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Careful Execution Boosts Contextual Ad Results

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© 2019 Scott Bateman

Contextual ad networks provide website publishers with the ability to place ads on their sites and get paid when people click on them. They also teach useful lessons about effective online advertising.

How does contextual advertising work? Ad networks track the content on the page where the ad appears and display an ad with a subject related to the content.

Here is a contextual advertising example:

A travel website has an article about vacationing in Paris, France. The contextual ads that appear on the page with the article are also about vacationing in Paris.

They might be hotel listings, major attractions, flight options, etc. The more targeted the content, the more targeted the advertising and the higher the chances that someone will click on the ad.

Several reasons why such network ads might not appear include:

  1. The ad position isn’t showing a network ad.
  2. The network doesn’t have a relevant ad to display.
  3. Thanks to cookies, the network is tracking the user and instead showing another ad based on the user’s visits to other websites.

Lessons for Direct Sales

These are useful and important lessons for publishers who sell their own ads.

Run-of-site advertising takes place when a publisher runs an ad through the entire site, regardless of section, page or content of the ad itself. Obviously, run of site isn’t contextual because it ignores the context of the page’s subject matter.

Running an ad only in a section or subsection is more relevant, but it isn’t nearly as relevant as what the ad networks like AdSense do. They run a relevant ad on a relevant page.

So publishers who sell ads at the page level can duplicate the networks. It works especially well on popular pages over a a long period of time, such as a month.

To cover the labor cost, the CPM should reflect the value of the effort and the targeting. The most labor efficient way of doing it is with an advertising platform that allows tagging of ads that automatically match page content.

In turn, the content should have keywords that match the ad tags.

Factors That Boost Contextual Ad Results

A number of factors affect the click and revenue performance of a contextual ad.

First, the subject must have high readership and advertiser interest. Travel, health, employment, real estate, automotive and personal finance are among some of the topics that attract heavy advertiser competition.

Advertisers in turn drive up the rates they are willing to pay to get reader clicks, based on cost per click (CPC).

Second, the page and the article must be optimized with certain keywords that allow the ad servers to identify the specific topic and send the best possible ads. If those keywords don’t appear, the article won’t attract good ads.

The article about Paris vacations might specifically be about “Paris attractions” for people on vacation there.

Contextual ad networks will do a better job of delivering relevant ads if the phrase “Paris attractions” is in the page title, the page meta description, article title (or headline) or in the body text.

Third, online publishers who display contextual advertising will find that tracking results will help them focus on the click-through rate. They will track how often people click on the ad and the revenue per click, which measures the rate that advertisers are willing to pay.

Factors that affect the click-through rate include:

  1. The location of the ad on the page
  2. The number of ads on the page
  3. The colors used in the ad
  4. How quickly the page loads on a browser.

Best Practices = Best Results

Click-through rates above 1 percent for contextual advertising are possible compared to 0.1 percent or lower for standard banner ads.

Publishers should do regular audits and updates of content to optimize it for contextual advertising (if they use a network). Those same audits will have benefits from better search engine optimization.

The major factor that affects the revenue per click again is the advertiser competition.

Some publishers rely entirely on generating revenue from the contextual advertising networks. Others use them to fill unsold inventory. Publishers that use only network advertising have much greater opportunities for improving their results if they optimize their content for both SEO and advertising.

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