Contextual Targeting Guide for PPC Advertisers

By Sydney Wess / 26 January 2022

One of the most pressing advertising challenges is getting ads in front of the right audience. Contextual targeting is designed to help you connect your ads with relevant pages on the internet.

Every advertiser aims to connect with an interested audience. After all, reaching an audience that resonates with your ads means more clicks, conversations, and return on ad spend (ROAS). 

Finding a reliable way to connect with your intended audience can be tricky, and there isn’t only one way to do it. In fact, getting ads in front of the right people is often cited as a top challenge in online advertising. 

Many marketers turn to contextual targeting to place ads where their ideal audience will find them. This guide will outline what contextual targeting looks like in action and highlight the top three benefits of the paid advertising strategy.  

Looking for an advertising partner? Find a PPC company that meets your needs on The Manifest. 

What is Contextual Targeting?

Contextual targeting is a paid digital advertising strategy that connects consumers with ads that are highly relevant to the host sites and pages they’re on. 

For example, if you’re reading an article about rock music, ads for guitars and amplifiers may appear. Since the consumer was already looking into information about rock music, they may be more interested in purchasing equipment used to make this music than those making less contextually relevant searches. 

Contextual ads can take one of four forms:

Regardless of which ad presentation you use, your ad will be directly related to the context of the host page. 

How Does Contextual Targeting Work?

The thinking behind contextual ads is that people are more likely to purchase items they’re currently researching and learning about. 

Data from Transaction shows that 81% of people do online research before making purchases, making contextual targeting an intuitive advertising option. But just how does contextual targeting work? What possibilities does it create for advertisers?

There are three methods of leveraging contextual targeting in an ad campaign:

  1. Keyword targeting
  2. URL targeting
  3. Domain targeting

three types of contextual targeting

Advertisers can target the content and context of either keywords, URLs, or domains to make contextual targeting work best for them. 

1. Keyword Targeting 

Keyword targeting in contextual advertising is very similar to how keywords are selected in standard SEO strategies. 

First, you’ll want to designate high-intent keywords that you want your customers to search in order to find your product and services. Make a list of keywords that are most relevant to your ad campaign and note those you wish to avoid in your advertising effort. 

Next, you’ll want to either search these terms yourself or use a tool such as Ahrefs to evaluate your keywords and associated search volume.

Ahrefs will also show you top-ranking pages for selected keywords. Marketers can use this information to figure out the estimated monthly traffic and search intent for each page to determine whether it would be a strong candidate for contextual ads.

Ahrefs as a tool for keyword targeting

Source: Ahrefs

For instance, the above image shows all the top pages on Google for the term “best multivitamins.”   

Many of the pages ranking for this keyword are content-focused. Publications such as Heathline and Men’s Health provide health-related information to those already interested in health supplements. 

After working through this process, an up-and-coming multi-vitamin brand may opt to set up a contextual ad via keyword targeting the term “best multivitamins.” This will showcase their ad on pages that rank for that specific keyword.   

2. URL Targeting 

URL targeting is similar to keyword targeting but doesn’t require an in-depth keyword research process. This method is for those with specific URLs in mind for contextual targeting. 

Rather than targeting all content that ranks for a certain keyword, advertisers individually select URLs within a domain for their contextual ads. 

For instance, the aforementioned multivitamin marketers may decide that keyword targeting is too broad for their ads. After all, not all of the ranking pages contain information-rich content that would drive a purchase. According to Ahrefs, the CVS online store for vitamins is ranking in the top 10 for “best multivitamins.”

URL targeting example

Source: CVS

Our hypothetical up-and-coming vitamin brand may not want an ad competing side-by-side with similar products that can be added to carts with a single click. 

In this case, the marketers may want to try URL targeting to avoid ad placements with lower odds of success. With URL targeting, the team can designate the specific pages that should show their contextual ad.  

This process may be a bit more manual and detail-oriented than the other options. However, it offers more control to marketers, who have the power to select best-fit pages one by one. 

3. Domain Targeting

Lastly, domain targeting casts a wide net while still offering a different level of control for advertisers. Domain targeting allows digital marketers to serve their ads across an entire domain.

This approach is reserved for when every page on a site seems like it could drive clicks and purchases. That way, all traffic flowing to the site may be captured by your ad, rather than just a few selected pages. 

For example, if the multivitamin brand decides that both keyword and URL targeting aren’t a match, they may select to focus solely on a few domains. In this case, they’d need to research and list high-traffic domains that are perfect matches for their product. 

