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Contextual advertising: the ins, outs and where it’s heading to next

We have all been hit by contextual advertising. Whether we have acted on it or not is another question; but it has definitely impacted our social media networks as well as our general web browsing.

The general idea behind contextual advertising is the placement of advertising that is contextually relevant to the content of the webpage that you are currently browsing.
By way of example, let’s say that you are reading an article on a news website that has got to do with orphans starving in Africa. A contextually related advert would be for charities and orphanages looking for donations and support.

One of the largest contextual advertising platforms around today is Google AdWords. The way Google serves its PPC ads is by matching the keywords in your search to the keywords that the ads are bidding on and then displaying the most relevant based on the Quality Score of each individual advert.

Facebook has its own version of contextual adverts; but as opposed to being solely keyword driven like Google’s; they are also partly demographically driven. So if you have recently updated your status to say something along the lines of, “Woo hoo, I’m engaged o the most beautiful woman in the world!”; or changed your relationship status to the same effect, you had better believe that you are about to see a whole lot of wedding related adverts on your Facebook profile page and news stream.

Of course this sounds ideal… And from a marketers point of view it might be. Placing adverts that are “relevant” right in front of a potential client the moment that they show interest in something! It’s a dream come true, surely?! Well it would be if contextual advertising wasn’t off the mark more often than not. Allow me to explain.

I have written a few posts recently which have included the word “Entrepreneurs”; this is mainly because of the book I have written (but that is beside the point). Now I am being bombarded by adverts asking me to go on entrepreneurial courses; offering me venture finance for my entrepreneurial business; giving me entrepreneurial advice and so on.

At its core; contextual advertising has functioned correctly; it has given me adverts based on keywords within my latest updates; but that is where it stops. Contextual advertising failed (ironically) to see the contextual relevance of “why” I had made posts around entrepreneurs. And this is where contextual advertising needs to advance in order to stay relevant and on point with potential targets.

Contextual advertising works because it is targeted to something that the audience is interested in; as soon as that relevance becomes too overt or loses specificity; then the audience is going to switch off to contextual advertising altogether.

The next plane

The evolution of contextual advertising might be found to mature into “behavioural advertising” – which freaks more than a few people out!).

In short; behavioral advertising records the user’s behavior rather than just the user’s preference. There are many privacy issues that surround targeted advertisements and tracking a person’s behavior on the Internet (which is what freaks everyone out).

Contextual behavioral advertising will be based on the user’s surfing behavior in prior sessions. So in other words, your historical searching behavior will influence your future in terms of what adverts are shown to you.

The browsing behavior is tracked via cookies and many companies are interested in pursuing this advertising practice, because click-through rates and, more to the point, conversion rates are higher with behavioral marketing than they are with other forms of advertising.

With that in mind; beware of the sites that you visit the next time you are home alone at night and feeling a little…………. “Adventurous”!


Jonathan Houston’s book Internet Marketing for Entrepreneurs: Using Web Strategy for Business Success is available from Amazon.

Author | Jonathan Houston

Jonathan Houston
Jonathan Houston is passionate about digital marketing and digital strategy. During the day, Jonathan is the Head of Digital Marketing for HKLM. Jonathan's work at HKLM includes strategy conceptualization, focusing on the alignment of digital marketing to business strategy as well as assisting HKLM's clients on fulfilling their digital... More
  • Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but Google already offers behavioural advertising in the form of “interest” targeting based on user browsing behaviour. One can combine interest and contextual targeting in the same adgroup to achieve more specific reach for display ads. http://www.google.com/ads/preferences to see what they have on you (from your browser). Might freak people out, but it is aiming to serve them more relevant advertising, so definitely on the right track with this :)

  • jingo27

    You are dead right – Google do already offer behavioral targeting – but I think it is still in its infancy – there is still a lot of advancement before it is the “norm” for this type of advertising.

  • RTB is experiencing serious growth in many markets. That is why contextual and behavorial targeting will continue to grow very rapdily as most demand side platforms internationally have access to 3d party data providers ( e.g Bluekai) when buying via real time bidding. The buyers/ agencies can include the data in their decision making and bidding strategies to only pay for the audience with highest conversion potential. Players like E-Bay even include CRM data in their systems and combine both which is a very advanced approach.

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