What can we offer our users in exchange for their personal data?

May 7, 2024

First-party data is the data collected directly from your users, on your website, such as gender, age, location, email address, etc. We all keep hearing since the past two years first-party data has become a crucial priority for publishers’ digital roadmaps. But why is it so important? How can we effectively capture this data?

Why first-party data matters

· Directly sourced from our users, first-party data is valuable because considered accurate and reliable.

· We have full ownership of this data.

· It enables targeted traffic (through the logged audience), targeted campaigns, and personalized experiences.

· With the upcoming end of third-party cookies (if not delayed a 4th time), it might help compensate a part of the expected programmatic revenue losses (news media programmatic revenue may see a 62% decline).

· The logged audience (concurrent number of registered users connected to a website) is trackable, measurable, and will provide meaningful insights.

Content isn’t king anymore, community is

Our registered audience is our community, it is made up of our most loyal users and brand ambassadors. It’s an opportunity to get closer, to engage and increase trust with this valuable audience. Because of its high conversion and monetization potential, some marketers say “Content isn’t king anymore, community is”. Keep in mind your followers on Facebook and Instagram are not your community, they are META's. Even if you spend efforts and budget to engage them on these platforms through your posts and videos, you don't own their data. Your true community is the one you acquire from your website directly from your users, and whose data belongs to you.

If we want our users to register and give away their personal data, we first need to address this key question: “What to give them in exchange for their personal data”

A newsletter? Sure, that’s one of the basics, and like thousands of websites, we already provide this service, but it’s far from enough. And let’s keep in mind that to send a newsletter, a publisher only needs the user’s email address, so how can we justify asking the user for more valuable info like gender, age, or location? And in addition to this, awareness about personal data is growing and users won't give away their personal data as easily as they did before:

· People get more and more educated and vigilant about data privacy rules.

· Users are aware of the value of their personal data, and the potential revenue publishers can make from it (including the gigantic ad revenue companies like META are doing just by using users’ personal data).

This means we need to provide a clear benefit and offer valuable services to the users in exchange for their personal data. It’s a deal. This is why before implementing your registration system on your website, it is critical to define the services you will be able to offer your registered users. To do so, just look at your own behavior: What would it take for you to give away your email address, gender, age, postal code, or your preferred beauty brands to a website?

First let’s assume users are keener to give away their personal data to a trusted brand vs an unknown brand. Marie Claire is a highly trusted and recognized brand. That’s a first step, it’s great but not enough.

How to capture first-party data

As we said earlier, the key to get your users registered is about letting them know clearly the benefits they will get from you in exchange of their personal data.
Here are some ideas / examples / thoughts of services that could be offered to the users in exchange of their personal data:

· This feature allows your members to save their MC preferred content.
· On each article, just put an icon “Add to favorites”, for the user to save the article.
· Registered users can access their favorites articles list and find their preferred MC content: saved beauty stories, saved fashion stories, saved cooking recipes, podcasts, videos…

Incentivize membership through exclusive offers such as Vouchers, samples from your partners, access to premium events…

Combining well-designed casual games with content has always been a successful way to drive engagement, loyalty, registrations, retention and a potential additional revenue with shoppable and sponsored games. The New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the french Ouest-France... Many publishers have successfully embraced a strong online gaming strategy and have created Games sections on their websites, recruiting thousands of users and monetizing this additional traffic.

A NYT staff once joked and said “The Times is now a gaming company that also happens to offer news.

· Last year, Hearst acquired Puzzmo, an online puzzle game.
· LinkedIn just launched 3 puzzle games on its website and app.
· 2 years ago, the NYT acquired Wordle, an online wordgame, for a 7 figures deal. In 2023, 8bn games were played on the NYT games section, half of them on Wordle.

It’s not about having an online or downloadable MC branded Candy Crush or Scrabble game app. It’s about having contextual, editorial, smart, and quality games like quizzes with sponsored prizes, tests like “Evaluate your self-confidence”, wordgames or any other online playable games that would make sense for our target audience. Quizzes, tests, and wordgames are classic formats that have already proven to be efficient and highly appealing for the female audience.

People love quizzes and tests because they offer entertainment and educational value. It’s a fun way to explore and learn about the world trends, and other serious society/educational topics. Wether you provide a quiz, a test or a wordgame, your users will be grateful for having 5 minutes of entertainment while learning something... not to mention the chance to win a valuable prize.

MC is a premium brand with quality content, and some may think quizzes, tests or wordgames are a too popular format, not aligned with our premium brand positioning. But quizzes and tests are universal, they attract a wide range of audiences. MC is a premium brand, this means our users expect quality content displayed in a quality interface. If we provide games, they will also expect quality, editorially smart and well-designed games. Incorporating quizzes, tests or wordgames will create value (engagement, registration, loyalty, time spent) only if well executed.

