3/11/2005

Keyword, Context, Behavior

Keyword searches are the hot commodity in Internet advertising. Advertisers bid to be placed next to the words they consider linked to their product. Contextual advertising has come up to supplement and rival keyword placement. As defined by Webopedia, “if the user is viewing a site about sports, and the site uses contextual advertising, the user might see ads for sports-related companies, such as memorabilia dealers or ticket sellers.” The next, but not entirely new, frontier is behavioral targeting. I think it’s still being tested by large publishers and not yet broadly dispersed to small publishers as are keyword and context. But presumably they are coming and so today I’ll give a précis of what the behavior buzz is all about.

First, the definitions. Behavioral advertising vendors target ads based on the publisher’s knowledge about the page viewer’s demographics – age, gender, etcetera presumably gleaned from registration data – and habits while on the site – what type of content they view on the site. It strikes me as a ménage a trios of demographics, data mining and advertising placement.

I was alerted to the behavioral phenomenon by relatively recent articles in MarketingVox and ClickZ that referenced a behavioral targeting program by Tacoda Systems. A cursory search turned up a CNet article that said, “Tacoda is not the only company jockeying for attention in the market. Companies including Revenue Science, 24/7 Media, Advertising.com and aQuantive are all selling similar behaviorally targeted advertising.”

I make no competitive assessment of these players, or any others that may exist unbeknownst to me. I’m just trying to get my mind around the phenomenon.

A related article by CNet reporter Stefanie Olsen, also inspired by the Tacoda buzz, reminds us that behavioral targeting was initially tried during the dot.com era, and aroused complaints of invasion of privacy as well as doubts about its effectiveness. Olsen quotes Richard Smith, an Internet privacy and security consultant: "During the Internet bubble, hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on the holy grail of profiling as a method to make more money off of Internet advertising. No one could make it work then, and I don't think it will be any different this time around."

The CNet piece is about a year old. Only time will tell whether Smith’s doubts on privacy, efficacy, or both, will be borne out this time around. A recent article in WebProNews makes clear that it’s still early days for this niche: “Behavioral marketing, despite its five year lifespan, had really just gotten off the ground in terms of product evolution

Meanwhile, contextual advertisers like Kanoodle continue to expand their reach and programs, while those on the buy side of the advertising equation wonder whether – or under what circumstances -- buying context is cost effective.

A March 10 article in ClickZ said: "We've seen a shift in perception and performance. We were bullish on the idea originally, but disappointed with the results out of the gates," said Ron Belanger, VP of search marketing at Carat Interactive. "We expected traditional search conversion rates, but what we got was much lower." The article goes on to say that Belanger plans to continue using contextual ads to create awareness, support product launches or branding campaigns, but “suggests avoiding the technique for newer campaigns or keywords that are ultra-competitive.”

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re MiniMedia

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