Taking on Targeting

All advertisers want to deliver the right message to the right audience.  Agencies are looking for new and better targeting options and publishers who are creative can win their business. At eHarmony, we can target online ads based on a combination of over 260 separate demographic, psychographic and interest-based data points. Since launching our publishing business two years ago we have tried everything from “DMA” to “women with kids under 18 who themselves are 18-34 living on the coast who think they are funny and enjoy humor”.  Along the way we have learned some valuable lessons about what targeting does, and doesn’t, do for campaign performance and our bottom line.

Set Up Sales for Success. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should sell it. Share campaign reports and analysis monthly so the sales team knows what works and what doesn’t. This knowledge will help them steer their clients in the right direction. Also, prepare simple inventory forecasts each month with commonly used criteria instead of every possible option.

Understand the True Objectives of the Campaign. Some agencies will submit proposals without many targeting parameters. Others will have too many or the wrong ones.  Unless you truly understand the objective of the campaign you won’t know what to recommend and you will miss an opportunity to be creative. Lining up their objectives with your capabilities increases the chances you’ll make the campaign a success.

Best to Test. When targeting is required by the client, run simple tests of effectiveness on a regular basis by bonusing a small amount of inventory that is untargeted.  This will allow you to lower the campaign eCPM, prove the effectiveness of targeting and sometimes reveal that ROS is actually more effective for a particular campaign. For example, we were asked to target a car insurance campaign to women, 18 to 44.  Testing showed that by opening up the age restriction both clicks and conversion improved.

Start off on the Right Foot. Don’t let people’s assumptions get in the way of a successful campaign. Our tests show that one or two parameters generally provide the most lift, but which parameters those will be depends on a lot of variables. It is better to open up targeting to a wider audience and then narrow in than be too focused and miss the mark.

Adjust and Communicate. Managing campaigns in this way is more labor intensive than simply letting a campaign run without analysis, but continually adjusting the campaign and reporting your learnings creates a relationship with the client that few other publishers will duplicate. This is also a way for Ad Operations to help generate more revenue with longer-term clients.

More and more advertisers are demanding improved targeting and you can use this to your advantage.  A proactive Ad Operations team that gets creative about targeting parameters, works closely with sales and frequently analyzes campaign data can make sure these capabilities bring in more revenue and create stronger relationships with key clients.


Grant Hosford is Sr. Director, Publishing Ops at eHarmony, where he is responsible for strategy, product development, and ad operations for eHarmony’s family of sites. He was previously VP of Strategy at Blue Lava Group, a niche-focused ecommerce company and Director of Business Development at ZAAZ, a full-service interactive agency. At ZAAZ, Grant was the co-founder of a web analytics practice that helped top brands like Converse, Hallmark, JPMorgan Chase, and Starwood use analytics data to guide web design and improve site performance. In all of his interactive roles, Grant has focused on using rich data to improve both customer experience and business outcomes.