First-Party Data Activation: 3 Unique Strategies for Media Owners

Explore how publishers can channel their first-party data into new revenue streams and, in turn, realize higher yields.
Updated on December 22, 2023

The programmatic landscape is shifting, and with it, influence is starting to lean more towards the publisher’s side. Much of the reason for this change are media owners’ first-party audiences and how they’re an invaluable asset in a privacy-first world. 

There’s something of a reshuffle taking place in programmatic advertising. 

The evolving landscape means that the status quo between the buy and sell sides is shifting. With an ever-more fragmented supply chain, along with the imminent deprecation of third-party cookies, publishers’ ownership of relevant, targeted, privacy-compliant audiences is quickly becoming their ace card. 

In this article, we’ll explore how publishers can channel their first-party data into new revenue streams and, in turn, realize higher yields. 

Introducing Criteo Commerce Grid

Meet the SSP revolutionizing commerce monetization strategies.

First-party data: What it means for media owners

First-party data means something different for every programmatic player, but, as we move towards the cookieless world, it’s becoming clear that publishers are holding most of the cards. 

Put simply, the most valuable form of first-party data for publishers is their audience: the users who visit and engage with their web properties. If you’re a publisher, the fact is that nobody knows your audience better than you—and this knowledge is like programmatic gold-dust, especially for advertisers looking to reach specific demographic, contextual, or psychographic segments. 

But what exactly is first-party data in the context of publishing? It’s essentially anything you know about your audience: email address, age, location, household income, interests, browsing habits, devices, and more. 

In terms of collecting publisher first-party data, there’s a good chance you’re already doing it—at least in part. Here are most common sources: 

  • User registrations 
  • On-site activity (analytics) 
  • Newsletter metrics (subscriptions, open rates, clicks) 
  • On-site searches or inbound searches 
  • Content consumption (including gated content) 
  • Offline data (CRM, sales, etc.) 

Of course, before you begin collecting any of this data, you need the consent of your audience. 

This is where cookie consent pop-ups or user agreements are powerful tools for publishers, because they essentially give you the green-light to start monetizing audience data in a fully compliant and transparent manner. It’s vital that publishers make their consent requests as clear and concise as possible, using language suited to non-technical people which explains why you’d like to collect their data, how you’re going to use it, and what they can do to opt out if they change their mind. 

3 strategies to monetize publisher first-party data

With the fundamentals covered, it’s time to delve into the detail on precisely how first-party data can be a publisher’s best asset—especially in a marketplace where media buyers are eager for relevant, privacy-compliant audiences with built-in (and accurate) demographics. 

#1: On-Site Audience Targeting 

The simplest way to monetize your first-party data as a publisher is to simply run ads on your site and allow advertisers to target your on-site audience. Once your audience segments are created by feeding your first-party data into a DMP, you can allow advertisers to target them in a couple of ways, including via programmatic pipes using Private Marketplace (PMP) or Programmatic Guaranteed deals. While programmatic pipes will offer more control of campaign management, some advertisers might prefer to use conventional Insertion Orders and creative tags to run ads via your ad server. 

#2: Off-Site Audience Extension 

On-site targeting is a useful tactic, but what happens if you don’t run ads at all? Or perhaps you have a paid subscription with an ad-free option? In this case, you might feel like you can’t do much with your first-party audience segments—but that’s far from the truth. With Audience Extension, you can allow advertisers to retarget your audience outside of your properties. With everything you know about your users, advertisers will be chomping at the bit to leverage your audience segments for targeting. The downside of traditional Audience Extension is that it requires publishers to effectively set up and manage their own trade desk, including the costs associated with maintaining a DSP seat. It’s also simply not how agencies want to buy media these days. But there is another way… 

#3: Audience Extension via Curated Marketplaces 

If you’ve not heard of programmatic curation just yet, you’d better get used to it—because it’s an exciting evolution of the programmatic landscape. Curation refers to the concept of ‘curators’ (who can be publishers, agencies, or data providers) packaging up data with supply and selling it via a deal ID to be activated on any DSP. With curation, publishers can carry out Audience Extension without the need for their own trade desk—and they can slice and dice their valuable first-party segments for advertisers without ever sharing complete datasets or any Personally Identifiable Information. 

Programmatic trading in the post-cookie era

With decades of reliance on purchased data, media buyers are approaching something of an impasse with the upcoming 2024 deprecation of third-party cookies from Google Chrome. 

Not only that, but the introduction of initiatives such as GDPR and CCPA highlight the global move towards a privacy-first digital landscape. In this context, the center of power within programmatic will also begin to shift—towards the publishers. 

With third-party cookie tracking off the table, and faced with a barrage of competing ID solutions, media buyers will start to look towards first-party audiences owned by publishers. This is because, even if media buyers want to target their own first-party audiences today, they need to upload their data segments and match them via cookie syncing with DSPs and SSPs—all of which rely on third-party cookies. Once the third-party cookie has gone the way of the dodo, advertisers and publishers alike will need to find new solutions to target first-party audiences. 

The bottom line here is that, once cookies go away, first-party data will become even more valuable. This is why, if you’re not already, right now really is the best time to start collecting and converting your first-party data into segments to be used with curation today, or whichever identity solutions eventually come out on top in the future. 

If you’re a media owner looking to capitalize on your existing audience and unlock the true value of your first-party data, Criteo is here to help. Get in touch with the programmatic experts on the Criteo Commerce Grid team today and we’ll help you hit the ground running with your first-party data strategy.  


Drive success with supply solutions

Discover why 19,000+ global clients trust Criteo as their preferred advertising partner.

Lift in Commerce Grid ad spend via curated demand
Increased CPMs for Safari traffic
Rob Taylor

Based in the sporadically sunny climes of London, UK, Rob is Global Content Manager at Criteo. With over 11 years' experience in the ad tech industry across both SEM and programmatic, Rob is passionate about making tech make sense. He holds a BA(Hons) degree in English & Journalism from the ...

Global Content Manager

to our newsletter

Fresh sales trends and consumer insights to help
you plan and win.