Unlock Powerful Insights With This Complex AdWords Retargeting Process

retargeting-polkaRetargeting used effectively is one of the most powerful tools in digital marketing, but it’s not without its wrinkles – which sometimes require steps and hops and turns a polka dancer could appreciate.

Let’s look at examples of quirky cookie behavior, techniques for campaigns with multiple use case pages, and advanced tactics for search remarketing that can cut significant wasted spend and take advantage of brand familiarity.

Ready? I hear the polka band stirring…

Be on the Lookout for Cookie Overlaps

One of my clients follows a freemium business model. As their AdWords account Manager, I created separate audiences for both free conversions and paid conversions.

Until recently, after the visitor signed up for a free account, I didn’t focus any of my paid search efforts on trying to get the visitor to become a paid member, leaving that effort to either our display marketing folks or their internal non-PPC efforts.

barfing-cookiesSomewhat naively, I made the mistake of assuming for longer than I care to admit that once the person became a paying member and joined the paid audience, they no longer were part of the free audience. After all, you can’t be both a paid and non-paid member at the same time, right? Well, in the world of cookies, you can.

I had cookied the people in the free audience for 30 days, meaning if they became a paid member before their free cookie expired, they simultaneously resided in both the free and paid audiences.

In order to exclude all paid users from seeing ads, I had to exclude not only people in the paid audience but everyone who resided both in the free audience and in the paid audience.

Slice and Dice Your Retargeting Audiences for Maximum Effect

As I was in the process of figuring out the true territorial boundaries between the free and paid audiences, I realized that there was a lot of power inherent in these audiences as well as the in retargeting process that I had yet to fully actualize.

My client has about 20 different ‘use case pages’ on the site, and I use different retargeting ads depending on the page previously visited.

For people who hit any one of these pages but had yet to sign up, I showed the visitor a retargeting ad that spoke to the value of the client’s service for that particular use case and sent them back to that particular use case page.

For visitors who hit any one of these pages and were a free (but not paid) member, I hit them with an ad that spoke to the value of the client’s paid service for that particular use case, which also sent them back to that particular use case page with an ad containing a call to action for ‘upgrading to paid’.

My client has a well trafficked ‘pricing’ page. For people who hit the pricing page but had yet to sign up, I retargeted them with an ‘It’s Free, Duh!’ message, sending them to the pricing page (where they presumably would only focus on the free sign-up option).

For people who hit the pricing page and were a free (but not paid member), I showed them an ad that spoke to the value of paid membership, sending them to the pricing page, where the various premium tiers were explicitly laid out for potential purchasers.

You Can Get Really Clever With Search Retargeting Ads and Exclusions


All of these techniques have worked pretty well. However, it was even more powerful to put forth a similar strategy for search retargeting.

Because search retargeting users have already been to the site and are continuing to make relevant searches in Google search, they will be more likely to see the brand name in the SERPs; therefore, we can successfully bid much higher and on much broader keyword targets here than in the GDN.

For my primary search retargeting campaign, I took my entire relevant keyword list and set it to broad match.

For people who weren’t members of the site, I targeted this very large broad match keyword list and gave the returning visitors an ‘It’s Free, Duh!’ message but sent them to the traditional PPC landing page where they failed to sign up the first time.

For people who were free but not paid members, similar to the pricing page audience, I showed them an ad that spoke to the value of paid membership and sent them to the pricing page.

Finally, one really awesome thing about search retargeting is that people in certain audience segments can be excluded from seeing ads in the search network.

We had an issue where people were Googling the brand and clicking on the PPC ad to login to their account, which was wasted PPC spend. After a bit of technical wizardry (because I needed my account rep’s assistance to get this to work), I was able to exclude people in the paid search audience from seeing the ads in the search network by creating a Branded Search Retargeting Campaign that targeted people in the paid audience who searched for the brand (bid to the max) while simultaneously excluding everyone in the paid audience from seeing those same branded ads.

In the initial setup, the net impact of this action pushed everyone out of the Search Retargeting Campaigns back to the regular campaigns. However, after everything was fixed by the AdWords technical folks, these search retargeting campaigns began to act as ‘black holes’ for the affected searches, preventing branded ads from showing to paid members and dropping the percent of branded clicks that my client had to pay for by 20 percent without costing them any sales.


Now if you were to chart everything I just told you, you’d likely get a graph more complicated than this Local Search Ecosystem chart. However, the power of this process is its complexity, and if you can allocate your considerable perceptive powers to thinking through and understanding this process, you’ll possess very powerful insight that is immediately transferable to your particular client situations.

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