Search Retargeting: Why It Matters & How to Get Started

skills-bubbleIf you aren’t already up to speed on search retargeting, now is the time. Though still not widely understood, search retargeting became one of the fastest growing retargeting techniques in 2012.

The good news: If you’re behind the curve, catching up won’t take long. Search retargeting relies on many of the same concepts as search engine marketing (SEM).

Let’s have a look at what, exactly, search retargeting involves, why it’s so important, and how you can get started right away.

What is Search Retargeting?

While there are a number of different types of retargeting, when most marketers hear the word “retarget” they think of site retargeting, the practice of targeting users who have already visited your site with display ads. Search retargeting is the practice of bidding for display impressions based on the keywords a user enters into search engines.

If that sounds a lot like SEM, it should. With SEM, the ads appear on the same page as search results. Search retargeting simply takes the process a step further by serving display ads to users browsing sites based on search terms they’d previously entered.

Why You Need to Use Search Retargeting

While it would be possible to easily write a whole book on this section, these five key points are a great place to start:

  • Intent: Search retargeting works incredibly well for the same reason that SEM works incredibly well: It’s based on search keywords, which are uniquely effective at capturing the intent of a consumer.
  • ROI: Search retargeting lets markets capture the power of intent at a tremendous discount because you can skip over the SEM bidding wars. In fact, search retargeting can save you 96 percent per click over SEM.
  • Keyword Power: Search retargeting makes your SEM keyword list work harder. SEM campaigns can be very mature, and some clients tell us they can’t increase their SEM budget because of the diminishing returns they’re seeing. By bringing display ads into the equation, search retargeting can put those keywords to work in a whole new way.
  • Conquest: When it comes to SEM, bidding on a competitor’s keywords can get messy and lead to retaliation. With search retargeting, no one will find out that you’re bidding on your competitor’s keywords.
  • Natural Extension of SEM: Most importantly, search retargeting speaks the language search marketers already know: keywords, real-time bidding, optimizations, etc. Search marketers come to search retargeting with an important head start.

How to Get Started with Search Retargeting

Now that you know why search retargeting is such a powerful tool, the next step is getting started.

Search retargeting campaigns are set up and optimized at the individual keyword level. More often than not, they begin with keywords from an existing PPC account.

Once you’ve found the best possible match between the user and the placement for the creative, you’ll bid for the impressions in a real-time bidding exchange, an auction platform that will be familiar to anyone who knows the basics of SEM.


Search retargeting isn’t incredibly complicated. SEM marketers who haven’t yet tried this powerful new technique – either because they haven’t heard all the details or because they’ve been hesitant to experiment with display creatives – are missing out. Search retargeting is on the rise and 2013 looks to be another big year.

And why not? Search retargeting extends the power of search engine marketing. Its success should come as no surprise to SEM pros.

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