As long as there’s been advertising, some form of contextual ad placement has existed. Any businesses or organizations that have run ads in newspapers, in magazines, or on television have been placing ads in ways that ensure they are surrounded by relevant, credible content. Choosing an ad placement based on the surrounding content makes sense, and this concept is pretty easy for most marketers to understand. For instance, it’s no surprise that TV commercials for frying pans are most interesting to viewers of cooking shows. Newspaper ads for movies get more attention when they are placed in the entertainment section. Magazine ads for gym memberships are noticed more when they are placed in fitness magazines.

This simple, easy-to-understand approach holds true when it comes to digital ads and online marketing. Placing ads on pages or videos with related content or similar interests is a smart way to increase an ad’s effectiveness. When advertisers and marketers look for websites full of related, credible content for their digital ads, professionals call it contextual targeting. While this is a relatively recent term, the approach is nothing new. Placing ads and messages next to or within the content (that already appeals to your best customer) increases the power, relevance, and effectiveness of the marketing message.

While this all sounds like common sense, it’s not always easy to implement. That’s because today’s advertising platforms and technologies are developing and changing rapidly. Modern formats and context change daily, even hourly. Also, it’s often tricky for advertisers to evaluate all the different options and approaches available within contextual advertising.

However, with a little help from an experienced marketing partner, finding the right contextual content for your advertising plan can be the turning point for your online marketing messages. Most marketing experts now believe that contextual advertising not only provides more precise targeting tools, but is also able to reach consumers at the moments in their day in which they are most receptive to these messages.

While this marketing strategy might seem like a no-brainer, it’s not always the way digital advertising works. Tracking cookies and data profiling have been the preferred method for many advertisers for the past several years. When using data-driven profiling, digital marketers often use demographics, web behaviors, and purchasing behaviors to determine which people will see their messages. While these advertisers may be reaching the right people, they are also sending ads to audiences in places in which the user sees no related content. For example, a Facebook ad about retirement communities might reach a person chatting with family about a child’s birthday party. An advertisement for an online university might pop up on your smartphone while you are playing solitaire. You may see popups on YouTube for the latest movie while you look for videos about how to fix a broken toaster.

With contextual advertising, ads are sent to content pages, not people. That means that the marketing messages are placed in front of online users consuming related content. People reading about tropical vacations might see ads for swimwear. Smartphone users reading about educational options might see an ad from an online university. Movie ads could be delivered to online users reading about local bands and theatre productions.

To explain it more simply, data profiling or behavioral advertising targets a consumer based on who they are or what they have done. Contextual advertising targets the site or page and reaches the people only when they are reading or viewing that content.

When advertisers target programmatically based on the content, they find the right pages using a Demand Side Platform, or DSP. This allows a media planner or marketer to purchase ad inventory that contains a keyword, a set of keywords, individual sentences, or matches with pre-selected contextual segments.

What are the Advantages of Contextual Targeting?

While data-driven profiling can be an effective way to send out marketing messages, contextual advertising also has many advantages. Almost half of marketers say this is their favorite targeting format. One of the most essential benefits is relevancy. Because they appear within related content, contextual ads make sense to the reader and match their interests. Therefore, they tend to be noticed more and clicked on more often. When marketers employ sophisticated contextual advertising strategies, they can locate sets of ad viewers who will be interested in the company’s messages based on the information on webpages they are visiting.

Why is Contextual Advertising Becoming More Popular now?

Data-driven profiling techniques have come under increasing fire in the past year. This type of profiling combines readily available information, like social media profile stats, and combines it with bits and pieces from other databases. Some varieties of data gathering also track an individual’s browsing history and include data about online purchases or offline credit card purchases. As a result, many consumers and governments have protested these practices and consider many types of data collection and data aggregation as an invasion of privacy. However, contextual targeting doesn’t require user profiling or tracking codes.

More and more countries are passing legislation that protects user data, and user privacy, including the EU’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation  (GDPR), passed on May 25, 2018. The GDPR legislation took away the ability of some online businesses to use or profile some types of information. As a result, many online websites and social media platforms have had to change and simplify the way they create or profile audiences. GDPR also mandated that any website using tracking codes, or cookies, must get user permission before tracking their behavior or sharing it with other sources or entities.

While GDPR was limited to European websites, any website or social media platform that intentionally or incidentally attracted European users had to comply with the new regulations. As a result, for most online sites and platforms, creating audiences based on consumer online behavior and traits slowed down or went away. While many sites still use cookies, they can only do so after a user opts-in or gives permission. The permission requirement has resulted in a dramatic slow-down of data-collection, making this type of advertising less precise and less prevalent.

