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Earning Revenues from Contextual Advertising
Online advertising is alive and well thanks to the growing popularity of search paid advertising. The good news: search engines have shared their bounty and expanded their search-oriented paid listings into contextual space. Maximize your site's advertising potential by comparing various contextual advertising programs.

by Nach Maravilla
Publisher, PowerHomeBiz.com


Online advertising is alive and well,  thanks to the growing popularity of search paid advertising. According to a study by the Internet Advertising Bureau,  keyword search revenue helped push Internet advertising revenue to $2.2 billion in the fourth quarter of 2003, up by 38 percent compared to the same period in 2002. Keyword search accounts for 40 percent of 2003 Internet advertising revenues more than any other forms of online advertising. 
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The good news for publishers: search engines have decided to share their bounty and expand their search-oriented paid listings into contextual space. Ads commonly in text format -- that once exclusively appeared on the search engine results pages can be added into content pages and earn revenues for the publisher.

The Growth of Contextual Advertising

Called contextual advertising, these types of ads are deemed effective because the ads are delivered based on the content of the web page using an automated system. A page on mortgage will display ads on mortgage providers; or a page on business ideas will show ads purporting various ideas for your business. The technology behind this type of advertising looks at various on-page factors and serves ads that seem to fit the context or subject of the page.

Contextual advertising is not new, and not without controversy. Several companies such as Gator and Ezula elicited controversy by putting software into a user s computer sometimes without the knowledge or approval of the user -- and turning every website they visit into a billboard of text ads. Depending on the software installed on the computer, users can either see underlined words (text links) in the content of the page they are reading, and clicking on the text link will show the advertisers ad. Or a pop-up may appear showing the ad of a company related to the context of the page. The downside is that publishers of the content do not earn from the advertising revenues generated from their own content. Publishers, including big guns like Washington Post, went up in arms with this practice of showing ads on their pages without their explicit approval.

Some Sources of Contextual Advertising

The new generation of contextual advertising is controlled by the publisher and allows the publisher to earn money from their content. Contextual advertising offers the chance to monetize their website and earn money from their content. For many publishers, income from contextual advertising is significantly higher than other types of advertising (e.g. banner and rich media ads) given that the ads shown are designed to be of the same context as the content and therefore of interest to the user reading the page.

While still in infancy, there are now a number of companies offering contextual advertising programs to publishers.

1. Google Adsense https://www.google.com/adsense/ .

Google's Adsense program started the contextual advertising bandwagon and is now the most popular and widely used program. While not the first to display paid search engine ads (the honor belongs to Overture), Google was the first to extend the reach of their search-based advertising program to a wide network of publishers. Using proprietary and sophisticated technology used for keyword targeting on search pages, Adsense allows the display of ads that fit into the content of the page. First introduced in limited release in the first quarter of 2003 and opened to publishers in June 2003, some of the features of Adsense include:

  • Offers a choice of ad types: text ads, image ads, or both.
  • Allows a wide variety of ad creatives: banner, leaderboard, wide and regular skyscrapers, regular and large rectangles. Image ads come in more limited sizes.
  • Allows configuration of ad layout to either complement or contrast with the site, whichever the site owner prefers
  • Allows filtering of ads (e.g. ads of competitor sites)
  • Strictly disallows fraudulent and artificial generation of clicks and pageviews; and has been known to kick out publishers violating this provision from the program
  • Allows publishers the option of setting up alternative ads in the event that Adsense cannot show any paying ads
  • Pays within 30 calendar days after the end of the month

2. Yahoo's Publisher Network (YPN) http://publisher.yahoo.com/   

Yahoo, Google's main competitor in the search advertising market, has launched its Yahoo Publisher Network contextual advertising program (the program is still currently in beta and may only accept publishers with US tax information). Its features and interface are almost similar to Google's Adsense program although YPN do not have the equivalent of Adsense's AdLinks. YPN however pays its publishers after 45-days, compared to Adsense's 30-days.

3. Quigo Adsonar http://www.quigo.com/adsonarexchange.htm 

Quigo's Adsonar is emerging as the likely competitor of Google's Adsense program. Adsonar is building its reputation in the relevancy of its ads, even giving publishers the control to set up keywords for the page in an effort to improve relevancy -- a feature not presently available in Google's Adsense. Adsonar gives publisher the option of a human editorial setup that gives the Quigo algorithm hints as to what topic the page is all about. Google's Adsense, which relies on its algorithm in deciding the ads to serve, sometimes makes missteps and serves off-topic ads (a page about European tours serving ads on Hollywood sightseeing tours).

As of this writing, Adsonar only accepts sites in the Health, Beauty & Fitness, Travel and Education categories. Initial feedback from the publisher community is that Adsonar offers a number of improved features relative to Adsense e.g. the ability to suggest keywords of the page and ability to offer custom layout for default ads. However, income potential (payouts) relative to Adsense is deemed to be lower. Nonetheless, Adsonar is a good alternative to Google Adsense for publishers who, for whatever reason, are not able to participate in the Adsense program.

4. IndustryBrains http://www.industrybrains.com 

IndustryBrains.com offers contextual advertising to business verticals in the financial, government and technology categories. One of their program's features is the inclusion of paid listings syndication to publishers participating in RSS-driven content feeds. Publishers looking to monetize their RSS feeds (RSS is a content syndication method to deliver news and story content to users that have opted in to a particular topic) may wish to participate in IndustryBrains.com s program. Some of the big-name sites using IndustryBrains.com include Kiplinger.com, Motley Fool, Salary.com, among others.

5. Commission Junction Evolution http://www.cj.com/solutions/optimized_advertising.jsp 

CJ s contextual advertising program is still in beta testing, and as such is limited to select ( top tier ) publishers. CJ s program introduces a new twist to contextual advertising: by connecting it to affiliate program. The clout of Commission Junction in the affiliate marketing sector makes it something to watch out for.

Other up-and-coming contextual advertising program that can give publishers the option to earn revenues from their content include Kanoodle.com, FindWhat.com, and About.com's ContentSprinks program. Note that many contextual advertising providers do not allow the display of ads on one page from competing contextual providers (e.g. Adsense leaderboards and Adsonar s skyscraper in one page)

The key to success in contextual advertising is understanding thoroughly the programs and policies of the providing organization in order to ensure continuing compliance. Many publishers have learned this lesson the hard way, and found themselves booted from the program thus cutting off a significant revenue source. Success in a contextual advertising program also requires constant experimentation from the layouts used (leaderboard vs. rectangle vs. skyscraper), to colors of the ads (matching vs. contrasting).