Context Is Key: The Growing Relationship Between Mobile Marketing and Contextual Signals

August 2nd 2021
12:58:47 am

First, it was privacy regulations like the GDPR and.

Then Google announced for Chrome come 2022.

If that wasn’t enough for advertisers to grapple with, changed things up, having users opt-in to tracking from various sources, as opposed to opting out.

The culmination of all of these initiatives is that advertisers are scrambling to switch gears and figure out new ways of getting products in front of relevant consumers.

The truth is that digital advertising is, in many ways, dependent on data to personalize and optimize campaign performance. As a result, many retailers have turned to so as to maintain a proprietary first-party database.

At the same time, sellers are having to figure out what the future of the advertising industry looks like as third-party data will soon be far more inaccessible.

While third-party cookies are still an option, advertisers are working to collect and. However, many brands will not be able to harvest nearly enough information to profitably target ads to willing participants. Therefore, many are considering alternative avenues to advertising.

For many, the answer is contextual advertising without cookies.

Until recently, contextual solutions for advertising were relegated to two primary uses: blocking inappropriate content as a means of preserving a brand’s reputation and identifying relevant inventory for ads based on keywords and other contextual signals.

However, over the last several years, those solutions have come to take advantage of sophisticated new contextual intelligence technologies which are capable of arming advertisers with a myriad of cutting-edge tools and abilities.

As a result, contextual advertising is quickly becoming a viable option for retailers across the world.

In fact, this dynamic is on clear display in, which highlights that:

“Mobile advertisers expect to spend more in content environments with overt context signals, as 70 percent say context has become more important, per a survey of 252 advertisers that business intelligence firm Advertiser Perceptions emailed to Marketing Dive. More than half of advertisers plan to increase spending on gaming (53 percent) and kids’ programming (51 percent). In the six months prior to the December 2020 survey, 36 percent of advertisers invested in gaming and just 15 percent spent on kids’ programming. Lifestyle and entertainment will continue to see investment, with spending hikes planned by 43 percent and 48 percent of advertisers, respectively.”

Contextual signals are likely the beacon of hope many advertisers were seeking.

However, before detailing the relationship between contextual signals and mobile marketing, let’s take a step back for a moment and lay the groundwork for the conversation.

Contextual Signals and Mobile Advertising

For those who are unfamiliar, is a targeted advertising technique that leverages the keywords and content of a given page and matches that information to adverts to reach relevant users.

In a nutshell, it is a means of matching contextually relevant web pages and ads.

Therefore, instead of serving, say, retargeting ads based on a user’s online behavior, an ad will be placed based on its topical proximity to the content of a page online.

As an example, if a website visitor is reading an article about ways to perfect one’s running technique, there will likely be ads featured for running shoes or other running apparel.

Therefore, these ads are displayed on the basis of where the user currently is, as opposed to online destinations they have visited in the past.

Contextual advertising allows retailers to create relevant marketing strategies via contextual signals about a website such as keywords a page ranks for, topics covered and the like.

Contextual signals for mobile are a bit different. We will get to that information shortly.

Given the current digital advertising paradigm that is coming to fruition, contextual advertising is a fantastic alternative for online retailers, advertisers and brands that are unable to establish advertising strategies based on behavioral targeting tactics.

Moreover, there are a significant number of perks to using contextual advertising over behavioral advertising.

Contextual Advertising Advantages

Since contextual advertising is embedded within the environment that a user is exploring or shopping, it provides an array of benefits to consumers and advertisers.

Some of the most compelling advantages include:

Unimpeded by Privacy Regulations

In order for sellers to run an effective advertising campaign using, merchants must collect user data such as:

  • The operating system used
  • Websites they visit
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Which buttons or CTAs they have clicked

However, this is where retailers will start bumping up against regulations like the CCPA, the limitations implemented by Apple’s latest iOS update and the impending loss of third-party cookies on Chrome.

While these are undoubtedly consumer-friendly developments, the fact is that they have also presented massive hurdles for advertisers to gather data on online user behaviors.

