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Targeting in marketing describes the process of tailoring ads to a specific target audience in order to address them in a more specific way. This target group contains users that have been defined as potential customers due to certain criteria such as their needs and interests. Thus the basic requirement for successful targeting is a clearly defined target audience. There are several techniques to target your potential customers that we will explain below.

The most important targeting techniques

Contextual targeting is a marketing technique that has been around since long before the internet. Ads are placed where your target audience is likely to be found. An example of this would be ads for dresses in women’s magazines or ads for screwdrivers in a fitting magazine. This kind of contextual targeting can also be applied to online marketing. Users that read articles about cryptocurrency might be interested in commercial services. That is why a cryptocurrency market or a provider of trading software might place their ad on a platform about cryptocurrency.

The following screenshot shows an example of contextual targeting: an article that explains how to resize a JPEG file is supplemented with an ad promoting a tool to resize these files next to it.

Contextual targeting

Screenshot showing an example of contextual targeting on

Another marketing technique is keyword targeting which is important for search engine advertising (SEA) via Google and other search engines. Every search engine provider has its own advertising service you can use to place ads for certain keywords. If users search for one of your defined keywords, your ad is displayed above the organic search results. This means that besides defining a target group, you also need to find suitable keywords that this target group is searching for while planning your marketing strategy. Studies show that keyword targeting is the most effective kind of target-group specific advertising and offers the highest conversion rates.

To apply personalized targeting you need a (often anonymous) profile of potential customers you want to reach. This profile can contain their age, gender, interests, and more. If someone likes soccer, they might get ads for sportswear, betting offices, or sports magazines. Since they are displayed based on the users’ profiles, the website they are on does not have to fit the topic of the ad.

Personalized targeting in social media is called social media targeting. Social media platforms offer a variety of information about their users, which allows you to find your target audience and create personalized ads. If you also consider your potential customers’ locations, that is called geotargeting. If you have very exact profiles about the users you want to reach, this is referred to as microtargeting.

Trying to reach customers that already got in touch with you is called retargeting. For example, you want to re-engage users that visited your site, looked at a product, and left without buying anything. Retargeting can be used to remind these potential customers of your company and product. There are two types of retargeting: pixel-based and list-based. The first uses cookies to track users that visited your site while list-based means that you need your customers’ contact information to address them. Retargeting allows you to display suitable ads to your target audience because you already know what they were looking for in the past. It is not dependent on the topic of the website on which you place your ads. The downside of retargeting is that your target group is relatively small and your ad’s reach is limited.

Another marketing approach is technology targeting. As the name suggests, this technique takes technical aspects into consideration to ensure that your ad’s format fits the customer’s end device. For example, a smartphone user might not want to see banner ads or pop-ups as they are rather intrusive. Another example would be Apple users that do not want to receive ads for Windows products because they have no use for them. Technology targeting thus tailors your ads to the device or browser customers use.

If you have enough information about your potential customers, you can also apply behavioral targeting. Combining your company’s customer data and information about your target audience’s surfing habits allows you to create extensive profiles. These might include search and purchase histories, frequently visited websites, and more. Behavioral targeting tries to retrace users’ actual browsing behavior to display highly relevant ads to them.

Advantages and disadvantages

Targeting is a powerful marketing tool, allowing you to create ad campaigns that are less susceptible to scatter loss than their classic counterpart. Many people submit their contact data willingly. This data, combined with the possibility to track their surfing behavior through the use of cookies, allows you to create extensive user profiles. With these profiles, you can create individually tailored ads for your target audience. However, depending on this kind of data is also a big disadvantage of targeting. Public discussions about privacy protection made internet users more cautious. If they see ads based on behavioral targeting, they might feel like you are spying on them. This kind of negative perception directly influences the way potential customers feel about your company, which decreases the chance of a successful conversion.

The second disadvantage of targeting in marketing are false drops. Targeting is an automated process that is not without its faults. An ad that is placed in the wrong place and does not fit a user’s desires is called a false drop. An example would be someone searching for the word “bat” in Google or other search engines. If they are looking for the animal and see ads for a baseball bat, it is a false drop.

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