Cookieless WorldDigital Advertising

What Is Contextual Targeting and How to Get the Most out of It?

Contextual targeting
(Last Updated On: September 19, 2023)

Even though contextual targeting is not a new thing, it can be described as a fresh approach in light of the upcoming changes. What changes? It’s all about the deprecation of the 3rd-party cookies and the fact that contextual targeting might play a bigger role than ever in the digital advertising industry.

In this article you will learn about:

  • The origin of contextual targeting and its current state
  • The differences between the 2 main targeting types
  • The ways of benefiting from contextual targeting

Table of Contents:

What is contextual targeting?

Contextual advertising is a type of targeted advertising that involves displaying ads based on a website’s content. So, what is contextual targeting? The idea itself is not new. It was invented over 20 years ago; however, today’s efficiency and accuracy of contextual advertising 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 and the original contextual target definition could be seen as – 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 of contextual advertising 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? As an example of contextual targeting, 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.

Contextual targeting - example

Why do marketers need contextual targeting?

Optimizing 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.

EMEA Automotive Guide | See our report
The auto industry is on the brink of the biggest changes in a century. This guide gives an overview of the current state, as well as practical advice and big ideas for auto industry leaders who want to use digital advertising formats to drive business.

Contextual vs Behavioral targeting – what’s the difference

Both contextual and behavioral 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 when it comes to contextual vs behavioral targeting.

Behavioral targeting analyses users’ past behaviors to build their profile to personalize 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 behavioral 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, so how to excel at contextual targeting? 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 analyze 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 behavioral 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.

If you have any questions, comments or issues, or you’re interested in meeting with us, please get in touch.

Into the future of online ads?
Subscribe to receive email notifications about our latest blog posts