Running quizzes and tests can be time consuming: you need to think about topics and create the sets of questions, the associated answers and double or triple check for the right answers. But today you can use AI for inspiration and help you generate questions + answers, which will significantly reduce the time spent to run these formats. "Hello ChatGPT can you create a quiz based on this article"? And in less than 5 seconds, you have a contextual ready-to-go 10 questions set, try it.

TIME is using OpenAI technology and trained ChatGPT on its archive to automatically generate news quizzes based on archive. Also see the New York Times’ weekly news quiz, BBC’s Quiz of the week, the Guardian, and many other media websites that have demonstrated there is a significant traffic and monetization potential. 

Quizzes, tests and wordgames are nothing new, they will be sustainably successful only if well-designed and editorially consistent. To get users engaged, you need a high-quality interface, find a combination of smart/fun content with attractive (and sponsor-funded) prizes. With a very basic interface, Marie Claire Hungary managed to attract 100k unique users in just two weeks with a simple quiz where users had to guess countries capitals... and there was no prize to win.



Offer your members exclusive access to content from your print magazine
While most MC editions publish print articles on their websites two to three weeks after the magazine is available in newsstands, consider providing members with access to print articles way earlier than non-registered users.

Access to MC archive
If technically and financially feasible, give members access to your MC archive, including old print issues and digital articles. 

More and more publishers strategically place high-engagement articles behind a datawall, where only registered users can access the full story. Non-registered users may only view a portion of the article until they register, providing an opportunity for increased registrations and data collection.

It's all about finding the right balance: A well-designed and balanced datawall can increase conversion and data collection, a too restrictive datawall can drive visitors away and dramatically reduce traffic, while a too easy access to content will have no impact on traffic, but will reduce the data collection effectiveness and potentially, monetization.

It's easy to understand why a publisher would want to install a datawall, it's a different story for the user. Indeed, when you start reading an article and suddenly realize you won’t be able to read the whole thing, you get frustrated, that’s a basic human reaction. And the more the article is interesting, the bigger the frustration. 

Moreover, UX is an important Google algorithm criterion for SEO. Google considers a datawall as a barrier to accessing your content i.e. a UX degradation. Some say this will negatively impact your SEO. The plan here is to find the right balance between our need to increase registered users and collect first-party data, while reducing the impact on UX and the users’ frustration. How to mitigate user frustration?

Provide clear information
The more information, the less frustration: When an article sits behind a datawall, notify the non-registered users before they click on the article link, through an icon or a small warning text. 

Offer a less disruptive reading experience
Instead of only showing a portion of the article and interrupt the reading experience, consider allowing full access, but for a very limited amount of time, such as 20, 30 or 40 seconds, depending on the article length. Add an animated countdown so that the user will instantly understand how it works. This may generate a positive frustration

Streamline the registration process
Make registration fast and easy, gradually collecting user data to reduce friction.  For example, MC France requires only an email address for full story access, enhancing user experience with a fast registration process. Then the email address is stored in a local cookie. The next time the user wants to access a story behind the datawall, the user will be asked for gender or age, and this data will also be added in the local cookie…


Besides being a sign of transparency, UGC is key to grow and engage your community.

Activating (or reactivating) comments
As a publisher, you are legally responsible for the content published and hosted on your digital platforms, including content created by your users. During the 5 to 10 past years, many publishers have removed the ability for their users to comment their articles, because of the legal risk, because moderation is painful and moreover an additional workload and budget, because of the chaos perpetrated by trolls, and because of rude and hateful comments. This ended lowering the user experience and had an impact on the article perception, but that mostly concerns the news websites.

There has been a tipping point where the balance between the moderation workload required vs the potential benefits became a real question, and anyone can understand why many publishers decided to remove the comments. But on the long term, publishers may miss an opportunity.

Many users consider comments as a service, and as a sign of transparency that strengthens the social bond between the editors and the users, which is important in these times where people are increasingly challenging trust in media.

It’s no revelation to say UGC is all about having an efficient moderation tool. Dozens of AI-powered moderation tools exist, they are becoming more and more efficient, with advanced machine learning algorithms providing a comprehensive content analysis and reliable filtering capabilities, keeping in mind we don’t need image moderation, just text. 

In case you find a good and cost-effective automatic moderation tool, why not try to activate the comments? Besides the costs involved, there are many benefits for publishers and users, including an incentive for them to register.

To conclude, if a safe environment can be guaranteed in the comments section thanks to a reliable moderation tool, then it will for sure have a sustainable positive impact.

