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The Ins and Outs of Behavioral Targeting

Posted June 26, 2012 by fran @ 10:32 am

While behavioral targeting isn’t new (websites have been dropping cookies into our computers since the 90s), a lot of Internet users still either misunderstand the technology or are completely unaware of what behavioral targeting is.

For the uninitiated, behavioral targeting, as our trusty Wiki friends put it, “refers to a range of technologies and techniques used by online website publishers and advertisers which allows them to increase the effectiveness of their campaigns by capturing data generated by website and landing page visitors.”

It is a boon for publishers and advertisers alike, because it ensures that ads are seen by the right people at the right time.

How It Works

This is where ad networks (like AdMedia) come in. With the use of cookies, ad networks are able to track a user’s browsing history, searches, shopping carts, location, and other pieces of information. This data is used to determine which audience segment a user belongs to, which will then help ad networks display more relevant advertisements.

For example, if a user’s cookies indicate that they visited ESPN.com, NBA.com, and read articles about basketball, then ad networks may infer that that person is a basketball fan and thus display ads related to the sport.

Its Strengths

The obvious strength of behavioral targeting is that it allows advertising networks to display relevant ads. It helps advertisers get to know their audiences more, so that they can provide them with ads that matter.

On the user side, behavioral targeting helps give people a more personalized browsing experience, enabling them to find what they need much faster. Take Google, for instance. The search giant’s autocomplete feature enables it to “guess” what you’re about to search for. Simply type the first few letters of your query and Google’s search box will automatically display suggestions based on your browsing history. (Note: This only works if you’re signed in to your Google account. If you’re not logged in, the autocomplete feature will be based on other users’ search activities and the contents of indexed pages.)

Its Weaknesses

Like all things in life, behavioral targeting isn’t perfect. The technology isn’t very effective when tracking the Internet activities of a shared device. Grabbing the browsing history of several people with varying interests will return a hodgepodge of data and can make it more difficult for advertising networks to serve up relevant ads.

However, this problem isn’t much of an issue now as it was a few years ago. Recent technological developments have enabled people to have their own personal laptops, tablets, and cell phones, so shared devices is not as common as before.

Is it an invasion of privacy?

Not at all. Behavioral targeting technology does not collect any personally identifiable information and ad networks don’t get any data that can uniquely identify a single person. Data on people’s Internet activities is aggregated and is used solely for ad targeting. (The same thing goes for remarketing advertising.)

In any case, if you’re still iffy about being tracked online, you can simply delete cookies from your device. Additionally, you can enable a feature in your Internet browser so that it won’t record your history or track your activities online. Be sure to check the settings in your browse to see how you can enable its private browsing option.

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