By Alex Walker

AdLinks: ‘Out-of-Contextual’ Advertising?

By Alex Walker

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 physorg.com 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 – arizonaskiesmeteorites.com
  • A site about the sun – thesurfaceofthesun.com
  • Lunar Calendars – ebay.com
  • Discount Telescopes – meade.telescopes.com

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?

  • I hate these kind of “non-ad ads” (Adlinks, IntelliTXT, etc.) and I think they SERIOUSLY undermine the credibility of a site.

    The physorg example is an extreme one, but even when the context is spot-on, they still undermine the credibility for me. When I see this sentence at a gaming magazine:

    “When Microsoft first announced the XBox 360, ”

    If there’s a link on “XBox”, I expect it to go to (a) Microsoft’s official XBox site, or (b) the gaming site’s XBox category. When it goes to some slimy company selling XBox games or hacks, I start to feel insulted. The context may be right, but ads that fool you into thinking they’re regular links are always a bad idea.

    (In case you’re about to tell me they have pop-up descriptions and are very unlikely to fool anyone, you’re wrong – virtually the ONLY reason those work is that people click on them by mistake, and the fact that Physorg is making money on absurdly out-of-context ads is sure proof of that.)

  • webnology

    I agree with moncur here. I feel it is worse for the site if you try to incorporate the ads too much within the content, so the visitors has no real control anymore. We’re abusing their habit of clicking on a link, which will lead them to a non-commercial page. When ads are pretty much clear that they are ads, it gives the user more control over the site he/she is reading. That’s why AdSense is much better.

  • well, one thing that I concluded is that the kind of system that Adlinks, IntelliTXT etc have, its just a simple one which just matches individual words to the keywords which advertisers target, while Google’s is a bit more complex since it analyses whole page’s context & hence far superior results than the former.

    and isn’t it against Google’s policy to have any other contextual ads on the same page as AdSense?

  • I completely agree with moncur.
    Links within the content should lead to other areas of the site or sensibly to external sites (ala the Microsoft Xbox example given above)

  • jb

    So are they in violation of AdSense TOC since they are also using another form of “context” advertizing?


  • So are they in violation of AdSense TOC since they are also using another form of “context” advertizing?

    yeah, that definitely seems to be the case unless they’ve switched off context targetting of those AdLinks(the linking of keywords in page) which I don’t think is possible!!

  • I tried this service before and found the same results. On my literature site Google does pretty good by targetting most ads towards homework help. Kontera didn’t, turning words like ‘bifocals’ into ads. My 16-22 demographic doesn’t really need bifocals, and not suprisingly the ads performed poorly.

    Additionally I felt they cheapened my site through their lack of targetting.

    As for Google’s TOC, this type of ad is allowed. These are just text links when you get right down to it, not actual advertisements.

    Another thing I want to mention is that Kontera’s rep who convinced me to give it a try told me that I would be making $XXX per day off of their program based on their research, my traffic levels, and the performance of similar sites in their network. Of course they were way off. Nearly every ad network grossly either lies or over estimates the amount you will earn with them and when you become a larger publisher and are getting solicitations all the time this is important to keep in mind.

  • As for Google’s TOC, this type of ad is allowed. These are just text links when you get right down to it, not actual advertisements.

    Chris, when you mouse over them, a description does popup as in an ad, no? Or what’s the definition of an ad(where ad networks etc. are concerned)?

  • I would say an ad is one that shows ad copy. Google doesn’t want similar looking ads shown on pages. A text link is too generic to be similar.

    Not that you’d ever want to run these two programs together, considering Kontera’s poor performance. However its common and in fact a good idea to proactively create your own contextual text links to places like affiliate programs, and you shouldn’t get the idea that because they’re contextually related and a text based ad that you can’t do that.

  • I would say an ad is one that shows ad copy. Google doesn’t want similar looking ads shown on pages. A text link is too generic to be similar.

    so you mean that as long as the ads are not in the same format as Google’s, they are fine? I mean they can be banners in different format or something else?

  • edr

    I run the IntelliTXT links in a specific section of my site. The section is recipes and I find that the IntelliTXT picks up the nouns in the recipe and offers very targeted, highly relevant ads most of the time. There are controls for IntelliTXT that allow you to ignore or target a specific section of your content as well as to set wieght such that only a small number of links per page are used.

