Retargeter Blog

The Little Known History of Online Targeting

Complex online targeting has become a fact of life. People are rarely surprised by advertisements that are perfectly catered to their needs, but online targeting hasn’t always been the savvy marketing device that people take for granted. Here’s a look at the impressive transformation that online targeting has undergone in order to get where it is today.

Early targeting was basic and tedious. If your website sold gourmet lemonade, you had to shuffle through websites that you thought gourmet lemonade drinkers frequented and then buy advertising space on each of those individual sites. Additionally, some networks let you pick groups of sites based on coarsely defined categories. Early targeting, though inexact and painstaking, was better than no targeting at all.  But it needed a makeover.

From it’s humble beginnings, targeting evolved so that advertisers could target by demographic or geographic information — and retargeting was a natural extension of the advances in targeting capabilities. What was the secret to these advancements? The cookie. A Web cookie is a piece of data (such as a pixel) sent from a website and stored in the Web browser while a user is browsing a website. Once that’s done, each time the user loads the website, the Web browser sends the cookie back to the server to notify the website of the user’s earlier activity.  With cookies, businesses with an online presence were able to gain unprecedented insight into audience behavior.

Fast forward, and targeting has blossomed into the clever and capable tool that we know today.  It’s even expanded beyond the Web browser to include mobile devices and tablets. Got a great app that’s only built for iOS? Now you can target specific devices like iPhones or by browser.  Perhaps most impressively, advertisers can target audiences by attributes like income level, job description, or hobbies. The ability to precisely pinpoint audiences gives way to some serious targeting power (marketers rejoice!). But wait – there’s more. This is all done in real time, and campaigns can be changed quickly and easily. This means campaigns can be adjusted immediately to respond to emerging trends, and audiences receive relevant engaging content.

Targeting has advanced extraordinarily, but one essential rule remains: thou shalt test. Do your customers browse the Web in the morning? Test it. What creatives do they prefer? Test it. Are they browsing on their laptop or on their phone? Test that too. Tweaking different parameters will let you target your key audiences, spend your budget wisely, and amplify your ROI.

Targeting has certainly come a long way. Gone are the days of manually selecting domains on which to advertise. Now it’s possible to target middle-aged MMA enthusiasts, or female foodies (if you so choose) wherever they are on the Web. Marketers have a handy tool in real time online targeting, and its important to use it responsibly by constantly testing. Through the years targeting has become smarter and more accurate, and – thanks to growing amounts of non-personally identifiable data – will continue to grow in its use and effectiveness.

Check out our collection of blog posts on retargeting.  And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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