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Digital Analytics

Ad Targeting: A Glossary of Important Terms

Posted On  January 22, 2020

The digital analytics ecosystem has not only provided marketers with new channels to reach consumers, but it has also made it easier and more efficient to place creatives in front of the right audiences. Digital ad targeting has become a necessary practice for marketers — even for those in traditionally “offline” positions — since it enables them to be smarter with their media dollars.

Thanks to an increasing amount of time people spend online and advances in conversion tracking, marketers now have a wealth of data about their audience segments that they can use to better tailor and serve their ads. The benefits of ad targeting include hyper-personalized messaging for consumers and improved ROI for brands. Its challenges center on consumers becoming more concerned with their data privacy, and increasing restrictions from tech companies.

For those looking to better understand this space, here are some important keywords to know on ad targeting. Click on the term below to jump to its definition, and check out “Ad Testing: A Glossary of Important Terms” for more digital analytics knowledge.

(terms listed alphabetically and in groups of ad targeting categories)

Addressable TV (ATV) | Behavioral Targeting | Brand Safety | California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) | Connected TV (CTV) | Contextual Targeting | Cookies | Cross-channel | Demographic Targeting | Display Advertising | General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) |  Geotargeting | Mobile Advertising | Native Advertising | Paid Search/Search Engine Marketing (SEM) | Paid Social | Personally Identifiable Information (PII) | Pixel | Privacy | Programmatic | Psychographic Targeting | Remarketing | Retargeting | Tracking | Video Advertising


Addressable TV (ATV)

Technology and methods that enable advertisers to show different ads to different households during the same TV program broadcast. It can refer to advertising on cable, satellite, or streaming TV services.

Connected TV (CTV)

A television device that connects to the internet, such as a smart TV. A regular TV can become CTV with devices like Apple TV or Roku.

CTVs enable content streaming outside of traditional cable or satellite platforms. CTVs are the devices, while ATV refers to mechanisms for serving ads.

Display Advertising

A type of ad made up of text and images (still or moving) which link to a website where users can buy or learn more about products. These “banners” appear on other websites, apps, or social media.

Display ads can operate in the top of the digital funnel, attracting attention and spreading brand awareness to people who may not have been specifically seeking its contents. They can also be “retargeted,” meaning they can resurface products and services that people previously looked at or searched for online.

Mobile Advertising

Ads that appear to mobile device users, including SMS texts, in-app ads, display ads, paid search and ads on social media. These ads are distinct in the smaller screen size, personal nature of devices, and higher likelihood to use location-based data.

As more people adopt smartphones and use them more in their daily lives, ad tech is evolving to capture data for targeting based on consumer profiles, browsing habits, geolocation, and more.

Native Advertising

Paid advertising that mimics the organic content around it. It can take the form of a video, article, social media post, or almost any other content people view online.

Because native ads look so much like organic content, they capture more attention than banner ads, but some may consider them deceiving. The FTC has introduced regulation to limit deception, such as requiring native ads be labeled “sponsored.”

Ads that show at the top of search engine results pages. Advertisers target ads based on the keyword someone searched for, and only pay for ads people click on.

When people search for information, they’re in an optimal frame of mind to consider new brands or products. Brands also continually invest in search engine optimization (SEO), the organic partner to paid search, in order to rank higher in search results.

Paid ads on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Ads on social platforms are highly targetable thanks to user interest data. As people engage with topics and content, social platforms capture data to determine what an individual’s behaviors and affinities may be.

Video Advertising

Ads that appear before, during, or after an online video.

The majority of online consumers watch videos, whether on video streaming sites like YouTube, social media platforms like Facebook, or on other sites like Video ad tend to deliver greater emotional connection than other digital ads, like audio-only or banner ads.


Behavioral Targeting

Targeting based on people’s online actions, such as sites visited, online searches, or purchase history.

Digital behavioral data offers unprecedented visibility into people’s lives, letting advertisers make smarter predictions about their needs. For example, if someone looks at flight schedules online, an advertiser could show them an offer for airline tickets, or infer that they might also be interested in hotel deals.

Contextual Targeting

Targeting based on the website’s content rather than data about the visitor.

An example of contextual targeting could be displaying ads for men’s apparel on a style blog. It’s similar to promoting topic-related ads in magazines, except it can be automated with technology.

