How publishers can future-proof their contextual advertising strategy

Sal Cacciato, managing director, North America, video intelligence

The discourse on contextual targeting has moved from “if” to “how.” Publishers are well aware that they need to be packaging their audiences in ways that enable contextual targeting, but many are still asking themselves what is the best way to achieve that goal.

In a telling moment, in Google’s recent engineering research event, tech lead manager Josh Karlin said that the search engine’s FLoC solution would involve assigning topics to websites and people, rather than assigning numerical cohort IDs to them. It was, in effect, a validation of the fact that the future of targeting lies in context.

Following this trend, media agencies have broadly accepted the changes and are adopting contextual targeting strategies left, right and center. They’re ready to buy contextually and to understand the benefits in terms of brand salience — contextual advertising increases brand awareness, sentiment and preference.  

With the buyers in place, one question remains: Are publishers adopting a contextual strategy to follow the advertisers lead? 

While first-party data is invaluable, publishers can win with contextual video strategies

Large publishers with a wealth of first-party data are better prepared for post-cookies advertising than those without. They have freely given knowledge about their users and can build upon that to reach them with targeted messages. Although, if they are subscribers, these publishers need to think beyond advertising for their brand-led solutions — subscribers will expect an ad-free experience. Nevertheless, contextually placed quality video content can still enhance the on-page experience for users, providing a new source of information that goes deeper, or offers new angles. But it’s not the place for monetization.

Subscriber-reliant publishers will still want ways to monetize their non-subscribed users. Adjusting their video unit to run pre-roll ads, with those formats sold based on user groups determined by the page or video content, is a simple way to do this.

Hybrid publishers that offer a free logged-in experience can use their first-party data to benefit users with tailored on-page and newsletter content. But there is still a need to generate revenue from these audiences, and some form of contextual targeting option for advertisers is likely to be required. 

Those publishers who do not have first-party data will rely on offering a contextual strategy to their media buyers. They will likely be running a mixture of native, display and video units already, but it’s the video units that will be yielding the highest CPMs and attracting the most user attention, so it’s important to get the video vendor right.

At this stage in the game, it’s clear that most publishers know they need to implement a contextual strategy. They know they need to invest resources in implementing contextual targeting platforms to their site, but they might — quite rightly — be asking themselves if they are taking the right steps. For example, not all contextual solutions are created equal. 

Rather than asking if contextual advertising is right, publishers are reviewing their providers and evaluating the market. They’re A/B testing solutions, trialing new options and replacing redundant or underperforming tech — and they’re taking the following steps in pursuit of contextual success.

Analyze video content accurately for contextual audiences

While there are numerous, well-known and competitive contextual advertising partners that build their contextual audience groups based on editorial text, advertisers are now in the age of video. Consumers expect a mix of media, and well-placed video content always adds an extra dimension to written content.

Video advertising also offers the CPMs that make a significant difference in campaigns. Advertisers are now able to target their advertising based on the video content, rather than page content — a subtle but important distinction.

As such, it’s vital that contextual partners are able to analyze video content accurately and translate that content into an audience for advertisers. 

IAB category and keyword targeting against video content will win publishers premium CPMs. Contextual partners should be able to build out and offer contextual audience segments to buyers in the open marketplace, or through private marketplaces (PMPs). Ideally partners should provide full-service solutions to help create such segments.

Cross-channel presence is crucial

Mobile web, in-app and desktop are all candidates for contextual advertising. Working with different vendors on different devices can be a painful process, so it’s best to choose one partner that can provide all of these services under one roof. This saves time, money and valuable resources.

Furthermore, as CTV’s star is rising, contextual partners are emerging that offer an ability to include CTV inventory in a targeted group.

Publishers need to offer context at scale with their video inventory

Contextual targeting is only effective if large groups of users can be built based on specific topics, such as IAB categories. For example, if a publisher offers multiple categories to its audience and has limited content in one vertical, they may struggle to reach the scale required to attract advertiser dollars. 

If pursuing a video strategy, one should consider creating page content that plays to the strength of video. Creating articles on a wider range of topics can bring in more campaigns. More niche articles can perhaps capitalize on trending topics, now that video content is produced so quickly.

Video content offers value to audiences that prefer sight, sound and motion on their screens. Advertisers, too, appreciate contextual video placements enough to pay a mighty premium for them. Likewise, context has now been proven in study after study, the FLoC and third-party cookie changes are merely accelerating the transition to this form of targeting.

For publishers, it makes sense to offer contextual video at scale, across pages and devices. Contextual video advertising alone is no longer enough, it needs to be done well from both the content and advertising perspective. This new phase of contextual advertising will find publishers testing solutions to their limits.

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