Contextual advertising or SEO optimization: what’s better?

22 June 2023
Contextual advertising or SEO optimization: what’s better?

There are many ways to promote products on the internet, and some of the main methods are SEO and contextual advertising. They have their own advantages and disadvantages, so both can provide an increase in sales or not give the desired result.
Today we’ll tell you when it is better to choose search engine promotion and when to choose contextual advertising, and when they can be combined.


What is contextual advertising and SEO?

Contextual advertising and SEO are channels for attracting targeted traffic to a website from search engines like Google. Visitors follow websites based on keywords. For example, a user enters "buy a computer in Chicago" into the Google search bar and gets a list of online computer stores in Chicago. The first page of a search is at the top of the list. These are the sites that the search engine displays in the first ten (top 10) in response to visitors' requests.

We are talking about the so-called organic results — a selection of sites that are naturally formed by search algorithms. The website's position in these results depends on how relevant its content is to the visitors' search requests. Texts on the sites are optimized by adding keywords that are optimal for promotion. Also, the text content should be unique and useful for visitors - algorithms take these criteria into account as well.


Contextual advertising

When a user enters a search request, an advertising block sometimes appears above the top 10 of the results. It can contain up to 4 items, and that is contextual advertising — concise online ads that match the user's request.
It works this way: a user enters a keyword into the search box and receives two types of results:

  • contextual advertising ads (marked as "Ad")
  • organic results (links to commercial websites, up to 10 on the first page)


However, contextual advertising can appear not only during the search for necessary information or products. Algorithms remember a user's interests and search requests and display relevant ads on third-party sites, for example, in the smart banners.

In contextual advertising, you pay per thousand impressions or per user click — it depends on the payment option you choose. A contextual advertising specialist can adjust:

  • traffic
  • the number of requests

Advertising can be paused, adjusted, tested, re-launched, and ads that don't bring leads can be excluded. If you don't optimize, you risk draining your budget on untargeted traffic. Users may simply click on the link and leave the website without performing a conversion action. You'll be paying for conversions that don't bring results.



SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a set of measures aimed at raising the site to the top of search engine results. A specialist in SEO seeks to ensure that the site is among the first in the search engine ranking for certain search requests.

Let's say someone decided to buy headphones of a certain brand in an online store. They enter a commercial request, for example, “buy Samsung headphones in Edinburgh”. In this case, they are interested in the results of organic results — the top links, under the ad block. If your website is at the top, they will click on it and make a purchase, provided they are satisfied with the price.

Or, for example, a user wants to buy headphones to listen to music during workouts but doesn't know which ones to choose. To do this, they type in the search bar "what headphones to buy for running," and then everything goes on in the same scenario. If your site is at the top and it has a blog with optimized commercial articles, the user will find themselves on it. And if the article has a link to the catalog with the model of the headphones, they will follow it and place an order.

What do contextual advertising and SEO aim for?

These promotional methods aim at getting leads, converting them into sales, and making a profit. Contextual ads allow you to get leads almost immediately after the launch of advertising. And SEO provides a stable, long-lasting, but time-delayed result.

How does SEO differ from contextual advertising?

The method of promotion should be chosen depending on the specifics of the business, budget, and position of the company on the market.

SEO is difficult to apply to one-page sites. Search engine optimization is more suitable for large online stores, news portals, and blogs with a large number of pages. This promotion option is also suitable for sites of non-profit organizations.

Contextual advertising is the choice of companies that intend to get the maximum number of requests in as short a period of time as possible. It is also used by entrepreneurs experiencing a crisis and representatives of small businesses that offer highly specialized products and services in limited quantities.



The result of search engine optimization (the appearance of the site in the top search results) affects a lot of factors, among them:

  • the overall quality of the website — usability, design
  • age — young resources don’t immediately appear at the top
  • correct setting of meta tags
  • quality of content — texts should be unique and expert
  • no technical bugs — high speed of page loading, correct layout, etc.

As you can see, the effectiveness of the site depends not only on the work of SEO specialists, but also on the efforts of developers, administrators, copywriters, designers, and content managers.

The effectiveness of contextual advertising is influenced by:

  • properly set up campaigns
  • allocated budget
  • quality of the website

The bigger the advertising budget, the higher the ad will be located in the search results. Users are more likely to click on the first links.

Users pay attention not only to the position of the ad in the ad block and its text but also to the quality of the site to where the link leads. If the information in the ad differs from that presented on the site, the visitor will quickly leave the page.



Contextual advertising is used for quick sales in a short period of time. The cost of this method of promotion depends on:

  • area of business
  • location
  • time of ads display
  • quality of ads and other factors

The price of search engine optimization depends on the amount of work and the condition of the website, which are determined during the SEO audit. However, the investment is not recouped immediately. The advantage of this method is the gradual improvement of the site's position in search engines, provided that there are consistent monthly investments. But SEO, like contextual advertising, works only with a well-designed implementation strategy. If taken by a non-specialist, both methods may not give the desired results.


Combined use of tools

Contextual advertising and SEO work well together to benefit websites.

New users are attracted to the resource via ads. A key behavioral component that impacts the ranking of the website is the user's time spent on the page.

Google interprets a visitor's prolonged stay on the page as evidence that the resource is relevant to their needs. In other words, the page is useful to users and should be displayed more frequently.

In the opposite scenario, if visitors arrive at the resource and leave it right away, it is clear that the page doesn't satisfy their search results. Such websites receive a lower ranking from search engines.

Combining these two tools is beneficial for businesses: contextual advertising has an immediate impact, whereas SEO has a delayed but long-term impact. You can get clients from context while the SEO specialist optimizes the site. There will be no need for contextual advertising once the online store is at the top of the search results and customers start coming from the search.


Advantages and disadvantages of contextual advertising and SEO

The advantages of SEO are:

  • no fees for site clicks
  • stable long-lasting result
  • low cost of attracting customers in comparison with contextual advertising, if you use it for a long time
  • customer loyalty — organic results are more trusted by visitors than ads


The downside of search engine optimization is the inability to predict the growth of conversions and clicks on the site. The result of an increase in traffic will not be noticeable sooner than three months after the start of the work or even later.

The advantages of contextual advertising:

  • quick result — the first requests can be received after 2-3 days
  • ability to monitor the effectiveness and to turn off ineffective ads — spend your budget properly
  • ability to analyze the results of advertising campaigns with the built-in tools of Google Ads

The main disadvantage is that contextual advertising requires constant investment. Ad impressions must be paid for. Clicks in a highly competitive niche are expensive. Thus, when poorly set up, you can waste money and not get clicks.



  1. Contextual advertising involves the making and displaying ads on key user requests, and SEO requests a lot of work on the quality of the site, its position in search engines, and the link profile (the link profile is the most complex of all links to the website. It is an essential component of the website, and its construction is one of the main elements of SEO-promotion).
  2. Both search engine optimization and contextual advertising require investments. Context provides fast sales in a short period of time, while SEO brings tangible, stable results 3-4 months after the start of work.
  3. SEO is suitable for long-term projects when you don't need the result here and now. Contextual advertising allows you to get leads in a short period of time; it is the best way to promote seasonal projects.
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