5 Ways Publishers Can Increase Opt-In Rates

Fact checked by Vahe Arabian
Vahe Arabian

Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and… Read more

Edited by Vahe Arabian
Vahe Arabian

Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and…Read more

opt in

Nial Ferguson is a Managing Director, UK & Ireland at Sourcepoint Technologies. A highly experienced, motivated and award-winning media professional with a proven track record...Read more

Privacy advocates have made massive gains in the wake of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Case in point? Though they’ve built empires on mountains of personal data, Google and Apple continue to enhance their privacy standards, even going as far as to position themselves as champions of privacy. 

Suffice it to say that the era of free-flowing personal data is gone. Today, consumers have more control over their data — to the point where publishers might end up dealing with a data drought if they don’t switch up their tactics.

The good news is that by taking a new approach and embracing transparency, publishers can optimise opt-ins, win consent from more readers and build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with them. 

With that in mind, here are five tactics publishers can employ to increase opt-in rates to maintain a healthy stream of data and thrive in the coming privacy-driven era.

1. Providing consumers with real choices 

Ensuring that consumers are aware they have a free choice can go a long way toward building trust. That’s compared to manipulative design techniques such as dark patterns, which trick users into performing unwanted actions. 

To this end, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently suggested that many cookie consent popups, as they currently exist, employ dark patterns or manipulative design practices. According to the ICO, most users automatically agree to a seemingly endless barrage of cookie consent forms — giving up their personal data without a second thought — which essentially defeats their purpose altogether.

For this reason, it’s time for publishers to re-examine their approach. This is one of the most important touchpoints in establishing trust with your audience. Publishers need to do everything they can to make sure users are aware of exactly what they’re agreeing to, and are given several options as to what data they want to share — instead of making “Agree to All” the only easy or coherent option.

2. Factor in bounce when looking at your opt-in rates 

To be able to increase opt-in, publishers have to have a clear view of what consumers are really doing with their CMP.  It is important to have transparent reporting on consent rates. A best practice for calculating consent rate is by looking at the number of affirmative actions out of the total number of times the request for consent was presented to the user as opposed to the total number of consent actions (declining or accepting). If you’re doing the latter, you’re not getting an accurate view of what’s happening on your property, because you’re ignoring users who bounce. If users bounce, or dismiss the message without taking an action, you can surface the message again. If you don’t know who’s bouncing, those users are simply lost. A/B testing is really important for capturing more consent with re-consent. But to effectively perform A/B tests, you need accurate reporting.

3. A/B testing for message flow and timing

No matter how good your opt-in rates are, they can always be better. As publishers begin employing these tactics, it is critical for them to understand that they won’t get the best results right off the bat. After all, optimising opt-in rates is a delicate process that requires iteration upon iteration.

Instead of making changes based on gut instinct, or by copying what someone else has done, publishers would be wise to embrace A/B testing for message flow and timing. Having tools in place that enable you to measure consent rates and analyze where in the user journey consent action is taken can help developers figure out the best interface, language and timing to present opt-in messaging, taking a data-driven approach to the problem.

When it boils down to it, A/B testing enables you to continuously optimise your opt-in messaging, which should help you get more and more users to give their consent as you perfect your pitch and cadence.

4. Working with transparent partners

Even if you do everything exactly as you should, your efforts will be for naught if one of your partners is caught dipping into the proverbial piggy bank without your knowledge.

As publishers become laser-focused on increasing opt-in rates and getting consent, it is critical to look for purpose-built consent management platforms from partners who are committed to the highest privacy standards, and who can also help you evaluate the privacy practices of your advertising technology (adtech) stack as well. Programmatic advertising is complex, to say the least, and managing the different third-parties present on your properties and understanding partner behaviours can be a full-time job. To gain visibility into all the potential publisher privacy blind spots requires a technical solution to ensure that the notice and choices you provide to your audience are meaningful. 

Further, the right consent management platform will enable you to leverage powerful A/B testing tools to refine your messaging flow and maximise conversions. On top of that, you’ll also have access to powerful reporting tools that enable you to track, manage and optimise consumer consent — all from a single dashboard.

5. Making the value exchange very clear

First and foremost, publishers need to ensure that the value exchange is crystal clear, giving every user the choice to either pay with data and attention — which we normally understand to be advertising, but doesn’t always have to be — or with flat currency.

Failure to be upfront and transparent about the value exchange can have disastrous effects on the relationships between publishers and consumers. 

According to a 2019 Harvard study, consumers are balancing their desire for personalisation with their privacy concerns. Publishers that fail to be open and transparent shatter consumer trust. On the flipside, publishers that are honest build trust, increasing the chances consumers will share their data in exchange for a personalised experience.

It’s time for publishers to make consent a priority

As consumers become more savvy and privacy-conscious, publishers will need to go above and beyond in order to increase opt-in rates. And that starts with educating consumers about the value of the exchange and being open and up front about how their data is being used.

By investing in the right tools and committing to continuous improvement, publishers can overcome the challenges inherent in our privacy-focused world — expanding readership, building trust and growing their bottom lines because of it.



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