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Contextual vs Behavioural Targeting: What’s the difference?

February 21, 2020
Mekealy Gecsek

The ever-evolving landscape of the digital advertising industry means more pressure on advertisers and agencies to invest their money wisely. With the emergence of new technologies occurring on a daily basis, the pressure of choosing the right advertising channels often leads to a state of confusion.

Nonetheless there seem to be two particular question that always arise, that being ‘which is better, contextual or behavioural advertising?’ and subsequently for SME businesses and advertisers, ‘what should I invest my small budget into?’

To answer these questions, one must first understand the difference between contextual and behavioural targeting.

Contextual targeting is, in a nutshell, the process of placing digital advertisements specifically based on the content that is found on a particular website – for example, an advertisement for coffee machines on a coffee review site.

Contextual advertisements are classed as non-disruptive, in that they do not hinder the user’s experience of a website because they are relevant to what that user is already viewing. If somebody is looking at a website about the best coffee beans to try, and they see an advertisement for a coffee machine, then the advertisement is relevant to their interests and is therefore nondisruptive.

Contextual advertising aims to maximise conversion rates by showing users a product or service that they would likely be interested in based on the current website that they are viewing.

Behavioural advertising, in contrast, is the process of segmenting audiences based on browsing behaviour and then targeting those segments with advertisements. Behavioural targeting uses cookies in order to retarget advertisements to specific users, as it monitors their online behaviour and then places advertisements accordingly.

Behavioural targeting aims to maximise conversion rates by showing people products or services that they may have previously shown interest in, or would likely be interested in, based on their online behaviour.

One key difference between the two is that while behavioural advertising is specific to a user based on the audience segment they have been grouped into; contextual advertising is placed on a page with relevant content so that the advertisement is shown to every visitor of that website. Thus, with behavioural targeting you are able to be more specific about who you would like to show your advertisement to – what age they are, their interests based on browsing behaviour, their gender etc. where you are unable to do so with contextual targeting.

 You should also note that behavioural targeting involves the use of cookies, and therefore a disclaimer must be shown on the sites that use this advertising method to users who will then need to consent to the sharing of their personal data in order to meet the requirements of regulations such as the GDPR.

Now that we can understand the difference between behavioural and contextual targeting, the question still remains, which is the better choice to invest your advertising dollar into?

The answer – they both have their benefits. Adding more channels into your marketing mix can maximise the engagement of your advertising. As the AdTech industry continues to evolve, with the introduction of new regulations occurring often, it’s wise to keep your options open. By using both contextual and behavioural targeting, you might gain further reach to likely buyers through your advertising campaigns than by using just one technique alone.

Every advertiser is different, and therefore, so are their campaigns. Through testing different methods and channels, you are likely to find the best technique that works for you and that leads to the best results for your business.

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