The new contextual targeting

Precision in a privacy-first world

June 20, 2023

Prepare for the cookieless era with the power of Contextual Targeting! As third-party cookies crumble, finding your ideal audience is like spotting Waldo in a crowd.

The new contextual targeting

The face of marketing is changing

Familiar markers like third-party cookies and personal identifiable information (PII) are fading away, making advertising feel a lot more like the children’s book series, “Where’s Waldo.” You’re searching for the distinctive red-and-white striped shirt and hat in a densely populated location, but it’s simply not that easy to spot with the naked eye.

In a privacy-first world, identifying the ideal buyer is becoming more of a puzzle than ever.  

What’s not changed, however, are the tough goals marketers still have to meet. They need a competitive edge to drive new growth, and for that, they’ll need impactful ways to get in front of their ideal buyers. And it’ll take more than just a single method. To deliver precision at scale, marketers will have to adopt a well-balanced combination of targeting techniques.

Agencies are very much aware of the coming challenges, as the focus on preparations continues to increase. In fact, the percentage of agency pros that agreed their businesses are actively preparing for this shift increased from 62% in the first quarter of 2021 to 73% in the second quarter of this year, according to a recent Digiday+ Research survey.

As plans take shape, one approach is emerging as a frontrunner -  contextual targeting. An early method of reaching consumers on the web that fell by the wayside for a while, contextual targeting is seeing a resurgence in interest.

The Digiday survey revealed the percentage of agencies actively preparing for the end of third-party cookies by investing in contextual targeting saw a considerable jump, rising from 47% in 2022 to 70% in the second quarter of 2023. In addition, more than half (52%) of marketers say they plan to increase their spending on contextual solutions over the next two years, according to “The Outlook for Contextual Solutions in Data Driven Advertising & Marketing” report by the Winterberry Group.

As contextual targeting has regained popularity, its utility has evolved well beyond audience targeting. Marketers are also using it to measure campaigns, glean insights, optimize creative and ensure brand fit and safety. As a result, brands are now seeing higher returns on their contextual investment.

These powerful results are likely the reason why contextual targeting is getting more attention from agencies than other solutions, according to Digiday.

  • 52% are revising measurement and attribution frameworks
  • 41% are spending on walled gardens
  • 39% are investing in technology to acquire more first-party data
  • 9% are using agency-built cookie alternatives

While no single method will complete the puzzle on its own, contextual targeting is very much akin to that last piece of the border that delivers big results with less effort. It’s all due to the advances made in the technology over the last several years, Thanks to its superpowers, , contextual targeting is revolutionizing marketing in a privacy-first world,  offering several unique – and compelling – advantages.

The new contextual targeting

Today’s contextual targeting is light years ahead of where it was even five years ago. It leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to process large datasets about audiences and content with speed and efficiency. These technologies are superpowers, allowing marketers to discover audiences they may not have been aware of before.

For instance, the addition of natural language processing (NLP) takes contextual targeting well beyond simple keyword analysis. Previously, marketers were confined to a single category or topic to reach consumers using contextual targeting. However, NLP analyzes the entire content of a page, identifies key terms and uses context to interpret meaning and sentiment. That means marketers can identify and reach consumers at the point of attention, allowing them to achieve greater precision while also identifying more opportunities across the web.

A revolutionary combination

According to Winterberry, “Contextual targeting is a method of presenting suitable advertising based on the subject and understanding of the content in the media being consumed, rather than based on an understanding of the person viewing it.”

The new contextual targeting extends that definition and builds on its superpowers by adding audiences and using AI, ML and NLP to develop a semantic understanding of users across pages and keywords. This revolutionary combination unlocks valuable clues to identifying and engaging ideal consumers with relevant advertising.

How does this work? Once we understand the semantic relationship between pages, keywords and content, the next step is to create a unique semantic profile for the user across pages and keywords. This allows marketers to understand far more about the audiences they want to reach and to engage them more effectively to improve performance, as the examples below show.

  • Uncover other consumers who look like your target audience. Marketers can expand their reach by identifying new users based on what they have in common semantically with their best customers.
  • Connect with consumers in the moments that matter. When marketers know what’s important to a user at any given time, they can deliver more relevant and effective messages on the right pages at the right moment.
  • Reach consumers where competitors aren’t looking. Sometimes your ideal consumer is hiding in plain sight. A semantic understanding helps you find new competitive pages and take advantage of long-tail media. These previously untapped sources achieve growth while maintaining privacy.
  • Build stronger connections. Another advantage of applying NLP is the ability to understand consumer sentiment. Marketers can match content based on interest, intent, mood and other factors to build stronger brand relationships over time.
  • Close the feedback loop across targeting, creative and attribution. With the right expertise, user profiles can be leveraged at every step of the campaign, from targeting and optimization to measurement, across all channels, both offline and online.  

Precision and scale

Marketers are under pressure to reimagine their mix of targeting techniques. And while matching the scale and performance of the third-party cookie will be a challenge, the new contextual targeting offers new and unique capabilities that will help marketers discover and engage new customers, gain a competitive edge and drive growth.

Learn how to get started  with advanced contextual targeting and unlock your marketing superpowers.

Go back