Behavioral Targeting: Creating A Unique Experience For Each Visitor

Behavioral targeting (BT) has been the buzzword of the year for the last two years in the web analytics field. But is BT really all that important and valuable to the companies making use of it? The answer is usually yes. And does it take a team of PhDs to implement BT for a website? The answer is usually no. In this and a following post I will explain the value that behavioral targeting offers, and show how a marketer can make use of BT to make the website experience richer for users, and increase conversion rates.

According to Wikipedia, there are two principal types of behavioral targeting:

Onsite behavioral targeting is a technique that uses visitor behavior to target certain content that is proved to be more relevant to a segment of visitors. It should be preceded by an encompassing analysis of users and their characteristics (using web analytics tools). We can either define hard rules (for example, offer a special deal to anybody that adds any two or more products to a shopping cart) or use an engine to dynamically learn about and then target high-converting groups.

Offsite behavioral targeting is technique used by advertising networks to increase advertisement targeting. For example, Google is using this type of targeting to profile visitors to their website network according to subjects they like (their “interests) and then uses this info to provide users with targeted ads across the entire content network.

In this article I’ll focus on the first type of BT, onsite behavioral targeting, the type of technique used by website owners to improve user experience by delivering the right content to each person. Companies that current provide such a solution to website owners are:

From tracking to behavioral targeting

Web analytics has been constantly developing since the 1990s. In the beginning there was data, and initially the struggle was to collect it accurately and provide reports on the state of websites, usually from an IT perspective. Then, with the turn of the millennium, analysts felt the necessity to turn numbers into insights, and the field evolved from simple data reporting to analysis. Today, marketers increasingly understand that testing is the way to go when it comes to design and implementation of websites (in other words, intuition-based decisions don’t really work well). Said another way, the customer should decide what works and what doesn’t (this phase is still rapidly evolving).

In the last two years, marketers, analysts and executives have started to understand that customers should get what they want without having to ask for it. That’s what behavioral targeting is all about: delivering the right content to each visitor to a website. It moves the current focus on overall results to segment results. It enables the website owner to understand which visitors are struggling and which are succeeding with their objectives. It helps marketers build more relevant campaigns to target the right market, be it through search, content, media, or emails. These insights and actions should not come at the expense of website testing, but in addition to it. Testing is very important to recognize the low hanging fruit that is ready to be plucked. It is also a great way to persuade management of the importance of investing in both testing and targeting.

Analytics guru Jim Sterne defined the benefits of behavioral targeting as follows:

“We can attract prospects with customized campaigns according to their interests, engage site visitors with dynamic content in response to their conduct and desires, and put the right message in front of the right person at the right time. We can create a more pleasant and more individual buying experience. We can quickly identify the offers that will more likely convert those prospects to buyers.”

However, the market is still not completely ready for this revolution. Recent research from eMarketer suggests that American internet users are not very fond of behavioral targeting techniques. As seen in the chart below, one of the conclusions of the research is that “respondents showed somewhat more interest in receiving personalized discounts and news, but still, less than one-half of Americans wanted any tailored Web content at all.”


Concluding, we can see a strong trend towards using behavioral targeting to provide web users with richer web experiences. But this will require a market education effort so that users don’t perceive companies using these techniques as not respecting user privacy.

In my next article I will go over a few examples showing how to implement behavioral targeting and analyze its results to increase website conversion rates.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Features: Analysis | Search Ads: Behavioral Targeting | SEM Tools: Web Analytics


About The Author: is the Founder of Conversion Journey, a Google Analytics Certified Partner. He is also the founder of Online Behavior, a Marketing Measurement & Optimization website. You can follow him on Google+ or Twitter.

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  • beninb

    Thanks for addressing this topic Daniel, you explained this often misunderstood topic very well.

    You are also correct that it will take some educational efforts probably coming from publishers explaining to their users in layman’s terms how this works so that consumers don’t blindly equate BT with something that’s totally different.

    I think that this is probably the most cost effective means for companies with small budgets to compete with the big guys.

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