Google Research

Learning to Target: What Works for Behavioral Targeting

  • Sandeep Pandey
  • Mohamed Aly
  • Abraham Bagherjeiran
  • Andrew Hatch
  • Peter Ciccolo
  • Adwait Ratnaparkhi
  • Martin Zinkevich
CIKM '11, ACM, Glasgow, Scotland, UK (2011), pp. 1805-1814


Understanding what interests and delights users is critical to effective behavioral targeting, especially in information-poor contexts. As users interact with content and advertising, their passive behavior can reveal their interests towards advertising. Two issues are critical for building effective targeting methods: what metric to optimize for and how to optimize. More specifically, we first attempt to understand what the learning objective should be for behavioral targeting so as to maximize advertiser’s performance. While most popular advertising methods optimize for user clicks, as we will show, maximizing clicks does not necessarily imply maximizing purchase activities or transactions, called conversions, which directly translate to advertiser’s revenue. In this work we focus on conversions which makes a more relevant metric but also the more challenging one. Second is the issue of how to represent and combine the plethora of user activities such as search queries, page views, ad clicks to perform the targeting. We investigate several sources of user activities as well as methods for inferring conversion likelihood given the activities. We also explore the role played by the temporal aspect of user activities for targeting, e.g., how recent activities compare to the old ones. Based on a rigorous offline empirical evaluation over 200 individual advertising campaigns, we arrive at what we believe are best practices for behavioral targeting. We deploy our approach over live user traffic to demonstrate its superiority over existing state-of-the-art targeting methods.

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