Context, or lack thereof


I was going through the my usual feeds today and I came across this entry by Roy Osherove. It is about him leaving his current job and considering what is he going to do next with his life. (I definitely wish him all the luck in the world) The thing that really caught my eye was what you will see in the pic of the feed below…

Roy Osherove Post

Do you see what I am seeing? An ad for Castrol Syntec that tells us to “Take Your Ride on a Power Trip.” Now, I know that we have come a long way in the last few years with being able to try and detect context from web pages in order to display meaningful ads, but I do believe we still have a long way to go. I can’t tell you how many times I have been on and have seen ads for birth control. Now I supposed that most of the population on digg could be an *argument* for birth control, but certainly not a target for it. In this instance though, I believe it to be fairly obvious that this post contains the keyword “adventure” or “adventures” more than once. This combined with the term “leaving” seems to have triggered the ad system to display an ad for motor oil, which in terms of the context of the post seems to be a good fit, but it doesn’t fit the context of the site. In this case the context that we are sampling is too small or too constrained in order to be accurate.


On the flip side though, how many times have you seen this?

Slashdot Ad

Before I point out the obvious first problem that they are showing an ad for power boats when it is almost November (let me know if I am wrong, but I would think the winter months might not be the best for power boating or boat purchasing in general), but what does this ad have to do with Slashdot (which this screenshot obviously came from, and if you didn’t know that you should be ashamed of yourself J)? I would like to think that there is some really deep link between geeks, gadgets, and power boats…but I’m just not too sure. I refreshed the page quite a few times and I saw ads for, AMD, Rackspace,, Barracuda, and HP. Now all of these I can completely understand, even From what I have heard about the demographic on most sites like this, this could possibly make good sense. But what about this ad? I can’t see anything obvious on this page that would trigger it, so lets look a bit further.

So I decided to run Slashdot (right away, to capture the same content that the ad was placed on) through the page analyzer tool over at to try and see what googles search engine/ad engine were seeing. The top keywords in anchor tags look like this…

 Link Keywords

There really isn’t anything here that points of in the right direction and so I looked next to the Keywords found in the alt tags on images. But since Slashdot isn’t an image heavy site, there really wasn’t anything at all useful there. So next I turned to keywords in general…


And, not really surprisingly, there isn’t anything that I can discern from this either. So, it appears that there is nothing related to boats, boating, engines, Honda, etc… anywhere in this site. Unless of course “Thursday” has a strong coorelation to click-throughs on boat advertisements. This appears to be a problem of a whole different sort from the one that we saw in the first section. Here there appears to us to be no context, but undoubtedly the google adsense engine has detected something in this page either historically or based on information that it has gathered from other sites in the same genre. The issue appears to be that the context may be too wide. As if they have gone fishing and cast their nets so far out that they are catching things they didn’t want to catch. Now *obviously* I could be wrong. There could be some very strong correlation between boating and geek sites. But my point is that from the context of the page there appears to be no link, so how do you know that the ads displaying on your site are properly targeting your audience?


P.S. On the other hand, the Honda ad is also seemingly targeting the engine and not the boat, but when you look at that ad all I see is an ad for a boat. But when you click on it, the ad takes you to a page at Honda’s site that shows off all of their technology. So, in this instance, it appears to be an issue with the ad’s content (or my perception of it) and not the actual target of the advertisement. Maybe I was looking a bit too far into Google’s adsense engine and maybe all the context we need is right in front of us. What do you think?

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