What Is Contextual Targeting?

Contextual targeting is a process that selects ad placements in the Display Network based on keywords, topics and other factors. First, Google Ads figures out what the core theme is around your website by analysing your content. Your content is then matched against keywords, selected topics, location, browsing habits and many other factors.

For example, In the “Books” section of the New York Times website, you’ll see what appears to be a contextual ad for reading glasses:

Contextual targeting allows for hyper-personalized advertising. By selecting specific topics and pairing them with the content on your website, your ads are likely to appear on relevant publications, blogs and websites.

The basic process:

  1. Select your keywords and topics: Start by simply adding target keywords and topics to your Display Network ad groups. These topics allow you to focus on broader themes, which you’ll understand more of shortly.
  2. Google Ads analyses potential placements: This is to figure out which websites are most relevant to your targeting settings. To do this, Google analyses the text, language, page structure and internal links on each website.

Contextual Targeting vs. Behavioural Targeting

While contextual targeting is done through matching keywords and topics, behavioural targeting is when ads appear to users based on their online behaviours. Behavioural targeting could include browsing history, links clicked, time spent on the page or site, how recently they’ve searched for something, and how they engaged with a site overall. Visitors with similar patterns are grouped together, so advertisers can specifically target a group of people with a certain browsing history. This is typically called retargeting.

Benefits of contextual targeting


People who view the advertisement will be more interested in it simply based on the context of the webpage they are visiting. In the present day, users are tired of non-relevant and creatives that are not relevant to them. Advertisers have to enhance the ad experience with more personalised and relevant ad creatives.

Anti-ad fatigue

If you have a good way to detect a very relevant environment, an ad placed next to the right content lifts its value. This has a positive effect on ad fatigue as a viewer sees ads not just in the right place but the best place for them and the ads and content lift each other too.

Privacy friendly

Contextual targeting doesn’t interfere with the user viewing a banner either – it’s about the environment of the page in which an ad is placed. The viewer is essentially anonymous. The only information the ad tech performing contextual targeting uses is the content of the webpage. And this is to find the most appropriate banner ad for the page.

Easier and more affordable

The success of behavioral advertising relies on data. For businesses with fewer resources, and less customer data at their disposal, behavioral advertising may not be worth implementing right away.

Contextual advertising can offer an alternative that is easy and affordable to start with, while providing a level of relevance in its own way. And though it may not be as personalized as behavioral advertising, its reach will be broader in most cases, providing a valuable way to get visitors off other websites and onto your own.

A contextual advertising system scans the text of a website for keywords and returns display ads to a webpage based on the found keywords (or phrases). More advanced contextual targeting systems will scan for additional contextual information (such as alt text) and be able to read the sentiment of the page too – improving relevancy and avoiding issues of brand safety. One key ingredient remains the same, as in all display advertising – the more impactful and engaging the ad creative, the more likely it will drive engagement! In fact having the best creative, in front of the most relevant audience is always a winner.

Rather than making assumptions on their customers’ content interests, some marketers are connecting first and third party data with actionable intelligence to refine contextual targeting. They are doing this by identifying effective contextual terms and segments based on existing datasets. These marketers believe that they can address compliance needs without sacrificing advertising performance.

With contextual targeting, the web page your ad will display on is the heart of the campaign. You specify the topics, subtopics, keywords. And this makes it less likely your ads are going to follow a user to an environment where they don’t expect (or want) to see advertisements, and where you don’t want them showing up.

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