However, while behavioral targeting requires data to be effective, contextual targeting requires no personal information from users to serve relevant adverts. Instead, the ads target users based on their explicit interest in a given topic or piece of content.

More Convenient and Cost-Effective

A considerable perk to leveraging contextual advertising is that.

Given that data collection is at the core of behavioral advertising, it demands a significant amount of human and financial resources for effective application. In addition to the data, sellers also require tactics, tools and software to ensure that campaigns are optimized properly.

Brands that do not possess the resources to acquire all of these necessities are essentially priced out of running behavioral ad campaigns effectively.

Therefore, the most logical conclusion is to run contextual advertising campaigns instead, as these can help retailers to serve relevant adverts to audiences without a substantial investment of time and resources.

In the final analysis, contextual campaigns are far more affordable to run, particularly for smaller eCommerce retailers.

Context Can Be More Relevant Than Behavior

The entire point of behavioral advertising is to serve personalized ads to users depending on what they have done, read or watched online.

However, this is not always the case.

Some users only engage in specific behaviors because they have particular interests but have no intention of making a purchase. Moreover, past behavior is not necessarily an accurate predictor of a user’s current needs and desires.

That said, there are times when what is valued by a website visitor is what they are seeing at the moment instead of what they viewed several days ago.

Contextual advertising is a more effective alternative for targeting such consumers.

Privacy-Friendly Advertising

There are people online who do not want companies collecting information on them and their habits as they see this as an invasion of their privacy. Moreover, there are businesses that cater to these types of customers and have a stake in maintaining their audience’s privacy.

For instance, websites like DuckDuckGo or various cryptocurrency exchanges have target audiences that are pretty privacy sensitive and often do not allow services to install cookies on their devices that can track their internet activity.

The fact is that there is, particularly when it is done without the express permission of an individual.

Fortunately, where contextual advertising is concerned, this debate is a moot point as contextual ads can be used by any brand or advertisers without having to collect user information, thereby enabling them to generate revenue via advertising, no matter their target audience.

Helps Prevent Ad Fatigue

Much like, advertisers who target consumers based on their behaviors must be careful not to wear out potential buyers, thus turning them off to a brand permanently.

However, if merchants can utilize contextual signals to serve up relevant adverts, they can actually add value to the user experience.

Ultimately, this has a positive impact on ad fatigue as viewers are not bombarded with messaging from a company across various platforms, but are met with the right messaging at the ideal moment.

How Google Uses Contextual Signals and Mobile Advertising

Contextual advertising and its benefits have served as an ideal example of how contextual signals delivered via mobile usage works.

In a nutshell, contextual signals are indicators such as the location of the user’s mobile device, time of day, the person’s interests and the like.

Given that (for many years now) more than half of all Google searches are conducted on mobile devices, it is more critical than ever for retailers to ensure that their website is optimized for mobile, presents a user-friendly experience and is optimized for local search.

These elements are critical components to online success in the paradigm of Google’s AI-first and search journeys initiatives.

For those who are unfamiliar with these concepts, back in 2017,, with the company’s CEO stating:

“Computing is evolving again. We spoke last year about this important shift in computing from a mobile-first to an AI-first approach. … In an AI-first world, we are rethinking all our products and applying machine learning and AI to solve user problems.”

Part of the purpose of this initiative was to tailor search results to the user.

This is where come into play. Search journeys use AI to better understand the language that consumers use when they search online.

As a result, search journeys look at the context of the search and use that information to show searchers content that is most relevant to where they are at in their journey, as opposed to merely providing answers.

In many ways, this is how operates.

Google’s AI analyzes where users have been, what they have searched in the past and determines what they are likely to search next.

In short, search journeys use consumer information to understand how user searches and intentions evolve as the person learns more about a topic.

As can be surmised, much of this is deeply tied with mobile contextual signals and using that information for mobile marketing purposes.

The fact is that (for better or worse) Google knows a lot about people and what they are doing, thanks in part to contextual signals like time, location, recent searches and the like that enable the engine to personalize results and advertisements to connect with consumers.

