In two very short years, search retargeting has been created, tweaked and matured to the point where most serious marketers already have it on their media plans or are considering it for a 2012 test.

In short, search retargeting finds those individuals who have searched for a term that matters to your business but who have not yet visited your site. In contrast to site retargeting, search retargeting is a prospecting tool and is best used when looking for new customers.

Search retargeting from companies like ours (Chango) is in common use by retail brands, personal finance clients, travel companies and more and is predominantly used for revenue generation and all forms of direct response. The reason being that it is a display media buy that actually works consistently, talking only to those hand-raisers that are likely to convert.

1.  The First Hurdle Is Scale

When we talk to prospects about campaigns it is common for them to ask about how far can the campaign scale if successful because if its always going to be small then is it worth them testing.

In some niche cases scale is going to be limited by a finite audience, but there are also clients spending as much as $500k a month today and hitting aggressive ROI goals, and so clearly in the right circumstances the scale problem is old news (see The Highs & Lows Of Search Retargeting: Version 3.0 Is Here Already).

It is also common for marketers to ask about how our data will be impacted by the Google SSL move or the Firefox announcement of secure browsing. In order to answer this, you must first understand how search retargeters generate their data.

Whilst method and quality vary, in general a deal is struck with a 3rd party site that sees incoming traffic from search; when a visitor arrives on that site the individual is cookied by the search retargeter and their search query is matched against an anonymous cookie ID.

If a client then requests to target individuals who have searched for that very term, a display ad is matched to them through the media exchanges (i.e. Google Display Network, AdBrite, AdMeld, RMX etc).

The reality is that the Google SLL decision has had very little impact to date – there is an enormous supply of data available and there have been no limitations on the campaigns that can be run; there are also steps that data partners can take to secure their pages and start to see all their referrer data again.

In addition, there are additional methods of data collection that generate enormous quantities of data for search retargeters, which we will visit in a future article.

2.  Ask For Transparency

When buying campaigns across the media exchanges, it can be easy for a company to buy what they want and for the marketer to not have a lot of insight of the specifics. Whilst there is no easy fix for this, asking for more information is always a good start and ensure that your chosen partner uses verification partners like AdSafe on campaigns.

In two recent cases, we discovered search retargeting vendors that were ‘stuffing’ campaigns with site retargeting to add false scale. I am sure they had their reasons, and this may have even been explained to the client who didn’t quite understand it, but it raises an important point – be sure you are buying what you think you are buying.

Search retargeting is a standalone tactic and should be seen as such – its purpose is to find new prospects and therefore any campaigns that include a site retargeting spend are simply overlapping with your existing site retargeting program and driving up your total cost (see 2012 Is The Year To Cut Your Site Retargeting Budget).

Asking for greater transparency is a help, but definitely get to know your chosen vendor and make sure you establish a good level of trust through the relationship.

3.  Correct Measurement

Every form of display has its place, and search retargeting is no different. Many marketers get excited about the high ROIs they see and want to treat it as a direct response tool. Search retargeting is actually an effective way to fill the top of the funnel too and keep the awareness growing as each individual moves through the consideration process.

In the case of a retailer selling electronics, a search for ‘TV’, ‘new tv’ or even something that indicates the target audience ‘xbox 3d’ are all great indicators of relevance and showing a generic ad will build awareness and add people to the funnel. A search then for ‘compare TVs’ is the right time to hit them with a mud funnel message, and ‘best buy coupon LG TV’ is perfect for a dynamic ad designed to generate the close.

To do this, the marketer must be able to break these strategies into their component parts and assign a goal to each one. For upper and mid funnel, a marketer should ideally be looking at traffic, clicks and peripheral benefits like tweets, Facebook likes etc, and for bottom of funnel, ROI.

This becomes particularly important when search retargeting is running alongside site retargeting and an adserving tool like DoubleClick is tracking both. The role of the ad server is to de-dupe the results, making sure that the number of conversions reported by each vendor do not total more than 100%.

Because of the way in which site retargeting works, it will often have the last click or last impression and therefore steal all the credit, when the reality is that without a prospecting tool like search retargeting, the visitor would not have visited in the first place!

I personally suggest taking site retargeting out of your ad server account and tracking separately and then de-dupe all your prospecting tactics. An attribution study can be give a good answer, but is more than a pain in the proverbial, and so consider a simpler alternative (see 3 Simple Alternatives To Attribution Modeling For Search Marketers).

4.  Whose Job Is To Manage Search Retargeting?

Search Marketers are the Future Media Planners

Search Marketers are the Future Media Planners

When we started Chango we honestly thought it would be mostly self-serve search marketers who would be interested.

I also came from what used to be a search only agency and established a display practice and so know what its like to steer the search ship around to display buying – I would have loved search retargeting to have been around to make search clients see our value in display!

It is true that search marketers have shown an interest but for a number of reasons often remain hesitant, leaving search retargeting to their display-buying cousins. The simple fact is it remains more of a display tactic and that group is more comfortable owning it… for now.

In time, I imagine this will change and more search marketers will use it to cross the bridge successfully (see The Industry Speaks On The Overlap Between Search & Display) and take more display budget from martini-drinking planners (of which I have happily been one for years:)).

So What Did We Learn?

Search retargeting works and scale is solved. However insist on transparency, measure it correctly and if you are a search marketer, don’t be scared of a display tactic – this one makes real sense for you to be a part of.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Display | Search & Display

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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.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter



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  • Olaf Pijl

    Hi Dax, thanks for your excellent post. This is a great framework on the necessities for solid retargeting. The next step would be to define the retargeting strategy. Here’s an article on possible retargeting strategies: http://www.searchify.ca/remarketing-strategy/

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