Keyword blocking and COVID-19

03/30 By Nick Morley
Keyword blocking and COVID-19

The world is adapting to the new reality of COVID-19 – and digital advertising is no different. News sites are seeing increased traffic and whilst some brands are appropriately making the most of the increase in eyeballs, others may deem this pandemic an inappropriate time to promote their messaging.

Even beyond the current global situation, every brand is unique and will have a correspondingly unique perspective and differing parameters on where their brand appears, or does not appear, online. This responsibility is sometimes left to keyword blocking and this tool forms one part of a brand safety strategy, but it shouldn’t be the entire strategy.

So, how are keywords implemented in the first place?

IAS provides the technology that allows advertisers to block ads from appearing adjacent to online content that the marketer believes is an unsuitable match for the respective brand. Keyword blocking is one tool to help this happen.

It should be noted that the keywords chosen to be blocked against are at the discretion of the advertiser or their agency. IAS plays the role of a trusted advisor to our clients on the most effective strategy for their brand. Playing an advisory role includes providing an outside perspective on appropriate keyword lists. However, at the end of the day, the marketer controls what they block against. No one knows their brand better.

What is the recommendation from IAS on keyword use?

IAS does not advocate a blanket approach or overzealous use of keywords. There are terms that most advertisers would rather not appear against (e.g. murder), but these terms are mostly already captured already within IAS’s brand safety models. Use of cognitive semantic solutions, such as IAS’s Context Control solution, will also help ensure a brand can control, with precision, their content adjacencies. Context Control helps brands to navigate content suitability with greater precision versus a keyword-only approach. This solution considers the semantic context of a situation (e.g. for the term “virus”, is the page content about a ‘human virus’ or ‘computer virus’) and the sentiment (e.g. “coronavirus” might be associated with home fitness during quarantine, potentially positive for some brands, or it could relate to the death toll, likely negative for most). 

IAS cognitive semantic technologies help marketers navigate content with precision. For publishers, leveraging IAS Publisher Optimization technology can minimise media wastage and maximise yield amid times of increased site traffic. This solution is based on predictive science which forecasts which ad calls are likely to be good matches for content destinations, resulting in fewer brands safety/suitability blocks from marketers and maximizing the yield of a publisher’s content.

At IAS, we give both our marketers and publisher clients granular control and insights to allow them to build a brand safety and suitability profile that matches their exact needs without limiting scale. We have seen other brand safety providers block against the entire category of “news”, which can be damaging for news publishers. 

What about the keyword “coronavirus”?

COVID-19 has heightened sensitivity towards coronavirus-related content, with some advertisers opting to block the keyword “coronavirus” so their brand does not appear adjacent to COVID-19 related content. Understandably, this has created a challenge for trusted publishers and media outlets.

At this time, IAS is advising a pragmatic approach, considering that not all COVID-19 content can be deemed unsuitable, and that this broad application of keyword blocking may lead to a significant reduction in scale. Given the vital role of trusted content publishers in keeping the public safe and well-informed, we are advising more thoughtful consideration be given.

We recently enhanced our IAS brand suitability offering to include advanced contextual capabilities, which we are deploying with both sides of the market. They will help brands appear in the context they have deemed most suitable without restricting scale, and publishers can match the best placements to a brand’s custom requirements. 

How do I know if I should or shouldn’t be using a keyword?

A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will never work as each brand has differing requirements. However, as you add a keyword, remove a keyword, or review, remember to ask yourself three questions to gain greater clarity: 

  • Will my brand safety tool already address this?

Blocking done at the content-category level – such as adult content – and contextual technology will be sufficient to stop ads from appearing next to content deemed undesirable. 

  • Do I still need to block this word?

Try not to treat a keyword blocklist as something to grow – instead, revise it regularly. Your keyword list should be the most up-to-date asset in your arsenal. 

  • Which keywords are non-negotiable for my brand?

Be clear on your non-negotiable areas of risk to decide which terms you will want to block. There may always be a select few keywords you want on your list, and that is okay, too

Holistic brand safety and suitability strategies afford advertisers the opportunity to advertise with the confidence that their digital advertising adjacencies will represent their brand values and campaign goals. However, keywords used alone do not form a well-rounded strategy – brand safety strategies should include cognitive semantic technology, such as IAS’s Context Control as this type of solution provides a greater layer of precision to content adjacency controls.

IAS commits to continue delivering the best solutions for our clients and partners. And so, as the whole world adapts to COVID-19, adapt your digital advertising too, but in a way that fits your brand, and benefits the overall health of the digital ecosystem.

Browse our recent reports and discover how Covid-19 affected consumer behaviour and sentiment here