Image shows how Contextual Marketing is enabled via social media and “lives” at the intersection of how we define ourselves (profiles), and what we do online (behaviors) allowing advertisers to place highly targeted ads in front of people who are very likely to be interested.

What Contextual Marketing is Not

Contextual marketing is neither Outbound Marketing nor Inbound Marketing, both of which provide a lower ROI today.

To better understand Contextual Marketing, it’s important to first understand the other forms of marketing.

Outbound Marketing

Outbound Marketing is composed of “traditional” forms of mass media marketing, such as TV/radio/yellow pages/newspaper ads and billboards.

The defining characteristic of outbound marketing is your message is seen (or heard) by anybody and everybody, most of whom likely have no interest in your product or service.

Mass marketing of this type makes sense for companies that sell things that almost everyone uses, such as laundry soap, toothpaste, and blue jeans.

Inbound Marketing

On the other hand, with Inbound Marketing, you post useful information to the internet and hope your target audience sees it and considers your product/service better than your competitors (or better than not having it at all).

Today, most of us start our buying process by going online and searching for something we’re interested in. Inbound marketing is where someone performs a search and finds their way onto your website, where they see what you have to offer.

Inbound marketing is built upon SEO (Search Engine Optimization), content, and methods of website conversion. Google paid ads are also considered inbound, as they show up in search results, even though they’re sponsored.

Inbound marketing provides a better ROI than outbound marketing, but for organic search results (which is what is chosen 94% of the time), it takes time (usually over a year) to rise in the search rankings to where this becomes a reliable source of leads.

Contextual Marketing

Contextual marketing is NOT a hybrid of the two. Unlike Outbound Marketing, it is hyper-focused and targeted to a specific audience. Unlike Inbound Marketing, it proactively seeks those with an interest in the product or service. Examples of Contextual Marketing include highly targeted paid ads which funnel people to targeted landing pages.

Almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

This article started when I interviewed Eric Cawley of Small Business Marketing of Boise, ID. The focus of my interview was software tools for content marketing (we at Organic Growth are developing such software tools, and these interviews are part of our research to determine what’s missing from currently available tools and options).

Eric kept talking about marketing strategies other than content marketing software tools, which caused me to ask him something like “How do you do Content Marketing for your clients?”, which he answered by saying “We focus more on Contextual Marketing”.

My follow up question was of course “What is Contextual Marketing?” and his answer led to us scheduling another telephone interview, and this blog post.

Eric also acted as my editor. I sent him my draft, to which he made numerous useful suggestions.

What Contextual Marketing Is

Before I start answering, please take 3 minutes and 14 seconds to view this hilarious video from The Onion, describing the benefits of Facebook.

Laser Focus: Right Content, Right Person, Right Time

The basic idea behind Contextual Marketing is as long as we’re revealing so much about ourselves through our social media profiles and interactions, we (collectively) may as well use this to streamline how we market, find and buy products and services.

Social media platforms to which you’ve provided personal details, and which also track EVERYTHING YOU DO, are the primary means of getting the right ad to the right person at the right time.

How Contextual Marketing Works

With Contextual Marketing. you match ads to users based on incredibly detailed demographic information. It is usually implemented via social media networks (primarily Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google/YouTube).

First, the platforms use the detailed demographic data we all provide as we complete our profiles.

Second, the platforms record the cumulative total of EVERYTHING WE’VE EVER DONE AND SAID on their platforms to determine what we like and dislike, and more importantly, (to their ad revenue) how likely we are to respond to an ad.

These platforms then allow companies to place paid ads in the streams of people who are very likely to be interested in those ads.

The degree to which they’re effective is downright spooky. We always assumed “Big Brother” would be some big bad government who stalked us without our permission, not some for-profit corporation with whom we would gladly share everything there is to know about us.

Think I’m kidding? Then please read “Google Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself” and “Facebook Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself”. Bear in mind, these articles were written 3-4 years ago. It would not be surprising to see the facts contained in these articles have been superseded by even more specialized, targeted data collection methods

So, how do we use the collective invasion of privacy (which we’re almost all accepting of now) to sell products and services?

Please, read on.

For the record, for the rest of the article, when I give a specific example, I will use Facebook as the example platform. This is because it is the platform I currently understand best. However, the concepts apply to Facebook/Instagram, Google/YouTube, and LinkedIn.


The sequence (expanded upon below) is:

  • Unique Selling Proposition
  • Targeting
  • Lists (of people)
  • More people like the people on your list
  • Accessing to their attention

Unique Selling Proposition

This is often abbreviated as your USP. And THIS is the hard part. Get this right, and the market pulls you along. You’ll have trouble keeping up. Get this wrong, and you’ll struggle to generate sufficient demand.

At the risk of sounding ridiculously un-profound, what is most important about your USP is that it be real, and not fictitious.

The worst way to develop a USP is to think you already have all the answers, without having collected data with which to test your beliefs.

The ways to collect data are:

  1. Write down things you believe to be true about your market.
  2. Translate those beliefs into a testable hypothesis.
  3. Design experiments with which to test each hypothesis.
  4. Examine your data and draw conclusions from it.

There are two kinds of experiments that are easy to run. You should do both.

