Contextual Advertising With the Advertiser in Control

A session at the recent Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference was “Dealing With Contextual & Other Non-Search Ads.” In it, representatives from Google and Overture described the benefits of their contextual offerings. An audience member asked, “Do you have any plans to give advertisers control of the sites on which their ads are displayed?”

The response was, “That’s a good idea, but no, we don’t have any plans to do so at this time.”

Problem is, advertisers generally want to control where their ads are displayed. Some don’t want their brands associated with certain sites. Some want to limit wasted ad spends by distributing their ads only to certain categorical channels, especially those that are proven. Others are concerned with optimizing their return on investment (ROI) by blocking sites that don’t perform and putting more ad dollars into those that do.

Neither Google’s nor Overture’s contextual ad solutions offer this kind of control. With Google’s contextual ads, the advertiser is forced to pay the same price for contextual as she does for search, and the ads can’t be tracked separately unless they’re set up in a separate account. Google does enable advertisers to control distribution geographically through its geotargeting capabilities, but that’s about it. Overture at least provides advertisers with separate control of their contextual campaign’s cost and tracking, but not much more. No wonder marketers are split on contextual ad effectiveness.

Enter true, advertiser-controlled pay-per-click (PPC) contextual ads. Networks such as Quigo’s AdSonar Exchange, IndustryBrains, and Kanoodle’s ContextTarget and newly launched LocalTarget, plus smaller providers such as ContextWeb and BidClix all offer advertisers far more control over their contextual ad campaigns and contextual ad dollars. These networks, still in their naissance, address the advertiser’s need for more and better control.

AdSonar Exchange offers three kinds of content matching:

  • Structured Search: Scan site structure and site elements for keyword matches.
  • Content Search: Match editorial content on a page with keywords.
  • Free Search: Deliver ads based on real-time on-site search query results (wow!).

When setting up a campaign, an AdSonar advertiser can control virtually all aspects of the campaign through its online dashboard, including budget (campaigns start at $100), bidding, tracking per individual placement, campaign duration, and day parting. Starting bids range from $0.20 to $0.40, depending on the topic or site where the ad appears.

The advertiser can then search the network and select matching topics and sites. Or just give the system the advertiser’s URL and the system crawls the page to make keyword and topic suggestions (think how you could use this information for other buys!). Currently, AdSonar doesn’t offer geotargeting except to the automobile vertical.

IndustryBrains, like AdSonar, gives advertisers control by keyword or topic. Its backbone is business-to-business (B2B) and trade content, and its matching technology isn’t as robust as AdSonar’s. IndustryBrains also allows an advertiser to insert unique tracking for each placement and for different creative to be used per placement. Both AdSonar and IndustryBrains claim to have only high-quality sites in their networks, raising the value for advertisers. IndustryBrains minimum is $100, with bids ranging from $0.50 to $4.00 per click.

Kanoodle’s ContextTarget also touts its high-quality sites as the key to contextual advertising. Its new LocalTarget offering is built into ContextTarget, with a focus on individual geographic community topics. LocalTarget ads are displayed on localized Web sites, including local TV stations, newspapers, and directories. Kanoodle has a $50 sign-up fee and a $10 minimum spend per month. Bids range from $0.20 to $2.00; for LocalTarget, it’s a $0.20 minimum bid.

ContextWeb is interesting in the way it assesses all page elements to determine appropriate context in relation to keywords and, therefore, to the ads that belong on it. Like AdSonar, it also matches keywords to context in real time. Different ad messages can be written for different keywords. Minimum buy-in is $500, bids range from $0.20 to $2.15.

BidClix offers control in the form of topical channels, not keywords, though its site network isn’t as high quality as the others. BidClix requires only $25 to open an account, with bids as low as $0.05 per click.

These networks seem to agree the time is right for their breed of contextual advertising, the kind where the advertiser is in the driver’s seat. Now, they need some persuasive case studies to better woo media buyers.

Speaking of online advertising, if you buy media, please take this short survey I’m conducting to collect data for an upcoming column. Thanks!

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