How To Maximize SEM Efforts With Search Retargeting

Last month, we discussed how display media has evolved to be more quantitative in Why Search Marketers Are The Future Media Planners, and ironically, how the skillset held by search marketers has become more relevant to display media than the skill set held by current media planners.

Using the real-time environment of the media exchanges, ‘search retargeting’ is one of several techniques that has created a safe bridge for SEM marketers to move into display and see almost instant results, and it is the SEM budget holders that are trying it quicker than the media planners (and who often sit in the same agencies!)


This week, we are going to explore the use of search retargeting in more detail and why the optimization work you have already done in your SEM program can be used to drive significant results from a display campaign, save you budget and find new prospects.

As an example, we have a client today who is in the final stages of constructing their back-to-school campaign. They are new to this particular market and so have no real SEO presence, a budget that doesn’t allow for a heavy presence on SEM head terms and they don’t yet understand the dynamics of their new customer.

Building The Campaign Structure

Like any good SEM program, structure for search retargeting is critical to getting the best results. The goal is to create manageable sets of keywords that mirror to your business, facilitating budget decisions, optimization strategies and measurement. Where some keywords might be on an evergreen strategy, others might be seasonal or receive only occasional funding.

For our back to school client, they have a layer of critical terms that are ‘always on’, but will soon be activating a new set of campaigns to hit this seasonal window – Backpacks, School Supplies, School Clothing and Small Electronics for College Students.

There is no need to duplicate your previous efforts though. In this case, all the campaigns and ad groups can be imported directly, overcoming 80% of the work.

Next, the program must take into account the areas where search retargeting behaves differently to your search program. In a recent infographic by WordStream, the top 20 most expensive terms on Google AdWords were listed and ranged from $27.80 CPC (for ‘cord blood’) to $54.91 (for ‘insurance’). But, these are all terms available for between $0.50 and $3.00 CPC in the less competitive world of search retargeting.

With testing, there will be head terms such as these that no longer make sense to include in an SEM program, consuming large percentages of the budget. Instead, they can be moved to this new type of targeting, creating a presence in the mind of the searchers on contextually relevant sites.

For the back to school client with small budgets, terms like ‘school’, ‘term’, ‘clothes’ and ‘laptop’ have been moved over completely.

Compete With The Big Boys & Build Brand Cost Effectively

We know that customers are already shopping on the big name sites for common school items like backpacks and clothing without giving our client a second thought. By adding in competitor brand terms, they can build a presence during the research phase cost effectively and steal some of those dollars.

However, that alone will not be enough for them. When I was on the agency side, we would regularly have requests to ‘build a national brand campaign for a new audience’ using a budget that was painfully too small!

Whilst a true ‘branding’ campaign costs real dollars and a sustained period of time, search retargeting can be used to create a short awareness program for a fraction of the cost of other techniques. Display planners have long used the ‘takeover’, the idea that a single website can be owned for a day, giving the campaign a big hit in one go. These are costly though, and contain a significant amount of wastage.

By selecting a core set of terms, you can build an ‘Intent Takeover’, creating a heavy presence in front of all those people who are actively in market for back to school products. You can have the benefit of the page or site takeover, but for a fraction of the cost.

Learning From Search Retargeting

For a new client like ours, there is much to be understood about who their customer actually is, and so learnings are very valuable.

With keyword level reporting for search retargeting, a client like this can test many approaches at low cost by building out large keyword lists and seeing how the audience responds. This data can then be fed back into the SEO and SEM strategy.

In a recent retailer example, the term ‘vintage clothing’ was a surprise winner, and with the back to school client, early tests are showing video game terms are getting them in front of the right people.

Use What You Have

As a search marketer, you are armed with all the right tools and skills to jump into display, and techniques like search retargeting will be most familiar, and will capitalize most on the hard work you have already done.

Start by setting up your campaign using your SEM ad groups and insist on optimization at the keyword level – just as with SEM, each keyword carries a different message of intent and naturally has to be treated uniquely.

Next, look at creating new groups of keywords that lack a proper presence in your search program, such as competitor brand names or broad head terms.

Once the campaign is live, data will start to flow back showing the sites and keywords that are driving the best results – go back to your SEM program and use this information to your benefit.

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

Related Topics: Advanced | Channel: SEM | How To | How To: SEM | Search & Display | Search Ads | Search Ads: Behavioral Targeting


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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