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Behavioral Targeting

What. Behavioral targeting is a term for a number of web technologies that make it possible to use detailed information about an individual user’s online history to personalize the content of his or her future destinations on the Internet. Thanks to gaining access to a growing body of data about how visitors behaved in the past, companies can better predict and direct new product offers, promotions, adverts or other suggestions for what online users might do next.  There are high hopes for the area as it promises benefits for all interested parties. Once this budding technology progresses, the end result for ordinary surfers might be that what they come across on websites would be more immediately relevant to their needs and less of a time waster. For marketers, such advanced targeting would open up an entirely new toolbox that could stand a chance of becoming an effective alternative or supplement to other Internet marketing techniques (like contextual advertising). For web publishers, what is at stake is making a better use of their content so that the revenue stream could pick up as a result of higher conversion rates and increased business.

Why. There is some disagreement about the extent to which behavioral targeting is both commercially effective and ethically sound. Research shows, though, that Internet users are increasingly ready to accept processing information about their online activity if it visibly improves their user experience. In fact, as the web becomes more and more dynamic and interactive, they expect apps & websites to engage their attention with more relevant content, rather than being totally passive. Standards of what it means to intrude on online privacy change too, so giving up entirely on this innovation because of current concerns is unlikely to be a move in the right direction. As competition to better connect with customers intensifies, it would be unwise to resign from this exciting avenue.

How. Behavioral targeting can be integrated into your website or can come as an external service. What you see on Amazon pages while being logged in is a good example of the first technique, which is quite common among major players in e-commerce or recommendation services. They rely on a set of rules, tags and algorithms to process your past behavior in your account (orders, site activity, pages viewed) to come up with the most relevant deals that may appeal to you. The premise behind these efforts is that once customers are attracted by precisely targeted messages, they are more likely to engage with the site further, placing more orders, visiting more pages or leaving more information. External services that revolve around supplying behaviorally-targeted ads across different websites operate on the same principle of tracking, collecting and processing information about users, but draw these data from other sources. They explore browser cookies, demographic profiles of web audiences (compiled by web analytics services or even navigational) and, sometimes, ISP databases to address their commercial messages with greater precision. This practice attracts the most criticism due to a number of privacy concerns and efforts are being made by its providers to raise comfort levels among the public.