The Recency Bump: In Retargeting Timing Is Everything

In retargeting, as in life, timing is everything.

There are two major factors that make search marketing so successful. The first is marketer control at the keyword level. That’s about as granular as intent-based advertising gets.

The second is that search ads have immediate recency. Meaning, the time between user intent and ad impression is nearly zero. As soon as the consumer hits search, the relevant ad is right there for him or her to click. This is one reason click through rates in search blow away social CTR. We refer to this impact of immediacy as the “recency bump.”

Now, retargeting users with display ads enables marketers to benefit from the recency bump beyond the search engine results page. And, the triggering event doesn’t even have to be a search. A site visit or even an offline event can trigger time-sensitive display ads that cash in on recency.

Why Recency Matters: The Proof Is In The Data.

Although the recency bump should make sense to marketers on an intuitive level, recency is the forgotten dimension of retargeting.

The data bears out the importance of recency. CRO James Moore recently reported data recency findings collected from more than 200 display campaigns in the personal finance industry. To give you an idea of what we’re looking at here, keywords included terms like mortgage, debt, loan, credit. You get the idea.

Here’s what he found.

First, recency drives up CTR. We’ve learned that CTR and conversion rates are highest within one hour of the campaign-triggering search. Once the search ages beyond 24 hours, the numbers fall off dramatically. In fact, CTR begins its decline as soon as 30 minutes after the triggering event. The chart below illustrates this point.

CTR by Time Window

Meanwhile, recency drives down cost per click (CPC), if you’re smart about it. It’s up to you (or your retargeting platform) to find that sweet spot between the aggressive bidding war in the seconds immediately following the action and the period so far down the road that your ad is no longer relevant to the user. The chart below highlights the CPC sweet spot between five minutes and one hour after the triggering event.

ECPC by Time Window

Search, Site Visits & The Customer Lifecycle

Now, let’s take a look at how the recency bump impacts specific retargeting scenarios.

Recency and Search Retargeting. Search data speaks volumes about a consumer’s interests, likes and dislikes, and intended behavior. The shelf life of the recency bump in search varies by industry and by keyword.

For example, if you’re running a pizza delivery company near an airport, you’ll only get a couple minutes to convert someone searching for “deals on pizza” into a buyer. On the other hand, if you’re selling real estate or car insurance, your recency window will hold up better over time.

Recency and Site Retargeting. You’re probably paying to drive traffic to your website. Unfortunately, up to 98% of site visitors don’t convert to a newsletter opt-in, a coupon download, or a product purchase. You don’t have to lose that visitor, especially if you act fast.

The key to bringing them back and getting them to convert is to be cognizant of where they’re at in the funnel. Are they doing basic research or simply browsing? Good. You’ve got some time. Did they abandon their shopping cart? You must get them back to your site fast before they forget why they put your product in their cart in the first place.

Recency and Customer Lifecycle Targeting. Retargeting use cases tied to online behaviors like searches or site visits are obvious. But what about timing your campaigns based on offline actions like retail visits or purchases?

By investing in a retargeting platform that ties into your CRM, you can do some pretty cool things. An electronics store can follow up immediately on a television purchase with ads for cables or speakers. A car dealership can turn on its service department ads in six-month intervals after a new vehicle purchase.

When it comes to targeting campaigns based on the customer lifecycle, the imagination and data hygiene are the only barriers to success.

The Impact Of Ad Buying Technology

When we think of retargeting campaigns, we rarely think about the element of time. Is that due to our limited points of view, or is it a function of a market littered with lackluster buying platforms? I think it’s the latter.

This is unfortunate, because there’s great technology out there. You just have to find it.

The right technology should programmatically adjust bidding based on the age of the search, site visit, or customer lifecycle triggers. All marketers can benefit from the recency bump by taking advantage of the critical – yet overlooked – impact of time.

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 a seasoned online advertising executive, specializing in targeting, optimization, and technology. Frost is CEO and co-founder of You can follow him on Twitter @phrossed.

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