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Behavioral Targeting for Publishers & Webmasters

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The reason I am writing this article is primarily because I couldn’t find any good resource which focuses on Onsite Behavioral Targeting for Publishers and Webmasters. Yes that’s right, almost all the good content has been focused on using Behavioral Targeting (BT) for Advertisers, Ad Networks or Improving conversion rates. I think it would not be wrong to say that BT is one of the most powerful yet highly underused system that advertisers (except a few) as well as Publishers are completely ignoring. Although, there are some tools and platforms that are now allowing Advertisers to use the power of BT, only few are using it effectively, but I guess that’s another topic altogether. Right now, we’d first look at a small Introduction to Behavioral Targeting, how webmasters and publishers can use it, what can they aim at improving using BT and of course, how website visitors benefit from it.

So, what is Behavioral Targeting?

Behavioral targeting is a technique which can be used by publishers, marketers and advertisers to optimize and improve the effectiveness of their online campaigns by collecting information about the users, understanding their intent/interest from the information collected, segmenting them and presenting them relevant web elements for consumption. We’d look at it, in more detail shortly, but first lets look at the main segments which use or should use Behavioral Targeting:

  • Ad Networks: Behavioral Targeting is used by Ad networks to collect information such as the websites you visit, how much time you spent on them among other information, to present you with the most relevant advertisements across the ad network. For instance, if you open 3-4 different websites (about business, football, male fashion) which all contain Google ads, Google will know that you are most likely an adult male, interested in sports and this information can be used to show you more relevant ads, improving your web experience and allowing advertisers to generate higher returns.
  • E-Commerce (On Site usage): Only being used by the big players at the moment – BT can be used by websites to understand the user’s browsing pattern, location, visit frequency, referring source and search history to present them personalized content and experience. Amazon has been using this since a long time, so next time when you search for a “sleeping bag”, expect to see other trekking and hiking equipment being recommended to you on the homepage.
  • Publishers (On Site usage): Again, few publishers using it at the moment, primarily to recommend related content, which might be of interest to the visitor. No one using Behavioral Targeting extensively to improve ad revenues, increase user engagement and improve social sharing.

So how do these websites use Behavioral Targeting? It’s simple. Using Advanced Web Analytics, they can easily measure 50+ attributes about a visitor (including some of them which I mentioned above like user’s browsing pattern, location, visit frequency, referring source and search history) and put the visitor in a segment/bucket/cluster. Now the campaign manager decides, which attributes would put the user in which bucket and what web elements are to be personalized and in what way, for different buckets. Don’t worry if it looks difficult to visualize, some examples are coming soon and generally no programming or technical knowledge is needed, thanks to a lot of GUI based web personalization tools.

How can Publishers use BT on their websites?

Behavioral Target
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  • Improve Ad Earnings – Publishers can change the overall page layout or the complete user experience on the basis of the information they have about their visitors to improve ad revenue and website earnings. Again, lets look at few use cases:
    • Do you have a regular visitor who consumes content on your website but has never clicked on the ads? Your could look at removing your sidebar ads and putting them around the content for this particular category of users.
    • Recently, while optimizing revenues for a blog in the Technology niche, The analytics pointed out to an interesting fact that Mac users who visited the blog via search engines were more likely to click on text ads than image ads. The same may or may not be true for your websites, but you can definitely test and then create a BT Segment around it to improve your website’s ad earnings.
    • Users who are using a very outdated version of Internet Explorer and the old Windows XP OS are likely to be luddite, you could show a text advertisement with greater contrast to highlight the ad and improve the chances of such users clicking on them.
  • Increase user engagement – Behavioral Targeting and web personalization can really help improve the user experience and engagement for your website visitors. Now, improving user engagement can have different meanings for different publishers. However, mostly, when publishers want to improve user engagement, they primarily look at:
    • More page views/visitor – Visitors from Social sites generally have high bounce rates and the average page views per visitor are low. Showing them other related and recommended content from your website, right at the top of your website, before the content, can help reduce the bounce rates.
    • More comments – A good way to improve comments on your blog would be to create a bucket/segment of users who have not commented on the blog before and rewarding them when they place a comment. Similarly, you could also display a small widget which shows the Top Commenters on the blog, to motivate this segment to post a comment.
  • Increasing Content distribution via Sharing
    • I’m sure everyone has seen those large vertical social sharing bars with a lot of sharing buttons, heck, we have one on our website too, which is probably floating on your right side. However, a behaviour which is seen quite often among all websites, is that a particular user who shares your content would be doing so, only on a single or couple of social sites, the ones who this user is most active on. So, You could look at using Behavioral Targeting to show only those buttons which your user has used often in the past, but this time, you can make them a bit larger.
    • Similarly, People who come to your website through social sites, could be shown a larger Sharing Button, primarily, of the social website, through which they came to page.

What’s stopping Publishers?

So Behavioral Targeting can really help webmasters and publishers do a lot of things, why is it not used so widely then?

  • The Data Problem – Websites with very low traffic won’t benefit as the kind of traffic required to first test and then create multiple bucket/segments requires more traffic to be statistically correct.
  • Assumptions – Webmasters assume that BT is a complicated subject and difficult to implement, however, this is incorrect. Similarly, a lot of  webmasters assume that products which offer BT must be expensive, which is again not true. A lot of GUI based tools are available which can help you implement Behavioral Targeting on your website for a low two digit monthly cost.
  • Technology – Although, measuring user engagement and social distribution is possible using popular Behavioral Targeting tools, no such tool allows you to measure ad clicks. This is one of the biggest reason why publishers are unable to use Behavioral Targeting for improving ad revenue and the only alternative is to create custom applications to segments and measure ad clicks, which is huge task technically.

Benefits to Visitors/Users

  • Content Personalization –  When 100 people enter Amazon, they access 100 different homepage, each personalized with their names and with products they have showed interest in their past visits. That is how the entire Internet will soon be.  A study conducted by Adobe and Econsultance, that focused on the ROI of personalization, found that 52% of digital marketers agreed that personalized web content is a very important part of their online strategy.  In fact, for 41%, their goal is to provide personalized internet experience. Thanks to Behavioral Targeting, users get a better user experience while the publisher achieves its goal resulting in a win-win situation. Major companies have been collecting user data for years, making their algorithm more exact with its results. With a smarter software, the whole internet will be more relevant and efficient to your specific needs.
  • Recognize your Interests – Personality is multi-faceted. People are full of interests. Visiting traveling related sites, doesn’t mean you are only interested in ads from orbitz or priceline. Gathering extensive data on demographics over a long period of time will help refine algorithms and take into account the multi dimensionality of people’s interest.

So you see, Behavioral Targeting can be beneficial to Publishers as well. Have you used Behavioral Targeting on your website or have a case study to share? We’d love to hear!