes situation for you. Before visitors even get a chance to view your content, default dialogs hit them with an ultimatum: agree to receive push notifications from this site or block them outright. It’s hardly a way to welcome new visitors.

Without prior knowledge of your content, your invitation will most likely be rejected. And since very few people will dig deep into their browser settings to reverse their decision, your push notifications are essentially blocked forever, robbing you of a chance to connect in the future.

Growing Your Push Audience

The key to growing your browser push audience lies with a more strategic opt-in request. In order to maximize your audience and prevent an immediate block, it’s best to make sure the browser dialog is displayed only at the point when your audience is likely to convert.

To do so, you can present an initial message that lets visitors trigger this allow/block prompt themselves, making it likely that users only see the dialog box when they’re ready to opt in. That way, if they haven’t reached that point yet, you still have a chance to convert them at a later time, after they’ve seen enough of your content to know they’d like to receive alerts about it.

Deploying your own opt-in request also gives you the ability to customize your message, which can make all the difference when it comes to earning an opt-in. Like email newsletter capture forms, you can compel more people to opt in by first telling people what they’re opting into. By clearly communicating the value of receiving your push content, you can earn something more valuable in return: a direct audience relationship.