Definition of Contextual Targeting for App Marketing

Lorenzo Viscanti
November 24, 2022
Definition of Contextual Targeting for App Marketing

Starting during the Spring of 2021 Apple pushed mobile users to reconsider the value of their privacy, by introducing limitations on the way mobile ads work.

The combination of App Tracking Transparency & Skadnetwork limited the way advertisers and adtech companies are able to track users over the time.

With iOs14.5 Apple reduced the ability to track the behavior of users, thus limiting the creation of audiences, useful for optimizing advertising campaigns. This is called behavioral targeting and it is used to create powerful audiences that are used for optimizing the advertising activities. Actually it was called behavioral targeting, since Apple didn’t eliminate it but made it much harder to be used. (see this article about the ATT prompt). Behavioral targeting is still widely available on Android, but some limitations might come in the future.

Apple limited the tracking on iOs and this reduced the amount of data gathered about users that is available to advertisers and adtech companies. Profiles created don’t contain anymore information about months (or years) of apps usage, but are limited mostly to the actual context of the user.

Less data means less optimization. Contextual targeting is the only option left to app advertisers on iOs to optimize their user acquisition efforts, let’s see what this means.

The difference between Behavioral Targeting and Contextual Targeting

Behavioral audiences were built over the time, by analyzing months (or years) of apps usage. This resulted in a massive amount of data gathered about every user. For advertising purposes behavioral targeting makes it easier (and less expensive) to execute user acquisition.

Contextual targeting has a lot less signals to use (usually no more than a dozen), making it a lot harder to create audiences and optimize user acquisition campaigns.

What are the consequences of this switch?

  1. Prices are higher, since there is less data for optimization, conversion rates are lower and the equivalent Cost per Action (or Cost per Install, when you run user acquisition campaigns for apps) is higher

  1. More technology is needed to generate conversions. Making the traffic convert with less optimization signals requires better algorithms and more technology.

In a nutshell, Apple decided to make it harder to follow users over time, creating a profile of what they like (and what they use). Before 2021 advertising companies were able to create a behavioral profile for each user. 

Let’s have a look at the data that is now available for contextual advertising for apps.

What is the Context used for targeting in advertising campaigns?

We have already said that the main difference between contextual advertising and behavioral advertising is in the number of signals that are available to target and optimize campaigns.

But what is exactly available as a targeting option in a contextual advertising campaign for mobile apps? There are three levels of data:

  • User level data: session-specific information about the duration of the current session, how the users interacts with the apps (how many sessions per day, average duration of the session, ….). Also the current time of the day is user level data that might be useful for campaign optimization

  • App level data: Name and category of the app in the store, who is the developer and the version of the app currently used

  • Device level data: Operating system version, device model and vendor, carrier (or ISP) used, battery level and other data about the actual device that is used

As you can surely notice all these signals might seem weak and not useful for campaign optimization, but they represent all the information that is left available for targeting in the contextual advertising world.

And it works! Even using less signals, contextual user acquisition technologies, such as Mapendo’s tech platform, are able to run user acquisition campaigns in a profitable way.