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.

Author: Keith Sibson

Keith Sibson is VP Product & Marketing at PostUp, an email, mobile, and social media marketing platform provider.

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