Politico Gets Access to More Reader Data, Launching Its First Consumer Registration Wall

The publisher will use the data to inform its advertising and product strategies

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Politics publisher Politico began the rollout of its first consumer registration wall Wednesday, the first step in a larger strategy from the Axel Springer property to gather more information about readers.

The registration wall will initially let readers access up to 10 articles before asking them to share basic information with the publisher—their email, employer and job title—according to vice president of product David Smydra. 

Before the launch, Politico had few means of capturing this information on website visitors. Outside of email and Politico Pro subscribers, the only registration flow lived within its application. Now, once people reach the 10-story limit, they will hit a registration wall that can’t be dismissed for 30 days.

“When we conceived this, we wanted to make sure it wasn’t extractive,” Smydra said. “We want the reader to know that if they give us more information, we can serve them better.”

Publishers are increasingly focused on growing their pool of registered readers: As of June 2022, for instance, The New York Times had over 135 million registered readers. The first-party data these products capture lets publishers serve targeted ads in a privacy-compliant manner. They can also inform product development and commercial strategy.

A new era of experimentation

The introduction of the registration wall marks the beginning of a broader period of ongoing audience testing and experimentation for the publisher, according to global chief data officer Beth Diaz. 

Diaz and Smydra joined Politico last year to improve its data practices.

Going forward, Politico’s data and insights team will continuously run multivariate split tests on its registration wall, tinkering with variables such as the copy in its messaging and assessing how audiences respond to different kinds of content.

Similarly, the height of the wall will fluctuate as the team toys with the meter to find the optimal limit.

Over the next few weeks, the publisher plans to activate this meter for around 90% of its audience, keeping a small portion unaffected to act as its control group. 

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Strengthening ad and product with first-party data

Registration walls serve different purposes for different publishers. For those with consumer subscriptions, registering a reader is often the first step in the subscription journey.

Politico does not yet have a consumer subscription product—Politico Pro targets business and enterprise clients—although registered users can opt into a new, introductory newsletter called Top Lines. Other premium features could soon follow, according to Smydra.

Instead, the wall primarily serves to capture more information about its audience. Politico can then use this data to create persistent, richer profiles of its readers. 

By assigning emails to readers, the publisher can chart the consumption habits of individual users across various touchpoints, in this case allowing Politico to knit together the identity of a reader as they subscribe to an email, register for an event, download the app or read an article.

Collecting this kind of durable first-party data also provides the publisher with a means of offering advertisers more robust targeting capabilities without using third-party cookies or other browser-based methods. 

Preventing readers from bouncing

Publishers must typically weigh the benefits of collecting this kind of reader information against the risk that some percentage of its audience, when encountering a registration wall, will bounce when faced with an impediment to their consumption. 

For Politico, though, these concerns are mitigated by the specific nature of its reporting and audience, as high-intent readers are more likely to hand over personal data for useful information.

Still, finding the appropriate balance between encouraging engagement and gating access will be a key focus for the publisher in the early stages of the rollout.

“We are threading the needle,” Diaz said. “We don’t want to cut off the opportunity for people to sample our content and deepen their relationship with us, but at the same time, we’re not a scale play. Our audience knows who we are.”

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