What Is a Custom Content Taxonomy?

The digital advertising community has been witnessing what many are calling a resurgence of contextual advertising. This is because the death of third-party cookies and other privacy changes are making it harder to collect the user data required to power behavioral ads.

Contextual ads are filling the gap, allowing advertisers to target audiences based on the content they consume, not personal information.

But contextual advertising is only as effective as the taxonomy of content on which it is based. In other words, if publishers and advertisers do not have a granular way to classify content for advertisers, contextual ad targeting will not be as effective. Ads will end up in front of irrelevant or broad audiences engaging with content that has little to do with the ad.

Enter custom content taxonomies. Most publishers currently use standardized content taxonomies by such organizations as the IAB, Google, and IBM. But these taxonomies, being standardized, are necessarily not designed to grasp the nuances of a given publisher’s content. As publishers rely more on contextual advertising for granular targeting, they are likely to embrace custom taxonomies to increase precision

What Is a Content Taxonomy?

A content taxonomy is a system for organizing web content by topic. It classifies content into topics such as “sports,” “news,” and “wellness,” as the IAB explains. In advertising, this allows publishers to define content at scale so that advertisers who want to reach audiences based on the content they are consuming can target their messaging. For example, Equinox might use a context taxonomy to reach audiences engaging with content about wellness or fitness.

Most publishers use one of a few dominant content taxonomies by the IAB, Google, and IBM, especially the IAB’s, which drives contextual targeting across most of the programmatic ecosystem. The potential problem with these taxonomies is that they are neither especially granular nor customized to capitalize on the nuances of a given publisher’s content or audience.

For example, the IAB has three unique content taxonomy IDs for “fitness and exercise.” These are fitness and exercise, participant sports, and running and jogging. There are other IDs for weight loss and senior health. But these identifiers hardly go beyond the specificity of domain-based ad targeting.

For example, what if a fitness publisher wants to allow advertisers to target those reading about running basics differently from those engaging with advanced content? Or to distinguish those reading about bicep workouts and from those reading about pilates? This is where a custom context taxonomy can help.

What Is a Custom Content Taxonomy?

A custom content taxonomy is like a content taxonomy as popularized by the IAB, but it is created specifically for a given publisher and can therefore account for the nuances of that publisher’s content. Instead of using standardized taxonomies that force their content or brands to fit into a third-party structure, publishers and advertisers can create contextual targeting options that match up to the specific site where viewers, content, and ads collide.

Consider the case of a beauty publisher. Under the current IAB taxonomy, the publisher can find unique IDs for its content such as beauty, hair care, makeup and accessories, and nail care. But with a custom context taxonomy, the publisher can go much deeper, attaching identifiers to its content such as mascara, lotion, and anti-aging cream. This could help brands reach audiences with much greater intent to buy their products.

A custom content taxonomy does not necessarily need to be limited to evergreen topics, either. It can cover trending topics to evolve with the content a publisher produces and ensure accurate ad targeting during unusual times or for rare topics.

Why Might Publishers and Advertisers Use a Custom Taxonomy?

For publishers, the greater targeting capacities unleashed by custom content taxonomies will fuel stronger advertiser demand, click-through rates, and CPMs. This will allow publishers to boost revenue at a time when that is sorely needed and to maximize the value of the shift from behavioral to contextual advertising. It will also allow publisher ad sales teams to differentiate themselves from the open programmatic market by offering a much stronger targeting solution unavailable elsewhere. This will drive advertisers to spend more budget directly with publishers.

As many have noted, anti-tracking changes are putting a premium on publishers’ first-party data. Custom content taxonomies will create a virtuous cycle of first-party data collection, as readers will consensually reveal themselves as being interested in granular topics, fueling future targeting and creating a first-party behavioral alternative to third-party cookies. This will further differentiate the ad offerings of publishers with custom taxonomies.

For advertisers, custom context taxonomies also represent a solution to the post-cookie conundrum — and one that is not merely behavioral tracking by another name. Custom context taxonomy-based targeting is sustainable, and the relationships advertisers build with publishers who develop such taxonomies and targeting capacities will outlast the next big tracking change from gatekeepers such as Google.

How Can Publishers Approach Custom Content Taxonomies?

To build a custom content taxonomy and figure out whether one is right for them, publishers will need to conduct an editorial audit and advertiser research. On the editorial front, they should evaluate their content and see whether it fits into existing taxonomies, how it diverges from those taxonomies, and what categories would need to be created to better represent it. Publishers should also ask advertisers what new categories would benefit them. Publishers with niche content and strong direct sales efforts are best positioned to benefit from custom taxonomies.

One editorial audit upfront will not cut it, either. To ensure the continual relevance of custom context taxonomies, publishers will need to conduct regular editorial due diligence against the taxonomy to ensure it remains reflective and responsive to surprise events or shifts in content. A strong context taxonomy will be built on technology flexible enough to adapt to such changes and even evolve automatically with the help of natural language processing and other technologies.

With cookies going away, contextual advertising is having its moment. But not all contextual targeting is created equal. By seeking more sophisticated infrastructure for contextual targeting, publishers will be able to transform the cookiepocolypse from doomsday into an opportunity for differentiation.