The Value of Contextual Advertising on Today’s Internet

Portrait of Matthew Kammerer
by Matthew Kammerer
Feb 26, 2019

It’s pretty clear that contextual advertising has played a critical role in building the biggest, boldest brands of our generation. But how can marketers and brands benefit from it today? What is the value of contextual advertising in 2018?

A big draw is its ability to cut through the noise of programmatic ads and overcome some of the long-standing issues tied to the format. While programmatic advertising makes ad buying more “efficient”, that comes at a price. Race-to-the-bottom pricing hurts high-quality publishers, and we’ve seen time and time again how easily programmatic ads can be compromised on the advertiser side.

Beyond tackling viewability and ad fraud issues, I’ve also seen how contextual advertising helps differentiate brands from competitors, kicks off a research-based decision process, and builds trust by aligning brands with respected publishers.

Stand out from the crowd

Let’s face it: no matter what you sell, there’s someone else out there selling something similar. And no matter how unique your products or services are, you will have stiff competition in winning over customers.

Of course, that doesn’t stop hundreds of thousands of businesses from being started every year. Considering how crowded the landscape is in every industry. The question is, how do you stand out in a crowded market?

These days, simply targeting customers is not enough. Your audience will remember an experience with your brand before they remember your brand message, and the platforms you’re on and the type of placements you choose can be just as important as the ad content itself when attracting potential customers.

Drive research-based decisions

In my early days working in advertising, I’d often hear various versions of this from clients: “Well, we ran ads but didn’t see conversions. But oddly enough, our organic conversions stopped after a few days of running with you.”

When I got feedback like this, I knew two things were happening:

  1. While the ads may not have lead to direct conversions, the sales cycle is complex and multiple customer touchpoints can influence the decision-making process.
  2. It's not always easy to assign a one-to-one correlation between a marketing channel, the conversion rate, and the revenue generated.

Nowadays, we have more data than ever before to back up the impact of contextual advertising campaigns.  When I spoke to Jackie Davis of HelloSign on Re:Growth, she said she’s driven 1,000+ leads in one day from sponsored content and newsletters. Her keys to success? Creating meaningful content for users and picking channels with large audiences that align with her product.

I think it’s important to consider that contextual advertising drives sales, but not necessarily in the immediate term. At BuySellAds, we often see a lot of clients getting free trial conversions and gated content downloads from first-touch contextual advertising, with sales happening further down the funnel.

In short, think of contextual advertising as a valuable tool to maintain growth and make a powerful first impression. Especially for B2B companies with a much longer sales cycle, keeping expectations in check while ensuring the right measurement tools are in place is key.

Align your brand with trusted publishers

As consumers become increasingly knowledgeable and discerning, it’s more important than ever for brands to build a sense of trust among their consumer base. This is particularly true if you’re in the B2B tech space.

Nowadays, B2B buyers are not necessarily only reading the Financial Times. They’re younger, they're online and they’re increasingly more receptive to playful, attention-grabbing advertising.

On the other side, technical audiences consider a lot of factors before deciding whether or not to click on an ad and also have the know-how to block you out for good if they want to.

So how do you build trust through advertising? Go back to the basics. Understand your audience. Where do they go for information? Which topics are most interesting to the customers you want to reach? What are their pain points?

To give you an example, at BuySellAds, we curate our native advertising network around high-quality publishers that support the work of tech-savvy audiences (e.g. debugging websites, technical support sites, design inspiration, etc). Ads show up in context next to trusted tech content, carrying over a halo effect on to the brands.

With every passing year, the work of an advertiser gets a little tougher. Not only do you need to stand out from the crowd and also get buy-in from decision makers to have the budget to do so, you also need to make sure you’re serving ads that aren’t turning off your target audience. But all is not lost. In fact, the solution is right under your nose.

It’s not rocket science. Contextually relevant placements work and are well worth the investment if you want to build a trustworthy brand and fill your pipeline at the same.