What’s Contextual Targeting and why do I Need it?

By now, you might be familiar with something called the ‘cookie apocalypse’ or even the ‘cookie-less future’. 

Basically, this means that cookies are set to say their goodbyes and advertisers will have to come to terms with the fact that targeting will have to take place in a different way. 

Contextual targeting is very much back on the table as Google Chrome is the latest technology platform to remove the cookie functionality that advertisers had become so accustomed to. 

Cookies, while great for targeting, were extremely invasive privacy-wise and many consumers simply could not stomach them. 

Instead, they demanded increased privacy protection and less obvious forms of data use. 

However, there is a price to pay for consumers which is that the ads they are shown without cookies and highly-targeted personalisation seem simply ridiculous. 

So, what’s the middle ground, and what’s to be done as an advertiser?

Well, that’s where contextual targeting comes in. 

This, in effect, really harks back to the earlier days of advertising when tailoring ads had to be based on features other than tracking people across sites. 

Jump to:
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Contextual Targeting
    Contextual Targeting
    Contextual Targeting
    Contextual Targeting

    What is contextual targeting?

    Well, contextual targeting is pretty much what advertisers used to have to work with. It’s all about placing what seems to be the appropriate ad in the right place and the right time. 

    It’s also not exclusively done on digital. 

    No, traditional marketing forms pretty much invented this practice. 

    It’s why the ads that play during a footy game on TV are different to those that are shown during the finale of The Bachelor. Companies assume their customers will be in the spots and watching the show that is most relevant to them. 

    When it comes to contextual targeting in digital marketing, you’ve pretty much got two main solutions. 

    1. Select what creative your ads appear with and change this creative depending on the website it’s displayed on.
    2. Displaying ads for relevant keywords and content.


    As we said before, advertisers are going to have to find a solution that displays relevant ads to people, without them feeling like they do not have any privacy protection.

    Benefits of contextual targeting

    Relevant Ads

    As we have said a few times now – there has to be a way of balancing the need for relevant ads with data protection. 

    That’s the great thing about contextual targeting, however, because the ads are relevant to the page they simply seem like they belong there.

    You know that feeling when you click on a webpage and somehow you’re served an ad for a product you swear you had only spoken about with your friends up until then? This feeling is avoided and people are much more likely to trust the source of the ad if it doesn’t seem to know too much about them. 

    That’s not to say consumers don’t actually like relevant and personalised ads, just that they don’t want to feel like they are being spied on. 

    Anyhow, when ads are in an environment that actually compliments them, the two pieces of content will work together meaning both can be lifted in value. 

    People who are on the webpage are probably interested in whatever they are reading about meaning the ad will find its intended customers.

    Privacy protection

    Well, possibly the biggest benefit is the privacy protection that it offers consumers. You see, unlike third-party cookies which actually track what the user is doing across the Internet, contextual targeting simply chooses the ads to be displayed based on the website and content on the site. 

    It’s very different if you think about it because the user manages to remain essentially anonymous. 

    For example, if all family members went to visit a certain webpage, they’d all be shown the same ads. It doesn’t matter what other websites they’ve visited in the past. 

    This is why it’s called contextual targeting, after all, the context is that of the actual page – nothing more, nothing less.

    So, why did we stop using contextual targeting?

    It’s pretty much what we have hinted through the whole way throughout this article – cookies and behavioural targeting came along and seemingly offered a personalised solution that would literally allow advertisers to know almost everything about a person’s behaviour. 

    The thing with cookies is that they don’t just compile information about a user from their behaviour on a website – they follow them all around the Internet, targeting and retargeting as much as possible. 

    It’s why we see ads for websites we’ve visited, but maybe never made a purchase on, all the time. 

    However, nobody really saw the landmark privacy and data protection legislation coming that would essentially render cookies useless.

    In Europe and the US, consumers put their feet down collectively and said that enough is enough. 

    The thing about contextual targeting, as well, that made it less appealing than cookies was that it’s naturally easier for some brands to do than others. For example, advertising sports betting during a sports game or on a sporting website. 

    Similarly, contextual targeting is easier for English language companies than it is for other languages.

    Issues with contextual targeting?

    One of the issues with contextual targeting used to be that the AI wasn’t really smart enough to be based only on keywords alone. 

    An example is a news article about a murder in London, but there is an ad showing about cheap flights from Sydney to London – it’s not really what the advertiser had in mind when they targeted London as a keyword.

    These days, however, AI has become much more intelligent. 

    It’s able to do things like sentiment analysis which can analyse the meaning behind a piece of content. 

    It’s also able to understand the semantic meaning behind content and a user’s search query. 

    This makes contextual targeting much more brand-safe. 

    Content analysis in general has also become more advanced. Publishers and bloggers are better at correctly taxonomising their content so your ad will only display where it should.

    How does contextual targeting work?

    It’s pretty simple really. All that has to happen is that an contextually-based advertising system has to scan websites for keywords and then display ads that are based on the aforementioned keywords. 

    There are a few variations on this, however. 

    1. In-video contextual advertising – YouTube and other embedded video formats do this as it allows you to display ads that are relevant to the video you’re about to watch.
    2. In-game contextual advertising – these ads will be contained in games, and normally display when the game is loading. 
    3. Native advertising – ads that are designed to look like organic content. 
    4. Behavioural advertising – designed to target the user based on their behaviour.


    These days, the advertising system can also pick up more contextual information like the alt text, and some can even work out the sentiment of the page as well. 

    Publishers can also provide additional information that can help the advertising network place the correct ad. This can include the taxonomy provided by the site owner as well as specific like the actual site, channel or page type. 

    Obviously, the deeper this taxonomy goes, the better the ad targeting and the more expensive!

    Contextual Targeting in 2021

    In 2020, Google stopped sharing information about the contextual content category each website or article fits into. 

    These content identifiers – like sports, or weather, however, were often too broad and so not that helpful anyway for advertisers. 

    There are also more and more players entering the contextual targeting game at the moment as data companies jump on board the contextual targeting bandwagon, so you can get a variety of pertinent data from a number of sources.

    Summary

    Just because cookies are going away, does not mean that marketers can turn away from targeting altogether. 

    Unless you do look for alternatives, you’re going to find yourself in a pickle. 

    Look to contextual targeting for some of the answers as it still allows you to reach perfect customers for you, and alleviates concerns over privacy that consumers continue to have around hyper-personalised tracking like cookies. 

    In the past few years, contextual targeting has most definitely improved so brand safety is much less of an issue. 

    Whatever you do – make sure you’re as specific as you can as great targeting can really improve your campaign!

    About The Author