Behavioural targeting can consistently outperform contextual targeting when it comes to grabbing the attention of web users, according to a new study.

The report, in which over 2,000 people were surveyed, found behaviourally targeted ads were at least 10% more effective across a range of 14 product categories, including finance, consumer electronics and fashion.

Performed by JupiterResearch on behalf of Revenue Science, it says:

  • 17% more online purchasers of computing products were more receptive to behaviourally targeted ads than contextually targeted ads, while this increased to 18% in the automotive sector and 20% in telecoms.
  • Across all categories, 14% more respondents were more receptive to behavioural targeting than contextual targeting – 63% vs 49% of the total audience.
  • 93% of the respondents that were receptive to behavioural targeting had shopped online.
  • Both high and low online spenders were responsive – those spending more than $500 on the web per year were 10% more receptive to behavioural targeting, compared to 17% of those spending less.
  • Most online shoppers only researched a product once or twice before making a purchase, meaning “marketers have to maximise a limited opportunity to move consumers through the purchase funnel”, according to Marla R. Schimke, Revenue Science’s VP of marketing.

All this doesn’t mean that behavioural targeting is the ‘magic bullet’ for advertisers, however – as Mark Simpson wrote in a recent blog post, its definition can change depending on who you are speaking to.

Google has also questioned how effective behavioural targeting actually is.

And as Jesse James Garrett recently told us, there are risks of getting it wrong when tailoring ads or content to users’ behaviour:

“The challenge of doing behavioural targeting in an automated way is you are always running the risk of misinterpreting the users’ actions and offering help when they don’t need it.

“If you can’t be 100% sure of what the user is trying to accomplish, you need to pull back from trying to insert yourself into the process. They start to feel that the product doesn’t understand them and that has emotional consequences – they accomplished their task but they don’t feel good about it.”