What is a Contextual Ad?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Cocolima, n/a, Eugenio Marongiu
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Ever notice how ads on an Internet page often seem directly related to the page’s content? If a person reads a page about depression, it’s a pretty safe bet that ads on the page might be about depression drugs or therapists. This form of advertisement is called a contextual ad, and it attempts to display content in advertisements similar to content on the page in the hope that readers interested in a specific subject will be more open to exploring advertisements that relate to it.

The contextual ad has been in existence for a few years and companies like Google® are credited with starting this trend. When web page writers or content writers use specific words or keywords and titles, and subscribe to programs like Google AdSense® they can set up a group of contextual ads for each page, and the more specific their writing is, the more likely advertisements will match. With greater matching of a contextual ad comes the hope that readers will click on advertisements, and this can create profit for the website owner and the company generating the ads.

There are plenty of ways to display a contextual ad. They can be plain text on the side of a page, pop-ups that occur as people mouse over words, or they can occur in other forms. As advertising has become more sophisticated, such ads may incorporate not just clickable links but also audio or video clips.


For the website owner, even one whose goal is providing information or writing about a beloved subject, signing up with one or more contextual ad programs can keep the website up and running by making profits. On the other hand, there are a few instances where contextual ads need to be considered carefully or don’t make sense. A business selling products, for example, may not want contextual ads, except their own, on their site. Sending potential shoppers to other sites would not make a great deal of sense.

Ad placement is important too. Sending a customer offsite when the goal is to keep them on the page to click on more ads, perhaps, is something of a mistake. Instead, it’s fairly easy to learn HTML code that allows a contextual ad to open in a pop-up window without moving people off the present page. This code makes sense for most website owners.

There are a few problems with the contextual ad, and these have to do with what is considered in context or aligned with content. Very sensitive subjects may bring up ads in direct opposition to the material covered. An article about anorexia could generate ads about diet pills, for instance. Sometimes people need to make sure an article or page does not have any advertisements on it, to avoid this type of unsympathetic and contradictory messaging.


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