Retargeter Blog

Where Search Meets Display: Search Retargeting the Top of the Funnel

Search engine marketing is often touted for its superiority to traditional run-of-network (RON) display advertising.  And for good reason—marketers can expect to see significantly higher click-through rates with paid search placements than with RON display ads.  It certainly makes sense.  With search marketing, you know the user is interested in your product or service since they’re actively searching for it.   Yet if your search ad isn’t in a prime position, the majority of users won’t see it, much less click on it.  Furthermore, users only spend 4% of their online time in search engines.  What about the other 96%?  Enter search retargeting.

The way it works is simple:  Users who search for one of your keywords are tagged and later shown your ads while browsing the web.

The Precision of Search:

Search marketing is so effective because it allows marketers to reach users who are in-market right now.  Recency is particularly crucial.  You’re not just reaching the right type of user who might be interested in your brand, you know with 100% certainty that you’re reaching someone who’s interested right now.

However, traditional search, though hyper-targeted, presents one major when it comes to recency.  Depending on your product or service, the purchase funnel might be quite long.  With large B2C purchases, and with the majority of B2B purchases, users will weigh many options before making a final decision.  Users are likely to do research on you and your competitors, and traditional search advertising doesn’t allow you to reach users once they leave the search engine.  Search retargeting, however, allows you to reach users all over the web while they comparison shop.

The Reach of Display:

Think about search retargeting as being relatively high in the funnel.  It’s at its most effective when driving brand awareness.  You’re targeting customers who want a product or service like the one you sell but they aren’t necessarily familiar with your brand.  Top of the funnel keywords might not be particularly cost effective in traditional search campaigns but they’re perfect for search retargeting.

Traditional branding campaigns to drive initial awareness can be extremely (and sometimes prohibitively) expensive.  Even a contextually targeted ad buy, though significantly more effective than a traditional RON ad buy, doesn’t necessarily reach in-market users.  Interest in a topic relevant to your company does not necessarily indicate purchase intent—at least not right now.  While I would argue that those branding campaigns still have significant value (users may become in-market later, and brand recognition plays a huge role in purchasing decisions), the targeting is simply not as precise as search.  Search retargeting allows you to create an awareness blitz that’s more targeted, so you can expect a significantly higher ROI.

Getting Started:

The first place to start with a retargeting campaign is your keywords.  If you’re currently employing SEM, it makes sense to start your search retargeting campaign using your SEM keywords.  Monitor their performance and adjust accordingly.  Search retargeting does not function precisely the way traditional search does, so the optimal set of keywords for traditional search is likely to differ from the optimal search retargeting keyword set.

The higher the CPC of your keywords, the larger your potential savings from search retargeting versus traditional paid search advertising.  It’s a good idea to begin expanding on your initial terms with some of the more competitive keywords that you might not have been employing due to high cost.

Competitor search terms, i.e. brand names of your competitors, are valuable keywords. Using competitor search terms will let users who aren’t familiar with your brand know that you offer a similar service.

Testing and Measuring Results:

Customize your ad segments based on keyword groups.  I recommend showing different ads to different keyword groups to make your retargeting campaign as precise and specific as possible.

You should track performance for each keyword and optimize accordingly.  Some keywords may be more (or less) successful with search retargeting than with SEM.  Don’t simply go by intuition, as your customer’s preferences may surprise you.

In addition to checking and optimizing your keyword list, you should also A/B test your creatives.  (Check out our post on A/B testing creatives for some tips on this key practice).  You’ll never know which will be the most effective until you’ve tested different options against one another.

Finally, check to see if your organic search leads are improving.  High click-through rates aren’t the only measure of success.  A good way to check for improved brand awareness is to see how many users are directly entering your brand name into search engines.  An improvement here could indicate a successful campaign.