  1. Talk to people whom you see as potential buyers. Ask them what’s missing in their current options relative to what you’re selling or considering building.
  2. Run online tests:
    1. Creating landing pages for products and services that don’t yet exist.
    2. Create enticing descriptions of what in it for them (them being the people you bring to these landing pages).
    3. Run ads (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) to bring people to the landing pages.
    4. Place a Call to Action (CTA) button that says “Learn more” on every landing page.
    5. When someone clicks through, fess up that the product does not yet exist, and ask them to add themselves to a mailing list.
    6. Then measure ad impressions, click thoughts, and how fast your various mailing lists grow.

While the experiments described above take some money, time, and effort, they take far less money, time, and effort, than building a product that doesn’t sell.

IMPORTANT: Before you build a product, test to see if there is demand for it.

The ideas of testing if there is demand for what you’re thinking of selling has been distilled from the following books:

The Four Steps to the Epiphany By Steve Blank
The Lean Startup By Eric Ries
Running Lean By Ash Maurya
Traction By Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not yet finished Running Lean, and I just ordered Traction.

Bottom Line About Your USP

If you don’t have data which supports your conclusions, you made them up. As such, they may be wrong.

Targeting and Demographic Segmentation

Whose problem are you solving?

Contextual Marketing allows you to focus in on this in a way that has never before been possible.

It starts with lists, and then “flows over” into the demographic segmentation available in the social media platforms of interest.

Lists of the Right People

The key here is to build as targeted a list as you can. So how do you create a list of the right people to target?

You can build lists from a variety of sources.

Maybe you use a software tool such as dux soup to build a targeted list of contacts from your LinkedIn connections.

You can also buy lists from list providers, and the two recommended by Eric are:


FastBase is a list provider who has transformed themselves into a web leads company where they help you know in great detail who visited your website. Having said that, it is still possible to “just” buy lists from Fastbase.


InfoUSA is a company that provides lists of targeted contacts and includes the ability to specify a SIC code when building your list. SIC stands for Standard Industrial Classification and is nothing more than a number that is used to identify the type of business. For example, SEO Agencies have a SIC code of 7311, which is Advertising Agencies.


Scopeleads is a subscription service (at $67 a month) whose focus is to sell SEO services to businesses. It searches the web for businesses, it easily runs SEO audits of their sites, and easily sends them an email. However, it can also be used to create lists of contacts which you can then export to upload into Facebook.

More of the Right People

Some of the social media platforms provide a way to find more of the right people. As stated earlier, I’ll discuss here how Facebook does this.

Facebook Custom Audiences

A Facebook Custom Audience is a set of Facebook Users based on the list you put together. The key concept here is the email addresses in your list of people is matched to Facebook accounts. Facebook claims that of all the email addresses submitted to them this way, they match around 65% of them to Facebook accounts. This list of Facebook accounts is your Facebook Custom Audience.

Lookalike Audiences

Once you’ve created a Facebook Custom Audience, you can ask Facebook to find more of these people. This is a “Lookalike Audience”. It is literally more people within Facebook with similar DETAILED demographics to the people in your Facebook Custom Audience.

Access to the Right People

I will again use Facebook in this example. Facebook (now Meta), gives you a total of 9 places to display ads, broken down into four categories: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and what is called Audience Network. You can configure Facebook to figure out on its own where to best find your people, or you can manually select which ones you want to use. My advice is to let Facebook do this on your behalf.

Ads and Offers

You then use the social media platform to insert ads into their stream. These ads are minimally intrusive and highly likely to be something the user is interested in.

Why it works

You can see from following what is described above that this complete mechanism puts your ads into the streams of people who are highly likely to have an interest, without wasting your money putting your ads in front of people who are not. These ads are also minimally intrusive, appearing in their social media streams along with other content they’ve specifically indicated an interest in.


The next place to focus our attention is in marketing to people within specific social media groups. I have not yet delved into this, but at first glance, I can think of two ways marketing within groups might work.

Participate in the group

I’ve met people who have started groups, are heavily involved in the groups, and sell stuff to the members of their groups. This takes time to get going, but I know people who are successfully growing their businesses this way. Bear in mind everyone I know who does this “owns” and controls the group. There may be people who are successfully building their businesses as members of groups owned and controlled by others, but I don’t personally know any.

Create lists of people from Group membership

The basic idea is to build your Custom Audience from people in the groups you’re a member of. I did a Google search for how to do this on Facebook and based on the search results, you can do a slightly convoluted procedure at no cost, and there used to be a software tool which for a monthly subscription made it easier, but that tool seems to no longer exist. Bummer.

In Closing

Is Contextual Marketing the future of online marketing? Not in so much as it’s available to everyone today.

Should you be doing some of this? Yes, but it’s important to know what you’re doing.

While there are a zillion ad agencies who do “Facebook Marketing”, I’m not sure how well they do it. It’s complex and it needs to be done right.

I suggest either learning how from someone whom you know knows, or hiring an agency with a great track record.

You can also contact Eric Cawley directly at [email protected].

Kevin Carney
Kevin Carney

Kevin "fell into" SEO by accident, like many others. The SaaS platform to help writers boost their topical authority came years later after various SEOs said it was something they would like to see.

    3 replies to "How to generate high quality leads with contextual marketing"

    • shredder

      Informаtive article, exactly what I was lo᧐king for.

    • summerofblog

      Nice Barry 🙂

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