What is contextual targeting and how to get the most out of it?

by Mateusz Ruminski: Project Manager at RTB House.

In this article you will learn:

  • What is contextual targeting?
  • Why do marketers need contextual targeting?
  • How is contextual targeting different from behavioral targeting?
  • How to excel at contextual targeting?
  • Contextual targeting today and in the post-cookie era.

What is contextual targeting?

Contextual advertising is a type of targeted advertising that involves displaying ads based on a website’s content. The idea itself is not new. It was invented over 20 years ago; however, today’s efficiency and accuracy are incomparable. We can look for the beginnings of contextual targeting in the printed press. The situation may seem different, but the assumptions were similar – showing the relevant product or service to the reader or user who may potentially be interested in them due to the content they consume.

The assumption has remained unchanged. Advertisers want to present what the user may be interested in – not knowing the user, but understanding the context.

What does it mean exactly? Let’s imagine a user browsing the Internet and finding – and then reading – an article about the most amazing Greek beaches. This provides a hint that the user might potentially be interested in flight tickets to Greece or a new swimsuit. Advertising vendors will read this signal and present these types of products or services in ads.

Contextual targeting technology reads specific signals like the website’s URL, content category, text, and even images to understand the contextual relevance of each page.

Why do marketers need contextual targeting?

Optimising advertising budgets, performance and reach is the most critical task in a marketer’s everyday life. Contextual targeting enables marketers to target profiled advertising messages to the right audiences without knowing the user’s history. It is beneficial in terms of an informed and practical distribution of budgets allocated to building brand reach, which is especially relevant for the upper levels of the purchasing funnel.

How is contextual targeting different from behavioural targeting?

Both types of targeting were developed to ensure that advertising would be displayed to the user with the highest possibility of purchasing. Even when both have the same goal, there is a crucial difference between them.

Behavioural targeting analyses users’ past behaviours to build their profile to personalise advertising, while contextual targeting ignores it, taking into account only where a particular user currently is in the Internet environment to adjust the ad content to the context of the website.

How to excel at contextual targeting?

Just as with behavioural targeting, both the amount of data available and what the advertising vendor can do with this data could be a competitive advantage.

In this case, the scope of data can significantly vary. Initially, contextual targeting was based only on text, but along with the development of technology as an industry, we learned to understand the context of photos or graphics. The concept of understanding text starting with single words became the understanding of phrases, contexts and even whole sentences.

A comprehensive understanding of the website allows better user targeting. On the other hand, the faster the algorithm, the quicker it can detect and analyse newly published websites or articles, and include them in the targeting mechanism.

Contextual targeting today and in the post-cookie era

As contextual targeting doesn’t rely on cookies at all, there is no risk of it becoming inefficient in the future when third-party cookies are eliminated. Moreover, next to behavioural targeting, it will be one of the basic methods of user targeting.

These two methods will be more complementary than ever before, as information about the FLoC assigned by the browser to the user will also be sent within the contextual bid request. It means that the combination of contextual data with the user-assigned FLoC cohort will be frequently used for targeting new and potentially interested audiences.

Useful resources:
RTB House
RTB House is a global company that provides state-of-the-art marketing technologies for top brands worldwide.
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