The Fallacy of Behavioral Targeting

ML Aug 17, 2006

Behavioral targeting is great if your website covers diverse subject-matter. But if you’re a niche site and your readership is brought to you through natural search, then your visitor has already been targeted merely by virtue of the fact that they arrived at your site. If your site is about blue widgets, it’s a pretty good bet, your visitor is interested in blue widgets, or they wouldn’t be there. You don’t have to worry about serving up an ad for newlyweds or such. The advertisements delivered on your site merely need to be context-sensitive.

And this means that niche sites can be much more respectful of visitors privacy than large destination portal sites. Large sites want to do profiling to deliver increasingly customized advertising and services, basically having the site customize itself to your particular needs. Amazon put a patent application in last December showing their interest in building profiles that, in addition to all they know about you from your site behavior, can cull information in public databases. And of course there is the “forever” search history that AOL brought to the forefront of public awareness the other week by letting out anonymous search data that is so telling that you could identify people.

Niche sites of the sort where HitTail really shines follow different rules. At first glance, they seem to be ad a disadvantage compared to sites like Amazon that can deal up behavioral targeting. On the other hand, they achieve something very similar to behavioral targeting merely by choosing any ad network such as AdSense that has built-in context sensitivity. You’re not profiling anyone or violating any privacy concerns.

In fact, HitTail achieves its considerable magic without building user profiles of any kind. You might say that you are building a fuzzy profile of the entire audience for your niche. In this way, you can get all the efficiencies that come from tailoring your content to fit your audience through your content decisions over time, instead of making your site have to dynamically reconfigure itself based on what it reads out of a profile.

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