skip to Main Content
The What, Why And How Of Contextual Advertising

The what, why and how of contextual advertising

Contextual advertising sounds like a complex marketing term but it’s actually a pretty simple concept that’s been with us for years. In essence, contextual advertising is just advertising that’s tailored towards the person or people viewing it – more targeted if you will.

In traditional media it’s difficult to go beyond the extremely broad targeting offered by placement and timing. If you were running a print ad in a newspaper or magazine, you’d ideally want to place it in a publication whose readership most matched your own target audience. If you had a TV advert, meanwhile, you’d try to place it in relevant program slots. An advert for toys would obviously be more suited to the ad break in a kids’ TV show than during a late night thriller.

The internet has opened up far greater opportunities for tailoring ads to their audience. Google entered the fray well over a decade ago, with its then brand new Content-Targeted Advertising. This early model was based on the keywords found within a particular website or page. If the site was sports-related for example, the visitor might see ads for sporting equipment, subscription sporting TV channels or tickets for upcoming sporting events. Essentially the ad would be contextually relevant to the contents of the page.

Placing the ad on an appropriate webpage is still a huge part of contextual advertising but these days advertisers can go even further, basing their placements on additional data such as browser history and previously viewed items. This is known as behaviourally targeted advertising and is an area that often overlaps with contextual advertising.

So why use contextual advertising?

The obvious reason to consider contextual advertising is that it increases the chances of a given ad being more relevant to the person who views it. Advertisers benefit from this as it increases the chance of ‘hooking’ a new customer. Webmasters benefit as they will be paid more for increased click-throughs of the ads that appear on their sites. Even the consumer wins as he or she will be presented with ads that are more likely to be in tune with their own interests.

A Yahoo! study used biometric and eye-tracking measures to examine the emotional and cognitive reactions of consumers to various styles of online ads. The time it took a viewer to fix their attention on an ad increased by 15% when the ad was contextually relevant. According to the study, this increased the chances of the ad being stored in the long-term memory. Contextually relevant ads also elicited an emotional response that was almost twice as high as those without.

Behaviourally targeted ads also performed far better than random or inappropriately placed ones while ads that were both contextually and personally relevant elicited the greatest responses of all.

How to get the context right

There are a number of tools, platforms and service providers that aim to help you place your ads in the most contextually relevant settings.

Google AdSense is perhaps the most well-known and is certainly the most popular. Advertisers can choose a cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-metric (CPM) model. With CPC you are charged based on the number of people who actually click the ad, while with CPM the amount you pay is based on how many people your ads appear to. Ads are placed based primarily on website content but other factors such as the user’s geographical location can also figure.

Most contextual advertising uses automatic processes but there are also models that rely more on direct human input. BuySellAds, for example, is essentially an advertising marketplace for advertisers and publishers. Website owners or publishers list the spaces available on their sites and advertisers buy the placements in which they’d like to see their ads. The contextual part here comes in choosing the most relevant site for your ad. It’s a little more involved than a fully automated process like AdSense but it can be less prone to inappropriate or irrelevant placements.

As technology and the ways in which user data can be used continue to evolve, so does the way in which advertisers can target their audience.

John Mracek, CEO of ad-targeting company Netseer says: “We used the same technology from our Concept Graphs [technology that analyses search queries and page content to optimise placements] and applied the same intent engine to people as well as pages and so our offering has gotten much broader.”

Contextually and behaviourally targeted advertising are becoming increasingly intertwined but where your ads appear continues to be a vital part of the equation.

*Picture credits: Curioso /


Lingo24 is a global translation company, with interests in marketing, e-commerce, product management and many other areas that are of relevance to our clients. We share news on our company performance, innovative technology solutions, exciting new hires and guest posts from some of our translators.

Back To Top
×Close search