However, when marketers choose their ad placements based on surrounding content, they do not rely on user profiling. Instead, they market to users on the site, whoever they may be. The qualifier for contextual advertising audiences is created based on their media usage at the moment, instead of basing it on past behavior or recent media usage.

Most experts agree that the practical impact of the GDPR legislation and related efforts in the United States have been the primary reasons advertisers began paying more attention to the benefits of contextual targeting.

On, Julia Nightingale reports that GDPR has changed the way marketers think about contextual advertising,

“Does the fallout from GDPR mean that audience targeting as we know it, will become a thing of the past?…Having access to granular data is of course extremely valuable from both an insight and targeting perspective. Has the legislation change forced companies to take a closer look at their data infrastructure? Will we see a drastic change in the ways companies choose to target their audiences?”

Happily, for many advertisers, contextual usage has always been a preferred method for identifying audiences. Contextual marketing offers exceptional reach and vast audiences. It ensures the users are interested in their content “right now.” For example, an ad for NFL gear on a sports website is surrounded by plenty of sports- and football-related coverage, which means that the users tend to be highly qualified audiences. A robust website may have hundreds of pages of NFL or football content and hundreds of thousands of users. In this example, contextual advertising provides marketers with plenty of content and large audiences for their ads.

Contextual advertising is also a smart strategy for niche products. For instance, companies that sell specialty woks may not be able to use data-driven profiling to identify customers who are “most likely to buy woks.” Still, they can find interested audiences by placing wok ads in articles about woks, ranking woks, or describing the best way to use woks. They can also put their ads on cooking sites that feature recipes using woks, or within videos that show or use woks.

In the Past, Behavioral Targeting and Cookies Ruled

Not so long ago, behavioral marketing, using data-driven tracking, seemed unstoppable. After all, there were few legal limits on the ways digital platforms and websites could profile users. Social media platforms were especially adept at tracking and aggregating data in creative and specific ways. And it wasn’t limited to companies like Facebook. Google, Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn. Many major websites programmed their digital properties in ways that enabled them to gather all kinds of information about individuals including age, gender, political preference, race, buying habits, credit scores, age of children, the brands they used at grocery stores, their net worth, the value of their home, and more.

By using cookies, a type of code that tracks online users’ web behaviors, sites could match emails to online and offline databases. Even credit information and purchasing habits from grocery store loyalty cards could be added to the online profiling systems. By employing a sophisticated set of programmatic ad tools, these tech companies could empower platforms like Facebook to target and retarget users with particular ads that could pinpoint their behavior from the websites they visited recently, to the model of the car they were likely to buy in the next 30 days.

This kind of behavioral targeting did not factor in contextual information, such as the content or articles on a website. Instead, the primary driver was tracking the behavior of users with digital code or cookies. It was the power of the cookies which allowed advertisers to gather personal web usage information and then use that information to create a digital profile.

With so many razor-sharp tools in place, contextual targeting became less popular. Behavioral targeting seemed to offer more in-depth data set to reach people in more specific ways than ever before. However, in recent years, users began to resist such intimately targeted ads. The ads became so specific to the actions of users that consumers started to suspect that computers were “spying” on them, and then selling their information to online companies. While the reality was rarely so sinister, abuses did exist. When the flaws of behavioral targeting became apparent, the United States and other countries required these digital companies to stop using certain types of tools to create audience profiles. Many tech companies voluntarily stopped using more sensitive types of data gathering, most notably political, racial, and financial profiling. As a result, advertisers find that it is now significantly more challenging to send the right ad to the right person at the right time.

Happily, contextual advertising was unaffected by these legislative demands. Because contextual advertising relies on surrounding content to attract users, instead of behavioral profiling to track user characteristics, it has never come under regulatory scrutiny. Contextual marketing does not utilize web tracking or previous behaviors as a way to connect a user with interests. Instead, the content attracts the user. Advertisers that use this strategy are placing ads on digital platforms where the user is reading compatible content, right now.

Is Contextual Advertising the Future of Online Advertising?

