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Contextual Targeting Is Making A Comeback, But It Has Its Own Challenges

Contextual Targeting Is Making A Comeback, But It Has Its Own Challenges

World of online ads is changing, with lots of brands looking into the past to revive what we call Contextual Targeting. Contextual targeting was almost obsolete with the advent of the third-party cookies. Why brands and ad companies opt for cookies is that it helps them predict the behaviour of the user based on past activity online. Cookies use some user data to show ads online; that way it predicts the future activity and displays an ad irrespective of the content of the page you are currently on. But now this is part of the reason why contextual targeting is making a comeback. With rising concerns over private data from users, the parameters across user private data streamlines and makes it harder for cookies to operate as it becomes tough to understand the user behaviour, this opens the window for contextual targeting’s comeback.


What is Contextual Targeting?

Contextual targeting is a form of personalised advertising technique that lets your ads appear on relevant sites. Contextual apart from easing the data concerns helps consumer engagement and show them ads based on the content of the website they are on. According to a HubSpot study, 64% of respondents said that ads are annoying and intrusive, plus 45% of people reported that they don’t notice online ads even if they’ve blocked them.

Contextual advertising works through keywords and topics, or you can say the central theme of a website. If you’re someone who is getting started with your PPC, you can select high priority keywords and topics for your ad. Now, when you do this your ad will show on sites related to those keywords. So, one might say that these keywords decide the fate of your PPC ads.

For example, if you’re putting up an ad for bike sale through contextual targeting, then you can have keywords like; motorcycle, motorcycle service, bike service etc.

Contextual Targeting vs Behavioral Targeting

Contextual is done through keywords and topics, and behavioural targeting is based on the online behaviour of the user.

Behavioural targeting can include browsing history, clicked links, how recent the search is, the time spent on the page, and how a user has engaged with the site.

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Let me take my example, I love shoes and especially the basketball shoes, say I search for Nike basketball shoes online in the morning, and I may or may not carry out an extensive search (usually I am very thorough with shoes). But, later that night I may be on a different site reading an article about sci-fi and I all I see is shoe ads in my window. This is behavioural targeting.

When it comes to contextual, I see shoe ads only on shoe-related websites. Here contextual targeting is working through only one thing, and that is the keyword.

Problem with Contextual Targeting

  • While contextual advertising works on keywords, the process for targeting keyword has to be precise, which is a time-intensive process. The contextual depends heavily on the keyword choice, one has to give keywords to your segment, and the engine will only include websites corresponding to only those keywords and nothing else.
  • Contextual advertising requires constant attention because some contexts are too vast for precise targeting, and the ads may get replaced by a competitor’s ad.
  • Contextual advertising, sometimes, pairs the wrong kind of ads, for example; if someone like me is reading about a Rolls Royce online might not want to buy one.
  • Problems when it comes to implementing frequency capping. Frequency capping in simple words is limiting the number of times a specific visitor is shown a particular ad on a particular website. Contextual targeting is independent of complying with GDPR and storing any tracking cookies/identifiers.
  • The branded and organic contextual, relevant advertising is not easy to do.
  • The contextual targeting technology is underfunded when compared to behavioural based tech. For contextual targeting to have a fair chance, companies need to invest in its technology.


Although when you look at it from the top, contextual targeting feels like an excellent alternative to behavioural targeting, it does have its problems to tackle. But, in recent times this form of advertising is rising with some integration of deep learning with it which can understand the true meaning behind the keywords according to the context which will replace the tedious listing of keywords. It is yet to be determined whether contextual targeting will be able to come out on top and whether 2020 will be the year contextual targeting will completely take over online advertisements from cookies.

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