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Acquisition-minded high street banks are embracing content targeting, to personalise the experience of visitors and boost conversion rates.

HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Barclays and Halifax are using technology provided by TouchClarity, which serves content and product recommendations that are relevant to each visitor based on a range of factors.

This sort of targeting is designed to help companies target offers at specific types of people, based on their behaviour on a website; as well as offsite factors such as time of day, ISP, search referral terms, browser, and so on. 

It can also factor in things like previous purchase history and first party data (sex, age, location, etc), which finesses the tool's targeting capabilities. Oberservational data is useful, but marry it with first party data (and then apply some business rules) and it becomes much more powerful.

As such, we don't think the term 'behavioural targeting' quite does the software justice. It seems broader and deeper than that, and potentially a lot more involved with your own data (which makes it more powerful than just watching people's behaviour).

So how does it work? Well, consider a minor product such as a 'student overdraft'. A combination of internal politics and common sense means that we wouldn't expect to see such a product promoted on the homepage, as it is only relevant to a small proportion of visitors.

But, if a visitor does an onsite search for 'student overdraft' then it would make sense to promote that product to that person on the homepage, the next time they see it. Note that the student could see these offers before using the site search tool, if the bank joins up - anonymously - its back end data with this sort of content targeting. We're not talking about segments of one, but we are talking about segments.

There has been a landgrab going on for the term 'behavioural targeting', between firms like TouchClarity and online advertising firms like Revenue Sciences and Tacoda. Both groups have a claim, and are right to nail their flag to the behavioural mast. But we'd file firms like TouchClarity under 'content targeting', or 'onsite optimisation'.

Perhaps there is room for some new term that better defines what these companies do. Maybe we should simply revert to 'personalisation'? Hmmm, maybe a bit too loose...

Ultimately we're talking about targeting, which is always a good idea. If your organisation can afford to implement sort of technology then you should do well out of your investment. We may compile a buyer's guide in the future to help you get some perspective on the marketplace.

Behavioural targeting can be an effective method of increasing conversions, as a recent ad-focused study found, though, as Jesse James Garrett recently told E-consultancy, there is always the risk of getting it wrong and interpreting users' actions incorrectly.

It does seem to be working for the banks though. Julian Brewer, who heads up Barclays' online operations, claims that TouchClarity's software has "resulted in a 100% increase in inquiries in some areas of the site".

Omniture acquired TouchClarity in a deal worth over £25m back in February.

Related stories:
Behavioural targeting – ask your wine waiter
True behavioural targeting means more than segmentation 

Graham Charlton

Published 28 September, 2007 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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