Catching Prospects Off the Back Wall

  |  December 9, 2009   |  Comments

Retargeting offers a way to use display ads as a complement to search advertising and to have another chance at recent visitors to your site.

The ball zoomed at me, a small, blue blur. Grasping my racquet, I swung, emitting a little grunt as the muscles around my mid-section struggled to bring my torso around, putting my arms within striking distance.

The swooshing sound of my racquet wasn't accompanied by the expected "thock" of strings against ball. I had "whiffed" it.

But this is racquetball, a game played within the confines of a hermetically sealed box. I pivoted. The ball hit the floor and then bounced against the back wall, back toward my ready weapon.

My racquet made contact with the ball just inches above the floor. The shot struck the front wall with a bang, and the ball rolled away as if aching from the impact; a "kill" shot. The point was mine.

Second Chances Are Hard to Come By

Unlike most racquet games, such as tennis and badminton, racquetball gives you a second chance. There's always the back wall bounce to consider if the ball passes you by.

It turns out that display advertising offers its own back wall. It's generally called "retargeting." Retargeting is a way to use display ads as a complement to search advertising.

Search advertising delivers highly qualified visitors to your Web site, assuming you're bidding on the right keywords and making relevant offers. But even the most skilled search marketers only close the deal on the first visit a small percentage of the time. Even if you have a 30 percent conversion rate from your search traffic, you know that 70 percent of those who visited went about their business without taking action.

What if you could catch these visitors off of the back wall?

Chad Little thinks we aren't taking enough second shots. Little, president and CEO of FetchBack, calls retargeting "a hidden gem" and "underutilized."


Retargeting begins when a visitor arrives at your Web site, looks around, and then leaves without taking action. Because they have visited your site, these visitors are particularly desirable. It can be assumed that they had an interest or need that you can provide, and we know they are at least aware that your brand exists.

Companies like FetchBack give you another shot, by placing a cookie on the visitors' browsers. This allows you to spot these wandering souls out in the wild. When they visit their favorite news site, you can show them an ad for your products, just in case they may want to come back.

You can even use this opportunity to sweeten the deal with a targeted discount on a product they were checking out on your site.

You might argue that they would have stuck around if they wanted anything on the site. Think about the things that cause someone to leave a site: the phone may have rung before the visitor could finish their visit, they may have been looking for something different (but that doesn't mean they're not a qualified prospect), or their racquetball buddy may have messaged them talking smack about their score in the last game. He's so smug.

The bottom line is that retargeted prospects click on these ads at higher rates than the general population. Little said that retargeted ads can pull CTRs (define) of between 0.5 and 8 percent. That's generally five to 80 times the CTR of average display advertisements.

However, for each person who clicks on an ad, Little estimates that between five and 10 of these lost visitors will return to the site within an hour. They'll return through search, or by typing in the domain name. This means that you have to get beyond the "last click" mentality and look at "view-throughs" as well.

The math works out. Little estimates that getting another "swing" costs just two to four cents more per lost visitor. Given the higher CTRs, and even higher "view-through" rates, this is a small price to pay.

Who Should Consider Retargeting?

"Retargeting today is where search advertising was in 1998," Little said. Like search, retargeting offers a new way to connect with prospects in a cost-effective manner. Like search in 1998, organizations that are open to trying new things will be early beneficiaries of retargeting technologies.

Retargeting isn't a good channel for "awareness" or "image" advertising. However, it's great for getting the next sale, with ads that feature complementary products to recent buyers.

E-commerce players seem to be the early adopters, especially those focused on education, travel, insurance, and lead generation.

For its part, FetchBack offers a central location for managing the ad properties through which your ads will be published. They provide the technology that dynamically chooses the ads that are displayed and a rich analytics package that will help you measure the return visitors who don't click.

Retargeting offers a way to take another whack at what is perhaps the most valuable segment of Web surfers a business could want: those who have recently visited their site.

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Brian Massey

With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.

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