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Contextual Targeting: A Simple Way To Make Ads Hyper Relevant

December 20, 20226 min read
Kseniia Kyslova
Kseniia Kyslova, Senior Marketing Copywriter at Epom

Keep reading or watch Lina Lugova, Head of Marketing at Epom, explains how contextual targeting works in programmatic and how to set it up in Epom DSP.

For years, contextual targeting stayed in the shadow of behavioral targeting. With the move to privacy-first advertising, this type of ad targeting is gaining traction.

How granular would you get if you selected what content should accompany your next ad campaign? Should the content relate to sports in general, American football only, or NFL game scores in particular? Whatever level of granularity feels right for you, you can target programmatic ads that way. Read the article, and you’ll learn how to do it.

What Is Programmatic Contextual Targeting?

To give programmatic contextual targeting a definition, let's first recall the concept of contextual advertising. In a nutshell, it means matching ads with appropriate situations and places:

  • A sportswear ad on a football player's t-shirt.
  • A toothpaste ad on the wall of a dentist's cabinet.
  • A sunglasses ad in an article about summer fashion.

All of these are examples of contextual ads. The way and means of delivering these ads differ, but the effect is the same. People see contextual ads when they watch, read, or think about something close to what’s being advertised. As a result, people perceive ads as relevant and respond to them better.

You can apply the same principle to programmatic ads. All you need to do is put together the right pieces of advertising software. If the demand-side platform you use for real-time bidding supports contextual targeting, you’re all set to run contextual-based campaigns.

Programmatic contextual targeting is a method of matching a webpage's content with an ad's content. It automatically matches the data publishers pass in the bid requests through an SSP with the targeting rules advertisers set in a DSP.

Before we dive into the technical details of contextual targeting, let's see why it even matters.

Why Use Contextual, Not Behavioral Targeting

A digital media buyer's primary goal is to deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time. When it comes to achieving it, you can base your targeting strategy on two things:

  • People's previous behavior, which is reflected in their browsing history. That’s what behavioral targeting is about.
  • People’s current needs, which are reflected in the content they’re currently viewing. This is known as contextual targeting.

Most advertisers used to default to the first option—behavioral targeting. They collect data via third-party cookies to identify site sessions of users who might engage with their ads. But when privacy regulations get tight and third-party cookies are phased out, behavioral targeting won't be as good as it used to be.

Contextual vs. Behavioral targeting

In contrast to behavioral targeting, contextual doesn't rely on data about users. So it won’t be affected by the changes in the user privacy policies. On top of that, technologies that analyze page content develop fast. All these factors point to contextual ads returning and doing well in the future.

What Are the Benefits of Contextual Targeting?

From the publishers' perspective, putting the right ad next to the right content increases the value of every impression.

  • Sell inventory at a higher price. Contextual targeting improves ad performance. Therefore, publishers have a valid reason to charge more per impression.
  • Enhance the user experience. When ads match the content of a page, they cause less distraction and frustration to the visitors.
  • Monetize first-party data. Publishers already have all the data they need to provide to advertisers for contextual targeting; they just should put it to use.

Here's how advertisers can win by having their ads placed in the most appropriate places.

  • Get relevant placements for niche products. Advertisers can better control ad placement for narrow niche products.
  • Engage people with the right frame of mind. Ads appear when people watch or read about related stuff and are in the right mood to see them.
  • Improve ROI for their advertising campaigns. As they bid on the most relevant impressions, they get a better return on investment.

To take advantage of contextual targeting, a publisher and an advertiser should connect via advertising platforms that can exchange contextual data. The platforms can be their own or self-serve accounts on platforms owned by an ad agency or ad network.

How Programmatic Contextual Targeting Works

Programmatic display contextual targeting relies on the information that publishers provide to identify the topic of the site pages where ads will show up. This data can include but is not limited to page type, site category, content tags, on-page keywords, etc.

To communicate content-related information to advertisers, publishers can add it to the bid requests sent from their sites. For this, they should define a set of additional parameters to be included in the code of the request.

For example, they can add the Category parameter and then identify values it can contain, such as sports, fashion, news, etc. Or they can add the Keyword parameter and pull keywords from the page’s metadata as values.

To bid on impressions on pages with specific content, advertisers should use the additional parameters their DSP receives in bid requests. They can define the bid request parameter values that their DSP will accept or deny for their campaigns.

white-label & self-serve DSP white-label & self-serve DSP

Widespread Contextual Targeting Strategies

Let’s consider simple examples of contextual targeting strategies advertisers can apply to their programmatic campaigns. To implement contextual targeting, advertisers should buy traffic from supply-side platforms that include site page categories and keywords in bid requests.

Category Contextual Targeting

Let’s assume you run programmatic ads on Epom white-label DSP. You connect the DSP to your SSP platform. When your SSP sends bid requests to your DSP, it includes information about site categories.

For example, you want the DSP to bid only on impressions shown on sports media that create content for American football fans. To configure contextual targeting during your campaign setup, you’ll use the Extensions Filter feature.

Extensions filter in Epom DSP for contextual targeting
  1. Under the Extensions Filter, you’ll name the parameter ‘Category’ and click Include.
  2. Then, you’ll add values for the Category parameter to equal, such as ‘Football’ or ‘NFL’.

Now the DSP will check the code of every bid request to see if it contains the Category parameter. The DSP will bid only if the Category parameter equals ‘Football’ or ‘NFL’.

Keyword Contextual Targeting

Another targeting option you can set up in Epom WL DSP is contextual keyword targeting. It requires you to buy traffic from SSPs that include content keywords in their bid requests.

For example, you want the DSP to bid on impressions shown on pages that feature National Football League scores. You'll use the Keywords Filter feature to configure contextual targeting during your campaign setup.

Keywords filter in Epom DSP for contextual targeting
  1. Under the Keyword Filter, you’ll select the parameter Content keywords.
  2. Then, you’ll add values the parameter should equal, such as ‘NFL Football Scores’ and ‘NFL Scoreboard’.
  3. Additionally, you might want to exclude such keywords as FIFA and Soccer to avoid showing ads on pages that don’t relate to American football.

Now the DSP will check the bid requests to see if it contains the Content keywords parameter. The DSP will bid if the parameter equals ‘NFL Football Scores’ or ‘NFL Scoreboard’.

The Future of Contextual Targeting

Targeting by keyword and category is the most simple and proven method of contextual targeting. Yet, as this method becomes more important, technology will develop quickly. New advanced capabilities will emerge on the market. Let’s name a few of the most anticipated:

  • Rise of contextual targeting networks providing contextual data to advertisers.
  • Expansion beyond text context and ability to target based on audio, video, and images.
  • Using AI in targeting to consider both the topic and the sentiment of the page.

You don't have to wait for these innovations to see that contextual targeting lives up to the hype. Both publishers and advertisers can benefit from the existing technologies. It’s especially true for businesses using in-house programmatic platforms as they don’t rely on big tech companies to update their DSP self-serve accounts.

Get a taste of contextual targeting with Epom WL DSP.

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