In addition to regulation from Europe, some U.S. states have also enacted legislation that restricts web tracking and data profiling. America’s largest state, California, has passed its own online privacy policies, the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA. Other states may soon follow. The California legislation requires compliance by any website that wants to do business in California or send products to California. As a result, tech giants like Google, Apple, and Mozilla have responded in kind with additional, voluntary restrictions. According to Phil Schraeder in the April 12, 2020 issue of AdWeek,

“…the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect on January 1, leaving brands, ad tech vendors and publishers scrambling to figure out what they need to do to comply. Then, a couple of weeks later, Google announced that its Chrome web browser, following similar moves by Safari and Firefox, would eliminate cookies by January 2022, further complicating how, in the not-too-distant future, digital advertising would reach customers without access to the third-party data that had become the standard for programmatic initiatives.”

While many Americans are not yet fully aware of privacy regulation, that may be changing. On May 7, 2020, an IAS study was released that showed online privacy is paramount. The IAS study reports,

“While 89% of consumers say data privacy is important, more than half (55%) are unaware of any data privacy regulation…when it comes to preferences, consumers are most receptive to contextual targeting (such as an ad for baking supplies on a cooking website) over behavioral, audience, location, or social targeting. As privacy legislation and consumer actions accelerate a shift in targeting strategies, innovative advertising strategies like contextual targeting based on the categories, sentiment, or emotion of the page will be prioritized by marketers. Enabling contextual advertising will allow advertisers to adjust to the evolving landscape while engaging consumers in appropriate environments.”

As more and more governments and online entities get stricter about the use of tracking code, or cookies, some marketers are calling this dramatic increase in regulation the Cookie-pocalypse. In Australia’s Marketing Magazine, reporter Jasmine Giuliani wrote,

“When Google announced the decision to phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2022, it caused a considerable stir in the marketing community. Whether digital marketers are rejoicing or panicking, there is no denying the move will change how online targeting, ad tracking and privacy will work on the web.”

As the news articles cited here demonstrate, the restriction of cookies is not the only reason contextual advertising is on the rise. As online browsers like Google, Apple Safari, and Mozilla’s Firefox struggle to gain market share, they are restricting the use of third-party cookies to provide a more secure user experience. These browsers are also allowing users to select more comprehensive privacy preferences, which makes cookies and tracking difficult or even impossible.

Because contextual targeting attracts relevant readers, it does not require the use of third-party cookies. In fact, contextual advertising does not actually target the user in any way – it seeks out content. It seems likely that contextual advertising will play a much more significant role in online advertising going forward.

As the public becomes more aware of data-profiling, more and more companies and governments are mandating data-monitoring restrictions. This means that behavioral advertising is becoming more attractive than ever. As a result, more advertisers will take advantage of the ability of good content to attract qualified consumers.

How is Contextual Advertising Used in Different Industries?

As explained earlier in this article, looking for on-page keywords is one way to help ad placement tools identify the meaning and context of a page. Once that context is defined, it’s used to make ad-serving decisions. This kind of contextual advertising allows all sorts of advertisers to serve up highly-relevant ads on pages with the type of content that identifies the interests of the readers.

How exactly does this work? To help our advertisers understand how to apply contextual advertising strategies, we’ve created these examples.

How to Use Contextual Advertising for Pennsylvania Auto Dealerships

Online buying and selling cars, trucks, and SUVs is more common than ever. But some marketers find that finding the best local customers online can be challenging. For auto dealerships in and around Lancaster County, placing ads on pages with specific make and model descriptions makes perfect sense. Advertising on sites with advice about auto care and maintenance is another smart strategy. To capture shoppers in the research phase, dealerships can advertise on sites with car listings, financing advice, or car shopping tips.

Dealerships who want to take advantage of the benefits of contextual advertising may want to place ads on sites or content that uses keywords that describe car care, auto financing, how to get the best price on a new car, top 10 cars of 2020, car selection, truck repair, how to clean your car, or even news of a new dealership in the area.

Contextual Advertising for Pennsylvania Entertainment, Movies, Theatre, Plays, and Concerts

When you’re a business that offers events and entertainment in Lancaster County and Central PA, it’s smart to look for content that uses keywords indicating interest in your production. While some online users will search for movies, to get even more people out to see the latest film at a theater marketers should serve up advertising on sites filled with the keywords regular moviegoers use, like things to do this weekend, cinema, binge-watching, and of course, movie.

It may also make sense to look for people interested in the titles of the movies that are playing right now. For example, instead of limiting ads to sites talking about film, also include digital platforms that talk about the movies that are running in your local theater. Place children’s movies ads on parents’ sites with “activities to do with kids” articles.

The same marketer might also market to keywords that make sense with the content of the movie. If it’s a movie about the rock group Queen, marketers might look for content about Freddy Mercury, Brian May, or Roger Taylor. Or they may look for articles that mention similar types of 80’s rock, Kiss, ELO, Aerosmith, and Moody Blues.

