Behavioral targeting — what it is, why it’s important, and how to do it

A consumer's actions being tracked on a mobile device and laptop and used for behavioral targeting.

In an increasingly crowded market, it can be difficult for businesses to stand out with their products or services. Consumers are inundated with calls for their attention throughout their day on a variety of channels, and they can become numb to different messages and advertising tactics.

Staying relevant to a customer’s needs and interests can ensure that marketers cut through the noise. One way to do this is with behavioral targeting, which allows marketing campaigns to provide solutions that ring true to consumers while being timely and important.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what behavioral targeting is and how marketers can apply this principle to their campaigns to improve their engagement and conversions. Specifically, you’ll learn:

What is behavioral targeting?

Behavioral targeting is the practice of tracking consumer actions to identify the ads or campaigns that work best to create engagement and boost conversions. Marketers use behavioral data that tells them how people interact with their digital assets to craft follow-up campaigns that are more likely to perform effectively with that target segment.

To this end, marketing content can be personalized for website and mobile application users based on observable behavior patterns. By personalizing these messages, campaigns are likely to have a higher success rate than they would with generic suggestions or solutions.

When conducting behavioral targeting, marketers use real-time data and contact information to create profiles that predict and analyze user actions on a website or digital asset. This includes information such as purchase histories, web page visits, and click-throughs, to name a few. When a user takes a specific action, marketers can serve up relevant content and personalized messaging to further engage with them and entice them to take the next step.

Behavioral targeting is all about action — the action the user takes on a given website or app and the personalized action the marketer triggers in response.

Why is behavioral targeting important?

Consider that personalized content sent at the right moment can increase the likelihood that the viewer will interact with it or choose to take a requested action. After all, marketers are targeting prospects who have already demonstrated an interest in a product or service by taking a specific action or series of actions on a website. Nurturing these leads with personalized messaging can help convert them into customers. It can also create a more interesting and engaging experience for visitors and increase customer loyalty.

Behavioral targeting typically works because consumers are less responsive to broad strokes-type marketing that is general, impersonal, or heavy handed. Instead, behavioral targeting allows marketers to deliver relevant, highly personalized content to potential consumers. This resonates better with prospects and also encourages them to make purchase decisions.

Behavioral targeting leverages user actions to further engage them on a website or other digital asset with the goal of increasing conversions.

Marketers can also benefit from behavioral targeting by making better decisions about how and where they’re directing their resources, ads, and messaging. It gives marketers direct information about consumer behavior and allows them to create campaigns in response rather than basing them on testing or customer journey hypotheses. This, in turn, saves money and resources for the marketer while also saving time and brand integrity with their prospects.

Behavioral targeting teaches companies about how their target customers perceive their brand and interact with their assets. Marketers can build on their target segmentation and buyer personas by using behavioral data to create contact profiles and develop content that is most likely to resonate with the reader and lead to engagement.

The result is a website and marketing experience that’s more personalized for visitors and can be expected to produce conversions at a higher rate. This ultimately leads to a better return on investment, or ROI, for marketing campaigns with higher click-through rates and conversion rates.

Types of behavioral targeting

Behavioral targeting is a critical component in today’s digital marketing world to help grow audiences, retain interest, and remain competitive. Marketers can take advantage of multiple different types of behavioral targeting to connect with their visitors.

Website engagement

Once the hard work of attracting visitors to a website is successful, marketers want to retain them and engage with them as much as possible so that they will take a desired action, such as making a purchase.

Behavioral targeting can allow marketers to personalize the user experience through assets like pop-up promotions, ads, and links to related content. These should provide value to the consumer and be based on the products, services, and information they’ve expressed an interest in.

Campaign engagement

Marketers can also analyze behavior when it comes to their email campaigns to understand which users open, click, or otherwise interact with messaging. This can be used to create follow-up communications based on different target segments and buyer personas with more targeting based on actions.

Marketers can further organize and segment their email recipients depending on how responsive they are to certain messages and the actions they take. Doing so can nurture active and responsive leads into taking additional action that can lead to a purchase decision.

Purchase behavior

Behavioral targeting can also be used on existing customers. Customer marketing is a powerful tool that can expand customer lifetime value by further engaging with consumers who’ve already demonstrated an interest in specific products or services.

Marketers can follow up purchases with messaging about similar or related products depending on what visitors have added to their carts or actually bought. This is a very common type of behavioral targeting, especially for companies with a large ecommerce presence.

Behavioral targeting is all about action — the action the user takes on a given website or app and the personalized action the marketer triggers in response.

How to organize audiences for segmentation

All of these methods require a level of segmentation that goes beyond the standard buyer persona. Marketers may start out with a target segment only to refine it further based on behavioral data. The more segmented the prospect pool is, the more likely a marketer will be able to personalize the information that is presented based on behavioral actions. And the more personalized, the higher the engagement that can be expected.

Marketers should also focus on the customer behaviors and prompts that matter most to their business. For example, mobile apps can be designed to trigger a push notification reminder to log in to the app after several days of inactivity. Or for a consumer with items in their cart, a reminder email to complete their purchase could do the trick to close the sale.

Automating these calls to action can also free up marketers to address other tasks where automation is less viable. Marketers tend to save time once these triggers are configured, freeing them up to work on new campaigns, content marketing, or analyzing results to refine ongoing efforts.

Behavioral targeting vs. contextual targeting

It’s important to understand what behavioral targeting isn’t rather than just what it is. Remember that this tactic focuses on real-time, personalized targeting based on consumer actions that can be tracked, measured, and reported on via a website, mobile app, or email marketing system.

Some marketers may confuse this with contextual targeting. Contextual targeting is the practice of displaying ads or supplemental content on digital assets based on the content that is already there. For example, a marketer might run a pop-up ad for a discount on a service to viewers who visit a service page. This is not behavioral targeting because the ad would be displayed regardless of a user’s actions on the page. Instead, it’s contextual because it’s serving up content within the same context as other digital content.

Contextual targeting is less effective because it’s not personalized based on a consumer’s actual behavior patterns or interests. It can even be detrimental when it’s content that’s less relevant to the user and interrupts their viewing experience with extra noise or information.

However, marketers can use both behavioral and contextual targeting in tandem. For example, ads that are served up on a website (contextual) can be displayed only when they coincide with a user’s interests (behavioral).

How to get started with behavioral targeting

Behavioral targeting leverages user actions to further engage them on a website or other digital asset with the goal of increasing conversions. To do this, marketers need a solid tech stack they can rely on for metrics that can be used to further segment target audiences and direct the right content to the right people at the right time for maximum effectiveness. The result can be timely, personalized marketing content that people notice and act on, which drives sales.

When you’re ready to get started with behavioral targeting and need a personalized solution to power your marketing efforts, look no further than Adobe Target. Marketers can leverage this software to create customer journeys that are powered by artificial intelligence (AI), personalization, and automation at scale.

With Adobe Target, you get AI-powered user experience testing, personalization, and automation at scale so you can find that one customer out of a million — and give them exactly what they want, when they want it.

Learn more about customer journeys with Adobe Target today.