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What is Contextual Targeting & How Does It Impact Your Digital Strategy?

Clearwater Staff

In recent history, digital marketing has been able to tailor campaigns to simply match their target market’s browser history. Unfortunately for advertisers, there has been a growing push for an end to third-party cookies, as well as an introduction of new privacy laws that prevent such extensive tracking of online behaviour, making it more difficult for marketers to follow previously beloved (and successful) practices.

But have we forgotten about contextual targeting, and how effective it still is at offering relevant ads to target markets that are interested in receiving them?

In this article, the Clearwater team explore what contextual targeting is in more detail, as well as how it can benefit your wider digital marketing strategy.

What is Contextual Targeting?

Contextual targeting is a process of targeting advertisements to consumers based on the context of their current activity or search. This approach allows businesses to deliver ads that are more relevant to what consumers are interested in at that moment, without the need for extensive behavioural tracking, which can result in higher conversion rates.

Contextual targeting can be an effective way to improve the relevancy of your ads and increase your chances of conversion. However, it’s important to ensure that your ads are still relevant to your overall business objectives. For example, if you’re selling a product that is only available in certain countries, you wouldn’t want to target ads to consumers in other regions in a bid for brand awareness.

How Does Contextual Targeting Work?

There are a number of ways to target ads contextually, but the most common is through keywords and topics:


Keywords are the foundation of contextual targeting. Advertisers select keywords that are relevant to their products or services, and then they create ads that contain those keywords. When a user searches for a keyword that is related to one of the advertiser’s keywords, the ad appears on the search results page.


An example would be a fashion retailer utilising a range of keywords relating to ‘shirts’, ‘skirts’, ‘trousers’, ‘coats’ and more, having the ads appear next to the content featuring these keywords.


Topics are another way to target ads contextually. Ads can be targeted to web pages that are about specific topics, even if those pages don’t explicitly contain the advertiser’s keywords. For example, an ad for a new car might be targeted to a web page about after-market parts, by selecting a topic along the lines of ‘automotive’ or ‘vehicles’.

Contextual Targeting vs. Behavioural Targeting

Behavioural targeting looks at the past behaviour of consumers in order to identify patterns and then delivers ads accordingly. For example, if an individual consumer has previously searched for ‘running shoes’, the advertiser may assume that the consumer is interested in running and target ads for running gear and products. Given that this approach is more tailored to personal customer journeys, rather than wider groups, using third-party cookies gained favour over contextual targeting.

Why Contextual Targeting Is Important with a Lack of Cookies

It is true that behavioural targeting still has a place in modern digital marketing campaigns to offer highly relevant ads to potential consumers, but the market is becoming savvy to these techniques. If the process hasn’t already been drastically disrupted by operating guidelines, users are also becoming wise and even distrustful of personalised ads, concerned their privacy is being compromised.

As such, it is important to balance your efforts and resources with contextual targeting methods, if not at least as a contingency plan for a future without any third-party cookies left in the jar. They do not require any form of tracking or compromises in user privacy, and advertisers and businesses still know they are pushing relevant ads and content to an interested audience, maximising their ROI.

Begin Introducing (or Reintroducing) Contextual Targeting into Your Digital Marketing Strategy with Clearwater

If you’re thinking about using contextual targeting as part of your digital marketing strategy, it’s important to test different approaches and monitor the results to see what works best for your business. Our team at Clearwater are specialists in this field and are more than happy to work with you on improving your wider digital marketing campaigns.

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