Contextual targeting’s return could put publishers in the driver’s seat

Contributor, January 5, 2022

Contextual targeting’s return could put publishers in the driver’s seat

Key takeaways:

    • The deprecation of third-party cookies and more privacy-focused regulations are the catalysts for changing advertising on the open web.
    • Contextual targeting is likely to become the newest strategy, offering significant benefits for publishers, advertisers, and consumers.
    • Publishers should take the lead and encourage advertisers to adopt contextual targeting.

Publishers are busy testing solutions for the day that will come when third party cookies will be deprecated. With Google’s  adjustment of the timeline giving publishers until 2023, time has moved over onto the publishers side for the advantage. Publishers can use this time to test new ways that are measurable, scaleable and privacy centric. Before personalized ad targeting and retargeting and programmatic marketplaces, publishers and advertisers used a different word to find a common ground: Context. Now context can be misleading and we can all remember the feeling of holding a flashlight in a dark room before the light comes on.

In its most basic form, contextual targeting matches the content of a web page or article with that of an advertisement. In its younger non-digital days, contextual targeting existed and proved valuable. Advertisers would buy ad space in a specific section of a newspaper based on the context of that section. There was no need for a local car dealer to place an ad in the international news section when they could reach the right audience in the local or neighborhood section.

Contextual targeting allowed for both the advertiser and the publisher to ensure the best they could that a user would be seeing complementary messages rather than shocking or off brand ones. However, at that time, publisher awareness into the user’s context was missing. Now, with first party data sets, a reimagined user journey can be seen without infringing on the privacy of a user.

Why is contextual targeting returning?

With the deprecation of the third party cookies and the advances in machine learning and AI contextual targeting is set to rise again. As a publisher, you are the architect of your site and the curation process has only been getting harder. In order to enrich your user’s journey, exploring the option of adding additional elements (video, audio, content recommendation) is essential but all have their impact. Balancing the use of these elements is important to maximize your unique moment with the user.

Understanding your users’ journey will allow you to have access to a wealth of first-party data, and you are able to see when content has successfully found true engagement. You can create more content in the right direction to meet the audience’s true interests rather than perceived interests. Through publishers harnessing the power of first party data, contextual targeting can go one big step forward with additional data points rounding out a user profile that teaches both the publisher and advertiser more about what the user wants to see and will expect to see from their experience.

Although media spend on walled gardens still outpaces that of the open web, consumer attitudes and behaviors are changing, making it an ideal time for publishers to reclaim lost ad dollars. A recent report found that 26% of consumers plan to decrease their time on social media, and 30% report they zone out while scrolling on these platforms. On the flip side, 56% state they are curious and ready to learn when browsing the open web, and 77% trust articles on the open web – trust that filters to the advertisers.

In what the IAB considers a halo effect, it found that when consumers see a brand ad on their favorite news outlets, 45% are more likely to visit the brand and 43% consider buying from the brand. At a time when consumer trust is at an all-time low, publishers on the open web may be the only ones who can help advertisers rebuild what was lost.

How can publishers leverage the rise of contextual targeting?

As publishers navigate these waters it is an opportunity to build better sites. With today’s knowledge of first party data, along with the tools to learn from your audience, context can be redefined. The amount of insights a publisher can deliver to an advertiser in a safe, privacy-centric manner is opening up. However, user trust needs to be nurtured and renewed.

As publishers grow their understanding and help shape the new safer user experience we will see how context impacts the next wave of identity solutions. Solutions presenting users in cohorts or bundles will have to be mapped back to the user for the publisher to be able to measure performance and scale.

Publishers, it’s time to push these messages forward. In doing so, you will create better monetization opportunities for yourselves and establish better opportunities for brands your users love and support.



The new rise of contextual advertising,

The crawl, walk, run guide to contextual targeting,

What’s old is new again: The return of contextual targeting,