I recently wrote research about search marketing best practices for business marketers but didn’t cover contextual advertising in it. Having spent over 5 years covering enterprise search or working for companies (Verity, Stratify) offering search-based products, I have to admit I am a bit more than skeptical about claims – like those made by Google Adsense, Kanoodle BrightAds, Quigo AdSonar, and Yahoo’s Publisher Network – that search-based contextual ads accurately match the host content and never appear on unrelated sites. The fact is – and anyone frustrated by the low quality of search results they see on most business-oriented Web sites will agree – getting machines to read, interpret, and characterize written text precisely is difficult and labor-intensive. And for every contextual placement that looks relevant, I can show you more that are way off the mark.


But where is does the fault lie in mismatched ads? With the technology, that has trouble distinguishing between stock cars, cattle, equities, or soup recipes – without human defined glossaries or editorial review? With liberal rules that providers and networks apply to keep inventory circulating? Or with insufficient ad inventory? Right now, it’s a lack of maturity in all areas, particularly on the business-to-business side of the world.


Business media is big business. There are far more trade press, newsletters, ezines, Web sites, and journals –with more targeted appeal and reach – than consumer-oriented publications. With all of this industry-specific content it should be easier to pinpoint Web page subject matter, match the right ad, and see higher conversion and CPM payouts as a result. Finely-tuned content helps crawlers “understand” and classify it better since the vocabulary is narrow and applied in an industry-specific context. If ad inventory volume and network participation were to grow over time, it seems – at least to me – that B2B advertising would be a better fit for contextual placement.


Recent grumblings about AdSense revenue declines, like the “Is Contextual Advertising Dead?” discussion in the Technosailor blog, and anecdotal observations of declining contextual ad quality make me wonder if contextual advertising – particularly ones that rely on technology to interpret and match the ads and content – will fail to persist as a viable media option long term.


What do you think? I’d be most interested to hear from B2B marketers with contextual advertising experience who can give specific examples of how it has worked – or failed to work – for you. But if you ask me, I’d say spend your time and money on search engine optimization and paid placement with business-specific engines to get the best returns on your online business marketing.