To sell tickets to the next big concert coming to town, it makes sense to reach people who are reading about entertainment news, celebrity gossip, music events, local concerts, bands, and venues. But if you’re hosting a Martin Short comedy show, you may also want to look for sites that mention Martin Short, comedy clubs, and comedians.

A smart marketer will think hard about the kind of content that will appeal to the target audience. By thinking about the keywords they will be reading, a media planner will be able to identify the best contextual content for your ad placement.

Contextual Ads for Lancaster County Food and Restaurants

Central PA loves good food, and residents of Lancaster County can choose to eat at a wide variety of great restaurants. And they also like reading about the people, food, and chefs that make our area a culinary haven. By serving ads on sites using contextual advertising strategies, restaurants can reach people who are reading pages about specific types of food, cuisines, and dishes. For example, if the advertiser is a Thai restaurant and they want to reach people who love Pad Thai, they can choose delivery by keywords around Pad Thai, the ingredients, Thai cuisine, and similar dishes.

A grocery store might want to target contextual ads based on keywords about products carried, online recipe sites for Lancaster County, articles on food health, food budgeting, shopping tips, couponing, and articles that talk about cleaning, cleaning tips, and housekeeping tips.

For B2B marketers who sell to restaurants, think about serving ads on the sites restaurant owners and decision-makers visit. Consider advertising in the business section, on restaurant health inspection pages, and in news about commercial real estate in the area.

Wedding and Event Venues

Any florist, party planner, linens rental, limousine service, or venue that wants to target bridal and big events can find relevant audiences by choosing the kind of keywords that will show up in content created to appeal to brides and bridal celebrations. For Lancaster County, these kinds of advertisers might want to target keywords or context segments like engagement, bridesmaid, engagement ring, wedding gown, bouquets, catering, and bridesmaid dresses. When a marketer chooses these kinds of keywords, their ads will be served to pages and articles about wedding registries, wedding planning, floral arrangement, bakeries, cake decorators, wedding planners, and more.

How, Exactly, Does Contextual Marketing Work?

While we’ve been talking a lot of about contextual or behavioral marketing, it may help to explain precisely how this type of advertising buy works. A contextual advertising system, such as Google Display Network, scans millions of websites every day using web crawlers or bots. These crawlers are continually indexing the text or words on websites for keywords. This includes the text, subheads, headlines, and other relevant code formats.

The contextual ad system can now send digital ads to a webpage based on the indexed keywords (or phrases, or context categories.) More advanced contextual targeting systems will scan for additional information (such as alt text on images or video content.)

These tools are also able to read the sentiment or tone of the page. They sort the pages into categories of credibility, reliability, and seriousness. This improves relevancy and avoids issues of brand safety. For example, with the proper filters specified, a financial ad can be served on a site full of credible content, like a LancasterOnline article on personal finances, but won’t appear on questionable sites, such as a video spoofing banks or using obscenities.

Often advertisers want to appear on particular websites. The way some publishers help advertisers perform contextual targeting with ad inventory may help. While situations vary, contextual targeting ad programs can often be built around the specific site, channel, page type, keyword, or taxonomy provided by the site owner. Taxonomy is a system classification or the way a site organizes its data into categories and subcategories. The deeper and more specific the site’s taxonomy, the richer the contextual targeting can be.

While costs vary widely based on targeting parameters, the current market dynamics mean that the price of contextual advertising is often lower than the investment needed in other types of online advertising. That’s because there currently is a large inventory of available content online. In other words, the impression inventory available is very high for contextual advertising. More contextual ad spaces are open compared to the number of ad requests. Since cost is created based on supply and demand, a vast supply means that ad buyers have lots of flexibility to decide when, where, and how an ad is delivered and shown.

However, all contextual advertising is not created equal. Targeted advertising on highly credible sites tends to cost more than broadly targeted ads with less stringent parameters on content quality.

Within this marketing strategy, there are a few techniques any marketer can use to reach their best consumers. Always consider the balance among your marketing goals, the information you want to communicate, and ad formats available to you. Remembering the role of these considerations will help your marketer make the decisions that work best for your Lancaster County or Central PA business.

Should You Target Using Off-the-shelf Contextual Segments?

Off-the-Shelf is a term used to describe pre-built audience segments. When advertisers look for pages for contextual targeting, they can select ad placements included in the Google Display Network based on keywords. But what if relevant pages don’t use those keywords? Off-the-shelf contextual segments are pre-built to be relevant to a category instead of a single term.

