Behavioral Targeting in a Sponsored-Link World

  |  August 16, 2006   |  Comments

A one on one with Seevast's COO about the company's sponsored-link ad program.

When most advertisers think of behavioral targeting, they primarily gravitate to display advertising. However, text or sponsored-link advertising also provides an opportunity to target consumers who have demonstrated an interest in a product or content. One of the leaders in this space, Seevast (formerly Kanoodle), has been providing behaviorally targeted sponsored links since 2004 to such sites as MarketWatch, MSNBC.com, USATODAY.com, and Fox.com. Doug Perlson, COO of Seevast, recently provided me with an overview of Seevast's methodology.

Anna Papadopoulos: What made you venture into this type of targeting?

Doug Perslon: We developed BehaviorTarget because we recognized that contextual targeting alone would not satisfy advertisers' needs and contextual wasn't the only way to target content pages on the Web. As new types of content emerge and advertisers grow more comfortable spending online, we need to offer more robust products to fulfill both sides of the equation. We also believe the audiences being aggregated at these new types of content, [such as] social networks, have inherent value if targeted appropriately. We found that with the extensive reach of our contextual network, we could drop cookies that relate to the context of the reader. Then, when these users visit other sites in our network, we can easily target relevant ads based on the types of sites they previously visited.

AP: How does behavioral targeting work in the sponsored-link world? And, how is this different from other forms of behavioral targeting?

DP: We decided to keep it as simple as possible, for the sake of both the advertiser and the user. Seevast simply drops a cookie on the user's browser when they visit a site in our network that indicates the topic of the page they visited. When they visit another site in our network, we either serve them an ad that relates to the context of the site they are on or an ad based on their prior behavior (i.e., the sites they have visited in the past).

Other behavioral targeting companies use multiple data points, then conclude that based upon prior behavior the user can be classified into certain segments. However, the problem with this strategy is there is not a lot of transparency in the process, so it is difficult for the average advertiser to figure out how to leverage this approach and integrate it into their media buying. We make it simple so that any advertiser who is buying context-targeted sponsored links can easily make the jump to buy behavioral, too.

AP: What types of advertisers are currently working with you? And what are their primary objectives: brand building or direct response?

DP: It is primarily direct response, but we are seeing all types of advertisers.

AP: How do you track performance?

DP: We let the client track performance by offering a different marketplace for behaviorally targeted sponsored links. Our advertisers can use separate creative, tracking, reporting, bidding, and optimization for their BehaviorTarget links. We expect that the different listings will perform differently and give the advertisers the control they need to manage this.

AP: What are the major challenges Seevast has experienced since offering behavioral targeting?

DP: The biggest challenge is the misconception that behavioral targeting is an invasion of a user's privacy. It is important for users and publishers to realize third-party cookies carry no personally identifiable information, and the user experience is seamless. Furthermore, we offer users the ability to opt out if they don't want to accept our cookie. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of confusion in this space, but we believe this is changing as the public is becoming more educated on this issue and how it can benefit them.

AP: What have you learned as a result and how do you plan to proceed moving forward?

DP: We are trying to keep it simple and offer users the ultimate control over how they are targeted.

AP: What is your long-term vision of behavioral targeting?

DP: Ideally, we should be able to appropriately target our ads no matter what the content is on the page. Really, BehaviorTarget is just another tool for advertisers to target a user. As the industry matures, behavioral targeting will become more mainstream.

AP: Any international plans?

DP: We are considering a few ways to open our network up to European advertisers and publishers, but for now we are focused on domestic traffic for our advertisers.

AP: Do you have competitors, and how would you say you compare to them?

DP: We do not believe we have competition on the behavioral side; we were the first sponsored-links company to offer this and believe we are the only company in the marketplace with a network that allows advertisers to buy behaviorally targeted sponsored links.

AP: If you could predict three things that will happen in this space in the next year, what would they be?

DP: First, I expect larger networks to offer behavioral targeting as a unique product with separate bidding, similar to how they have separated contextual and search. Seevast has been a pioneer on this front, and I expect others will follow our lead. Second, I think we will see more behavioral targeting behind the scenes, layering behavioral targeting on top of contextual and/or geotargeting. Third, I think the regulators and consumer watchdogs will eventually have a better understanding of cookies with folks like the IAB as well as the Googles and Yahoos of the world educating the general public about how Internet advertising works and how this is not a privacy issue.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Papadopoulos

Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.

An advocate for creative media thinking and an early digital pioneer, Anna has been a part of several industry firsts, including the first fully integrated campaign and podcast for Volvo and has been a ClickZ contributor since 2005. She began her career as a media negotiator for TBS Media Management, where she bought for media clients such as CVS and RadioShack. Anna earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University in New York.

Follow her on Twitter @annapapadopoulo and on LinkedIn.

Anna's ideas and columns represent only her own opinion and not her company's.

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