Online advertising targeting – behavioral targeting

In a previous post I presented the Basic Principles of Online Marketing. What you need to know from that post is that there are three types of marketing, communications and advertising. These previous posts concentrated on owned marketing and mediaearned marketing and media and paid marketing and media.  I went on to explain the 4 main families of ad formats and the platforms on/through which online advertising is delivered.

This is the first of many posts that will look into the many different online adverting targeting possibilities that are open to us for any given campaign, depending on the formats we use, the pricing model employed and the delivery platforms used.

Ad targeting options

Geotargeting, contextual and keyword targeting are possibly the three most heavily used types of targeting, but they are but 3 of at least 10 types. Even these are achievable through more than one method.

Please also consult the first part of this series about online ad targeting options:

Behavioral targeting:

Behavioral targeting is basically a way to reach a contextual audience out of its context of origin – a way to augment the available ad inventory for a particularly (often sold out) segment and monetizing otherwise harder to sell inventory. This is usually available on very large websites or ad networks. The classic example, and also the reason why this type of targeting saw the light of day in the first place is the automotive category. In the mid-2000s the online ad industry ran into the problem of having too little contextual automotive ad inventory for the actual demand from auto makers and auto enthusiast targeting advertisers.

There is a finite level of interest for any particular content category – some generate much interest while others much less so. Creating more content was the first solution, but you rapidly start either repeating yourself or what someone else has already published so you cannot “create” interest beyond a certain point. The solution to this problem (instead of trying to generate more interest for this content category) was to tag regular visitors to these sections with a cookie to make them targetable outside of these sections – namely everywhere else. More precisely, once as behavior has been agreed upon and identified (tagged) such as visiting the auto section twice weekly for at least 2 weeks, it can be targeted in the news, horoscope or sports sections for example.

The most important part of behavioral targeting for an advertiser or its ad agency is the behavior’s definition. You must ask yourself, is this behavior indicative of the audience I’m trying to reach with this campaign? Or is it just close but no cigar? For example when considering the “auto” behavior, different sites and network use different criteria: some are pretty vague like “has seen any type of auto content across the entire site twice in a month” and others are much more stringent like “has spent a minimum of 5 minutes in the auto section in at least 2 visits in the last 2 weeks.” Asking yourself what that definition means really, beyond the mechanics of it also tells you something. A regular visitor to an auto section could either be an auto-intender, or an auto enthusiast: which one do you want to talk to with your campaign?

Ad networks can identify a behavior on one or multiple sites / sections and retarget them elsewhere across their network.

It’s easy as a marketer to get enthusiastic about this type of targeting once you realise the potential. However, when you consider yourself a consumer, it’s also easy to get scared at this type of targeting – easy to assume that it’s not limited to just online behavior but that all sorts of other type of data is collected. So it is important to respect the user by offering them products and services that are relevant to their likes, but you do not want to go too far as to scare them.

More often than not, websites and network will keep their behavioral data internal – for their own client’s use. However some websites sell these profiles and identified behaviors to data exchanges making them available to be targeted elsewhere across the web. Buying these profiles and behaviors is what we do more often than not when we’re targeting through real time bidding – in case you ever wondered.

Rest assured that there is the PIPEDA law in Canada that protects actual personal information from being collected without a user’s consent. The data that is collected for advertising targeting purposes is only interested in identifying a demonstrated behavior which marketers can infer will lead to an actual product of service purchase by the user. Only rarely is a user’s gender or age targeted (oftentimes these data points are also inferred).

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