4 internal checks to make sure you’re ready

First-party data has become a buzzword in digital marketing. We have to accumulate it and take it into account with the depreciation of the cookie, but it can take different forms and require different levels of technical execution.

The main difference between first-party data and third-party data is that you own it. You have built the relationship with the prospect who has obtained their consent to be tracked/have their details stored. You’re not using a shopping list, you’re pestering with remarketing just because someone visited your site or shared data on domains outside of the proprietary set.

The key questions every business should ask themselves are:

  1. Are the data correct?
  2. Does the onboarding process build trust and commitment?
  3. Are you taking full advantage of your first party data?
  4. Is it a short-term or long-term implementation?

1. Is first-party data compliant?

There are two major considerations in first-party data compliance:

Above all, it is important that your brand lawfully collects and stores your proprietary data. GDPR and CCPA both have strict requirements for data storage and accessibility.

One of the universal requirements is data hashing. Data hashing converts your proprietary data into a random series of numbers and letters while maintaining basic functionality. You can use advertising tools such as customer lists without compromising the privacy of your prospects/customers.

Most advertising platforms and CRMs will automatically do this for you. The only operational concern is when you need to upload a list and share it with a team member/vendor. You can avoid this by sticking with existing data sync integrations (Zapier can be helpful if you need to create a custom one). That said, if there is no other option, the following protocols should be in place to protect the data:

  • Logins of users who gain access must be protected by two-factor or multi-factor authentication.
  • User data should not be stored on personal computers.

The other big consideration is tracking. Sites using Google Analytics must use global site tags (which enable GDPR-compliant modeling) and language that affirms that the user consents to being tracked. The user must see the follow levels and choose what they want (instead of opting out).

Another important consideration for brands is their domain structure. Google has confirmed that brands are allowed five domains as part of their first-party data set. Proprietary datasets dictate which domains can share analytics and tracking data.

If you use a lot of custom domains or country-specific domains, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons of consolidating into a subdomain or subcategory structure. The biggest consideration is whether the loss of data will be significant enough to offset any fluctuations in SEO resulting from the migration. Whichever path you choose, you will need to ensure that any paid traffic is on no_index/no_follow.

2. Does the onboarding process build trust and commitment?

On-site tracking consent forms are essential for website design and CRO (conversion rate optimization). It takes a lot to successfully obtain user consent, from phrasing to placement.

The basic needs are:

  • Simple and easy to understand permissions on tracking.
  • A link to the privacy/cookie policy.
  • The ability to opt in or out of tracking.

Getting creative with language can help inspire brand affinity. However, the clarity of the message must be maintained.

HubSpot does this well with its verbiage:

“We use cookies to improve the Hubspot website. Cookies help provide a more personalized experience and relevant advertisements for you and web analytics for us. To find out more about the different cookies we use, see our cookie policy (baked goods not included).

It does a great job of disarming the user, and the design makes cookie consent a hard-to-miss CTA (call to action). That said, it leads to brand benefits instead of user benefits, which could prevent users from opting in to tracking.

Going one-way has its advantages, however – as the NinjaCat poster:

“By clicking ‘Accept All Cookies’, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.”

The extra step of allowing users to see exactly which cookies they will choose is also useful:

While this approach doesn’t scream the brand tone, transparency and ease of use are powerful tools for ensuring tracking consent.

If there is a complaint about the NinjaCat approach, the cookie tracking consent element is small and at the bottom of the page. There is no definitive answer on which approach is best. However, it is important to consider human behavior. Most people read left to right, top to bottom. A small consent element at the bottom can be missed. It is important to test what works best for you.

3. Are you taking full advantage of your proprietary data?

First-party data is very useful. From targeting audiences to tracking user behavior and interests, there is a lot of value to be harvested. It can be easy to fall into the trap of using data for a single channel or not sharing the resource between services.

When setting up your client lists, be sure to set them up in such a way that you can easily sync them with all advertising platforms. The easiest way to do this is to use email addresses for targeting. However, this will hamper the match rate (stay closer to 70%).

It is important to note that LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter have different field orders. Make sure to configure the synchronization in such a way that you don’t break the system.

Using these audiences across all channels can help keep the conversation going and find new leads. Lookalike audiences (Google and Microsoft) will be created automatically. Lookalike (Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn) requires you to create them manually.

Depending on how your domains are configured, you will be able to share analytics and tracking data between your teams. This will allow you to craft better customer journey messaging and maintain attribution.

4. Is this a short-term or long-term implementation?

When deciding on the right actions to get your business ready for first-party data, it’s important to balance short- and long-term impact.

If your current domain structure does not lend itself to the five domain maximum for proprietary datasets, you will need to decide whether to migrate. Migrations may make perfect sense in the long term, but they will be costly and disruptive in the short term. Testing a cookie consent element will be a much easier change to implement, but the impact depends on getting enough traffic for statistical significance.

Be sure to communicate timelines for changes and coordinate with your teams. A good example of this is the need for 2FA/multi-factor authentication in ad networks. Before making the switch, it is crucial that all practitioners have enabled this setting and have access to their means of authentication.

Take away key

First-party data is the path to privacy-driven web profit. Ensuring compliance is crucial, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice user engagement.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About the Author

A digital marketing industry veteran and “Top 25 PPC Expert”, she started as an SEO in 2008, transitioning to PPC in 2012. She manages the strategy and execution of paid media campaigns, while helping brands establish relationships with profitable partners. and customers. Throughout his career, Navah makes it a point to give back and enjoys sharing lessons learned on the international speaking circuit as well as at local universities. She is a frequent contributor to SEL, SEJ, SEMrush and WordStream blogs/webinars. In 2019, she became a founding member of the Paid Search Association, a group dedicated to empowering the next generation of PPC practitioners, as well as serving as a resource for all practitioners to learn and share with the community.

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