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  • Jennifer Vanisko

ELI5: Contextual and Behavioral Targeting



The subreddit Explain Like I’m 5 (ELI5) is a place where people often ask complex and perplexing questions and others will answer them is simple, reader friendly, layman terms. With over 20 million subscribers, it is one of the most popular subreddits. Previously, I used the ELI5 format to discuss General Media KPIs and Efficiency KPIs. Today, I am continuing with the ELI5 format to discuss two very different targeting methodologies in advertising, Contextual and Behavioral targeting.


But, first let’s ELI5 why advertisers target.


Targeting allows advertisers the ability to customize their advertising message to different consumers based upon what they know about the consumers. The better a brand can target their message to the right group of consumers, the more likely those consumers will respond to the advertising and engage with the brand. Most importantly, targeting helps the brand minimize wasteful advertising spending by focusing on those consumers most likely to act. In short, advertisers use targeting to focus the placement of their message to get the most ‘bang for the buck’.


Contextual and Behavioral targeting are two methodologies that advertisers use to target their digital advertisements to consumers.


Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting in advertising is an automated process where an advertisement is match to relevant digital content. The resulting advertisement is relevant to the consumer which then encourages the consumer to interact with the advertisement. For example, if you were selling running shoes, you may use contextual targeting to place your ads on websites that have content about how to prepare to run a marathon.


The advantage here is that you are showing your ads to potential consumers when they are looking at related content. Contextual ads are always relevant because they’re based on what a user is actually searching, watching, or reading. People who are reading about how to prepare to run a marathon most likely use running shoes.


The downside here, is that if you only target marathon runners, you will miss out on a large section of your market. Not everyone who uses running shoes runs marathons. That’s where Behavioral targeting comes into play.


Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting serves ads to consumers based upon information about their past browsing behavior. This happens by collecting data such as websites previously visited, time spent on websites, number of clicks made and so on. Behavioral targeting uses cookies. So, if you know the target consumer for running shoes is interested in exercise and organic food then you can make a connection between users that have search or purchase these items in the past and target your running shoe ads to them.

Behavioral targeting relies on a person’s past internet behavior to predict future actions. The disadvantage of Behavioral targeting is it uses cookies which will eventually be discontinued. In addition, Behavioral targeting assumes that only one person uses a device, it does not have work arounds in place for share device usage. So, if the home computer is shared by two people, one who has searched power tools and the other who has searched baking recipes, behavioral targeting is unable to distinguish the two searches as separate people, potentially ‘wasting’ the ad delivery on an uninterested consumer.


In short, ELI5 language, the main difference between Contextual and Behavioral targeting is that Contextual targeting ensures that the ad is relevant to the content on the page, whereas, Behavioral targeting ensures that the ad is relevant to the user.


A3 Media uses both Contextual and Behavioral targeting in our digital campaigns to maximize reach and exposure. Contact us today to discuss your next digital campaign.

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About A3 Media

A3 transforms media from an expense into a smart investment. Since 1997, we have successfully helped regional businesses launch new products, expand into new markets and increase sales through media plans that make every dollar spent do more. Our clients include brands such as Yuengling and Ashley Furniture. For more information about how A3 Media can help your digital marketing efforts, please call A3 Media at (610) 631-5500.