Publish your reader's testimonials in a dedicated section
Since its creation approx. 30 years ago, Marie Claire Brasil has created the "I, reader" section where real stories written by real users are published, driving a high level of authenticity and trust.
This "I, reader" section drives more than 25% of MC Brasil website total traffic (Q1 2024).


Want to amplify user engagement? Create interaction opportunities with your users!

While implementing your online registration system, consider integrating a virtual currency unit for your registered users, such as diamonds for example. You can use it to reward your users and encourage them to interact with you.

For example, each time the user reads an article, there is a button at the bottom of the page asking if she/he enjoyed reading the story (Yes / Dunnow / No):
· Benefits for the user: The user has the satisfaction to give her/his opinion + gets 1 diamond in exchange for sending an answer.
· Insights benefits for the publisher: Editors get a feedback from the readers and better understand their expectations.

Increase the opportunities for your users to understand the benefits for them to interact with the brand:
· When a user registers on your website, she/he is awarded 5 diamonds.
· The user wants to read an article behind a paywall (only for premium paying users)? No problem, she/he can access this article in exchange of 3 diamonds.
· You want the user to add complementary profile info like age or gender? Give the user 2 diamonds in exchange.
· Your user played the quizz of the day with more than 5 rights answers? The user wins 2 diamonds.
· Your user saved an article in his profile? The user is given one diamond.
· Etc etc

By doing this, you successfully create key elements to fuel engagement:
· Interactions between you and your users.
· User satisfaction.
· Opportunities to increase trust and loyalty.


A well-designed registration process is key for conversion. We need to provide a clear incentive for the user to register, with a perfect registration page.

We are still trapped in the wild west data era, and most of the time, online registration can be a painful process:
· Because more and more websites are desperate for your personal data.
· Sometimes, you feel like the value of your personal data is way higher vs the service you can get from the website asking for your data.
· Each time you click on a “Register” button, you know your personal data will be sold and shared with other websites, and you will receive more spams, more useless mails you never asked for… and some users feel guilty because this consumes a lot of energy (datacenters are responsible for over 1% gas emissions)…  and not to mention the risk that if the website gets hacked, your personal data will be sold on the dark web…
· Because a lot of registration pages and forms are not appealing or unclear.

How can we make this process less painful?
First, let's keep in mind a registration is a deal you make with your users: you ask for their personal data, and they expect something in return. And that’s exactly what we have in mind when we do it ourselves, right? This means you need to clearly highlight the benefits for the users to sign-up to your website! That is the key point to deliver conversion: having an appealing registration page.

The best way to optimize conversion is to put yourself in the user’s shoes when designing your registration page: Do not have a “user-first” approach but rather a “human-first” approach, trust your common sense and consistency skills. Do not reproduce what annoys you when you register on a website. Here are some tips to onboard your new members and make them feel they are in control during the registration process:

· On the registration page, clearly display the benefits for the user to sign-up.

· Don’t ask for too much information. By reducing the number of fields, you increase conversion. Don’t forget you can ask for additional information later (see MC France example above).

· Use one single sign-up screen and remember most of registrations will be done by mobile users, your registration page has to be fully mobile-optimized.

· Use all available technology to pre-fill the fields when you have the data: make life easier for your users.

· Provide a perfect UX, use smooth colors and clear fonts, and a basic language. Avoid acronyms.

· Insert clear explanations inside the fields, and allow the user to choose to see the characters when entering their password.

· Use a more appealing text for the Call-To-Action button (the button the user clicks to confirm the registration). Instead of “Sign-up” or “Register”, rather use “Become a Marie Claire preferred member”, or anything that clearly highlights the value you get by registering.

· Asking for the personal phone number is a deal breaker for many of us, which is why it cannot be a mandatory field unless there is a clear reason to justify it (or else you will collect fake numbers). I strongly advise not to ask for it. Would you give away your personal mobile number to a website unless it is necessary?

· Respect GDPR, EU and CCPA privacy requirements.

· After the user clicks the CTA button and confirms registration, don’t forget to say thank you and welcome the user inside the Marie Claire community. He is now a MC member. Send the user a welcome email, repeat the benefits and privileges the member has now access to, add an activation link to confirm the email address.

Important: Providing an easy way to access / edit your profile info, and to delete your account, is critical.

To sum up, if you are not in a position to provide clear and valuable benefits or services to your users in exchange for their personal data, then don’t waste your time and budget to setup a registration system on your website. If possible try at least to ask for the email address for your users to receive your newsletter(s) in case you don’t already provide this basic service. Next step could be the gradual datawall implementation, before developing your full registration system. And remember it takes time to grow a loyal community

David Jullien - International CDO - Marie Claire International.