    For example I used a recipe on Zucchini-Scallion Fritters. What I do is target only the sentances in the directions and not the Ingredients list.

    On Google AdSense I get
    1) Semolina Flour Handling – equipment & systems – Conveyors & Bulk Bag Unloaders and Fillers

    2)1 Basket Variety Steamer – Commercial Kithcen Applicances

    3) Pepper Mill And Salt – Target.com

    4) Olive Garden Recipes – RecipeSecrets

    On IntelliTXT I get:

    zucchini – link to zucchini recipes
    whisk – whisks for the professional chef
    skillet – Cast Iron skillets
    cook – culinary arts school
    plate – dinner plate set

    I think the ads from IntelliTXT far outperform the Google Ads for relevance because the links are laser targeted. For a site or section where there is a common theme you can use these ads quite effectively. I imagine within the body of an article or other content it would be much more difficult.

  • Bill

    I agree with edr. I think the effectiveness of in-text advertising depends on where and how it is implemented. I also think you have to be careful which partners you choose. They seem like the same product aesthetically, but offer poor relevancy and therefore low paying advertisers.

    Products like intellitext seem to have a good reputation for being relevant and paying well. It’s also interesting that Intellitext is sometimes more relevant than the ads outside of the content because their links have so much less room for error cause they are tied directly to the words. That said all contextual advertising products are off sometimes…

  • It’s also interesting that Intellitext is sometimes more relevant than the ads outside of the content because their links have so much less room for error cause they are tied directly to the words

    Single words are the issue. Edr has pointed out a situation where Intellitext appears to have got it right (although we haven’t actually seen it). But lets say I ran a Soccer site and I wrote the following paragraph.

    Oriente’s misery was compounded when River Plate defender Paulo Ferrari was able to whisk his way through 3 Oriente defenders to score their second just before the half.

    Applying exactly the same logic that was applied to edr’s site, that means Intellitext would link dinner settings to ‘Plate’ and cookware to ‘whisk’, which would be seriously misunderstanding the context of that paragraph.

    Can you tell me that they actually have methods to prevent that from happening?

    I don’t think you could argue that a single word based system could never get it right, but I think the question is ‘how damaging is it when it does get it wrong?’.

  • m3p

    O.k. … here’s an interesting twist on the AdLinks model.

    Instead of automatic page analysis being relied upon to make sure the words that get “linkified” are in context, we’ve (SponsorWorks.net), come up with a way to allow potential advertisers to bid for the sponsorship of words and phrases on sites.

    This way it’s actual human beings, human beings who want the most for their money, who determine which words are best for them to sponsor.

    The words get linked after the page loads and little cross-browser DOM pop-ups appear when a cursor hovers over the words or phrases.

    We’ve just introduced it and we’ll see how it goes.

  • m3p, that could have some potential.

    Knowing the theme/purpose of the site gives you a much better chance of guessing the correct context of any word you chose to sponsor.

  • KonteraSupport

    Hello all,

    I am the new Director of Account Management at Kontera and have read your posts with great interest. The example sited is extreme and if you click on the page, you will see that our algotithms have been successful in correcting this problem of not linking the “best” words. Our program takes some time to optimize, but we also have account managers that can work to block certain words, competitors ads, etc to achieve maximize the relevancy and revenue for our publishers. Our business is a clear example of “what’s best for the publisher is also what’s best for us”. We welcome any and all suggestions at Kontera_support@kontera.com

  • Hi Christopher,

    Obviously this was written 3-4 months ago and I could only write about what I was seeing at that time. It’s good to hear you’re working on the algorithms.

    Just checking the page though, it doesn’t seem significantly better. The tooltip graphics are a bit sexier but ‘mantle‘ as in ‘the thing below the earth’s crust‘, still links to a kitchen site, and ‘lunar‘ still links to a healthcare site. You couldn’t really call that contextual, could you?

  • Disgusted Dan

    Personally, I will avoid like the plague any site which I see to be using Kontera, or other similar style of “contextual” advertising. Relevant or not, I don’t want to see the text I’m reading cluttered with links that are simply advertising. An adwords box on one side? I can deal with that. I know where the ads are.

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