Let's Use Web Analytics Data For Targeting

Targeting refers to the process of delivering content or ads to segments or visitors based on their known attributes.  The goal of targeting is simple to understand: maximizing the performance of content or an ad by serving it to visitors at a time when they are most open to the receiving the message.  

For example, you may visit a site, and see some type of ad unit calling out at you to "meet singles in <insert_your_city>."  When browsing a real estate site, you may see ad units for realtors and mortgage companies.  After entering a keyword such as "car insurance" and clicking through the search results, you may land on a site and see an ad for a car insurance company or land on a page that persuades you to begin the process for creating an insurance price quote.  That's targeting in a nutshell.  It's simple for a site owner to understand:

1.    Visitor X has these attributes.  
2.    We have content or an ad that we think will appeal to Visitor X's attributes.  
3.    Let's show the relevant content or ad.  

In online media, targeting is associated with paid search campaigning, ad serving, and content optimization based on recognizing and responding to the following attributes:

·    Category and sub-category.  Conceptual constructs like "categories" of topics on a media web site or products on an ecommerce site can be targeted to include certain types of ads or messages.   The idea is that if visitors are browsing your category for "hardware floors," you could offer them an ad or content specific to "flooring installation services."  

·    Geography.  Country, region, city, state, DMA are all targetable constructs.  You may run a sports site and choose to target people surfing in from 02116 (Boston) an ad for Red Sox tickets or content about Manny Ramirez's recent trade to the Dodgers.

·    Browsing environment such as the connection speed, type of browser, operating system, user software, domain, and ISP.  An ad network could serve an ad for DSL to a modem-based surfer by detecting the visitor's browsing environment.

·    Time.  The idea of only showing content during specific periods of time is called "parting."  Common types include day-parting and season-parting.  For example, a B2B site only choosing to show ads for a particular manufacturer's product during business hours -- the site's busiest time of day -- would be an example of day-parting.

·    Keyword.  There are many different types of keyword targeting.  Search engines target ads based on keywords in queries.  Content Management Systems target content based on site search keywords or referring keywords.  "Keywords" may be associated as metadata with site sections or pages, similar to zone or category targeting on an ad server.  Once a page is associated with keyword metadata in an ad tag, you can tell your ad server to target ads to that keyword on whatever page or pages the tag was placed.  

·    Language.  When a language can be detected or known in advance, you can target ads to visitors in their language.

·    Demographics. If the ad server is aware of a segment's demographics, such as age, gender, income, title, purchasing power, and so on, an ad can be targeted on that basis.  

·    Context.  Think of AdSense and how it matches text ads based on the semantics in site content.  Or when, after adding a product to your cart, a site offers you "free shipping" if your total purchase exceeds a certain price.  This is content targeting based on context.

·    Profile.  Targeting is possible based on conclusions drawn and rules created from attributes about an individual or segment (such as purchasing propensity or job title).

·    Rules.  Serve an interstitial ad only to visitors who don't have a cookie set for the site.

·    Events.  Someone deposits a large sum of money into his bank account, so the online banking site offers him a CD product on his next login.

We've all heard, of course, about a very specific type of often-discussed targeting in online advertising: "behavioral targeting."  Behavioral targeting refers to the technology and process in which an ad or content is shown to a visitor based on their past actions and reactions.

Behavioral targeting involves:

1.    Collecting behavioral data about visitors.
2.    Identifying when those visitors visit a site.
3.    Determining the current context of visitors on the site.  
4.    Detecting the visitor's current behavior.
5.    Serving relevant ads (or content) matched to the behavior.

The goal being to use past behavioral data to influence the customer buying cycle or marketing lifecycle, in order to more effectively and more quickly deliver on advertiser and site goals.

So where does Web analytics come in?  You would think Web analytics data from "Web analytics" technology would be used to enabling "targeting."  After all the best Web analytics systems store detailed visitor level data about past behavior.  Web analytics data certainly can be used, but in most cases, targeting is a function provided by the ad server or network, perhaps the ISP, or another technology called the "behavioral targeting platform," not from data collected by the Web analytics tool.

In order to make Web analytics data useful for targeting, you will need to use your data to:

1.    Define segments to target or identify visitors to target.
2.    Feed past behavioral data about segments or visitors to the targeting technology.
3.    Analyze segment and visitor performance against site or advertiser goals after targeting.

Targeting has a proven ability and amazing potential to generate tremendous returns, especially when combined with the rich, detailed behavioral data available in Web analytics.  As a method for optimizing site content and advertising, targeting technologies that integrate with Web analytics data will only become more important and a necessary "must have" for innovative companies that want to maximize business opportunities on the Internet.  

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