Leveraging Semantic Data for Programmatic Campaigns

The only thing display marketers love more than a new buzzword is a new way to slice up audience data.

The constant push by digital marketers for more accurate probabilistic data and the sweeping trend of companies like Facebook, Google and even MySpace opening up their deterministic data pools to advertisers have dominated the discussion over programmatic targeting recently (If you’re unsure of the data terms used here, check out Jaime’s awesome blog post explaining programmatic data usages –Data Basics: Understanding Data for Digital Advertising).

Unfortunately, it seems we’re losing sight of the effectiveness of contextual targeting for programmatic display campaigns. Let me explain first what contextual targeting is. Unlike behavioral targeting which can leverage 1st, 2nd and 3rd party data to identify a target audience and then programmatically serve ads to them, contextual tactics leverage semantic targeting data to identify industry/brand content relevant sites and then programmatically serves ads targeting all users who visits those sites.

Expensive behavioral data and relying on the accuracy of cookies is not required for efficient and effective targeting. What is required though is thorough understanding of who your audience is and what they love. Contextual targeting is all about placing ads that are relevant to the content users are seeing – meaning when a user visits a website about display advertising it creates a great opportunity to programmatically serve an ad about an upcoming display conference. Again, you’re not targeting the user, you’re targeting the content the user is seeing and by making sure it is relevant to your brand/messaging you are creating a higher likelihood of user engagement.

So here are two things to keep in mind while executing a successful contextual campaign:

  1. Monitor your inventory… closely! Programmatically-serving display ads across the internet can definitely introduce the possibility that questionable and non-relevant inventory sneaks its way into your campaigns. This makes inventory management an absolute necessity. Take stock of the sites you are serving ads to and frequently purge ones that are not relevant to your brand/campaign or are under-performing. Here is a great guide to optimizing your programmatic inventory: http://adexchanger.com/data-driven-thinking/3-keys-to-optimize-your-programmatic-ad-buys/
  2. Always think about your audience though you’re not targeting them directly. The misnomer with contextual advertising is that because you’re not targeting the user the user isn’t as important. I would argue the exact opposite – because you’re not targeting the user, the user matters more. Understanding your brand and who is interested in it, will drive the engagement you’ll experience with contextual advertising. Ultimately, it’s the people who make up the core of your target audience that are going to dictate the contextual tactics you employ.

What comes next (for a future blog post) is how the layering of tactics can add even further efficiency and effectiveness to your programmatic campaigns. Merging behavioral and contextual tactics to programmatically target both a unique audience while at the same time serving ads only on brand relevant sites.


Evan Barocas About the author
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