Contextual targeting 101: the marketing funnel

With the impending death of user IDs and cookies, contextual targeting is back in vogue. 

But precisely what is it and how has it improved with enhanced data, tracking and targeting capabilities?

Seeing as we spend most of our time thinking of ways to improve our targeting to help clients find the right customers, we’re in a good position to discuss the best practices which can help anyone become a contextual targeting expert, no matter which ad tool they use. 

In a near-future where contextual targeting is likely to become the norm, it’s important to begin with an understanding of each and every stage of the marketing funnel. The marketing funnel is one of the most fundamental – yet misunderstood – concepts in marketing. While each and every campaign should focus on a specific stage of the funnel to ensure clear messaging and maximize efficiency, this isn’t always the case. That’s especially true when it comes to contextual targeting.

Here are the three stages of a basic funnel:

Awareness: a prospect demonstrates an interest in a category of product or services

Consideration: they start to look for information on products or services to fill a need

Intent: they’ve decided to purchase and start shortlisting some products or services 

Each step has a precise definition and behavior attached to it. Therefore, in order to build targeting strategies it is important to understand how the online behavior of a prospect may differ at each stage:

  • Awareness: prospects visit vertically related content
  • Consideration: they visit content which matches a need and related products or services
  • Intent: they visit specific product content such as reviews, ecommerce or classifieds sites

By identifying applicable content in each stage of the funnel, it’s then possible to begin building contextual targeting strategies:

  • Awareness: target keywords and sites with large reach related to the target vertical
  • Consideration: target vertical-specific keywords related to the product category 
  • Intent: target specific product keywords directly related to a product.

It’s reasonably simple to deliver reach at the awareness stage of the funnel. But the deeper you go, the harder it is to target the right prospects in the right moment of their search for the right product or service. For example, avoiding ambiguous keywords which could appear within content which is not directly related to their customer journey is super important. This might be news articles or unrelated, embedded content. 

Let’s take an example to illustrate how a contextual targeting strategy could play out. Say we’re selling electronics and have a high-end smartphone. A simple strategy for each stage could include any or all of the following:

  • Awareness
    1. – Target top high-tech websites like TechRadar, TomsHardware
    2. – Use broad vertical specific keywords like “smartphone”, “high tech” and “phone”
    3. – Target major smartphone and electronics brands “Samsung”, “Apple” or “Huawei”
  • Consideration
    1. – Target top selling smartphone models like “iPhone SE” or “Galaxy S10”
    2. – Target review articles like “Galaxy note review” and “best smartphones”
  • Intent
    1. – Focus on classifieds and ecommerce content such as “used iPhone”, “buy huawei p30” or “oneplus offer”
    2. – Target related buying actions such as “phone insurance” and “phone plan”
    3. – Target direct product intent such as your product name
    4. – And indirect product intent such as all competitors’ phone models

As previously mentioned, the deeper we go into the funnel, the more keywords are needed. At the awareness stage, you shouldn’t need hundreds of them, while at the intent stage you most definitely will.

The difficulty is finding a good balance between reach and budget in order to achieve your goals. The bigger the budget, the bigger your reach might need to be. While finding the right keywords is where you’ll need to make the most effort and spend the most time. There are plenty of SEO tools available which can provide suggestions. Depending on the adtech you’re using, they may have enhanced keyword tools which help identify the most relevant to your campaign and make good use of Natural Language Processing (NLP). We use NLP with behavioral semantic data to predict which keywords will deliver the strongest performance at each stage of the funnel. It allows us to quickly set up large-scale campaigns with hundreds of keywords, and still accurately predict and guarantee performance.

Of course, we’re confident that contextual targeting can deliver great results… but we’re also biased. For the last three years we’ve been developing the most advanced semantic based advertising software available and have delivered exceptional performance for over 150 of the world’s leading brands. But that doesn’t mean that by creating campaigns which focus on the relevant stage of the marketing funnel as we’ve outlined here, that anyone can’t deliver great results using almost any platform.