Digital Audience Targeting: Overview

Digital Directorship Blog: Digital Marketing


Digital Audience Targeting: Overview


Digital ads aren’t like magazine or traditional TV ads in that there is a plethora of targeting options – from targeting devices to reaching specific people. In this section, you’ll learn about different types of targeting, technology used for targeting, and how to target more effectively.


There are two main types of targeting – inventory targeting, which serves ads on sites that offer a specific type of content or are visited frequently by individuals within a particular demographic, and user targeting – which serves ads to individuals who have exhibited a particular behavior or interest.


Demographic: Marketing segmentation strategy where the audience (potential customers) is divided into externally measurable characteristics.

Behavioral:  A more focused form of market segmentation, which groups consumers based on specific consumption patterns they display.

•    Past purchasing history
•    Browsing history

Dayparting: Targeting users that are active at a particular time of day or day of week.

Designated Market Area: A segment Nielsen uses to standardize geographic areas for the purposes of targeting and measurement.

Retargeting: Targeting past visitors of your site.

Product-related: Segmenting the audience based on usage of a product (such as heavy vs. light).



Cookies: A Cookie is a text file sent from a website and stored in a user’s web browser while the user is browsing that website.

Web beacons: Also known as a “tracking pixel”, a Web Beacon is a transparent graphic image (usually 1 pixel x 1 pixel) that is placed on a site or in an email, and used in combination with cookies to transfer or collect information through a graphic image request.

Persistent IDs: Refers to “people-based” marketing as opposed to device-based. Persistent ID Targeting uses ID logins for sites or mobile apps such as Facebook; IDs are assigned to a user, and stay with the user throughout browsing and across devices.


Don’t over-specify.  Avoid making your strategy so specific that you end up with a reduced pool of potential customers. Piling a variety of schemes on top of each other is called hypertargeting, and is likely to hinder your campaign’s performance by reducing your audience.

Target appropriately across media. Don’t address your audience purely from one front; you may be reaching a different audience with your mobile and social strategy, and consumers interacting with your message through these channels may behave differently than they would through other channels.

Think strategically before tactically. You know your clients and their objectives. The objectives for targeting on a local scale are very different than targeting at a global scale, just as the objectives for a CPG advertiser with a short conversion cycle versus a longer term cycle.

Use past campaign analysis to revise your targeting strategy. It may sound obvious, but careful tracking of pacing and performance across past campaigns will tell you how well your message resonates with your target audience. If your message is underperforming, it may be the creative – or it may be that the audience you have set doesn’t mesh with a particular medium, or perhaps you’ve defined your target audience too narrowly.

Frequency cap. Bombarding your audience over and over tends to lead to decreased engagement with an ad, and at worst, overexposure can lead to a negative association with your brand. Industry best practices place the frequency cap at 3.

A/B test. This is best practice for all types of advertising, and will help you better measure your campaign’s success and plan for future retargeting campaigns.

Burn pixel. Just as consumers don’t want to see the same retargeted ad 50 times, they don’t want to continue seeing ads after they have converted, such as making a purchase. An easy solution is to use a burn pixel, which untags viewers as recipients of your ad once they have made a purchase.


Retargeting is a cookie-based technology that uses simple a JavaScript code to anonymously “follow” your audience all over the web.

Here’s how it works: you place a small, unobtrusive piece of code on your website (this code is sometimes referred to as a pixel). Your visitors will not see the code, and it will not affect your site’s performance. Every time a new visitor comes to your site, the code drops an anonymous browser cookie. Later, when these visitors browse the web, the cookie will let your retargeting provider know when to serve ads, ensuring that your ads are served to people who have previously visited your site.

From start to finish, what are the considerations involved in planning and creating media, and what are the best practices


Marketers do extensive work to create media that is engaging and memorable. The creative process itself requires a unique strategy that has to align with the overall marketing campaign goals.

Regardless of what you are creating, the following questions must always be considered:

•    What are the goals of the ad campaign and what are the established success metrics?
•    Who is the target audience and what attributes do they possess?
•    When, in what situation, and on what device is the ad being viewed?
•    At what stage of the conversion funnel is the ad being viewed?


Banner Ad

Appear at the top, side or bottom areas of websites such as blog, news, information, or community sites.

Pop-Up Ad

A less popular ad unit, these ads appear as new windows, or take over the screen, and are not optimal for user management.

Paid Social

Appear as banners within social networks such as Facebook, usually at the top, side, or within the content itself.


Are integrated into a website’s content and mimic the look of the content itself.  ie. social news feed ads


Theses ads appear aas ads in mobile browser or apps, offering the same media available for desktop.


An email you receive in your inbox that most often notifies the receipantof a sales, promotion, new feature, or spcial offer.

Rich Media

A banner ad that can be interactive include video, or expand.


A full page ad that appears before a webpage loads.


Ads that appear either before, during, or after viewers watch video content.


Design for context and situation – When designing, consider the different user needs when viewing on desktop versus mobile. For example, a user visiting an auto insurance website on a desktop is likely looking for quotes and  coverage, whereas a user on mobile may be looking for roadside assistance or contact information).

Utilize Responsive Design – Responsive Design is a unique coding style that “responds” to the specifications of the device it is being viewed on. By using it, marketers enhance experience and capture more on-the-go users. Those who don’t use responsive design may have their digital properties penalized in search results or overall rankings.

Maintain a hierarchy of information – Not all content is equally valuable. Define what the most important points of your content are, and make sure this established hierarchy is reflected in your layout and design. Using sequential creatives in campaigns can lend a clearer path to conversion and more appropriate call-to-action.

Short and sweet messaging – If copy isn’t concise and to the point, your message risks getting lost in the loud noise of the digital world.

Include a call to action – A consumer can’t assume what the next step after seeing your ad is. Make sure your message has a clear follow-up on how the user can attain whatever the advertising message conveys.

A/B testing for optimization – When optimizing campaigns, instead of using subjective preference, let users and actual performance metrics decide which versions of your creatives are best to continue serving.

Never be boring – As Lee Clow once said, “Advertising is an interruption in people’s lives, so you better make the experience worth remembering.”

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Richard Spangenberg

About the Author: Richard Spangenberg, CEO and Executive Director of Digital Directorship & board member at several companies, is a senior c-suite level executive, innovative strategic marketing leader, and digital/big data/AI specialist familiar with digital transformation, cybersecurity, startups, and social media integration to existing programs.