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Search Retargeting: A Quick How-To Guide

by Ben Plomion  |  
January 9, 2014

Most online marketers today are familiar with retargeting—the practice of serving display ads to users based on their online behavior. The most common form of retargeting is known as site retargeting: The ads are displayed to users who have visited an advertiser's site, with the ads seemingly following the user around as he or she travels around the Web.

But, contrary to popular belief, site retargeting isn't the only form of retargeting. In fact, a newer retargeting method, known as search retargeting, is on the rise and it's changing the way people think about retargeting.

Search retargeting serves display impressions to users based on the keywords they've typed into Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other search engines. So, for example, if you search for "Nike Air Jordan" in Google, that search data can be used to target you with display ads for Nike shoes once you leave the search engine.

It's a uniquely powerful approach to display advertising, because it's based on the intent that's revealed when someone performs an online search. In other words, it works for the same reason that search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns work. And because search retargeting doesn't rely on visits to an advertiser's site, it can be a great tool for bringing in new customers.

If you're unfamiliar with ad technology, search retargeting can sound complicated. And there is certainly a lot of complicated technology behind it. But for marketers who want to take advantage of this new tool, the process is relatively straightforward.

Let's take a look at six steps that can help you launch a successful search retargeting campaign.

1. Choose your DSP carefully

In search retargeting, or any other form retargeting, your campaign is only as strong as the data behind it. A display side provider (DSP) that runs search retargeting campaigns collects data from partners. These partners, in turn, drop cookies onto the browsers of users who arrive on their sites via search engines. The top search retargeting vendors capture billions of search terms, but some DSPs capture more than others. And the more search data you have, the more customers you're going to be able to target.

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Ben Plomion is VP of marketing at Chango, a programmatic advertising platform that connects marketers with their target audience in real time across display, social, mobile, and video. Ben is also responsible for expanding the company's data and media partnerships.

LinkedIn: Ben Plomion

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  • by Beth Thu Jan 9, 2014 via web

    Well done. Concise and informative. This article will be very helpful to people wanting to get a basic understanding of retargeting. Thanks for taking the time to write it and post it.

  • by James H. Thu Jan 9, 2014 via web

    Monitoring your progress is definitely the most important part of the retargeting process. Failing to properly take note of your retargeting's effectiveness makes all of that effort go in vain. Good post! Definitely some useful tips on this.


  • by Lynn Dalsing Fri Jan 10, 2014 via web

    Understood that there is only so much space in this article to explain things, but I think it's worth noting that you can't target someone based on their having typed a search term into Google. You can target them based on having searched something and THEN visiting a site that drops a cookie onto the person's computer that indicates that the person has landed on their site after searching a specific term.

    So it works on the same basic principles as site retargeting, but the cookie you are using to determine that you should advertise to the person is coming from a different site.

    So say you search for art schools and land on an article in the New York Times about art schools. If the New York Times is part of a retargeting exchange, they fire off a cookie that says that the person landed on their site after searching for art schools. Now an art school could target that person based on the fact that they had searched for art schools.

    Sorry to be so didactic. I just think the article, while great on the how tos, is a little fuzzy on how it works. From this article, I would get them impression that Google was tracking my keystrokes or something.

  • by Eric Wittlake Mon Jan 20, 2014 via web

    Ben, as Lynn points out, you are picking up data from landing pages. Now that Google has turned off this data for nearly 100% of searches, how has it impacted search retargeting? At least in the markets I work in, the secondary search engines that I presume are now driving a lot of this data never delivery nearly the same quality or conversion rates that Google days.

    Appreciate your perspective on this. Thanks!

  • by Karunakar Thu Jan 30, 2014 via web

    I got crystal clear understanding of the retargeting, very well written.Thank you

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