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Behavioral Targeting for Publishers & Webmasters

An in-depth detailed article on Behavioral Targeting and how it can benefit publishers/webmasters with industry case studies and examples.

The reason I am writing this article is primarily that 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 systems 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 a 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.

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Image source – Freepik

So, what is Behavioral Targeting?

Behavioral targeting is a technique that 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, let’s 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?

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?

You 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 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 reward them when they place a comment. Similarly, you could also display a small widget that 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 behavior that 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.

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.

Getting Started With Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting is a technique used by advertisers to target ads to consumers based on their past behavior. Advertisers collect data about consumers’ online activity and use it to target ads to them that are relevant to their interests.

Behavioral targeting is an effective way to reach consumers with relevant ads. It helps advertisers to use their advertising budgets efficiently and to reach consumers who are more likely to be interested in their products.

Things to Keep in Mind When Using Behavioral Targeting

There are a few things to keep in mind when using behavioral targeting.

  • First, it is important to make sure that the data you are using is accurate.
  • Second, you need to be aware of the potential for privacy concerns.
  • And third, you need to make sure that your ads are relevant and not intrusive.

If you keep these things in mind, behavioral targeting can be a great way to improve your advertising results.

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Image source – Freepik

Types of Behavioral Targeting

There are four main types of behavioral targeting: interest-based, demographic, geographic, and psychographic.

Interest-based targeting

It is when ads are targeted based on interests that have been expressed by the user. For example, if someone has expressed an interest in running, they may see ads for running shoes or other running-related products.

Demographic targeting

Demographic targeting is when ads are targeted based on demographics such as age, gender, income, etc. For example, a company may target ads for their new line of makeup to women aged 18-35.

Geographic targeting

It is when ads are targeted based on geographic location. For example, a local business may target ads to people in their city or state.

Psychographic targeting

This is when ads are targeted based on psychological factors such as personality, values, attitudes, etc.

For example, a company may target ads for their new line of organic food to people who are health-conscious.

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?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 homepages, each personalized with their names and with products they have shown interest in their past visits. That is how the entire Internet will soon be. 

A study conducted by Adobe and Econsultance, which 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, 41%, of their goal is to provide a 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 their results. With 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 interests.

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!


1. What is Behavioral Targeting?

In behavioral targeting, advertisements and messages are targeted based on people’s activities. To trigger personalized marketing, it uses behavioral data-like what people do in your app, on your website, or with your campaigns.

2. Why is behavioral targeting important?

In behavioral targeting, a detailed user profile is built up and used to deliver better messaging at the right time. In addition, it helps increase advertising campaign KPIs by limiting the possibility of advertisers delivering irrelevant ads.

3. How do you use behavioral targeting?

Developing a strategy for behavioral targeting
1. Take into account how behaviors are interconnected. 
2. Prospecting for new customers. 
3. Take advantage of opportunities. 
4. Make use of an intelligent digital advertising platform. 
5. Target people who have already shown interest with remarketing. 
6. Take advantage of the low hanging fruit. 
7. Keep email retargeting in mind.