When search retargeting was new a few years ago, marketers everywhere were excited about the concept. As a new audience acquisition solution, the ability to tie an advertising campaign back to a specific data set that declared a user’s intent, this was a refreshing breakthrough.
At the time, of course, few online marketers even understood search retargeting, let alone used it. Yet, as word of its power spread, more and more users adopted it until there was a stampede of ad networks and DSPs eager to include search retargeting among their offerings.
There’s nothing new about this. It’s what business gurus call the “law of comparative advantage” — as soon as someone sets up a profitable lemonade stand, another person sets up another across the street offering a different flavor, followed by yet another contender offering snacks, and so on.
Keyword-Level Search Retargeting Vs. Keyword-Only Segments
Unfortunately, just as in our lemonade stand analogy, these new converts were not actually mirroring the original tool. Instead of practicing true keyword-level search retargeting, most were employing keyword-only data sets packaged into traditional audience segments. Legacy companies that already had revenues in the display business went to their data brokers and asked for audience segments built exclusively from searched keywords from their publisher network.
As a result of these keyword-only audience segments, one of the most effective behavioral targeting solutions in recent history — capable of generating significant performance lift for direct response and branding campaigns alike — became awash in misunderstandings.
Many of the marketers who’ve tried what they believe to be search retargeting are underwhelmed and cynical about its reach because they haven’t been exposed to a technology that views and manages keywords as they were intended. They have not leveraged keywords the way search marketers always have — one keyword at a time at the keyword level.
Collective misperceptions aside, the truth is that search retargeting can deliver unparalleled precision and insight.
Keywords: The Great Advertising Game Changer
So, just how do you practice true search retargeting? Let’s start with keywords. The words people type, search, and read are arguably the single greatest window into their interest or intent. Every search marketer and company investing in search knows this; there’s no arguing that keywords have changed advertising forever.
Search terms broadcast where people are in their thought processes, and whether they’re considering something months from now or minutes from now. Is the consumer early in their buying cycle or close to a final decision? Is their evaluation window minutes long or months long? Are they predisposed to your brand or are they favoring a competitor? The keywords that people search provide genuine “information” – data with context.
Search marketers attack these questions on a keyword-by-keyword basis. They bid, message, and optimize differently based on the performance of specific keywords or phrases. The intent signal is precise and high-value. But, a keyword or keyword phrase is a glimpse into a specific moment in time — and smart search marketers understand the difference between real keyword-level search retargeting and using keyword-only segments being served up under the name, “Search Retargeting.”
Let’s examine the difference. As search phrases go, [pizza coupon 85310] at 5:00 PM is a powerful message to a pizza company at 5:10 PM. Now, imagine that data mixed into a segment of people who have searched on the following keywords sometime in the last 30 days: [Pizza Coupon 85310], [Best Pizza], [Pizza], [Pizza near Arcadia]. The same opportunity to hit that consumer has been lost.
Let’s be clear about this: placing identical bids for every impression with no insight into what term was searched or when, then optimizing the segment as a single group unit — as most segment-based DSPs and ad networks do today — is the opposite of effective.
More importantly, it does not qualify as search retargeting. True search retargeting can identify, bid, and optimize every keyword searched behind every impression. It can identify which keywords are driving the conversions and report this with transparency.
The characteristics of search retargeting solutions capable of transcending traditional behavioral display include: keyword-level bidding, keyword-level recency, keyword-level reporting, and dynamic keyword management in real-time.
5 Keys To Keyword Level Search Retargeting Success
1. First off, resist the urge to overtarget out of the gate. Start instead with a broad keyword set. Why? Because it’s more effective to start with a large keyword set and work down, as opposed to a specific list that you struggle to scale up.
Also important: Use a combination of keyword tactics such as branded terms, competitors’ terms, lower funnel phrases, early process terms, and upper funnel and lower funnel keywords. Let the data tell you which phrases and words are performing the best, then shave down the campaign to the highest-performing keywords.
2. Get the pixel down early and leverage your existing audience for keyword discovery. When people fill out a form or make a purchase on a client site, select companies may maintain an extensive history of searches performed by these customers over the last 30 days. Is there a common denominator? What terms were your visitors searching on in the days or hours before coming to your site? Don’t discount what might appear to be useless or unrelated data. Sometimes a phrase or word that appears meaningless at first may turn out to have a specific significance once you dig into it.
3. Don’t ignore the huge population segment searching via direct navigation to credible review sites and blogs. Keyword-driven display can extend beyond just the words that are searched. Keyword contextual capabilities allow you to generate impressions to an audience viewing content that contains specific match phrases. When managed properly, this is a highly effective use of keyword driven display.
Consider that someone interested in buying a new car might visit one of many automobile review sites, and because they’ve gone directly to that source to read the content, they haven’t left a “keyword searched” thumbprint. But, if you’re using a solution with keyword contextual capabilities, then you are able build out your keyword list to target people reading content that contains exact, specific phrases. That way, you can target anyone reading a relevant article. Combine that with keyword search retargeting and you’ve got a seriously powerful tool on your hands.
4. Instead of trying to outsmart the algorithm, make friends with it. Remember, there are sophisticated algorithms built in programmatic platforms that are analyzing thousands of data points. Is this a substitute for human oversight? No, absolutely not — but by starting broad, leveraging look-alikes and allowing auto optimizations, you’re working with the algorithm instead of opposing it. In fact, it’s often the optimization changes and keyword additions to a campaign that are the most surprising and present marketers with those coveted “Aha” moments. Embrace your automated co-pilot.
5. Choose the right attribution model. If you don’t, your definition of campaign success is highly subjective. What’s driving sales/leads/brand engagement? Make sure you have performance-based goals that include full funnel attribution, so the end result is counted whether an ad was actually clicked on or not.
I could write an article on this topic alone. I think I can safely speak for most display professionals when I say to avoid any model that includes click-only last touch methodologies. In the end, you end up wasting valuable advertising dollars, optimizing to a metric that may be damaging to your brand, and ultimately produce fewer sales and leads.
Employing Search Retargeting Profitably
Search retargeting remains the same exciting and enriching marketing tool it was always promised to be. But, to employ it profitably, marketers must practice clean and accurate keyword-level search retargeting instead of muddying the process with keyword-only segments. Only then will its ability to boost performance for direct response and branding campaigns fully materialize for the marketers smart enough to use it.