The Versatility of Profile Targeting

Last week, we covered the basic strengths and weaknesses of IP ad targeting. To continue our series on targeting, this week we will discuss the pros and cons of profile targeting via registration information.

Ever been to a web site that personalizes its offerings for users? Typically, such a site offers to target relevant information to users who tell the site a little bit about themselves. Not surprisingly, this information facilitates the delivery of targeted advertising as well as content.

Executed properly, profile targeting can go a long way toward providing a win-win-win situation for users, sites and advertisers. Users dig profile targeting because it allows them to receive content and offers that are of interest to them. Sites like it because it allows them to command higher CPMs for targeted advertising. And advertisers like it because it allows them to get their offers to the right people and boost the effectiveness of their advertising.

So, how does it work?

First, a site needs to devise a way to collect information from its users. Many elect to ask users to fill out a quick questionnaire form. There are other ways, however, to collect information, including making assumptions based on the content and/or advertising that the user clicks on. The questionnaire seems to be the most straightforward way of handling this, with sites asking questions to help them target both content offerings and advertising:

  • Date of birth

  • Zip code
  • Income
  • Education level
  • Occupation and industry
  • Interests
  • Purchase behavior (plan to purchase, already purchased)

After collecting the necessary information, the site needs a simple way to associate this information with the user who submitted it. Some sites write a cookie to the user’s hard drive that corresponds to a profile in a database. Others will associate the information with a given user ID and password.

There are pros and cons of each Associating via a cookie makes it tough to distinguish between multiple users on a given machine. However, most people don’t like to give a name and password every time they go to a site, so often a cookie is the best option for associating a profile with a user.

So now that a site has collected information and can associate that information back to a user, it can serve advertising based on that information, right? Wrong. Sites collecting information must find a way to integrate their profile database with their ad management system, so that the ad server can use the information appropriately to deliver the targeted advertising.

Believe it or not, some sites collect a zip code during registration, but may use IP targeting to serve ads geographically. This is because, for whatever reason, they haven’t yet set up their ad management system to take advantage of their user profiles. If you are planning a campaign, never assume that collected information gets used to target ads. Always ask.

Profile targeting via registration information can be very powerful. Collecting zip codes from users can allow for geographic targeting to a very small area with near-absolute accuracy, unlike IP targeting. For the most part, the only inaccuracies in a registration-based database stem from exaggerations or outright untruthfulness on the part of the users submitting the information.

Take a look above at some of the information that sites tend to collect. Notice anything? A few of the questions can be used to target someone in much the same way as you might set a buying target in traditional media. Many traditional advertisers use gender and age in their buying target, possibly with some qualifiers like education level and income.

If an advertiser is targeting Women 18-49, a site can determine age from the date of birth submission, attribute a gender, and then even take things a few steps further. The site can add an “intent to purchase” question on its registration questionnaire that specifically refers to an advertisers product category, and then target ads to people who actually intend to make a purchase within the category.

Quite a few of the parameters in a user profile can be used to match users with traditional advertising buying targets, but profile-based targeting can do so much more. A specialty site catering to IT professionals, for instance, can ask what types of budgets an IT manager has. Armed with information about the size of the budgets, the types of purchases made, and the influence over spending, such a site could put together a very compelling presentation to potential advertisers. In this way, Internet advertising can offer many more targeting options than traditional advertising.

Registration information is not the only kind of information that can be profiled, though. In our next installment, we’ll take a look at other types of profiles and how they can help you to target your advertising.

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