For example, an ad planner can work with a client to create a core theme or category for a set of ads. When placing ads, the planner chooses from among thousands of Google contextual segments that include sites and pages that have been selected because they contain syntax that shows the pages are about selected topics, even when they lack identified keywords.

For example, if a business wants to reach people looking for retirement communities, they can choose from a variety of contextual segments that are about retirement or similar subjects. While these pages may not contain specific words or phrases, they will still be on-topic and relevant to the category.

Targeting by segments ensures that an advertiser will run ads on the right kinds of sites. For example, if an advertiser targeted using the word “retirement,” they might also land on sites about corporate retirement savings plans and 401ks.  By choosing a segment, they are making sure they don’t end up on the wrong site.

Should you Target Using Custom Keyword Segments?

Just like off-the-shelf segments, custom keyword segments are sets of prebuilt keyword groups to help ad planners create contextual targeting marketing plans for Google Display Ads without using specific keywords. These keyword segments are less granular than a customized keyword approach but less generalized that the off-the-shelf segment option.

To prevent confusion or misplacement, these options also allow you to exclude terms. Using the retirement community example, you may want to exclude keyword segments that include 401ks, IRAs, financial planning, or employer retirement savings plans.

What is Contextual Advertising With Video?

Video has become one of the most popular parts of the online universe, so don’t overlook it in your contextual advertising plan. Both Google Ads and YouTube are good choices for advertisers who want to use contextual advertising to reach people viewing relevant videos about related topics or who are watching videos on specific video URLs. For example, if your business sells parts to repair home appliances, ads on how-to videos about appliance repair would be a perfect contextual fit.

What is HyperLocal Contextual Advertising or GeoFencing?

For many companies, nothing beats local advertising. Keeping content relevant to the places people go offline is at least as important as being relevant to the context in the digital world. That’s why so many advertisers are including offline locations as a part of their contextual advertising plan. Usually a part of a geofencing strategy, hyperlocal contextual advertising uses place as context. For example, if people are online while in a local coffee shop, they are doing certain things – drinking coffee, meeting friends, and relaxing. This might be a good time to send ads about coffee, eating out, or shopping. If the coffee shop is next to a gas station, ads about checking the tank may be relevant. If the coffee shop is next to a movie theater, advertisers can deliver ads promoting the latest films.

Can You Target by Site?

For some advertisers, you won’t need a lot of technology partners to get started. If you’ve done your research, and already know the types of sites that your target consumers go to, you can target by a specific site.

There are two ways to do this. The first strategy is to utilize a narrow industry example. For instance, marketers who want to reach trucking companies can look for sites that are specifically targeting the trucker industry. These may be news sites, listing sites, or industry publications.

The second example is to go directly to the site. If your business wants to start advertising on LancasterOnline, for instance, you can contact the site directly. In this example, the marketer must make a direct deal with the inventory owner (LNP Media Group.) When you work directly with a site that offers advertising, you have the advantage of a direct connection to the content. You will agree on terms, price, and estimated reach, or CPM (Cost Per Thousand.) When you work with well-developed content sites like LancasterOnline, you rely on an account rep to make recommendations about content and frequency. This account rep sends the client proof of performance once the ads have run.

In this example, if you want to send ads to people who are visiting Lancaster on vacation, you may want to advertise on LancasterOnline’s pages about area attractions that show up in searches for “what to do in Lancaster.”

You may want to expand your advertising to other tourism and visitor’s sites as well to reach more people looking for information about Lancaster County. Each website will have special requirements for how and when marketers can advertise.

Advertising on local media properties is one of the most common uses of contextual advertising. Websites like LancasterOnline offer brand-safe environments with broad reach. They also provide a deep set of topics and industry specialties so that you can advertise to very targeted groups of B2C and B2B audiences.

Are you Ready to Get Started?

Contextual advertising allows your company to reach people when they are exploring related content. That content may be about your product or industry, or it may be related to your business in other relevant ways. You can target by keywords, website, or prebuilt segments. You can also use contextual advertising for video ads and location-based advertising.

LNP Media Group is experienced in this kind of marketing and ad placement. Whether you choose to run ads on LancasterOnline or you want to create a contextual campaign to run on other websites and platforms, we can help you develop plans that meet your marketing goals.

Contact us today for a free consultation, and we’ll show you how contextual advertising can work for your Lancaster County or Central PA business.