Search Engine Guide: Taking Content Beyond Context

As the sponsored links industry matures, advertisers and publishers are realizing a multitude of opportunities on both search and non-search pages.

However, amid the growing recognition of the content-targeted sponsored links market, a critical note has been overlooked. The terms “content” and “context” often are inaccurately used interchangeably, with many labeling the entire market “contextual advertising” or “contextual search.”

These misnomers ignore a vital component of content targeting’s potential, thereby limiting their reach and control. Recognizing the difference between “content” and “context” is an important step in understanding the full complement of sponsored links solutions.

The distinction lies in the scope of targeting that the language permits. “Content targeting” properly refers to the placement of sponsored links on Web pages other than search results.

“Contextual targeting,” on the other hand, is just one method of targeting content pages in which advertisers’ products and services are relevant to the editorial material on a content page. This is done by two means: considering the page’s overall topic or scanning text for keyword matches. The latter approach might be better described as “text targeting” and carries with it a host of issues related to the efficacy of targeting.

Search pages all perform basically the same function: helping users find specific resources and destination sites on the Web. However, the purposes of content pages are wildly diverse, and each provides a unique user experience that requires a distinct targeting solution.

While targeting ads to editorial context is the most common method, a number of products expand the reach and potential of content-targeted sponsored links, including targeting by behavior and geography.

Behavioral targeting lets advertisers reach a range of quality content pages with dynamic material such as social networking sites or Web-based e-mail pages. Though these sites previously could not be targeted easily, the users on these sites now can be reached regardless of the editorial context of the page. So, an auto advertiser could expand its audience’s scope even when its ideal consumer is not searching for or reading about cars.

For instance, a consumer may search for “Acura” on one day, read an Acura article on the next and the following week go to to look for a car. Today, he checks his profile on Friendster and reads his Hotmail – still as interested in an Acura as he previously was – and is served a sponsored link from an Acura advertiser. Behavior targeting realizes that a customer is valuable wherever and whenever he is online and connects him with appropriate advertisers.

Geo-targeting of sponsored links on content pages lets advertisers achieve greater accuracy when targeting an audience in a specific location (i.e., dieters in Boston), realizing that not all advertisers serve national audiences.

For example, it’s not prudent for a local gym in Boston to invest ad dollars on a click from a user in San Francisco. Geo-targeting would let this advertiser target only geographically applicable users on area sites such as the Boston Herald and local CBS affiliate, where there exists the highest concentration of potential customers.

These two innovations alone offer advertisers access to a multitude of content pages that were previously unavailable through basic contextual targeting. In addition, they give advertisers the control to reach more precise audiences. This empowers them with the best tools to capture their ideal audience and increase their potential to maximize return on investment.

When executed properly, content-targeted sponsored links – through context, behavioral or geo-targeting – can be an equally valuable online marketing tool as keyword-targeted ads on search pages. However, to ensure future growth, the industry must evolve beyond simply “context” to “content” and all its inherent opportunities.

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