Contextual vs Behavioral Targeting

Two of the most prevalent targeting options available to digital advertisers are contextual targeting and behavioral targeting. Though on the surface these may seem similar, and their objectives and intended outcomes are aligned, there are many notable differences in each approach.

The main distinction between the two is contextual targeting analyzes current content, and behavioral targeting analyzes past behavior.

In short: contextual focuses on the what; behavioral on the who.

Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting is when ads are displayed based on the content of a website.

Ads can be placed either to sites that fall into predetermined categories, or by using technology that scans the web for pages that are relevant based on content and semantics. An example of this would be a running shoe ad on a running forum.

Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting is when ads are displayed based on online behavior.

Things like pages visited, web searches, links clicked, and geographic location places users into groups of categorized audience segments. An example of this would be a shoe ad based on an audience segment’s interest in running.

Which one to use?

Both contextual and behavioral targeting are vital tools available to advertisers. Independently they are both effective, but when combined together they can create an more comprehensive way to to reach audiences at strategic points along the consumer journey.

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