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Contextual Targeting definition

Contextual Targeting (© ankabala /

Contextual Targeting (© ankabala /

Contextual advertising is a form of advertising used across the web in order to provide more relevant adverts for the user as well as greater targeting for the end user.

Making sure your messages reach the right people is called targeting your marketing. So for instance, if you were going to create an advert and publish it on a website in order to promote your high heels, you would want to make sure that the website had a demographic of mostly females in their 20s-40s. Target old men on a fishing website and you aren't going to have much luck. Contextual targeting is one way you can do this.

If you have ever loaded up a website and found it to be laden with ads, then chances are that many of those ads will have used this contextual targeting, thereby making them examples of contextual advertising. The biggest known network to do this is Google AdSense, which accounts for a great many of the ads found across the web.

Google AdSense is a form of PPC marketing, meaning ‘pay per click’. This means that the ads only cost the advertiser money and only earn the publisher money, if they are actually clicked by someone. Google allows anyone to add these ads to their site by simply placing a piece of code on their page. This code then dishes up ads based on a number of factors, including contextual targeting.

Here, the code will scan the website it is embedded on in order to find keywords. It uses this to then ascertain the subject matter and thereby the target audience. For instance, a website about fitness will have lots of words relating to weight loss, VO2 max etc. and this allows an ad script to identify it as such and then show ads from advertisers that sell protein shake, dumbbells and running shoes – rather than products that are unrelated to the subject matter. By targeting via context, you are ultimately targeting the end user because you are able to pick people with particular interest.

There are other considerations when targeting your audience though.

More Ways to Target


What's just as important as targeting the right audience though, is to target them at the right time - when they are the most receptive to that message. Timing is very important with wedding dresses or baby supplies for instance, as you want the message to come up when that person is pregnant.

At the same time though you also need to think about the precise time of day that your message arrives when you send e-mails or when you publish ads. People aren't going to be highly receptive to your advertising messages no matter what they are if you send them at 8am when they're heading off to work. Advertising a holiday? Tourism marketing works best during long cold winter evenings when people will likely be daydreaming of sunny beaches…

SEO is a particularly well targeted form of marketing because it allows you to show your site to people who are actively looking for sites on the same topic at that time. AdWords can be considered a form of contextual marketing.

Preaching to the Choir

Earlier I said that you should make sure that your high heels adverts go on a site read by women, but actually that's not necessarily always the best strategy. Ask yourself: who else buys high heels? Sometimes it's men buying for their girlfriends and partners and in that case, you can market to a group that don't already know all the different kinds of shoes, and that perhaps hadn't already considered it. If you target the exact audience that already is looking for your product, then you may almost be wasting time by 'preaching to the choir' - and you'll face much more competition from other advertisers too. Think about people who are likely to respond to your adverts but wouldn't search for them as well, and you will cover all your basis and increase your market.

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