Getting The Most Out Of Google’s Contextual Targeting Tool

Google has a free tool that I consider to be a Swiss army knife of free keyword tools.  Few people even know this free tool exists. Many of those who know about it have never really played with all of its features. Maybe it’s the name of the tool: Contextual Targeting Tool. I have to admit, the name fits what the tool was originally built for, but it really doesn’t give you any clues as to how powerful this tool really is.

A little over a year ago, Google officially announced The Contextual Targeting Tool. It was originally designed to build campaigns and AdGroups for the Google Display Network, but I believe the tool has other uses as well. The main uses for this tool I want to point out are:

  1. How to leverage Google’s brain to build themed keyword AdGroups.
  2. The speed, efficiency and scale that the tool offers for building out Google Display Network campaigns and AdGroups.
  3. How to get two AdGroups for the time and work it takes to build out one using the predicted placement feature.
  4. How to find additional keywords and negatives for paid search campaigns.

Google Knows Google

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people talk about how they just wished they could get a glimpse into the inner workings of the Google Display Network. Psssst! The Contextual Targeting Tool can give you a little peek into how Google thinks.

One of the challenges with building a Google Display Network campaign is theming each AdGroup. In the past, it was anyone’s best guess for which words paired up to get the best results. Experts differed in their opinions for how many words you should use in each AdGroup. One word? Three words? Fifteen words?

The Contextual Targeting Tool takes the guesswork out by taking your core keywords and turning those into themed AdGroups. It’s even smart enough to tell you (with a plus sign) that there are more options for expansion with certain keyword sets.

Building Google Display Network Campaigns Fast And Easy

Google loves to give you results so don’t be surprised by the number of AdGroup opportunities you find yourself looking at, even if only plug one or two keywords or phrases into the tool. Checking off one checkbox will select every keyword set (AdGroup) that Google suggests which allows you to easily export all those new AdGroups into AdWords Editor.

A word of warning: not all results are relevant. That’s why Google also allows for you to manually select which AdGroups you would like to export. You wanted a peek into Google’s brain, right? Those non-relevant results are just as valuable as the AdGroups you want to keep because they tell you how Google sees your keywords and what types of contextual content might trigger your ads for similar words.

Beside each set of keywords is a circle with a plus sign. If you can click on the plus sign, it means Google has more ideas on how to expand on that keyword or set of keywords. Don’t worry if you change your mind. Google now has an un-do button when you expand a keyword set then decide you don’t like the new sets that Google is suggesting.

Google’s Hidden Placement Tool

Each keyword set also has a circle with a dash inside it. Clicking on that circle takes you to the predicted placements for that set of keywords. There is a great deal to learn from this list. You can determine rather quickly if your idea of relevancy and Google’s are in alignment. It’s also a great starting point for building out your managed placement campaigns.

Paid Search Keyword Brainstorming Strategy

Even though this tool is technically for building out contextually targeted AdGroups, I have used it for building out my paid search campaigns as well. Often times, the themed AdGroups work well for paid search with just minor editing after downloading the CSV files. Just as this tool gives you speed and efficiency for building out Google Display Network campaigns and AdGroups, it can also help with your paid search strategy.

One of the best ways to use this tool is to find negatives. It’s Google’s brain and Google is telling you exactly what it’s thinking when you plug in a word or phrase. Try it. Almost every time I use this tool, I discover more negatives I had not thought about.

The Forgotten Tool

Have you ever found a tool that you forgot you owned? Maybe you found it in your tool box, a drawer or hidden behind a pile of stuff in the garage. Or maybe it was a cool kitchen gadget that got lost in a drawer or behind something in the cabinet. When you re-discovered it, you probably thought to yourself, “dang, I can think of a dozen times I could have used that!”

This week, re-discover the Google Contextual Targeting Tool. Tell me how you used it — what you discovered and uncovered. I want to hear your stories.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column | Google: Display Advertising


About The Author: is the VP of Media at Advice Interactive Group where she develops plans that strive to achieve the most effective spend plans possible to meet client's digital marketing and targeting goals.

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  • Monique_at_Bloosem

    Dear Shelley,

    Thanks for the post. However, I believe that the Contextual Targeting Tools has become/will become redundant because of the new Display Network tab in Google Adwords.
    You can now just easily copy your well performing Search campaigns to Contextual Campaigns.

  • Shelley Ellis

    Unfortunately search and contextual are different animals. That’s what’s so great about the contextual tool…it sees words in the context of content and online conversations…not in the context of how we use keywords in a search engine. 

    Just think of the contextual tool as opening the door to more opportunities to reach more people with a different set of keywords on a different platform.
    Google just released this today with their new Google Agency Edge model (training on the Contextual Targeting Tool):


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