Beyond Run of Site

More and more companies are exploring online advertising. Virtually all want to take advantage of the targeting capabilities we’ve been hearing about since around 1996, when ad serving software began to increase in popularity. Online advertising’s strongest value may be the ability to target prospects with a specific message and deliver that message without the waste that we typically associate with magazines, outdoor ads, and especially television. Advanced targeting should be a major selling point of online advertising — yet in talking to quite a few people on both the buying and the selling sides of the business, I sense that targeting is not being fully understood or exploited.

What a shame.

I don’t mind paying a premium to eliminate the waste that typically occurs with run of site (ROS) inventory. Picking specific content sections of a Web site or using its ad server to target ads should command a premium. I don’t think that most media planners have a problem with that. Why then do I often run into a runaround when asking sales reps to explain how their site targets ads?

Sales reps should be intimately familiar with how their sites leverage targeting. Buyers should be acquainted with the various targeting methods and understand how some are better than others, depending on the situation. When I call a sales rep and ask whether his site geotargets with an IP database or by registration information, that shouldn’t stump him. Given that these basic capabilities have been around for years, everyone in the online ad industry should be familiar with them.

On a macro level, we should all be familiar with three basic ways to target ads:

  • Content targeting. A few strategies are commonly used to target ads via content on the Web. If you’re selling guitars, your low-hanging fruit consists of people hanging out at Harmony Central, various guitar magazine Web sites, and any other online community where guitars are discussed. Similarly, there’s merit to looking into other types of content guitar lovers surf and placing ads there — the official Guns N’ Roses site, for example.
  • Database targeting. Most ad servers have the capability to check ad requests against databases containing valuable targeting attributes. The most commonly used targeting feature is an IP lookup database that correlates to geography. This is used to segment ads to geographic locations. Ad servers can also target by purchase behavior and other complex criteria. These methods have varying degrees of accuracy, based on whether the database is correlating its information to an IP address or a cookie, as I’ve discussed in previous articles.
  • Registration-based targeting. Widely recognized as the most accurate of targeting methods, this form of ad targeting is based on information supplied by users when they register at a site. Typically, this information is correlated to individuals by the use of a cookie, although I’ve seen other methods used.

All online media planners should be aware of these basic targeting methods and know which is preferable for the campaigns they’re planning. If clients cannot tolerate waste, registration-based targeting is probably best, but know that this method usually commands a higher premium than other methods.

Similarly, all online sales reps should know not only that they have the ability to target to certain segments but also how their technology targets. If they don’t, they may find themselves missing out on opportunities such as regionally targeted campaigns and will certainly miss other opportunities further down the road.

If you have time this week, I’d recommend the following:

  • If you’re a sales rep, sit down with the tech folks in your company (preferably the people who set up your ad server). Ask them about all the targeting criteria available to you and how it works on a basic level.
  • If you’re a media planner, ask the reps who come to visit you about their targeting capabilities and how they differ from those of their competitors. Learn to recognize differences in how individual sites target and capitalize on those differences.

If we all have a better understanding of targeting online, we’ll do a better job of servicing our clients, whether they’re marketers, media buyers, or both.

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