ADOTAS Conversations: Jay Sears of ContextWeb


Spinning off our much ballyhooed Spotlight section, ADOTAS will now be bringing you more insights from some of the industry’s top executives with our in-depth, one-on-one ADOTAS Conversations. Here, we will open the floor for industry heavy-hitters to introduce themselves, share more about what they and their companies do, what makes them different, and what they see on the road ahead.

In this week’s inaugural installment, meet Jay Sears, the VP of Business Development and Publishers Relations for New York-based ContextWeb. Jay took the time out of his busy day to sit on our proverbial couch and talk shop on ContextWeb and the advertising macrocosm that surrounds it.

Hi, Jay. So what makes ContextWeb different than the competition?

ContextWeb is unique in its product’s technology, ContextAd, which we define by what we call the “ROCK” methodology. Specifically, ROCK stands for Real-time, Optimization, Categories, and Keywords. It’s the combination of those four items together that allows us to do a number of unique things to deliver benefits to our advertisers and publishers.

You guys specialize in “real-time” contextual targeting. Can you explain the real-time portion of ROCK?

When we say “real-time”, it means that our contextualization arrives at a fraction of a second, literally as the JavaScript is loading on the publisher’s page. We run on standard IAB units. This means that because so much of the web is dynamic and constantly changing, for a variety of reasons, we can provide the contextualization on the fly, whereas other approaches that are spider-based or more manageable may be less efficient. They simply get it wrong a good amount of the time. Let’s talk about what contributes to dynamic content.


Our real-time indexing means that for a publisher, ContextWeb can afford to pay them more for their inventory because they’re going to serve more targeted ads. And on the advertiser’s side, it means we will discover more targeted advertising inventory for those advertisers that otherwise they would have never found.

Let me just clarify a quick contextualization thing before I get to the “O” in the “ROCK”… The “C” and the “K” are the categories and keywords—but in real-time it’s like, “What are you going to do in real-time?” You need to drive relevancy as a targeting variable. So not only are we pulling in 20-40 keywords off the publisher’s page, but we are analyzing those keywords in the context of one another through the black box of ContextWeb. We can identify which of our 384 categories to associate with that change, and took care of the problem commonly found in the search space where you see a lot of keywords out of context. So, if the keyword is Paris—I’m looking at Paris Hilton, Paris, France, and Paris, Texas. Those are all very different advertisers that want to serve ads on those different topics.

So tell me about your about your optimization technology.

The biggest takeaway on the optimization piece is that we do not optimize on a network level; we optimize on a publisher level. And that is a very positive message for quality publishers who believe that in some cases in other networks they’re subsidizing the poorer quality sites.

What is your role when dealing with agencies?

Agencies ask us to contextually target and optimize their campaigns based on certain types of content. So we’ll have somebody like a pharmaceutical company come in, and they’ll want to be associated with health content. An airline will come in and they’ll want to be associated with travel content. Or we may have a broad offer like a chemical company come in and say, “Look, we’d like you to use a contextual targeting variable to maximize the response to my campaign.”
On the advertiser’s side, the biggest takeaway and message is that third-party served, contextually targeted graphical ads are here in grand style and are in a great targeted network solution for online agencies.

A lot of folks outside the industry still associate text with contextual, but the definition has kind of changed pretty significantly over the time period. So, how has it changed? How have you guys evolved?

We’re way beyond the world of text links. Through offering the third-party served contextually targeted graphical ads, we’ve opened up the contextual agency market. With the ability to process contextual ads on the fly, we’re able to offer publishers the ability to deliver and run these ads through all the major ad servers. That’s really expanded our marketplace both on the advertiser side and on the publisher distribution side. The other way that we believe the market has advanced is the publisher market is ContextWeb is no longer interested in exclusive deals. In the brave new world of online advertising, exclusivity really should be [a non-issue] to all online publishers.

That’s what people say—it can’t be an island…

It can’t be an island, and simple economics says that exclusivity does not work for publishers. The fact is that a lot of the advertising being run today is performance-based. Advertisers are looking at the back end. It simply makes sense that if you’re running five offers for ContextWeb and five offers from another network, you’ll simply get a greater overall aggregate response from those ten offers, than from running five offers from just one of us.


Yes, exclusively. I see publishers wanting to run with more than one network, which we embrace because we know through real-time indexing and some of those contextual targeting, we’re able to serve targeted ads which allow us to pay a very competitive CPM to publishers.

What’s coming up next for ContextWeb in ’06?

One of the big opportunities for ContextWeb in 2006 is going to be to dispel the old notions about contextual and talk about the new contextual—the third-part served, graphical-ad contextual—a contextual that can run in any sort of real-time dynamic environment, and a contextual that can both deliver advertisers content adjacency and also be a performance-targeting mechanism for the advertiser.

Jay Sears is Vice President of Business Development and Publisher Relations for ContextWeb, Inc. Mr. Sears brings 15 years of management and operations experience in the information, e-commerce and Web publishing sectors, including work at two start-ups.

Prior to ContextWeb, Mr. Sears was Senior Vice President of Business & Strategy Development for EDGAR Online, where he drove the strategy that took the company from under a $1 million entrepreneurial business to a publicly traded NASDAQ company. He created over 300 partnerships, including ones with Yahoo!, The NASDAQ Stock Market and Microsoft. Previous to EDGAR Online, Mr. Sears served as Vice President of Marketing for Wolff New Media, the pioneering publisher of print and electronic guides to the Internet that was the subject of the best-selling book Burn Rate. Mr. Sears received his B.A. in political science from Kenyon College.


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