February 2023 Recap – Contextual Advertising with Tony Zara

Tony Zara, founder of ecommerce advertising agency Iron Pulley, gave us a glimpse into the programmatic advertising ecosystem and how one might succeed as an advertiser within this system. Tony pointed out that of the many ways to target potential customers, contextual targeting is one that is both least affected by privacy restrictions and least subject to fraud.

So what is contextual advertising? Fundamentally it’s a simple concept: showing ads that are relevant to the page they appear on. This classic method has been losing out to user-based targeting for several reasons, but one dysfunctional reason is that contextual doesn’t maximize revenue for the ad networks as well as user-based targeting does.

When we talk about display ad platforms, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is of course Google. In order to place a contextual ad, you need to have an ad tag on a website that is topically related to what you want to advertise for. Google currently controls 90%+ of this inventory, so if they want to make it hard to do contextual advertising they can (and have). Tony recommended reading the DOJ’s complaint against Google for a good overview of the situation.

So how does one do contextual advertising? Tony’s method is to find the sites that are relevant through human research. Advanced Google searches, SEM/SEO tools like Ahrefs, industry knowledge, etc. Finding the legitimate high-quality sites and doing placements on those sites rather than letting algorithms do “optimization” for you.

Tony has generously provided his slides:

And, some pictures from the event:


Please join us in March when we will have Lea Pica talking about Data Storytelling Secrets!