Contextual Advertising Guide, Examples, Targeting, Tips and Advantages

Contextual Advertising Guide
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It is easier to sell to a customer when the product matches their needs. Imagine your excitement when you ran into a product you had been looking out for a long time.

It is an easy guess that you walked into the store immediately to purchase the product. That is what contextual ads do,­ getting your message in front of an already interested user.

Contextual advertising allows you to have your content read and interacted with by enthusiastic prospects who have already related to your service or product.

Contextual advertising is nothing but targeting potential customers based on the user information through their latest searches on the web.

The idea is to display ads based on the products that they have searched for or already shown interest in. For instance, If the user is searching for Most Fuel-Efficient Cars in the browser, then you have to show an ad about hybrid cars that saves fuel.

By showing the ads related to the search history of users, you can improve your website traffic and promote your products.

You can utilize cookies for tracking the insights about the user. Cookies help you to gather information about the user’s recent search and provide a way for more effective contextual ad campaign.

In this guide, I will walk you through the most beneficial paths in running contextual advertisements.

What is Contextual Advertising?

Contextual advertising is a form of targeted advertising that takes keywords and content of the web page into consideration when displaying ads rather than user behavior.

The ads are placed on web pages depending on the content of those pages, rather than data obtained from the consumer’s online behavior & the complete process is simplified through contextual targeting.

Summarily, we can say contextual advertising means displaying ads “in the right context”.

Contextually targeted ads are run via a Demand-Side Platform (DSP), that identifies the relevant web pages and places ads there.

To get started, you have to choose your topics and keywords. These will then be used to match with a website your target audience may be visiting.

Consider taking advantage of contextual retargeting too, it helps. Contextual retargeting is a practice of swapping cookies and pixels between smaller websites that share audiences.

This can be a mutually beneficial practice if the two companies are not direct competitors.

what is contextual advertising
image credit: Brid.TV

Contextual Vs. Behavioral Targeting. Which Is More Effective In Display Advertising?

The debate on contextual advertising versus behavioral advertising has always troubled advertisers. Both contextual and behavioral targeting is used to ensure that an ad is placed in front of an enthusiastic prospect who is most likely to make a purchase.

Both forms of targeting are also dynamic, meaning they constantly change to deliver improved results when given more data. While the two are out to achieve the same outcome, there are notable differences in their approaches that you have to be aware of.

When talking about the contextual vs behavioral targeting contest, the key distinction is that behavioral advertising campaigns analyze past behavior to serve ads to potential customers.

Whereas contextual ads disregard this and instead place ads in the environment where these buyers may have ended up as a result of their browsing activity.

Note that both methods have drawbacks, so a combination of the two has to be used to convert the shopper into a buyer.

After comparing and contrasting, it’s easy to conclude that behavioral advertising is better. Why match your ad with the content of a web page if you can track consumers’ behavior for deeper personalization?

Behavioral advertising appears like an upgraded version of contextual advertising.

After all, just because a user is reading a blog post about body weight doesn’t mean they are in the market for weight loss or add products.

On the other hand, if their browsing history shows they have been visiting product landing pages for weight add products recently, that’s a far better pointer to buying readiness.

But not to conclude so fast, there are various unique advantages of contextual advertising that are worth noting.

Advantages of Contextual Advertising

#1. Easier and affordable to implement

The success of behavioral advertising depends on data, lots of data. This means you need tools to gather and analyze it, strategies for using it, and people to optimize that process.

For companies with lean resources, and fewer customer data at their disposal, behavioral advertising may not be worth considering right away.

Contextual advertising offers an alternative that is easy and affordable to start with while providing a level of usefulness in its way.

Though it may not be as personalized as behavioral advertising, its reach will be broader in most situations, providing a beneficial way to get visitors off other websites and onto your own. 

#2. Privacy

The penalties for abusing private user information can be disastrous. Moreover, cookies are no longer automatic to a website, and users have to voluntarily opt-in for them, making retargeting more difficult.

You see, users crave greater privacy; including choice, transparency, and control over how their data is used online.

Naturally, the web ecosystem has to meet up to their increasing demands. While Safari and Firefox have already weed out the third-party cookie, Google will do so soon.

But since contextual ads do not depend on cookies to target, your advertisers do not need to panic about not being compliant when they display their ads.

#3. Greater Relevance

The basic assumption supporting behavioral advertising is that users want to see ads related to general trends in their browsing behavior.

However, it might well happen that their current wants do not fall in with those trends. For example, a user browsing sports equipment may not automatically want to see ads about graphic design services, even if they have previously browsed for graphic design services.

By contrast, an ad for organic protein powders may be more useful to their present state of mind and attract more clicks.

#4. Brand Reputation Protection

One aspect of safety is doubtlessly legal compliance. However, reputation can be a ticklish thing to protect, especially since advertisers cannot always take charge of where their ads show up.

