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Increase Your ROI with Programmatic Contextual Targeting

If you want to increase your ROI on programmatic advertising, contextual targeting is a great place to start.

In online advertising, contextual targeting allows marketers to deliver highly targeted programmatic ads across a wide range of platforms. This can greatly improve campaign performance because it lets you deliver these highly targeted, relevant ads across a wide range of platforms without creating multiple ad copies.

Programmatic Ad Buying in 2021
Programmatic Ad Buying in 2021

Programmatic Background

Programmatic ad buying is growing, with $155 billion spent globally in 2021. So it’s not surprising that more marketers are starting to experiment with programmatic campaigns.

One of the easiest ways to get started with programmatic advertising is through contextual targeting – using keywords that describe your product or service.

Contextual targeting is one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to engage new customers at scale. Contextual targeting is powerful for display ad campaigns, including video and native ads. It’s long been used in search ads, but it is perhaps underutilised in programmatic advertising until recently.

So let’s dive in on how to use contextual targeting in your programmatic campaigns.

Contextual advertising explained

Contextual ads deliver specific messages to customers when they are most likely to take action. Contextual advertising is powered by keyword targeting.

Programmatic campaigns aim to turn the question “who?” into “when” and “where?”. Contextual keyword targeting does precisely this. It asks which keywords best describe your product or service or your audiences’ interests and then places ads where those keywords appear: on websites, within social media feeds and in a mobile app.

Contextual Advertising Explained Word Cloud
Contextual Advertising Explained Word Cloud

Why use keywords for contextual targeting?

With keywords, you can easily identify specific groups of prospects who have an interest in certain topics related to your brand. For example, when someone searches for “waterproof-breathable rain jackets,” they may be in the market for a new jacket and could make a purchase soon after clicking through an ad about waterproof fabrics.

Why has contextual targeting grown in popularity – 3rd Party Cookies?

Consumers are becoming savvier about their data, and many are opting out. GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation and other initiatives such as the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).

Initiatives like these have made it more difficult for ad tech platforms to collect data on consumers for use in digital campaigns. As a result, marketers are turning to new forms of advertising that are less reliant on data collection and cookies.

Contextual targeting, AI and relevant advertising

AI technology will help to create more precise advertiser campaigns. Advertisers are now able to focus on contextual targeting, which will enhance their programmatic campaigns. AI will provide advertisers with the personalisation and optimisation necessary to properly target their campaigns and increase revenue. AI technology can take your keyword targeting and broaden this based on many factors, thus widening your reach whilst still keeping campaigns accurate.

Written language can be interpreted in many different ways if it is not properly analysed, so using AI technology will help the advertisers to get a better interpretation of the data which will help them to target their campaigns better.

How to use contextual to increase brand safety

Contextual targeting is an important tool for ensuring brand safety. By excluding ads from appearing on unsafe websites and pages, contextual targeting can help to keep your brand safe from negative associations online.

Technology tools that are more sophisticated than basic keyword matching aid marketers in taking a more nuanced approach. Thus, allowing them to pick and choose the environments they want.

A reliable tool will keep you away from non-brand safe categories such as:

  1. Suggestive
  2. Sensitive social issues
  3. Profanity
  4. Tragedy
  5. Derogatory
  6. Downloads & sharing
  7. Weapons
  8. Violence
  9. Alcohol
  10. Drugs
  11. Tobacco
  12. Religion
  13. Transportation accidents
  14. Sexual
  15. Gambling

An excellent use case of how contextual data can protect your brand.

How can marketers use contextual targeting in their campaigns?

First, determine some keywords for your campaign. These could be subject matter keywords or keywords about your target audience’s interest. Once you have your keywords, create ads relevant to those keywords and place them where they will be seen by people interested in what you have to offer.

You can do this with DSPs like DV360. If you don’t have access to such a platform, work with one of the best programmatic agencies that will be able to develop a digital advertising strategy.

Prominent op contextual ad tech platforms


Grapeshot is a great technology that Oracle bought. Having used Grapeshot in the past, we can verify that the technology works and the self-service tool are great at helping you build relevant keywords. All you need is a few seed keywords, and then Grapeshot suggests others it thinks are relevant.

Grapeshot works by using machine learning to understand the context of keywords. For example, suppose you were advertising for a new SLR camera. In that case, Grapeshot might find that it has also been advertised for in other contexts like “best travel camera” or “best family holiday camera”. The solution then suggests all these other relevant keywords to your original seed word. This is great news because it’s easy to scale ad performance with contextual targeting!

Peer 39

Another US ad tech firm, Peer39, uses patent-pending machine learning algorithms, which it claims can analyse a publisher site’s entire page content and assign each article with a score for its contextual relevance.
For example, suppose a user is reading about Paris. In that case, the algorithm may determine that “the Eiffel Tower” or “Parisians” are contextually relevant keywords that would make them more likely to show interest in travel.

Using this technology, advertisers can target their audiences with highly-targeted display ads across multiple publishers by specific keywords within the page content. This allows brands to expand their reach and keyword targeting beyond what they could do through typical search engine marketing (SEM) and down to the individual web page level (contextual targeting).

This near-endless combination of potential brand keywords makes contextual targeting the logical platform choice for advertisers looking to maximise their return on investment, especially in the programmatic world.

DSPs That Offer Contextual Targeting
DSPs That Offer Contextual Targeting

What DSPs offer contextual targeting?

A few DSPs utilise their own contextual targeting technologies. These include:

  • Zeta
  • Google DV360
  • Adform
  • TripleLift

The future of contextual targeting

As technology advances, so does the way we target our audiences. Programmatic advertising is already a very powerful tool, but it is becoming even more effective with the rise of contextual targeting. With privacy concerns and personal data being headline news daily, brands need to find new ways of reaching users. Contextual targeting is one way of ensuring ads are relevant to the user, and it is set to become even more important in the years to come.

Contextual Ads Targeting vs Behavioral Ads Targeting
Contextual Ads Targeting vs Behavioral Ads Targeting

Difference between behavioral advertising and contextual advertising

Behavioural targeting is a well-known method of targeting online users that tracks their browsing habits and interests. It uses this data to create user profiles that then serve ads to the user based on this data. This includes their age, gender, location, what they have browsed and searched for. This precise targeting is something many internet users are not happy about, and it’s one of the reasons for the death of third-party cookies.

On the other hand, a contextual ad does not use personal data when serving ads.


Though not quite perfect, contextual targeting is one of the most powerful ways to advertise to consumers at scale.

With a few simple steps, marketers can take advantage of this opportunity and improve their overall digital marketing performance.

If you need help planning your next contextually targeted programmatic ad campaign reach out to us. Our team of planners and buyers can help you identify the keywords to target, the right messaging and deliver ads to the right audience.

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