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Contextual Targeting in Programmatic

We define contextual targeting in Programmatic, for you, with simple words. Learn what contextual advertising is and why it is used by so many advertisers.

With a cookieless world ahead, contextual advertising is becoming more and more popular in the US and around the world. What is contextual targeting in Programmatic? How does it work? Why use contextual targeting in your programmatic campaigns?

Today, we define contextual targeting so you’ll understand why this type of targeting is used by advertisers. Of course, you’ll be able to see some examples of contextual ads to get a better picture.

Are you ready to dive into the world of contextual advertising?

Example of billboard ad in Programmatic.

Define contextual targeting

Contextual targeting, or contextual advertising, is a form of personalised advertising based on categorised content. The aim of contextual advertising is to display ads that are the most relevant to a website’s content. Contextual advertising does not use the user’s data; instead it uses website’s content, which is analysed thanks to crawlers and machine learning.

Websites content is analysed through web crawlers. They scan every single URL of a website, then categorise its content.

Think about an ad for coffee beans displayed next to an article named “The best cappuccinos in New York”, for example. The website’s content is related to coffee so an ad with similar content is displayed.
It’s similar to in print magazines: you’ll see ads for cars in a magazine about SUVs. This is contextual advertising.

One of the most popular contextual targeting platforms is Google Ads: Search ads are shown to users using contextual targeting or, more precisely, contextual keyword targeting.

Contextual targeting can be used with videos, audio ads, native ads and display.

In contextual advertising, ad selection is based on categorised content. To categorise web content, 3 main factors are taken into account: category (or industry), keyword targeting and semantic.

Category targeting

Websites and publishers are labelled and split per category or industry: lifestyle, automotive, news, beauty, sports, etc. Category targeting is quite broad so it’s not the most efficient contextual targeting.

Contextual keyword targeting

Contextual keyword targeting is used to match specific keywords, entered by a user, with related ads. For example, if a user searches for “sunscreen” on a website, they will find some content about this topic and will probably see an ad selling sunscreen, sun hats or bathing suits.

Contextual keyword targeting offers great accuracy to advertisers.

Semantic targeting

Semantic targeting uses AI and machine learning to understand the meaning of webpages, their content (text and images). That’s why it’s important to have optimised webpages: content and webpages’ structure must be clear for web crawlers to understand what they are about.

Of course, it’s possible to combine these 3 important targeting options in contextual advertising.

Contextual targeting signals

We could not talk about contextual targeting in Programmatic without mentioning contextual targeting signals.

Contextual targeting signals are cookieless signals used by advertisers to display ads when context or environment is best. They are considered as the foundations of contextual advertising.

Weather, air quality, localisation, seasons, time of the day, day of the week, power outage, outdoor temperature, etc. are used as conditions to launch or not advertising campaigns.

Imagine, it’s spring, you are walking in the city. Exceptionally, the temperature is extremely low today, you are quite cold. On the main street, you notice a DOOH screen advertising a light-weight jacket for chilly days. Perfect timing, don’t you think?

The ad has probably been displayed because it uses some contextual targeting signals: outdoor temperature and localisation.

Examples of contextual targeting in Programmatic advertising

Now that you know what contextual targeting in Programmatic is, check these examples to be sure you understand how it works.

This example highlights contextual keyword targeting. The user entered the keyword “sun protection” on Amazon and an ad about sunscreen appears.

Here, an ad related to Online Courses is appearing on top of the Forbes article “6 Free Online Excel Courses With Certificates” thanks to contextual advertising. The ad mentions “e-courses”, which is related to the content.

[If you are looking for a Certifying Excel Course, check this one out. It’s on sale for a limited period of time and is available on all devices.]

Mobile ads with localisation, weather and products.
Source: WeatherAds

On the left, you have an example of ad using contextual targeting signals: localisation and weather.

Ad for Airbnb on YouTube after using the keyword "holidays". Example of contextual keyword targeting.
Example of contextual targeting in Programmatic – YouTube

Now, here is an example of keyword targeting on YouTube. The user searched for “holidays”, probably to listen to a song. This triggered a contextual ad to display: an ad for Airbnb to book a place to stay.

Contextual targeting vs behavioural targeting

In Programmatic, contextual targeting and behavioural targeting are sometimes mixed up. These types of targeting are different, but can be combined for a greater efficiency and a higher chance of conversions.

Behavioural targeting is based on actions previously taken by a user. Tracking is involved with the help of 3rd party pixels and cookies and first-party data. Privacy concerns about behavioural targeting are growing. Indeed, users are usually unhappy their data is shared across platforms or sold to publishers.

Behavioural targeting can be problematic because of GDPR or CCPA. Additionally, know that behavioural targeting is more restricted on iOS devices such as iPhones.

On the other end, contextual targeting is not as problematic regarding privacy because users’ data is not used. This Programmatic targeting option allows advertisers to reach a broader audience.

Timing is key in advertising: behavioural targeting may display ads when it’s too late (the user already purchased a similar product). With contextual advertising, ads are displayed when the user is consuming content related to the displayed ad. Chances of clicks and conversions are then higher.

Why use contextual advertising?

Contextual advertising helps advertisers deliver their ads in a cost-effective and simple way. Ads are seen by users who are interested in related contents and who are most likely to convert. Also, users seeing ads thanks to contextual targeting are usually more receptive because advertisement seems less intrusive to them in that moment.

Contextual targeting is also really easy to set up because there is no data to upload on DSPs or on other Programmatic platforms.

But this type of targeting is not always efficient. For example, if a user reads a blog post about the biggest villas in the South of France, this user is probably just curious. Chances this user wants to buy a villa in the South of France or travel to France are slim. Another example where targeting could go wrong: think about a news article about a murder involving a kitchen knife as the weapon. That would be really bad publicity for an advertiser selling knives to appear next to this article.

Thankfully, exclusion lists are being used to avoid these situations.

To conclude, now that language and location targeting may restrict your ads to display on some webpages. But this is also the case when using behavioural targeting in Programmatic.

Now, you know what contextual targeting in Programmatic is and why it’s used by so many advertisers. Remember that we are moving to a cookieless world, so learn how to use contextual targeting now!

Get started with contextual advertising: hire a Programmatic Expert like Ted Jordan to take care of your campaigns, or join a Comprehensive Online Course to learn how to use contextual targeting on your own.