How to Develop a Consistent Targeting Strategy

  |  December 8, 2008   |  Comments

Five tips for bridging the divide between offsite and onsite targeting efforts.

Targeting, a hot-topic marketing practice, deserves digital marketers' attention. Targeting can help marketers deliver the right content or message to the right person, at the right time and in the right space. But targeting can be an ambiguous concept. Often it means different things to different people.

Most digital marketers divide their efforts between offsite and onsite targeting. Offsite targeting comprises advertising and demand-generation activities like search, display, and e-mail. They drive performance by sending traffic to your online real estate. Successful marketers recognize that traffic by itself won't guarantee success, so they apply site-side strategies to maximize performance once a visitor lands on the site.

Today's holy grail for targeting requires the integration of off- and onsite targeting efforts. This happens too rarely, however. Ask yourself these questions: How often does your paid-search team seek data and insights from the person who manages Web site analytics? How often do your site-optimization efforts employ data and insights from the teams that manage search and display media?

Below are the most typical and effective forms of off- and onsite targeting, as well as tips for how businesses can successfully bridge the divide so targeting represents one consistent marketing strategy, rather than separate parts of a disjointed and sometimes ineffective effort.

Offsite Targeting

Most ads are served contextually, meaning that if you visit auto site Edmunds.com, you'll probably see a lot of ads related to cars. But offsite targeting is more precise. Here you rely on a huge network, or networks, to provide different ways to serve traffic based on user behaviors or profiling. The targeting can happen by any number of factors. For example:

  • Geotargeting. Only shows ads in states or regions where a business has retail stores. This is common for both display and paid search campaigns.

  • Interest group. Only shows an ad to someone who has visited a Web site on a specific topic (such as autos) in the last month.

  • Prior view. Shows someone who viewed but didn't click on the first ad a second ad with a free-shipping coupon.

  • Demographic targeting. Loosely targets display ads to network sites that fit a general demographic profile. Paid-search platforms like Microsoft adCenter offer user-based targeting and allow for incremental bidding where demographic criteria like gender and age can be identified.

  • Day-part targeting. Serves an ad during specific times of the day and days of the week.

While results vary greatly depending on product, business, season, and so forth, the industry has pretty much proven that targeted ads consistently outperform their generic and even contextual counterparts.

A popular form of offsite behavioral targeting is search re-targeting. Here, an ad-serving platform can identify a person who has performed specific searches in the past. A corresponding display or text ad can then be served to that person across select network sites they visit. So if you've searched for "new cars" or "hybrid cars" on Google, don't be surprised to see display ads for the Ford Fusion Hybrid or Toyota Prius when you start browsing other sites later in the day. (You might want to think twice about what you're searching for, because if your spouse reads this column and sees a bunch of unsavory display ads on your home computer...well, you get the picture.)

Onsite Targeting

Onsite targeting relies on a more focused array of characteristics to align a Web site to what a visitor should experience. In addition to offsite parameters (geography, interest group, etc.), as well as other general parameters, such as referring source, you can use any authenticated data (i.e., information kept behind a login) to provide a personalized site engagement for each visitor. As with offsite targeting, there's no industry average for how a targeted Web site improves business. But anecdotally it isn't hard to see how a customer will more likely return if the Web experience closely aligns to what she's clicked on, viewed, or purchased before. At my agency, our site-side targeting test programs are among the most effective ROI (define) proven services we provide for clients.

Amazon and eBay are industry leaders of onsite targeting. Each individual eBay or Amazon user could experience a completely unique site, depending on their past behavior and profile. If you've been looking at auctions for Xbox consoles, then the next time you visit eBay, you'll probably experience a site that features Xbox games, Xbox accessories, and related products. Whether you sell or buy, how much you pay, what types of products you buy, and what time of day you tend to buy certain products are factors that drive onsite targeting.

Fortunately you don't need to be an eBay or an Amazon to take advantage of site-side targeting. Tools like Omniture's Test & Target and Optimost allow companies to deliver targeted site experiences.

Bridging the Divide

Bridging the divide between off- and onsite targeting efforts will be unique for every business, but here are some recommendations:

  • Define success. You may think this is obvious, but at my agency we consistently find that separate teams and stakeholders have different definitions of success. It's critical that your teams work together and toward the same goals.

  • Understand targeting mechanisms. Different ad-serving technologies offer different types of targeting -- behavioral, geographic, demographic, and so on. Make sure you understand their capabilities. Test and use them. I'm particularly excited by new targeting technologies that allow for search re-targeting.

  • Use one consistent targeting strategy. Even though this sounds logical, it's more difficult than it sounds. Onsite and offsite folks don't talk to each other often. You will need to establish a process to ensure this happens.

  • Share data. Once you get your teams and stakeholders playing for the same goal, encourage them to share data. And not arbitrarily. At my agency, our search team consistently delivers keyword trend and performance data to our onsite optimization team. This allows our optimization team to design tests and targeting strategy based on offsite opportunity. Likewise, our analytics team shares behavioral and attitudinal data with our media teams. Everyone has a consistent standard for what success looks like. There is no divide between offsite and onsite.

  • Test, measure, execute. Repeat. Don't assume you're getting it right. Validate your strategy with consistent testing. For onsite, A/B and multivariate testing are excellent programs. Don't stop when you get promising results. Execute, measure, and repeat the process.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Atchison

In 1998, Shane co-founded ZAAZ to advocate a different approach to Web services — one that respects and delivers on the power of the individual and the promise of Web technologies. As CEO, Shane leads the company's long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, startups, non-profits, and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the Internet and its meaningful impact on their business.

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