Oftentimes, businesses have faced backlash because their ads were flashed on adult sites or ones with fanatic views.

This, however, was an outcome of user behavior. By contrast, contextual advertising places the web page at the center of things, and the brand has control over that web page by identifying the topics, subtopics, and keywords that relate to the ad.

How does Contextual Advertising work?

I think the most crucial step to take in your contextual advertising is to know your customers more closely. Know their dislikes, preferences, buying patterns, and more.

How does contextual advertising work?
image credit: Instapage

The more you know your customers, the more personalized content you will craft to target them. So knowing the buyer persona before taking another step is a golden decision.

There are various tools available in the market that can help you take a more personalized approach to targeted advertising, such as HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, etc. These are great when it comes to online marketing.

With knowledge of your customers, follow these steps to arrive at a successful contextual advertising end.

#1. Choose parameters for contextual advertising

For effective contextual advertising, an advertising system needs to understand what your campaign is about so it can run your ads on relevant web pages.

Topics are broad categories in which your campaign would fit, like agriculture, music, and fashion. Selecting one of these qualifies your ad to run on websites across the Google Display Network relating to your topic.

They can start on a broad scale like “Autos & Vehicles,” and then narrow it down to “Trucks & SUVs”.

Keywords are for more specific targeting within your topics and subtopics. According to Google, each campaign should utilize 5-50 keywords, including negative keywords, which will help the network tie your ad to website content.

For example, a car campaign might include models and makes of cars or phrases about them, like fuel, luxury, efficiency, etc.

Together, keywords and topics can offer the network a good idea of what kind of content your display ads should be placed in when it examines a web page.

#2. Google analyzes the pages in its network

When you place your order, Google will examine the content in each display network web page to try to tie your ad with the most relevant content.

The algorithm takes into account text, language, link structure, and page structure while taking your keywords into account, on top of another targeting.

If you target keywords and topics in the same ad group, your keywords will be treated first when Google selects where to show your ads.

Your ads won’t be eligible to display on pages that don’t match your keywords — even if those pages are related to the topics that you’ve chosen.

You can set up your display network settings to either broad or specific reach. If you have selected broad reach, your ad will be placed based on your topic targeting.

With specific reach, your ads will be eligible to display only on pages that match your keywords and no less than one of your targeted topics.

#3. Your Ad Is Placed and You Are Done

Through the above analysis, the display network will locate a placement that matches your ad contextually.

Contextual Advertising Examples

#1. App store category

On mobile devices, the commonest contextual advertising examples connect apps through their cataloging in the app store.

For instance, a user playing a racing game will receive an in-app ad for another app that overlaps with that category (games) & subcategory (racing).

There is room for testing, too. How will a person playing a car racing game engage with an ad for dirt bike racing or horse racing?

This application of contextual advertisement isn’t new and ad networks have been pairing puzzle game ads with other puzzle games for years but its history of success sets the table stakes for contextual advertising.

#2. Audio settings

Dynamic ads are generally engineered to function in as many settings as possible. There is no use investing in ad creative that is indiscernible without sound, for instance.

With that said, audio elements like narration, background music sound effects, and sound effects can make a big difference when used correctly.

Knowing whether a user has their ring volume on or whether they are using a headset with their device will give advertisers a peep into the role audio plays in ad success.

That way, if the audio elements of your ad are critical, you can display contextual advertising only to users who will hear them.

And even if you don’t use audio signals to decide where your contextual ad is shown, data about whether and how converting and non-converting users hear your advert’s sound is beneficial feedback for your future ad creative.

#3. Location

Another good example of effective contextual advertising is utilizing signals like time to UTC to develop an understanding of a user’s location.

It’s hard for advertisers to know a user’s specific location, but identifying fine details like time zone and preferred language can lead to more specific contextual advertisement.

For instance, an ad for a cooking app is less useful at midnight, when most people have already eaten their fill and gone to bed, than at midday, when they start to think about what they will cook for dinner.

For food delivery apps, four o’clock in the afternoon is a glorious hour. As workers start counting down to clocking out for the day, ads that give them one less thing to think about and make dinner as simple as possible are extremely attractive and appreciated.


Contextual advertisement is about placing value and relevance combined with advantages ranging from reach, affordability, safety, and ease of implementation of ads in the environment that a user is in.

From content and keywords to web copy and images, everything is taken into account for advertising contextual marketing content successfully. 

Contextual advertising puts the control in the hands of advertisers instead of the user, allowing them to concentrate on the present behavior of the visitor instead of what they have done in the past.

Additionally, contextual advertising is far more economical and easily implemented than its alternative_ behavioral advertising. It can be a great option for new and small businesses.

Terhemba Ucha

Terhemba Ucha

Terhemba has over 11 years of digital marketing and specifically focuses on paid advertising on social media and search engines. He loves tech and kin in learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He consults on digital marketing and growth hacking.

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