2012 Is The Year To Cut Your Site Retargeting Budget

Having made the switch from ‘agency guy’ to ‘vendor guy’ a year ago, I have talked to dozens of agencies in the last 12 months and have been completely blown away by the vast quantity of media dollars that are being poured into bad site retargeting programs.

Good money is disappearing into irrelevant impressions to talk to an audience that doesn’t care and would rather the brand stop stalking them at all.

The causes of the problem are varied, but usually boil down to a lack of time to fix something ‘that isn’t broken’, a lack of understanding of what retargeting really is and a lack of client’s pushing agencies to really explain it.

Before climbing onto my soapbox, let’s be clear on two fronts – firstly, I love site retargeting and I am a firm believer in the principal, and secondly this problem exists in both agencies and brands, whether they are working with a DSP, a specialist retargeting vendor or just using Google’s offering.

So my recommendation to any brand that asks me what they should be doing in 2012 is to explain to them that they should get smarter about their retargeting program as a priority and stop pouring good money after bad.

They should learn what it really is, how best to use it, and why it can be a valuable tool for both optimization and new customer acquisition, but only if done right.

‘Retargeting’ Is Not What You Think It Is

The first thought people have when they hear the term ‘retargeting’ is actually site retargeting – the idea that an individual has visited a site, left and is subsequently shown ads for that site. This is a great idea and there are very few scenarios where a brand should not be investing in something like this.

However, there are other actions and intents to retarget other than a site visit, but most marketers are still lacking the awareness of these tools and what they do.

The fastest growing is search retargeting – in this case the marketer is not targeting an individual who has visited the site and left, but is retargeting the action of doing a search on Google, Yahoo or Bing and has not yet visited the brand site.

These two tactics are polar opposite to one another – site retargeting is about driving increased revenue from an existing audience, and search retargeting is an acquisition tool designed to find new customers based on their search history.

 What is search retargeting

Site Retargeting – Kill The Overlap

The motivation for this month’s article came from a recent meeting sat in the offices of what I would consider to be a major digital agency to discuss Chango’s search retargeting offering – they had the name, the sexy lobby, the hot client list and even a foosball table, so all the boxes were ticked.

As I talked to the planner on one of their accounts, I was informed that they had 11 site retargeting vendors in place. (Eleven!) With a polite look on my face I enquired why, only to be told that each vendor sends a report every month showing that they are ‘kicking ass’, so why wouldn’t they keep adding vendors?

For those readers who have not just rolled their eyes, the problem is that each vendor is targeting the exact same audience – they are all building identical cookie pools of individuals and are buying the same media from the same exchanges to talk to those same people. They each can see the conversions in their own reports and can claim they are indeed ‘kicking ass’.

Ironically, the site retargeting company that can show the best efficiency is actually the one dropping the fewest impressions, because as long as they scatter enough to be present, they can tap into the conversions from view-thru that were driven by their competitors.

The solution is simple – pick one site retargeting vendor. Note: there are occasional exceptions to this, especially if there is a private exchange you need to target, but this just emphasizes the need to work with a vendor that has access to a comprehensive media list (rather than something very limited such as Google’s network).

Drive Efficiency From Site Retargeting & Search Retargeting

Most wastage I see comes from showing too many impressions, or from building the cookie pool from the wrong events / site pages.

Whether talking about site retargeting or search retargeting, the most important thing to understand is your conversion window. Time and time again, I personally notice I am being retargeted by a brand for a product I looked at way beyond the time when I bought it (Vegas hotels are particularly guilty of this right now).

If your usual product consideration window is 2 days, why are you still serving retargeted ads 30 days later? Whilst I often hear vendors claim that “having a presence is valuable”, you are very likely just associating your brand name with annoyance.

The second factor should be frequency capping. The number that is right for you will vary, but its probably 3 to 9 impressions a day.

And thirdly, it is about who to retarget:

  • For a site retargeting campaign only pixel relevant pages (probably not your ‘about’ page, your press page or your careers page, and work with a vendor who can eliminate convertors from your program
  • For a search retargeting campaign, make sure you have a partner who optimizes at the keyword level (‘clothes shop’ performs very differently to ‘clothes shopping’)

What Do You Do Now?

Stepping off my soapbox for a moment, let’s look at what you do immediately to drive efficiencies.

  1. Use site retargeting to increase the conversion of your site (it is not an acquisition tool)
  2. Use search retargeting to find new customers at an efficient CPA
  3. Test and implement a frequency cap
  4. Use your standard consideration window data and shut down your retargeting for any individual that is outside of that window
  5. Verify that your site retargeting program is only targeting the right people by pixeling only the right pages

If done right, these steps should leave you with the same amount of revenue being driven from your site, but from a reduced media investment, freeing up budget to then drive new customers into the pool with an acquisition tool like search retargeting.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Display | Search & Display


About The Author: is the Chief Strategy Officer at Chango, the solution to programmatic marketing and "big data", and is based in San Francisco and London. You can follow him on Twitter @DaxHamman.

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  • Ifraz

    Great article Dax – having swapped from agency to client side with a number of our brands using retargeting as a bedrock the wastage points are of particular interest. One question: how will retargeting work when the EU Cookie Legislation is fully activated?

  • http://www.chango.com Dax Hamman

    Hey Ifraz, good to hear from you, and great question. The biggest problem with answering this question is that the European situation is so unclear right now. We had the Telecoms Reform Act a few years which stated all cookied were going to have to be opt-in, and then it was basically retracted because none of the nations did anything with it during the 18 month consideration period.

    The Dutch broke ranks recently and came out with a very consumer-focused series of laws, some related to marketing and cookies and some related to keeping the Internet open. More here:

    Beyond that, it’s hard to say.

    A blanket ban on cookies would clearly have a big impact but is also not going to happen. Most likely scenario is continuing work on ‘notice’ and ‘choice, but we will see.


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