What the true lifetime value of your digital audience looks like

Every audience member is a valuable potential source of revenue for your media organization. However, some users offer more value than others throughout their lifetime as readers. 

So which visitors should you invest the most time and energy into nurturing across your digital properties?

Dan Seaman, Viafoura’s VP of product management, says the value of a user is ultimately down to the dollars you earn from them, but he adds that user value can also be measured through the data and user-generated content (UGC) you can extract from them. 

“Someone who shares a lot of content might also be more valuable than someone who doesn’t because they’re essentially contributing free content into the digital experience for other users,” Seaman says.

So what does that mean for your organization?

The engagement gap between anonymous and registered users

While almost all audience members start as anonymous visitors, the faster you can convert them to registered users, the better.

In fact, Viafoura’s data team reveals that registered users are significantly more engaged than anonymous visitors, resulting in:

  • 11 times more page views
  • 3.7 times more days spent active on publisher properties
  • 18.5 times more time spent on-site

All that additional engagement is key for publishers to collect critical data and insights to better understand and serve their audience. 

“Being able to use that knowledge of your users to improve your content coverage and also inform the experience provides unique value-add,” Seaman explains. “By getting users to register, you’re also forming a direct relationship, meaning you can communicate with them, personalize their experiences based on their profiles and gather behavioural data around the content they engage with.”

This means that your registered users who offer superior data collection opportunities around their interactions — can inform your content and business strategies.  

Meanwhile, anonymous users can only be monitored with third-party cookies, which are no longer reliable forms of tracking since they’re coming to an end.

digital customer experience

The impact of audience engagement on your revenue streams

There’s a direct connection between your most engaged users and your ability to grow your advertising and subscription revenue. Your registered users are known and are more engaged than your anonymous, passive visitors. So they offer greater revenue-earning potential than your unknown readers. 

“The more engaged a user is, the more time they spend on-site, the more frequently they return, the more likely they are to subscribe, the more ad views they’ll generate,” Seaman says. “And the more you know about your audience as they interact with your site, the more you can target your ad campaigns.”

Advertisers will pay for premiums to target specific audience groups. Viafoura data highlights that each registered user can generate an average of 13.7 times more ad revenue than an anonymous user when publishers have three ads on a page. 

To maximize the lifetime value of a user from both reader and ad revenue perspectives, publishers need engagement tools to persuade their audience to register or subscribe.

Extending user value without cutting off engagement

Though many companies use registration walls and paywalls to persuade users to convert, interact and pay, these tactics can also cut off user engagement if they’re not deployed effectively.

Superior registration walls just block or blur out the content, leaving the rest of the site functions and allowing users to continue to read comments,” Seaman reveals. “And if you’re going to ask people to pay, you have to make sure you’re listening to what they want and are providing them with a value in the form of community.” 

You can’t lock all content and on-site features behind a registration or paywall and expect people to want to convert. Instead, you have to build their engagement levels first by allowing them to access on-site engagement features, even if the content itself is locked. 

Humans naturally want to form social connections. So if you give your users the tools they need to explore your brand’s community, they’ll gradually want to register to join conversations. 

Once they register, you can form in-depth profiles of your known users and guide them to a paywall when they’re highly engaged and connected to the digital community. 

Users are seeking the opportunity to join communities of like-minded individuals around specific topics of interest. The more you can guide them toward an engaged, socially connected state, the harder it will be for them to lose interest in your brand. 

For example, data from the Pew Research Center reveals that 81% of teenagers feel highly connected to their communities of friends on social media and 2/3 of teens feel that they can depend on social media for social support.

For these users, quitting social media comes with a price: sacrificing social support and meaningful connections. So providing your users with opportunities to socialize with others is a simple way to encourage them to become loyal to your brand’s community and content.

“The era of going to a site and having a lonely experience will be increasingly odd,” says Seaman. “From a loyalty perspective, it’s easier for you to walk away from a brand than to walk away from an actual community.”

How To Leverage First-Party Data To Activate Your Audience

The days of social media companies profiting from publishers’ communities are over — and that’s a beautiful thing. Leaving behind the necessity to chase volume for ad impressions is pushing the publishing industry in a positive direction and presenting media companies with the chance to reclaim their positions of power for the first time in 20 years. Publishers now have the freedom to focus on producing great content and engaging audiences without being at the mercy of an algorithm or cookie.

The move towards a first-party data and revenue model relies on highly valuable content and incredible user experiences. Building a proprietary and high-resolution first-party audience that will attract advertisers and marketers, based on contextual and behavioural signals, is how publishers will reclaim their audience and generate new revenue opportunities in a post-cookie world. One of the best things that publishers can do today in preparation is to focus on increasing the volume, accuracy and recency of their first-party data gathering activities. 

Let’s break down the values of data volume, accuracy and recency: 

The value and volume of first-party data is clear; the more data that a publisher has to make available to buyers, the better. The value of data accuracy is also immense; it’s collected when users declare their interests, either directly or by their actions, and stored on the server-side regardless of how browsers or regulators evolve their privacy restrictions in the future. Finally, user data has a very short half-life, so media companies with audiences that return frequently will have an advantage with data recency — bringing users back to your website frequently will help to ensure that your audience data is fresh. 

Now, let’s review some of the ways that publishers are collecting first-party data today:


Newsletters have emerged as one of the most popular tactics for collecting first-party data. It’s a great strategy because newsletters capture registrations in a user-friendly way and provide a clear value exchange for readers. They also cement a direct relationship between the publisher and the user.

Registration Walls

Registration walls are becoming increasingly popular both as standalone tools and as a step along the paywall meter. Registration walls can be very effective in collecting first-party data but they can also undercut the relationship-building process with your audience and put a damper on data collection so they should be implemented carefully. As the value of first-party data increases, publishers may want to consider rebalancing their registration walls to ensure they’re maximizing the perceived value exchange for users.

Community Engagement and User-Generated Content

Community engagement and user-generated content (UGC) represent the most comprehensive and sustainable ways for publishers to build their first-party data stores. While some publishers previously shied away from community engagement and UGC in fear of the costs traditionally associated with managing online communities, modern automated moderation technology is making this process highly cost-effective — creating new and scalable opportunities for publishers to promote community engagement and generate valuable first-party data. 

We mentioned earlier that authenticated users allow publishers to store and track their activity on the server-side regardless of how browsers or regulators evolve their privacy restrictions in the future. Viafoura data shows that even the simplest implementations of audience engagement tools drive between 30 to 50 percent of all user registrations on our customer sites. 

Here’s some compelling data from Viafoura on how user engagement tools drive user engagement and retention: 

  • Engaged users spend three times as much time onsite than non-engaged users. 
  • Engaged users have a fifty percent retention rate in month two, versus three percent for non-engaged users, and even after six months, engaged user retention rates only dip to forty percent.
  • Registered users generate twenty times more page views and monthly time spent on site than non-registered users. User retention and frequency is crucial, and engaged and authenticated users are much more likely to return. 

Here’s the clincher: 

To leverage first-party data to activate their audience, publishers must offer value in exchange for the effort it takes for a user to register, and for their consent to collect. At Viafoura, we call these “value exchange moments” and we design our products to easily integrate these moments into your site. The landscape has changed. Building a value-driven relationship with your audience by creating a series of engagement opportunities is how you will reclaim your audience and revenue opportunities in a post-cookies world.

To learn more about how to build your first-party data strategy download The Publisher’s Guide to First-Party Data today.

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