One option may be Healthline, a source for news and reviews on all things health, wellness, fitness, and sleep. The team may determine that the Healthline audience matches their desired customer base perfectly. 

examples of how to handle contextual targeting on domains

Source: Healthline 

If there seemed to be complete audience overlap, the marketers would add Healthline to their shortlist for domain targeting. 

Once the process is finalized, the multivitamin ad will be placed on any Healthline page with available space for reader impressions. 

Domain targeting may not be the best option for every company, but a brand that can find significant audience overlap will benefit from increased traffic and clicks resulting from this method.

What is Behavioral vs Contextual Targeting?

Both behavioral and contextual targeting are designed to help advertisers find their desired audience. However, the methods of doing so differ significantly between the two strategies.

Behavior targeting is a process by which consumers’ online activity determines which ads they see. For instance, if someone heavily researches slow cooking, they may be met with ads for Crock Pots or slow cooking recipe books anywhere they browse in the future. 

Contextual targeting differs from behavioral targeting — ads are tailored to the host publication content rather than the users. In the above example, instead of targeting people with search histories related to slow cooking, contextual ads would appear on sites and pages relevant to slow cooking.

By focusing on the context of a user’s search rather than user activity, contextual targeting may seem more ethically palatable to consumers and advertisers.

While some methods of contextual advertising track behavioral activity and may seem intrusive, there are ways to minimize any privacy concerns via contextual targeting. For instance, static links can only track clicks they receive, making them a solid choice for those wishing to uphold a high standard of customer privacy.   

Additional reading, ‘How Internet Privacy Is Changing the Online Advertising Market.’

3 Benefits of Contextual Targeting

1. Creates a Seamless Marketing Funnel

Contextual ads create direct and sensible marketing funnels. When well-placed, the advertisement ties directly, obviously, and easily into the news story.  The article may even feel like extended ad copy. 

A reader may not have ever considered a company’s services before, but reading a highly-related publication sparks the necessary motivation to click on the ad and consider making a purchase. The challenge for companies is to place ads effectively so that the host’s publication’s content works in the ad’s favor. 

For instance, the travel section on Newsweek contains a contextually targeted ad from Textron Aviation. The ad below appeared on an article about international travel recommendations post-pandemic.

example of a contextual targeting ad

Source: Newsweek

The ad is integrated in between paragraphs, almost looking like part of the piece itself. Travelers reading this content may not have considered Textron before but may click on this ad anyway because they’re engrossed in travel research. 

Once clicked, the advertisement brings readers to the company website, where more research and potential conversions occur.

2. Appears Organic and Natural to Audiences 

It’s no secret that consumers take measures to avoid ads. At the close of 2019, more than 763.5 million users had ad-blocking software on their devices to filter out some noise. 

People feel overwhelmed by the increasing number of advertisements they’re exposed to each day and don’t appreciate blatant ad content. Data shows that this is why consumers are against pop-ups, autoplay video ads, and misleading ads that trick people into clicking. 

If people find your ads annoying and actively take opportunities to avoid them, the advertisements aren’t doing their job. Ads are supposed to interest people in new products or services that could be helpful to them. They should be thoughtful and tailored, not obnoxious or manipulative

Instead of relentless and annoying, contextual ads are relevant to consumer searches. People may find these ads convenient because they’re placed where they can contextually be helpful. 

The intuitive and organic feelings come from the relevance of contextual ads. By serving consumers something they may actually be interested in during their online searches, ads appear more natural and helpful to people. 

3. Better Respects Audience Privacy  

Privacy is a central concern for consumers online. Especially concerning ads, many consumers feel that their privacy isn’t being protected or respected by digital marketers. 

According to HubSpot research, most people think that ads are more frequent and intrusive than they were in the recent past. 

most agree that targeting ads are more intrusive

Source: HubSpot

Privacy and security concerns are another big reason that people choose to download ad blockers. They find many types of targeted advertising to be intrusive. 

A company can show more regard for privacy by investing in contextual advertising rather than similar behavioral approaches. In choosing to use more invasive forms of targeting, companies emphasize individual behavior instead of the context of what consumers are searching. 

By respecting consumer privacy, you’ll build better relationships with your audience, which will better earn their trust.

Contextual Targeting Benefits Advertisers and Consumers 

As opposed to ads that seem invasive or irrelevant, contextual targeting delivers highly-relevant advertising content without requiring behavioral snooping. 

By targeting relevant keywords, URLs, and domains, advertisers can provide value to potential customers and reach an audience that is more likely to convert. 

There are plenty of ways for companies to adopt contextual targeting into their advertising practices. With several different approaches to the process, contextual advertising can work for just about any company’s needs and budget.



Additional Reading

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