Demographic Targeting

Targeting based on demographic traits, such as age, gender, location, income, life stage, and even major life events. Data usually comes from a user profile or from browsing history. The majority of demographics are captured at the individual level, but are also aggregated for household, neighborhood or local market-level targeting.

Demographic data can help advertisers better anticipate people’s needs as they browse online. For example, visiting from the U.S. results in a recommendation to navigate to Additionally, advertisers can focus their strategies on more desirable demographic traits, such as a women’s brand allocating more spend to show ads to women.


Targeting based on a consumer’s real-time location. It enables search engines to bring up the closest location when you search for “Starbucks,” whether you’re home or visiting a city for the first time.

Psychographic Targeting

Targeting based on people’s attitudes, values, and interests.

Advertisers are increasingly tapping into the power of psychographic data to understand what motivates consumers, which can be more powerful than demographic data alone. Platforms like Facebook and Google have cornered the market on data related to people’s activities and interests, and survey data can complete the picture by further revealing their perceptions.



A small data file sent from a website to an individual browser for tracking purposes.

Websites use cookies to track visits and remember preferences, such as which products you looked at, or your login information. Typically a cookie is associated with the website visited. But third-party cookies typically sent from advertisers are the focus of most privacy concerns.


The intentional orchestration of customer experiences and data across two or more marketing channels for improved performance.

Cross-channel targeting anticipates how people interact with brands across different touch points to drive a cohesive brand experience. It requires the strategic management of data to recognize customer journey traits, such as who is visiting a website from a customer loyalty program or who is interacting with the brand for the first time.


A small piece of code placed on a website that sets the cookie, which enables tracking of online behavior.

Tracking pixels are generally undetectable by the user. Pixels may be installed on a website, email, or similar.


Using software to automate the buying and selling of online ad placement based on a pre-determined targeting strategy. This automation enables marketers to target people more reliably and efficiently.


Email marketing campaigns to re-engage customers. In order to launch a remarketing campaign, your brand needs to have some sort of pre-existing relationship in which the customer has already provided an email address.


Online advertising practice that displays an ad based on the user’s previous online behavior, such as visiting a website or searching for a specific keyword.

Retargeting fosters re-engagement with individuals. For example, if someone starts – but doesn’t finish – the checkout process on a website, that person could be served an ad that reminds them to complete the purchase. Some consumers find retargeted advertising “creepy” because it only works by tracking online behavior.


The process of collecting data and insights about online ad performance, generally using tools and techniques like tracking URLs, cookies, and pixels.

Online ad tracking provides marketers with a wealth of customer data, including interaction and purchase data that can be used to measure and optimize ad performance. The conversation around tracking is getting louder, as online privacy laws go into effect and consumers pay more attention to how their data is being collected and used.


Brand Safety

The practice of protecting a brand’s reputation in its online marketing strategy, such as avoiding ad placement next to inappropriate content. A children’s ad, for example, shouldn’t run before a video with explicit adult content.

Automated ad buying produces great efficiencies, but online advertising still requires the critical judgement humans provide in determining the right associations for a brand. Best practices include choosing reputable publishers and setting up exclusions in ad targeting to restrict placements.

California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

A data regulation that went into effect on Jan 1, 2020. The law aims to protect an individual’s data privacy and applies to certain for-profit companies that do business in California, whether offline or online.

Regulations like CCPA have huge implications for how companies track and target people in online advertising. CCPA stipulates that consumers have the right to know what information is being collected about them, the right to request the deletion of personal information, and the right to control who has access to their information.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

A data regulation law that rolled out across the European Union in 2018. Much like CCPA, the law protects online data privacy and must be followed by businesses that collect data of European users.

GDPR set a precedent that other countries have followed, and smart companies are paying attention. It signals a shift in data regulations that require more transparency in the collection and use of consumer information.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

Data that may be used to identify a specific individual. This data may be sensitive (such as a person’s full name and social security number) or non-sensitive (such as the zip code where they live).

PII is the focus of regulations like CCPA and GDPR.  Either alone or combined with other data, PII may reveal an individual’s identity and make them susceptible to security breaches.


The proper use and governance of personal online data. The rise of ad targeting has brought increased awareness among consumers of how their data is collected and used, and has provoked strong debates about individual data privacy.


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