Make it Match: How Editorial Context Drives Engagement Online

Alexander Gould
Apr 17, 2018 · 3 min read
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We have known for some time that editorial context matters. Consumers are much more likely to make that next click if a new piece of content is similar to what they have just seen or read. However, technical barriers have meant that other forms of targeting, such as geographic or audience, have been the primary tool used for content placement. Now, technology has arrived that can determine content relevance at scale meaning content creators and advertisers can reap the benefits of contextually targeted content.

Artificial Intelligence Makes This Possible

Video or text content on the internet is complex and filled with detail. Titles or key word descriptions often don’t capture nearly enough of the nuance that is present in this content. Up until now it has been impossible to understand each piece of content and make accurate contextual links without a human doing the reviewing.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence techniques, specifically deep learning, have made it possible for computers to approximate a human level understanding of digital content.

This technological advancement began with Natural Language Processing (NLP) models which can analyze large collections of unstructured text or dialogue and understand the key concepts that are being discussed. This was followed by computer vision models that can analyze images and recognize things like faces, objects or text within each image. The most recent breakthrough has been in the analysis of video - combining computer vision and NLP to create a deep understanding of what video content is about.

The combination of these automated understanding techniques allows us to accurately link content that matches from the perspective of a human reader.

Greater Context Means Higher Engagement

Numerous studies have shown that contextually relevant content leads to higher consumer engagement, with sometimes up to a 5–10x improvement.

A great example is a study of consumer attention by TVision Insights. They used the example of a Bud Light commercial that featured a group of fisherman on a vessel (shown below). When the commercial was placed in a screening of the show “Wicked Tuna”, audience attention rate increased by +254%, with the contextual link between advertisement and content obvious.

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Bud Light fishing commercial

Another study by content specialist Kontera measured an increase in click through rate for advertising that was “content aligned”. Results over the test period which covered 40 million impressions saw click through increase from 0.65% to 3.40% - a 5x improvement.

Increased engagement leads directly to higher revenue for content producers and advertisers meaning the rewards are clear for those who can successfully match content.

Our Brains Crave Context

Anyone who has got stuck for hours clicking through Wikipedia hyperlinks will know this intuitively, but there are some important psychological concepts that explain why contextually relevant content is more interesting.

One such concept is the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), which describes the extent to which a person will stop to really consider new information presented to them. According to this model, we process information in one of two ways — central route processing or peripheral route processing. Central route processing is the path associated with more explicit consideration of the information and is coveted by advertisers and content producers because it makes a consumer much more likely to engage with content. Peripheral route processing is associated with more superficial consideration and subsequently a lower chance that a reader will stop and interact.

What pushes our brains down the path of central route processing? Researchers have identified two main factors that influence a shift to the central route, Motivation and Ability, which are driven by a subjects degree of personal relevance. If someone is presented with new information that is consistent with what they have just watched or read, it is easier to understand, involves less distraction and reduces their level of cognitive dissonance. Their brain is pushed to central route processing and a higher likelihood of engagement.

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