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Flavors of Search Retargeting: Google AdEx, Yahoo, and Beyond

  |  October 16, 2009   |  Comments

Consider these three approaches to retarget search ads.

Search is more than an activity, it's a state of mind. Searchers have an amazing level of receptiveness to marketing messages at the SERP (define) and during the search session. That high level of receptivity continues minutes, hours, sometimes days and weeks after the search. It makes sense that we as marketers take advantage of receptivity to our marketing message if the media cost of search is reasonable and response to the media can be proven to deliver a lift in your chosen marketing metrics.

You are likely to hear about search retargeting from a variety of vendors. It can get confusing to differentiate products as well as determine their applicability to your campaign and value to you as an advertiser. As a marketer, you must understand the marketplace that includes Google AdEx, Yahoo, and others. You'll need to cut through the hype to make the best decisions to engage in retargeting. You can't possibly launch every retargeting program at once. More importantly, you need to know when two retargeting programs are incompatible with each other (meaning you may have to pick one vendor with whom to work).

Search retargeting comes in three basic categories. All three can work for advertisers. I'll cover the categories and types of search retargeting in the order I suggest testing them -- with some exceptions.

Search Visitor Recapture

The first form of search retargeting is search visitor recapture. For recapture, you're specifically targeting visitors who came to your site via search. Anonymous retargeting cookies can be set, search visitors can be reached through combinations of ad networks or ad exchanges. Take care when selecting vendors; some advocate a view-through based billing method (just charging a return on advertising spending or a commission on sales or leads). View-throughs are an important metric when running display media because only a small percentage of consumers interact with banner advertising, even when they want to return to a site to do a transaction. But view-throughs are often misused, either when a control group of public service announcement (PSA) media has not been used to validate influence of the advertising, or when separate conversion tracking is being used to justify billing of a so-called performance retargeting buy.

There are lots of great vendors to select from when it comes to recapture retargeting via the exchanges. Plus, some SEM (define) agencies have invested in the technology to integrate into the display exchanges with the specific intent to retarget searchers and use search-specific data to tune the display campaign.

Search Engine Targeting-Driven Search Retargeting

This is a great way to broaden the reach of pure searchers -- those who executed a search on a major search engine recently. In this instance, the anonymous profile information on the searcher is held by the search engine where the search originated. Of the major search engines only Yahoo (and its Right Media subsidiary) is live with a search publisher-driven solution. Yahoo search behavior is the display trigger, and that means you'll have a far broader audience to tap with display ads than you will with search alone. After all, most searchers never got to your site. They visited a competitor instead. And, at any given moment, most of those visitors at your competitors' sites haven't been involved in a transaction...yet.

Publisher-Driven Search Engine Retargeting and 'Cooperatives'

Where do clicks from search engines go? Clicks that originate from search either don't leave the search engine at all: they arrive to your site; they arrive to your competitors' sites, or perhaps they make it to information publisher sites. Sometimes targeting data is accumulated by publishers and companies that specialize in cookie data aggregation such as AlmondNet, BlueKai, eXelate, and AudienceScience, and make that targeting information available to media buyers directly or indirectly. Other firms like, acerno, collect data from marketers and use data from more than one marketer when each of their clients is competing for impressions within the network.

Other ad exchanges offer retargeting through the ability to set joint cookies, or through some form of cookie-mapping through which clients' cookies and theirs are mapped in a batch format, and then the client's targeting engine accesses the cookie pool via an anonymous list of desired IDs.

Clearly you have lots of options. That's why you should start with a solution that lets you target your own search visitors. Those visitors will have a stronger brand affinity to you than other visitor sets. If they are existing customers, then your ability to influence them to return to the site is greater. (But if you are targeting existing customers, make sure you are doing attribution modeling to understand the last several impressions and clicks.)

In my opinion, there are some prequalifying questions you should ask yourself to help you determine the impact that search retargeting will have on your business.

  • Does my site get 50,000 or more visitors a month from search? The greater the number of visitors the more effective retargeting can be.

  • How long is my sales cycle? The longer the customer is in-market, the more effectively you can retarget.

  • How valuable is a customer? The more a customer is worth, the more you can pay to influence them to return to the site.

  • Do I have the ability to integrate reporting of my retargeting and search together to understand interaction effects? The more touchpoints you can evaluate, the better you will be able to understand a media buy's influence.

Billing methods of search retargeting providers can also differ, as can their methodology for coming up with an invoice. So, know who you are buying (customers and prospects) as well as the true ROI (define) of the impressions you are buying.


Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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