Targeting is a subfield of online marketing. Through targeting, one tries to direct an advertisement to a specific audience as precisely as possible. In order to effectively convey adverts without large divergence losses, targeting plays a crucial role in both search engine advertising and display advertising. It is conceivable that in future, forms of targeting might also be done over Smart TVs.


Every targeting measure requires precise definition of target groups. This is because if the audience of an advert cannot be clearly defined, the targeting would not be able to unfold its actual effect. Basically, the more precisely the target group can be defined, the finer the targeting will be.

Once the target audience has been identified and analyzed, an ideal marketing action can be optimized e.g., with the original or modified AIDA model of the sales process.

Online targeting is usually based on the use of cookies. Advertisers use these small files to acquire important information about the surfing behavior of users and are therefore able to integrate the relevant adverts based on this information. Due to the ever-growing debate on data protection and the more restrictive regulations, many vendors are increasingly opting for alternative user marking methods.

Common forms of targeting

There are many different targeting methods for online advertisement. The most common are described below:

  • Content targeting or contextual targeting: here, the type of advertisement insertion depends on the topic and certain keywords of the page contents. For instance, if it is a product e.g., chocolate bunnies for the Easter season, advertisers can integrate corresponding banners with purchasing incentives for the chocolate bunnies.
  • Semantic targeting: this form of targeting uses an own software to analyze the relevance of the content. In addition to the keywords, the entire context is also important in this case. This way, it is possible to e.g., have an advert for a luxury car, whereas the corresponding content refers to pleasant rides with the car.
  • Keyword targeting: this is a plain targeting method that is solely based on defined keywords that trigger the corresponding advert.
  • Socio-demographic targeting: here, the advertisements are directed based on the environment and socio-demographic criteria such as gender, age, and social status of the target groups. The database is obtained from surveys or other respective advertising networks.
  • Behavioral targeting: this form of targeting targets the behavior of the user. As many aspects as possible are taken into account in order to precisely direct adverts to a specific target group; these form the foundation on which the user behavior can be created. The used operating systems, geographic position of the user, etc. therefore play a role in the later orientation of the advertisement. The so-called predictive behavioral targeting complements the database through statistics which can be used to predict the user behavior. As an example, Google currently operates this way. A good example of behavioral targeting is the in-game advertising i.e., placement of adverts within computer games.
  • Retargeting: this is a special form of targeting that particularly targets customers who have not yet performed a desired action, e.g., purchase on a website or online shop.
  • Social media targeting: an example of this form of targeting is the Facebook advertising. Web operators can address their target groups based on the profile data of users on a social network. In addition, through its search function, Facebook can have more information about its users which can be of great benefit to advertisers for a more precise targeting.
  • IP targeting / Geo-targeting: this form targets users in a particular region. The form of advertisements used is based on the localization of the user e.g., through his/her IP address.
  • Technical targeting: this form of targeting relates to information about the used operating system or installed software. For example, display banners can in this case be conveyed in two versions: as animated GIFs and as Flash in order to also reach users who have deactivated Flash.
  • CRM targeting: for this form of targeting, the information about the target groups is acquired from the customer database of a company. An example is the activated web history by Google or its Gmail mail service. For instance, Google can use this user information for better targeting of advertisements. Since 2014, there is an option to advertise in the Gmail mail service with the help of Gmail sponsored promotions.

Limits of targeting

On the one hand, targeting measures help direct advertisements to specific target groups. On the other hand, users can feel unsettled by such targeting since they, as lay persons, are not in a position to explain why this supposedly matching banner is being displayed. For this reason, advertisers should always observe the limit to which the advertisement may no longer be perceived as inspiring, but rather as disruptive. The risk of a perceptible penetrance particularly exists in the case of retargeting and behavioral targeting. Moreover, with the current debates on the privacy of users, an extremely aggressive retargeting strategy can have a contrary effect.

Unsuccessful targeting

Particularly with keywords-based targeting, display ads may be delivered inappropriately. A striking example is the display ads for an airline that are placed in a website besides or within an article about a plane crash. In addition, false drops can also result. In such instances, one speaks of unsuccessful targeting.

Even when selected devices are used for the online targeting, misinterpretations of the user behavior is still possible and could lead to confusion of the target persons. For example, it might be possible that one notebook is shared within a family or an apartment with persons of different age and gender. If only one of the users has been exclusively interested in sport shoes, follow-up advertisements for sport shoes would not be successful amongst the other users of the same notebook.

Targeting and SEO

In SEO as well, targeting is an important discipline for preparation of content to target a certain audience as precisely as possible. This is because effective targeting can increase the click-through rate and simultaneously sink the bounce rate. Since these two benchmarks are essential for the ranking by Google and other search engines, targeting is part of sustainable search engine optimization. Basically, keyword research can be considered a targeting method.[1]


  1. Illustrated Guide to Advanced On-Page Topic Targeting for SEO (English) Accessed on 11/28/2014