Behavioral Targeting – A Beginner’s Guide For Publishers

Updated on: December 18, 2023
Why publishers and advertisers prefer behavioral targeting over other methods? Here's a short handy guide to help you understand the basics of behavioral targeting.

If you’ve stepped into the digital advertising ecosystem and tried targeted advertising, then you might be aware of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Also, how publishers are getting affected by this wild card entry of the European Union in the ad-tech industry.

Therefore, before targeting your audience on their behavior basis; you should clearly have an idea of what it is, how it’s done, and to what limit you can target your audience based on their data and behavior.

What is Behavioral Targeting?

Behavioral targeting, also known as interest advertising or online profiling, is a technique that enables publishers to display relevant ads (as per interest or needs) using the information collected from the users’ browsing history or their behavior.

Behavioral Targeting can be done in two ways:

Onsite Behavioral Targeting:

Onsite Behavioral Targeting is done by tracking users’ behavior within a particular website. This enables a publisher to show more effective ads on the different pages of the same site. Generally, Onsite behavioral targeting is preferred by eCommerce publishers because this enables them to customize their landing web pages and display recommended products to the users based on their previous behavior.

Network Behavioral Targeting:

Network Behavioral Targeting is the most preferred practice among marketers as it deals with a much larger user database. Instead of focusing on the same site, network targeting enables the publisher to target visitors across multiple sites.

The information stored while doing network behavioral targeting includes device-identifying details e.g. IP address of the device. At first, the algorithm made for network targeting automatically assumes users’ details including gender, age, etc, and then these algorithms segregate users to specific groups based on the collected information.

How Behavioral Targeting Works?

Usually, behavioral targeting is done via third-party cookies. But what are third-party cookies, and how behavioral targeting is done by these cookies? A third-party cookie also known as tracking cookie, is simply a text file that third-party vendors stores on the browser or hard drive of the computer whenever a user visits the site.

These cookies stores user’s personalization preferences, browsing history including location information, surfing details, etc. Hence, by utilizing these cookies, the publisher recognizes users and displays the right ads relevant to the audience.

Typically, cookies placed by a publisher stores the following information from a user’s visit to a site:

  • Pages visited
  • Amount of time spent on a page
  • Clicked links or ads or content
  • Browser method
  • Geographic location (IP address of the user’s origin site)
  • Demographic information
  • Items searched.

When a user visits a website in the same browser, the publisher retargets and shows ads relevant to him with the help of these cookies. But, cookies aren’t immortal. After a few months, cookies expire automatically or sometimes, users block cookies and delete their browsing history. With the recent Safari ITP and Mozilla updates, cookies are becoming scarce. Now, the question is – how to display relevant ads for the audience without cookies. This is where a data management platform makes its entry!

A data management platform along with different data sources collects and organizes audience data and helps the publisher in the creation and augmentation of users’ profiles. In most cases, publishers use a DMP to store first-party audience data and third-party audience data that enable them to run relevant advertising campaigns at a deeper level based on their interests.


Since the introduction of behavioral targeting, it has swiftly become one of the prominent choices of publishers in the ad-tech industry. Behavioral targeting can be considered as a win-win condition for all – publishers, advertisers, and consumers. It makes publishers bring more revenue from their ad inventories, advertisers would be able to target a specific audience with their ads, and visitors wouldn’t see irrelevant ads often.

Let’s have a look at the most significant merits of behavioral targeting for a publisher:

And these advantages clearly demonstrates why publishers are significantly targeting ads based on behavior. According to Criteo, very soon behavioral targeting will be turned into a new advanced form of predictive targeting which may involve third-party data, Artificial Intelligence, and machine learning to yield better results for both buy-side and sell-side.

Despite some controversies in the industry, there is no doubt that behavioral targeting offers a bunch of advantages to a publisher. However, if you go beyond a limit and violate GDPR conditions, it can probably pose threats to your advertising stream.

Though behavioral-targeted ads can bring better ad revenue and user experience, the publisher should be aware of complex GDPR terms while doing it. Since the regulatory body has made strict rules to ensure consumers’ data safety, a publisher shouldn’t violate the laws. If behavioral targeting is done effectively under the legal framework, then it undoubtedly can create a path to the goldmine for publishers. 

News and Tips for Publishers

Get the inside scoop on publishing and programmatic with our 5-minute newsletter.