Behavioral Targeting: The Key to True Personalization

If you don’t know who is coming to your website, how can you provide them with a personalized experience?

So you have your first few rounds of testing done and your digital experience has been tweaked based on the results. You have a pretty good digital experience lined up for your visitors. Now what? The next step is to analyze what your visitors are doing on your site, what they are clicking on, what they’re viewing, and what they are interested in without them having to provide any personally identifiable information (PII). This is all part of behavioral targeting. However, before you can start targeting, you need to start segmenting.

What is real-time segmentation?

Segmentation takes your site visitors and divides them into groups based on similar behavioral, geographic and/or situational similarities. This information helps you understand who is visiting your site, what they are doing, where they are from etc. without the user having to provide any information about themselves.


Marketers have always known that segmentation is important. Most marketing tools are able to segment known users. Real-time segmentation takes into account what anonymous users are doing as they are doing it, across all channels. Users then get classified into one or more segments automatically based on their behavior. Knowing the basics of what both your known users and anonymous users are doing is a good starting point for any marketing campaign. The same holds true for personalization; before you can test effectively you need a baseline of who is on your site and what they’re up to. Broad-based marketing efforts just aren’t going to cut it anymore.

Where does behavioral targeting fit in?

95% of traffic to your website is anonymous hence we call them “users” or “visitors.” In truth they are people. If you don’t know who is coming to your site, how can you provide them with a personalized experience? How can you recommend articles and products to them? How can you show them offers that they might want to take advantage of?

Behavioral targeting captures data such as time on site, pageviews, location, device, etc. from each unique user and stores it in a profile without the visitor providing any identifiable information. This includes what parts of the site they visit, what they look at and how long they spend on the site. These different data points are collected to create personas based on common actions. By looking at personas, marketers can then look for trends and tailor web experiences to better serve their customers.

There are two different categories of data that is collected to create customer profiles and personas.

Historical behavior: What pages do they visit when they return to the site? What device have they used to view the site? How often do they come back? When they come back, how long do they spend on the site?

By recording and analyzing historical data, marketers can then refine their algorithms so that targeting is based off of patterns, not just one-off interactions or purchases. For example, just because you bought Frozen toys for your niece at Christmas doesn’t mean that you want to keep seeing recommendations for toys or Disney merchandise.

Real-time behavior: What page(s) is the user on right now? Where are they located? What time is it where they are? What device are they using?

By looking at real-time behavior, this lets marketers improve a customer’s experience while they are on the site. The most common example of this showing them an offer for a product they just viewed. Another example would be recommending top-rated snow boots to a customer visiting the site from Northern Maine in the middle of January.

Behavioral targeting gives you a clear picture of who visits your site and allows for personalization to take place, which is essential for a website’s success. It not only allows for personalization but also provides context. Personalization is amplified by contextualization, leading to a better digital experience and maximized conversion.

While it has been refined and improved, behavioral targeting has been all the rage for several years. It started with companies like Tacoda, who used the principles of personalization to serve up targeted ads to consumers. Tacoda was then purchased by AOL in 2007. In the same year, Yahoo announced SmartAds. SmartAds is a platform that serves up ads to consumers based on behavioral, demographic and geographic targeting. Around the same time, Google purchased DoubleClick in order to increase their behavioral targeting initiatives and improve ad experiences for their customers.

Why should you leverage behavioral targeting?

Customers expect sites they visit, especially sites they have visited repeatedly, to remember them. They expect you to know what they want to see. Behavioral targeting allows you to understand the personas of your visitors and the segments they fall into. Then you can make quick judgments and interactions, understand their behavior across channels, and give them more of that they want. This all leads to an increased insight and ultimately improved engagement.

Behavioral targeting also provides a unified profile of your customers from the very first visit on your site. As soon as they sign up for a newsletter, complete a registration form, respond to an offer, or purchase a product, they provide a unique identifier such as an e-mail address which can be merged with this anonymous profile. You’re not starting from scratch, trying to piece together their previous interactions with your site. The customer does not need to re-introduce themselves and you are already ready to welcome them.

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