Semantic advertising: Digging deeper for context


semantic_small.jpgADOTAS – Legend has it FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once received a poorly drafted letter from his secretary, to which he added a footnote, “watch the borders.” The result was legions of agents dispatched to patrol the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico.

How is this relevant to the world of online advertising? It just goes to show that one can never truly know the context of a statement based on as few as three words. And yet isn’t that what contextual advertising does?

The basic premise of contextual advertising is that a web page is examined for words against which advertisers bid for their ads to be placed alongside. Simply marry the words up with advertising and wait for the clicks and the resulting revenue to amass. Simple, isn’t it?

The old adage is spot on: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The simplistic notion that the context of an entire article of indeterminate length can be understood simply by detecting bidded keywords is proven fallible again and again as ads run alongside inappropriate or irrelevant content.

For example, an internationally renowned luggage brand embarking on one of its first online marketing campaigns was understandably dismayed when its campaigns ran alongside a news article about a serial killer who dismembered and disposed of his victims by hiding them in suitcases. I am sure you can guess the murderer’s choice of luggage. The result is one very unhappy advertiser that will refuse to evolve beyond traditional marketing.

Why does contextual advertising fail? The basic principle is entirely plausible: Connect the context of the article to the available ad inventory and marry the two together. What is at fault is the execution. The process fails to consider that language is entirely flexible and responds to the usage of words dreamed up by the article’s author.

What many seem to forget is that most words can mean different things, depending on how they’re used. In the English language each word has on average 2.4 alternative meanings . However, if we add in brand names, models, website names and countless other possible variants, the average increases to four possible alternative meanings for many of the words used in everyday language.

The word “orange,” for example, has some 27 alternative meanings ranging from a fruit, a color, a wireless network operator, a brand of mountain bike, a river, a county and several towns. And yet with contextual advertising, the expectation is that every time the word orange is identified, the correct ad will be deployed on the page. If you were a gambler, you wouldn’t accept odds like these!

Thankfully, the emergence of a new technology that has been dubbed “contextual’s younger and better looking brother” improves the outlook for display advertising.

Semantic advertising addresses the problems with contextual and delivers a system that is equipped to deal with the usage of language and place ads that are truly in context with appropriate content.

With semantic advertising technology, no one single word makes the distinction about a page. Instead, each and every word is examined and the cumulative effect of all of the words on the page then determines the context — all before an ad is placed.

Semantic advertising’s more thorough approach to display advertising begins by examining each page without preconceived notions or tendencies. Just because a page is within a travel site does not necessarily signify that the page is about a travel-related subject. A distinct advantage of the technology is its ability to mine sites to extract the nuggets of gold that would otherwise have been ignored.

A semantic advertising system will not only identify differing senses and meanings of words on a page but also extract all the themes present. This will expand the number of advertising opportunities available on a single page, all of which will be in some way relevant to the content.

In addition to identifying enhanced ad-targeting opportunities, semantic advertising also brings about an element of brand safety to campaign managements. As important as knowing when and where to advertising is knowing when advertising would potentially be detrimental to a brand’s image or ideals. This new process is capable of filtering out any objectionable content and deterring ads from being placed alongside damaging subject areas such as adult content, drug, crime and other unpleasant aspects to be found on the web.

To illustrate, returning to my earlier example of the luggage, semantic advertising would have identified that the page’s content had nothing to do with the specific brand of suitcases. This result would have been obtained by the volume of all of the words on the page, leading to the conclusion that the subject was more about homicide than luggage. In addition, through a thorough examination of the page’s content, semantic advertising would have determined that the page contained controversial content and a negative sentiment. Because of this, the page would not have be flagged as an opportunity for online advertising and semantic technology would have deterred any other brand from being potentially damaged by placing ads alongside this highly dubious subject matter.

Advertisers have nothing to fear from this new approach to display advertising and everything to gain. Semantic advertising has no privacy concerns, no integration requirements and no setup and represents a significant step forward. With this approach, the accuracy of categorization of the page is greatly enhanced, every nuance of pages examined to deliver highly targeted campaigns and enabling advertisers to produce creatives that repond to the enhanced granularity resulting from this significant advancement in online advertising.

So unless you want your ad campaigns to end up like the FBI agents in our opening story — miles off course and headed down a dangerous path — consider semantic advertising technology next time you are planning a display advertising campaign.


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