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5 Ways to Collect Data Responsibly

Jared Atchison
Jared Atchison

Abiding by the laws when collecting user data for digital marketing purposes is crucial.

Even though it's been a few years since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) act went into effect, it still remains obscure to many businesses. However, it is critical businesses have a clear understanding as they need to navigate it appropriately since it has a significant impact on digital marketing. The success of your marketing efforts depends on personalizing content that’s drawn from studying users’ data.

With GDPR in effect, it changes how businesses can collect and use data about their audience. Specifically, targeted ads based on tracking users' behavior is undesirable, if not illegal.

The changes in data collection and usage mean that businesses need to rethink their marketing strategies. To do so, it's helpful to understand some key rules regarding data collection and how to satisfy them. You need to comply with privacy laws without compromising on using effective marketing that wins customers.

The requirements for data collection are muddy and complex. But at the heart of it all, the aim is to protect people's privacy and enable them to manage their information. Businesses need to set up and implement ethical data collection practices. They have to be more transparent and engage with users repeatedly to get informed consent.

Here are some helpful tips you should know about collecting data responsibly. You’ll understand how to be more compliant with privacy laws and enable effective marketing.

1. Be transparent.

A helpful way to begin your foray into collecting data responsibly is to be more transparent. You can do this by openly communicating with your audience.

If you have a membership site, inform your members about how and why you collect data. You can give first-time visitors to your site a pop-up notification about your privacy policy. It's also a good idea to send an email blast to your lists letting them know that there are changes to how you collect data.

Transparency needs to be a core part of your marketing activities. Make it a part of your marketing goals from the very beginning to comply with data collection regulations.  

One of the key things businesses need to do is to get explicit consent from people to collect their data. This also holds true for when you intend to send users email marketing.

You are no longer allowed to add people to mailing lists when they're not expecting it. If they're leaving a comment on a blog post or writing to customer support, adding them to an email list automatically is unacceptable.

Previously, businesses could add people to email lists and if a user wanted to stop getting such emails, they could take steps to unsubscribe. People could not give them consent to receive or refuse such marketing communication. Today, consent needs to "active" and upfront. There needs to be clear information that you're adding users to an email list. When your site visitors are filling out a form or writing a comment, you can put in a checkbox. Add text informing users that they can join up for marketing communication. The checkbox has to be unchecked so that users actively click on it and opt-in for marketing emails.

Another essential part of responsible data collection is to enable your users to withdraw their information. Users have a "right to be forgotten" so that businesses remove their personal information from databases.

Your audience has the right to ask you for the information you have about them. It’s important to give them a way to contact you in order to ask for their personal details and to erase them.  

3. Avoid third-party data.

Businesses can only get consent when they ask for it directly from their users. This means that using third-party data for advertisements defeats the purpose of the GDPR act. Third-party data can consist of a wide range of user details, such as their name, address and email. It can also include a user's IP addresses, mobile device ID and cookies.

Other data that third-party providers can give are attributes like a user's age, hobbies and gender. Such information is valuable, as it helps you personalize ads and drive user engagement. 

However, with the implementation of the GDPR act, a business cannot collect such information without a user's explicit consent. Getting such data and making use of it from third-parties is a clear violation of the act. Your business's focus should be on building your audience and getting the first-party consent to collect data and send them information. 

It's also important to place paid advertisements where the advertising platform has first-party consent from their readers. Your advertisements and content should only appear where people have opted in to see it. Without clear permissions, your business can be liable to steep penalties. 

4. Create contextual ads.

The restrictions on third-party data mean you can no longer make personalized ads based on past behavior. Personalization is a key tactic used by digital marketers to get people's attention. In fact, 74% of marketers agree that personalization increases engagement.

Without behavioral data, businesses need to find new ways to tailor their advertisements. It's essential to show the right people the right ads. Irrelevant ad placements can be distracting and will build a negative association with your brand.

The answer to this dilemma brought about by the new GDPR rules is to create contextual advertisements. Contextual advertising is where you place ads on a site based on its content rather than a user's past behavior. For example, you can place an ad for a new game after a user has viewed a gaming tutorial on YoutTube.

Many platforms offer contextual advertising options that enable more personalized advertising. You can work with Google AdSense, which allows you to place ads on the right sites with the help of its technology. You can use keyword analysis, word frequency, link structure, and more to create relevant ads. 

Some platforms offer advanced AI solutions that use NLP (natural language processing) to understand what a site is about. The accuracy rate is very high and enables you to place the right ads based on what a user is reading.

With contextual advertising, it's possible to create relevant ads that don't depend on getting user data without their consent. 

5. Work with experts.

Even though the GDPR act has been in play for a few years, there's still a great deal of confusion. The wisest course of action is to work with experts who have detailed knowledge of the rules.

GDPR experts can ensure that you collect data and use it appropriately. They can advise you on the type of tools and software you need. You can also get crisis management services in case of a data breach.

It's important to know that according to the act, businesses with over 250 employees need to have a data protection officer. Having a data protection officer is also essential for businesses that work with large quantities of data or data that is sensitive. 

The GDPR act answers the need to protect people's data online. It also serves your business as it compels you to learn more about your customers. You'll have to create more open communication with your customers and reimagine your marketing strategies.

Ultimately, being more responsible with data collection benefits you personally and professionally. Use the tips given here to direct how you collect data from your users today.

Image Credit: RossHelen / Getty Images
Jared Atchison
Jared Atchison Member
Co-Founder of WPForms, one of the largest WordPress contact form plugins in the market. I have been programming for over a decade and enjoy creating plugins that help people create powerful web designs without touching code.