Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting is a method in online marketing that works with behavior-based targeting. The advertising displayed to the user on the Internet is selected on the basis of an online chronology. This is because the pages visited allow conclusions to be drawn about the user’s interests.

Detailed explanation of Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting is a special form of targeting that displays advertising on the basis of surfing behavior on the Internet: behavior-based targeting. Behavioral targeting uses cookie technology.

What are cookies? Cookies are text files that are stored on the user’s device and can contain all kinds of information. For example, they facilitate the login process for websites that have already been visited. The following information, among others, is relevant for targeting:

  • Bounce rate
  • duration of visit
  • Products viewed by the user

Since some of this information is personal (or allows indirect conclusions to be drawn about individuals), most websites have been using pop-ups since the introduction of the GDPR to inform users about the use of cookies.

The corner store on the Internet?

Behavioral targeting recognizes the visitor. In this respect, behavioral targeting definitely has something in common with a corner store. The operator of the store around the corner knows her customers, their buying habits, and perhaps even something about the living conditions of her regular customers. So, as soon as a visitor enters, she knows what kind of items he or she is likely to buy and can adjust accordingly. For example, she can recommend a new product that fits the customer. Behavioral targeting works the same way:

The surfer clicks on the website.
The website obtains information about the visitor (for example, via cookies or with the help of the IP number and information from an advertising network).
Accordingly, the surfer is shown advertising on the website that corresponds to his previous buying and surfing behavior.

Targeting the right customer group

Targeting the right customer group minimizes wastage, which is particularly common with push advertising. That’s why more and more companies are turning to behavioral targeting. In addition to behavioral targeting, however, there are other methods on the Internet with a comparable strategy. Targeting is generally understood as an optimized customer approach.

  • Content targeting: The advertising is related to the website on which the user is currently browsing. Example: bicycle advertising on a page about bicycles.
  • Semantic targeting works in a similar way to content targeting. Here, the meaning of a website’s content is analyzed even more precisely and adapted to the advertising goals. Example: On a page describing bicycle tours through foreign countries, special advertising for trekking bikes is displayed.
  • Retargeting is a special case of behavioral targeting: If the user has already looked at a specific product in a web store that belongs to an advertising network, advertising for this product is displayed.
  • Geo-targeting: If information about the user’s location or device is available, regionally relevant advertising is displayed.

Targeting and SEO

Behavioral targeting can also be used for search engine optimization (SEO) of a website. The better the customer approach on the web, the more clicks are generated by the advertising banners used. Google Analytics, in particular, can be used for this purpose – for example, to analyze the keywords that bring the most visitors to your website.

Targeting is also an important means of creating, changing or adapting content in a way that is as user-friendly as possible and tailored to the target group. The better the click-through rate and the lower the bounce rate, the higher the ranking on Google. Thus, behavioral targeting is also an important aspect for SEO. Targeting is part of a sustainable optimization for search engines. Keyword research is also an aspect of behavioral targeting.

Artificial intelligence for better and better results

AI-based behavioral targeting software does not use categories prescribed by humans, but examines the user’s surfing behavior by comparing it with the surfing behavior of other users. In doing so, the program pays particular attention to the differences: the difference makes the difference. The deviations found result in an individual picture that is created completely unbiased – and is therefore much more accurate in the vast majority of cases than a classification based on predefined categories. Artificial intelligence is therefore gaining ground everywhere – including in behavioral targeting.

Even more precise: predictive behavioral targeting

The progress of artificial intelligence and machine learning is rapid. The future here belongs to so-called predictive targeting. Just as the principle of predicting delivery flows is already being applied in logistics today, there are initial approaches to predicting people’s actions based on their surfing behavior. Predictive behavioral targeting predicts a customer’s buying behavior with a certain degree of probability.

The key to this method is the combination of individual surfing behavior and general statistical data – for example, as a result of surveys. This information can be used to develop profiles (personas) that make click or purchase behavior increasingly transparent.

Targeting and DSGVO

The General Data Protection Regulation has been in force since May 2018. In detail, the regulations are complicated. However, the basic rule is that any use of personal information must be justified – no matter how innocuous. This does not only apply to data that can be directly assigned to a person. At the latest since the GDPR, this also includes pseudonymized data.

The justification for the use of data can either (this is the safest way) be based on the user’s consent or there exists an interest of the user that is worthy of protection. In the latter case, the surfer must in any case be informed about the collection. This is the purpose of the now infamous pop-ups that inform Internet users about the storage of cookies when they first visit a website.

Effective advertising

The better a company knows about its customers, the more effectively advertising methods can be used. But how do you get the information relevant to advertising? On the Internet, the best way is through the user’s surfing behavior. This is exactly where behavioral targeting comes in. After the initial uncertainties about the GDPR have dissipated, this type of advertising will probably become more and more prevalent.


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