A Little Targeting Goes a Long Way

Every media vendor seems to have different ways to target your advertising to its users. Almost as varied as the different ways to target are the different ways to collect the data itself. If you’re a media buyer, you’ve probably been pitched on the different methods. Some sites target by user-declared data, some by external profiles, inferential data or collaborative filtering. It’s enough to make your head spin…

This week, let’s take a look at one targeting method that almost all sites make use of: standard http request information. Every ad server and almost any online publisher can target advertising based on this information, so you can implement this type of targeting across almost any site on your buys.

What is http request information?

First of all, it’s important to understand that every time a browser requests a graphic, such as an ad, from a web server, a brief exchange of information occurs. (In this column, we’ll ignore the exchanges related to cookies and concentrate on the information passed along by http.) When a request is made from an ad server, the server receives a string of text that reveals the following information:

  • The IP address from which the request originated.

  • The date and time of day that the request came through.
  • The browser that made the request (including the version).
  • The operating system running on the machine that made the request.

The most basic ad servers can scan this information quickly and deliver ads appropriately. Typically, the IP address is the field that reveals the most information about the user. Ad servers can quickly look up the domain that corresponds to the IP address associated with the request.

With zero guesswork, the ad server can then determine whether the request is from a .com, .org, .net, or .somethingelse domain. While this might not seem like a valuable piece of information, your clients may be able to benefit from targeting to .com domains only, as doing so filters out a good percentage of requests from outside the U.S. a useful targeting option if your client serves the U.S. market exclusively. Similarly, an international product could use the same method to target users in France, Germany or the U.K. by targeting to .fr, .de, and .uk domains, respectively.

Many ad server also do something else with the IP address they compare it to a database of known IPs to try to discern geographic location and other attributes, but that is another column entirely.

Date and time information in the http request can be used to do time-of-day targeting. Several advertisers have boosted their response rates by requesting their ads be served during appropriate times of the day. For instance, Domino’s Pizza could boost response by serving up a blast of ads around dinnertime on the East Coast. Similarly, if you were advertising an offline service that is open for business only during standard business hours, you probably wouldn’t want to run ads at 4 a.m. in the markets you serve.

Browser information can also be leveraged. If you’re advertising a downloadable browser plug-in that works only with Netscape browsers, one of the steps in your campaign optimization would be to advertise to Navigator users only. Operating system information can be used in a similar fashion; PC software manufacturers can boost response rates by cutting out the Macintosh users from their campaigns.

In your everyday, run-of-the-mill online ad campaigns, some buyers forget to take advantage of some of these simple targeting options. Be sure to request U.S.-only domains when your client’s product serves the U.S. market only. When you plan your next campaign, see if any of these targeting criteria can help you focus your ads. Most publishers will add them to your campaign for little or no additional charge.

In the next few weeks, we’ll look at other targeting methods, how they work and how they can be leveraged to help your clients.

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