Some of the ways in which Google uses contextual signals and mobile advertising to create personalized messaging and experiences on mobile include:

Local Search

Employing local signals is a commonplace tactic for marketers these days. The reason for this is that location tells retailers something important about a user.

The fact is that local search is particularly relevant for smartphone users.

When a mobile user searches for a specific product or service using their mobile phone, they will receive different results than if they were to conduct that exact search on their desktop. Instead, Google will display results relevant to the user’s geographical location.

That said, when searching on a desktop, Google does have information about the area that a searcher lives in and will display relevant results based on that data.

However, local searches on mobile devices zero in on an exact location at a specific time.

For instance, if a person were looking for a seafood restaurant in the city in which they live, they would see results for businesses closest to their location. However, if that same person were to head to the Pacific Coast Highway in California and conduct the same search, they will end up seeing the top seafood restaurants along the PCH and then a myriad of others within driving distance.

What this means for business owners is that understanding (if they possess a physical retail location) is critical to success.

However, for those who strictly have eCommerce storefronts, this is a bit less important as a user’s physical location is largely inconsequential to the traffic of an online store.

That said, it does not mean that location is entirely irrelevant to a brand’s visibility and revenue. The fact is that location can be a crucial contextual signal for engaging consumers with relevant, educational content.

For instance, as Google discusses :

“If someone is in an airport, for example, chances are they’re traveling. And if someone is traveling, they’re likely to be curious about their destination. With that in mind, we created a series of programmatic ads that focused on travel tips, landmarks, and points of interest. If someone was in San Francisco, they were served an ad that featured the Golden Gate Bridge and relevant questions, like “How long is the Golden Gate Bridge?” This locally-relevant approach worked, and the campaign increased daily active users by 85 percent when compared to our control group.”

What this example shows is that retailers can successfully employ contextual signals such as location to push, thereby helping to increase brand awareness, site traffic, and (potentially) revenue.

Google’s AI Targets User Interests

The previously mentioned AI-first initiative by Google is marked by the engine ramping up its data collection and machine learning efforts to tailor search experiences to users.

Kind of ironic given that Google is simultaneously looking to block advertisers from collecting user data to tailor advertising experiencebut who are we to judge?

Nonetheless, AI-driven Google experiences enable retailers to optimize content for a variety of variables. For instance, through the use of, retailers can A/B test several ads concurrently to establish the permutation that achieves the most significant ROI.

The fact is that Google has been integrating AI into many of its products since this initiative began back in 2017. Ultimately, the goal here is to utilize AI as a tool to enhance searchers’ lives by enabling artificial intelligence to tailor experiences to specific users so that they will only see content that is relevant and desirable to them.

As a business owner, it is critical to be aware of these types of shifts in the technological landscape so as to reorient a business to be able to benefit from such developments.

As Google continues to shift toward more personalized search experiences rooted in interests and search journeys, it is imperative that merchants understand how to target an audience with resonant, timely messaging that aligns with those factors.

This is once again illustrated by the previously referenced PDF wherein Google discusses using contextual signals and mobile advertising. In that same document, the search giant discusses serving mobile ads to parents, based on their interests:

“When promoting Google Photos, we wanted to drive awareness of its storage features, particularly for iOS users. We looked at contextual signals, like a user’s location, the time, and their interests to craft messages that were more likely to break through. Ultimately, we zeroed in on people’s interests, based on the apps they were using, because we found interests were most likely to drive photographic moments. For parents, for example, we created mobile ads that captured sweet moments with the line, ‘The best moments only happen once.’ It highlighted the joy of capturing—and fear of missing—that perfect moment, successfully promoting Google Photos’ ‘free-up’ feature which allows users to delete backed up photos and save space on their phones. We created dozens of versions, then delivered them programmatically. The campaign generated a 9 percent lift in brand awareness and a 6 percent lift in ‘free-up’ feature awareness.”

Search Journeys Consider Intent and Behavior

In, the company introduced search journeys alongside a variety of other features. At this point, context and user intent became integral components to the results searchers would receive on both desktop and mobile.

