Home  › Media › Media Planning

Making Distinctions in Contextual Advertising

  |  December 2, 2008   |  Comments

There are many types of contextual advertising, but it isn't as confusing as it might seem. Go ahead. Dip your toe in.

As one of the oldest forms of online advertising, contextual advertising has come a long way since the Web's early days and, as a consequence, defining it precisely has become more of a challenge. Contextual advertising used to differentiate itself from display advertising by the fact that it meant specifically text-only ads. Turning to Princeton University's WordNet definition of "contextual," "relating to or determined by or in context," let's make some clearer distinctions about today's options in contextual advertising.

Methods of Placement

We can segregate contextual ad serving into four main categories:

  • By keyword, in context

  • By keyword, in text

  • By context, in content

  • By content ownership

These days, contextual advertising isn't limited to text-only ads. Display ads can be contextually served, which opens up a whole new door for relevancy.

Keyword, In Context

The most well-known form of contextual advertising falls into this category. In this method, the advertiser selects keywords she feels would be relevant to the campaign. Page content is then crawled with the advertising technology determining that content's relevancy. Dynamically, this relevancy is matched to the advertiser's keyword and the ad is served.

The most popular delivery of the keyword-in-context placement is through Google's Content Network, known to publishers as AdSense. Last month, likely in an effort to capture more of the do-it-yourself advertising market, Google launched its display ad builder with templates that also include video and game ads.

Year-old BuzzLogic offers a variation on keyword-in-context advertising with its conversation ad targeting network. BuzzLogic matches advertisers' conversation queries, primarily within the context of blog postings.

Keyword, In Text

With keyword-in-text advertising, ads are associated with and served only when a reader mouses over an actual keyword found within text. The technology works by pixels placed on participating publishers' sites to monitor changes and to capture text. Advertisers supply an approved list of keywords against which they would like their ads to appear. Once the technology finds keyword matches, the keyword is linked to the advertisement and underlined or highlighted to catch the reader's attention. Mousing over the keyword launches a pop-up "caption" frame, into which the ad is served. Ads can be text-plus-logo or display, including video. The main players in keyword-in-text advertising include Kontera and Vibrant Media.

Context, In Content

Through various crawling, algorithmic matching, and ad-serving technologies, context-in-content advertising attempts to offer advertisers a different means to target than strictly by keyword. The genesis of the selection process may begin with keywords, but it ends with a matching process that lets an advertiser choose by site (e.g., Google Content Network's Site Targeting), by category (ContextWeb), by semantics (iSense), or by multiple options (AdBrite). These kinds of solutions help advertisers hone or broaden their reach, depending upon the campaign's needs.

Content Ownership

When the entire article you read is really all bought and paid for, that's content ownership, or advertorial. Besides the direct buy, there's also AdFusion, which is an interesting blend of advertorial and newswire-like network. AdFusion's team interviews the advertiser, writes the article containing links back to the advertiser, then makes the article available to its network of news and information sites. These sites decide if the content is relevant to their readers and post articles they select.

Contextual Advertising's Performance

Contextual advertising has survived all these years because contextual advertising works. Inventory isn't the issue. The saying "content is king" rings true, and the rise of social media has generated more content into which advertising can be served than ever before, with targeting technology that's ever more advanced and transparent.

Contextual advertising usually runs on a CPC (define) basis, which also makes it attractive to performance advertisers, though I could make the case of contextual's value to brand advertisers just as easily. Like search, contextual advertising is a workhorse. Just be careful of smaller, less-proven networks.

Buying Contextual Advertising

One down side to contextual advertising is that DIY rules in some systems. There might not even be a media rep to answer your questions. These platforms don't facilitate ad serving and, consequently, data reporting can be thin. You might not ever know how many ad impressions were served to what sites or even on what sites your ads appeared. If performance is a concern, buy small and test.

Go ahead. Dip your toe in. Though there are many types, contextual advertising isn't as confusing as it might seem.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12 at the Chicago Hilton. The only major search marketing conference and expo in the Midwest will be packed with 60-plus sessions, multiple keynotes and Orion Strategy sessions, exhibitors, networking events, and more.

Wondering where the Agency Media Strategies column went? It's been updated and reborn as Planning the Buy by Hollis Thomases and Harry Gold. Tell us what you think!

ClickZ Live Toronto On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!

ClickZ Live San Francisco Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!


Hollis Thomases

A highly driven subject matter expert with a thirst for knowledge, an unbridled sense of curiosity, and a passion to deliver unbiased, simplified information and advice so businesses can make better decisions about how to spend their dollars and resources, multiple award-winning entrepreneur Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is a sole practitioner and digital ad/marketing "gatekeeper." Her 16 years working in, analyzing, and writing about the digital industry make Hollis uniquely qualified to navigate the fast-changing digital landscape. Her client experience includes such verticals as Travel/Tourism/Destination Marketing, Retail & Consumer Brands, Health & Wellness, Hi-Tech, and Higher Education. In 1998, Hollis Thomases founded her first company, Web Ad.vantage, a provider of strategic digital marketing and advertising service solutions for such companies as Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, and Visit Baltimore. Hollis has been an regular expert columnist with Inc.com, and ClickZ and authored the book Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day, published by John Wiley & Sons. Hollis also frequently speaks at industry conferences and association events.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get ClickZ Media newsletters delivered right to your inbox. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.

Paid Search in the Mobile Era

Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.




    • GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator
      GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator (British Consulate-General, New York) - New YorkThe GREAT Britain Campaign is seeking an energetic and creative...
    • Paid Search Senior Account Manager
      Paid Search Senior Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring a strategic Paid Search Senior Account Manager...
    • Paid Search Account Manager
      Paid Search Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring an experienced Paid Search Account Manager to...