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  • Brooke Pianalto

The Big Shift To Contextual Targeting

*Written by Erin Gilbrech


With the future of on-platform demographic targeting uncertain, the use of contextual targeting is on the rise as an efficient way to reach the right audience at the right time.

Likely one of the most important parts of advertising is identifying who to reach and how to reach them with your message. How do you approach this process? If you’re like most marketers, you probably create a customer profile and use the targeting capabilities on major ad platforms (like Facebook and Google) to reach users with those demographic and psychographic attributes.


But is it the most efficient way to reach people interested in your brand? And will platforms continue to limit the amount of user data they make available to advertisers due to data and privacy concerns?


Rather than rely on a customer persona or affinities provided by the platform, consider using contextual targeting as a consistent and effective way to reach an audience interested in your message.


Contextual targeting is unique in that it relies on the placement of the media to reach an engaged audience rather than personal attributes. When you use contextual targeting for Google display ads, the ad appears alongside content that it is similar to based on keywords you provide. (An auto insurance ad appears on a page about shopping for a new car.) Not only that, contextually targeted ads reach the right person at the time they are viewing content similar to your message.


Why might this be the right move for you?


Psychographic and demographic targeting can unnecessarily limit your audience.

Some industries require certain audience qualifiers (home insurance ads to those who own homes), but many times you may be missing out on potential customers by targeting only your customer profile. (Remember, those are always just generalizations). Instead of targeting new parents with ads for baby products, what if you targeted users visiting sites/searching baby shower ideas? (think of all those aunts, grandparents creating diaper cakes).


Contextual targeting doesn’t rely on personal information.

Even non-marketers know that Facebook had a rocky 2018 regarding data and privacy concerns. As a result, many users may be taking a closer look at what information they’re forfeiting and work to restrict the amount of information platforms gather about them. A recent Ping Identity report found that after the Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, 37% of users under 35 (and 56% over 55) stated they will stop using Facebook Connect to log in to online services and apps.


Platforms may continue to restrict how marketers are allowed to use on-platform demographic and psychographic targeting

Many advertisers have already experienced this; Facebook removed many third-party demographic targeting options in 2018, but they are also restricting how other categories, (like multicultural affinity targeting groups) are used in ads. This creates some ambiguity for marketers who rely on this type of information for their ads.


Continued regulation of customer data.

While uploading customer files is still available on all major platforms, some (like Facebook) are requiring confirmation that all information was obtained with the users’ consent, putting the onus back on advertisers. For most that’s no problem, but Facebook also removed some information previously provided when you upload an audience, likely in response to Europe’s GDPR. Many marketers believe that using third-party data will become increasingly difficult in 2019 given regulatory changes like GDPR (source).


Contextual targeting is highly effective.

Both Pinterest and Google Ads have offered contextual targeting for years with great effectiveness. In a recent A/B test, we saw CPM and CPC costs cut in half when using keyword contextual targeting on Pinterest (versus affinity targeting). We also saw a 6% increase in ad engagement. A 2018 Sizmek report also found that 87% of marketers plan to scale their contextual targeting spend in the next 12 months.



Ready to make the switch yet? Psychographic or demographic targeting is likely not going away any time soon, but as platforms continue to feel the pressure of what they share with advertisers consider using contextual targeting as a way to reach potential customers that may not be included in your targeting profile.