AdLinks: ‘Out-of-Contextual’ Advertising?

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Although this is Chris’ area of expertise, I thought this was worthy of a look for anyone investigating alternative ad serving systems.

I’m not sure if Google actually invented contextual advertising but there’s no doubt they popularized it. Whether it be via their search results, adwords or even inside Gmail, this has been a revelation for the web, and a generally positive thing for users — if we have to see advertising content, it might as well be relevant to us.

However, it would also be fair to say this hasn’t been a unmitigated success. Take Kontera Technologies ‘DynamiContext’, an adserving system that analyzes each word within a body of content and attaches tooltip-like ads to words it has inventory for.

According to Kontera :

They (AdLinks) are links within the content that upon click will link the user to relevant commercial information and offers. AdLinks are relevant to the content of the page, the click is initiated by the user, they are simple to use, and above all helpful for the user who is interested in additional and relevant information and or offers.

A pretty nice idea in theory — except for the fact that establishing the context for individual words is a much more hit-n-miss affair than establishing the context of entire pages (as Google does).

This fact became particularly obvious to me reading an interesting article on ancient lunar impacts at yesterday. And since Physorg also run Adwords, it also provides us with a nice opportunity to compare Adlinks with Google’s AdSense working with the same content.


Adsense has looked at the body of this article on ‘the aftermath of a massive and ancient lunar meteor strike’ and concluded that readers of this article might be interested in:

  • Buying Meteorites –
  • A site about the sun –
  • Lunar Calendars –
  • Discount Telescopes –

The lunar calendar link probably strays a little towards the ‘hokey’ side of things for a site like this, but in general it seems pretty targetted and I think those advertisers would feel quite pleased to appear along side this kind of content.


So, how does AdLinks assess the same page ? (Note: the linked words are bolded)

  • …implications for lunar prospecting… : Links off to ‘GE Healthcare Lunar’ who develop bone densitometers — X-ray or ultrasound scanning machines
  • Scientists have long wondered… : Links to downloads of Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ as a ringtone.
  • …a large depression on the Moon’s far side…: Links to anti-depression drug Zoloft
  • …professor of geological sciences… : Links to Stratigraphic Lithology services for the petroleom industry
  • …Lunar Prospector satellites to map the moon’s interior… : Links to satellite/cable TV services
  • …the mantle, the thick rocky layer… : Kitchen mantles and rangehoods

Ask yourself if any of those are in context? Perhaps you might argue the Stratigraphic Lithology link might have relevance to a small subsection of the audience. The others are all a huge stretch.

Of course, that’s not to say that scientists don’t like Coldplay ringtones on their phone. It’s just questionable that they like them any more than everybody else, which is supposedly the driving concept behind contextual advertising.

Still, the thing that really struck me was how much this ‘out of context’ advertising actually undermined the credibility of the content I was reading. One second I was reading seemingly well-informed reports on lunar findings, the next second the page is making incoherent references to kitchen appliances, cable TV and Zoloft. Can I truly trust the word of a site that confuses the moon and ultrasound machines??

I’m guessing that’s not the effect Physorg were after when they signed on. I guess this is the danger with blurring the line between content and advertising.

Now, obviously I’m looking at this from the user’s view, so I’d be interested to hear if anybody has had any success with this kind of advertising. If you have used it, how does it compare with the Google and Yahoo! products? Did you feel it undermined your content at all? Or have I just stumbled on a particularly bad example?

Alex WalkerAlex Walker
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Alex has been doing cruel and unusual things to CSS since 2001. He is the lead front-end design and dev for SitePoint and one-time SitePoint's Design and UX editor with over 150+ newsletter written. Co-author of The Principles of Beautiful Web Design. Now Alex is involved in the planning, development, production, and marketing of a huge range of printed and online products and references. He has designed over 60+ of SitePoint's book covers.

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