Therefore, if a user visited a particular seafood restaurant each time they were on the Pacific Coast Highway, then Google might opt to display that eatery first, even if another would usually outrank it on Google’s local search.

Again, search journeys mean that results will be displayed based on a variety of factors, including what consumers have searched for previously, the intent of a given search (informational, navigational, transactional), location, relevance to the individual and a multitude of other variables.

Contextual Signals and Mobile Advertising Personalization

As has been discussed thus far, Google uses contextual signals to personalize search results and advertisements for mobile users. Some of the many contextual signals the search engine takes into consideration include the time of day, the date of a search, the web pages the user visits, their interests and location, as well as factors like local SEO, mobile-first ranking and other elements.

Naturally, the point of integrating all of these contextual signals comes down to providing users the best experience possible so as to harvest maximum advertising dollars and achieve the highest ROI possible.

However, before merchants can to the level of “best,” it is necessary to ensure all of the foundational elements are present.

Using Contextual Signals to Drive Mobile Advertising Engagement

In the discussion of contextual signals and mobile advertising, what all of this information means is that merchants must ensure that their content and online stores are built with small screen users in mind.

Therefore, it is critical to ensure that a site is exceptionally mobile-friendly and implementing mobile-first features like as these features show Google that a site is in step with the company’s guidelines and desires.

Ensuring that a site is geared toward mobile experiences and generating engagement from small screen users is vital to getting the most out of mobile ad campaigns.

As an example, when discussing, Google considered partnering with Red Lobster back in 2016 to better understand how contextual signals and mobile advertising could serve to drive consumers to local stores.

As the blog details:

“Digging into the mobile behaviors of [Red Lobster’s] customers, they learned that 60 percent of the traffic on their website happens during the dinner hours of 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. They recognized that this was a huge opportunity to drive new growth, if they could be there to deliver what their customers needed in these moments. Acting on this insight, they targeted mobile customers in those I-want-to-go moments when they were close to a restaurant during prime dinner hours. Because they couldn’t directly link specific purchases to mobile ads, Red Lobster used store visits as a proxy to gauge the mobile campaign’s impact. They found that mobile users who saw a Red Lobster ad on their devices were 31 percent more likely than those who didn’t see an ad to visit a restaurant the same day, and 17 percent more likely to do so the next day. The company found mobile advertising to be an effective tool for achieving broad business goals, specifically country-wide sales growth and increased awareness of signature promotions.”

What this example shows is that the restaurant chain was able to successfully leverage contextual signals such as time, location and interests to deliver mobile ads to potential customers and successfully drive sales for specific areas.

Personalization Is Key to Contextual Engagement

In today’s era of online retail, is critical to success as consumers increasingly demand tailor-made shopping experiences.

Retailers must understand the context of a user’s journey to personalize on-site experiences effectively. Therefore, it is more critical than ever for merchants to understand their audience, along with their interests, desires, pain points and the like.

Of course, can be extremely useful in this area.

If merchants can integrate customization features into their store’s shopping experience, tailoring the content and adverts seen, sellers can significantly increase their site’s engagement, sales, return on investment and bottom line.

Final Thoughts

When speaking to contextual signals and mobile advertising, it is vital for sellers to understand that the entire marketing strategy revolves around the environment in which the user is immersed.

From content to keywords, website copy to images, all are taken into consideration for effective contextual advertising strategies to be formed.

That said, the combination of contextual signals and mobile advertising places control into the hands of advertisers, enabling them to zero in on the current behavior of consumers instead of what they have done in the past, which may or may not be relevant at the present juncture.

Given the fact that contextual advertising is experiencing a boom, is more convenient and cost-effective than behavioral advertising and can be easily implemented by skilled advertisers, this form of an ad campaign is poised to be the exact solution that merchants are seeking in the more restrictive data collection environment that is currently emerging.

However, moving to contextual advertising can be a significant change for many retailers who have established ad strategies. Therefore, some help is likely in order.

If your brand is ready to leverage contextual signals and mobile advertising, reach out to.

Our team of seasoned eCommerce advertising experts can help your brand get its ads placed in the perfect locations for driving clicks and conversions.