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CRO glossary: Behavioral targeting

What is behavioral targeting?

Behavioral targeting is a technique used in online advertising and publishing, where data from visitor browsing habits (e.g., search terms, sites visited, purchases) is used to display relevant ads and offers and improve campaign effectiveness.

Behavioral targeting allows advertisers and publishers to target customers based on their behaviors across different websites. For example, if someone browses Amazon for cooking knives without making a purchase, Amazon’s advertising network can show this visitor more ads for knives on other websites, increasing the eventual likelihood of a purchase.

Why is behavioral targeting important?

Before web-tracking technology made behavioral targeting possible, digital advertisers relied on contextual targeting, where ads would appear based on a user’s related keywords and/or relevant topics (e.g., advertising kitchen knives on a cooking blog). And while contextual targeting still has its place, behavioral targeting offers several powerful advantages, including tailored advertising and retargeting.

Tailored advertising

When a seller advertises to a prospect based on his or her activity across the internet, the advertising is more likely to be relevant (and therefore lead to a conversion).

Not only does this improve sales for the advertiser, but studies find that it actually makes for a better consumer experience—assuming the advertising doesn’t feel like an invasion of privacy. For example, an ad that reads, “Getting excited for your wedding next summer?” might hurt sales if people find it overly personalized (customers might feel that someone they don’t know is learning private details they shouldn’t have access to). 


Retargeting is when an advertiser shows ads multiple times across different websites (as in the ‘kitchen knives’ example above) based on pages or websites people have visited before. Retargeting is effective because it often takes multiple brand exposures before someone buys.

Read more: the Rule of Seven is an old marketing principle that estimates the number of times a prospective customer needs to see an ad before they buy. It all depends on context, but the rule generally expresses that it takes 6-8 exposures to a product (known as ‘impressions’ in ad-speak) to seal the deal. Repeated exposure of a brand builds familiarity, familiarity builds trust, and trust drives conversions.

Target your ideal customers

Just as website personalization can go wrong (e.g., Facebook reminds you how confident you were that your favorite candidate would win an election last year), there are a lot of ways to get behavioral targeting wrong in your advertising. 

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to try to target too many segments. After all, there are mountains of data to choose from, and it’s tempting to use it all—but you’re better off starting small and narrowing your focus on those who would get the most value from your products or services. These people are your ideal customers, and here’s how to identify them.

Identifying your ideal customers in 2 steps

If you treat your ideal customers right, they’ll keep coming back. Here’s how to figure out who they are so you can create an advertising experience that makes them want to buy.

Step 1: build user personas

User personas are semi-fictional customer profiles based on demographic and psychographic data from people who already use your website and buy your products. A simple persona will answer the following:

  1. Who are your customers?

  2. What is their primary goal?

  3. What is keeping them from getting it?

You can use two methods to collect this info: 

Step 2: think in terms of the Pareto principle

In sales and marketing, the Pareto principle implies that roughly 20% of your customers are responsible for 80% of your sales. If your behavioral targeting focuses on that 20%, you can win more of them over—and they’ll form a solid customer base.

Understand who your customers are

Use Hotjar to collect feedback from your users and customers, understand who they are and what they need from your website.