Contextual vs. Behavioral Targeting: A Brief Rundown

Contextual targeting and behavioral targeting have been contenders in a spirited debate. Some marketers claim contextual targeting can’t compete with newer, more personalized behavioral targeting. Other marketers propose no dichotomy of “either-or,” and both should be used as complementary tactics. More than a decade later, the question still gets asked. The answer, as is the case with most marketing debates, is “it depends.” Let’s uncover the definitions and implications of both contextual targeting and behavioral targeting.

What is Contextual Targeting?

Contextual targeting is the practice of displaying ads based on a website’s content. Think: placing an ad for hiking shoes on an article about hiking.

Contextual targeting involves displaying ads based on a website’s content. For example, placing an ad for running shoes on a running forum website.

Contextual targeting consists of several components, including URL level, category level, keyword analysis, and image analysis. Category contextual targeting occurs when ads are targeted to pages that fall into pre-assigned categories. Keyword contextual targeting occurs when ads are targeted to pages that match specific keywords. The same logic applies to URL and image analysis.

Here’s how it works:

  • A crawler scans the web and categorizes pages based on context and semantics.
  • A user visits a page, and the page content information goes to the ad server, which matches it with relevant ads.

Recent iterations of contextual advertising utilize first-party data to add commerce signals to contextual signals and build product affinity scores for each URL. From this, marketers can hone in on the pages and products with the highest potential impact.

Because third-party cookies are being phased out by 2023, contextual targeting has gained renewed attention because it doesn’t rely on third-party cookies.

What is Behavioral Targeting?

Behavioral targeting (audience targeting) involves segmenting customers based on web browsing behavior ( pages visited, searches performed, links clicked, and products purchased). Visitors with similar behaviors get grouped into defined audience segments. This segmenting allows advertisers to target consumers with specific, relevant ads and content based on their browsing and purchase history. Adding mobile and physical store data into the mix can include location and in-store purchases metrics.

With behavioral targeting, combining shopper behavior and purchase intent helps deliver more relevant, personalized ads at the moment when a shopper is most likely to make a purchase. A typical example of behavioral targeting is retargeting ads.

Contextual vs. Behavioral targeting – Which is Better?

As AI and Big Data continue to advance and the marketing industry continues to change, contextual and behavioral targeting are evolving to offer more capabilities to advertisers. Using contextual and behavioral targeting can help create a more holistic approach and reach shoppers in diversified ways at different points in their journey. In short, both methods are worth testing in a digital marketing mix. AdMedia is here to offer those solutions.

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