‘Contextual on steroids’: How Insider is tracking and scaling audience behavior using first-party data

Insider, publisher of Business Insider, has been preparing for the death of the third-party cookie for two years in order to stay competitive once they are a thing of the past. To accomplish that, Jana Meron, svp of programmatic and data strategy for the company, said it built up its database of behavioral information called Sága that it collected from its audience of about 90 million unique monthly visitors (as of June, according to Comscore).

The common misunderstanding about first-party data, according to Meron, is that this data comes from identifying elements such as email addresses or usernames from logged in users. In reality, she said, only a quarter of users are logged in at any given time and every visitor — regardless of whether or not they are signed in or what browser they are on — is given a first-party cookie. 

Over the course of about a month, Meron said that the first-party cookies collect and build up an understanding of users who are interested in specific categories on the site and learn more about those users beyond the top line interest.

“It almost doesn’t matter if they are logged in,” said Meron.

The data that Insider’s Sága can collect includes what stories readers are clicking on, their behaviors once on a page, how they are engaging with and sharing content, frequency of returning to a page or site, where they are coming from (whether it is social or search), who their favorite authors are and if they are buying things from the site.

Insiders’ Sága tool is a commercial product at the moment, but Meron said it also has the capability to also be an internal insights tool, adding that the goal is for it to be used throughout the company in order to not only inform campaigns but to inform new verticals, pricing and content packaging. 

In the latest edition of our Digiday+ Talks, Meron discusses how first-party data not only helps give Insider’s sales team a better understanding of how a campaign might perform, but also how it can extend well beyond the confines of Insiders’ websites.

What we learned

Understand the whole persona

Rather than going the cohort route and relying on demographic targeting, first-party data and using it to track the behaviors of visitors while on a site can help the publisher learn new and unique things about individuals even if they aren’t logged in.

“It’s less about the demographic and more about behaviors and actions,” said Meron.

  • Meron said that the data should focus on understanding the entire persona of each site’s visitor. The campaigns will then resonate with them, dig in deeper and tap into specific interests. 
  • “Someone isn’t just an IT decision maker,” Meron said. They’re also a parent, a pet owner and they’re interested in health and fitness. “Once you understand the whole persona, you’re able to create campaigns that will really resonate with them,” she said.  
  • “Every RFP comes with a demographic but we’re able to look at that demographic and — in places where a cookie can’t fire — we have to be reliant on user behaviors,” said Meron.

Selling clients on Sága and first-party data

While first-party data cannot deliver the one-to-one reach that marketers had with audiences the way that third-party cookies do, Meron said that the first-party data that publishers have access to is still better data than what other platforms, like TV, newspapers and radio are able to deliver.

Not only that, but first-party data has the opportunity to scale beyond the campaigns that the information about a specific audience was collected for.

  • Better results. Campaigns using first-party data are yielding better results than those using third-party data. Meron said that one of Insider’s clients that used the publisher’s first party data in its campaign saw a performance lift of 11% over the preexisting campaign benchmarks. 
  • Turning publishers’ first-party data into second-party data. Second party data for a publisher can come in the form of allowing advertisers to use their data on its site in a way that is meaningful, but it can also be looked at in the reverse. “How can I enable our biggest and best advertisers to use my data elsewhere? That way it becomes a scalable solution to our advertisers,” said Meron. 
  • Informing other areas of clients’ businesses. Some of Insiders clients have begun sharing this information with the creatives at their companies so that they too can integrate the data into future messaging. The learnings don’t remain solely with Insider.

First-party data and the open exchange 

Meron said there is a case for publishers to share their taxonomy with buyers on the open marketplace, but it depends on the publishers’ internal business structure and strategy. 

  • While Meron said she would not place the entire taxonomy on the open exchange, sharing its most popular terms could become a lead tool.
  • There is also the option to put the least popular taxonomy out there to see which advertisers are interested. A new type of client that wouldn’t normally advertise with Insider could come into the mix.
  • Finally, if a publisher doesn’t have a sales team, or a programmatic sales team in particular, placing its taxonomy on the open exchange will increase yield for that publisher new in the space. 
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