Retargeting: An Introduction to a New Opportunity

Depending on who you ask, conversion rates on websites hover around 2 or 3 percent. That leaves at least 97 percent of site visitors with unfinished business potential.

We all know that your maximum unrealized potential isn’t 97 percent, but it’s probably not 0 percent either. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the size of the missed opportunity. This is where retargeting comes in.

Retargeting, also known in some circles as remessaging, and by Google AdWords users as remarketing, is the act of presenting a display ad to someone after they either:

  • Saw one of your ads but failed to convert (creative retargeting — these people don’t even go to your site).
  • Visited your website but failed to convert (site retargeting).
  • Searched and found, but the website failed to convert (search retargeting).

Technically speaking, retargeting usually requires that you deploy a retargeting tag on the appropriate pages of your website. For every new visitor who visits these pages, you’ll acquire a new potential target for retargeting, as the site tag will write a cookie on the visitor’s browser that can then be used to identify them. When said visitor visits a website that supports retargeting, you’ll have the opportunity to bid on the opportunity to display your ad to this person.

Because you know they’ve been on your website, you may be able to bid higher than other advertisers who have no such information, and therefore win the impression, hopefully getting the click and the conversion.

The ecosystem that supports this type of activity is called a real-time bidding environment (RTB). It starts with the publishers and ad networks/exchanges supporting RTB, and enabling advertisers to take advantage of this real-time bidding opportunity.

Why You Should Care

If you spend “a lot of money” on your clients’ paid search programs or any other marketing program, this is your opportunity to increase their campaign ROI by making an effort to recapture the missed opportunities a second, third, or umteenth time. In most cases retargeting campaigns outperform search marketing campaigns (in a silo).

Retargeting obviously works best when the size of the target audience is significant. Typically, low volume B2B retargeting campaigns will yield fewer opportunities than high volume B2C campaigns, and can be somewhat disappointing. This is simply because the likelihood of getting enough traffic to see additional conversions is much higher when there are millions of cookie carrying targets out there versus a few hundred.

Not to say it doesn’t work for B2B. Far from it. My business is a B2B company experiencing fantastic success with retargeting. But like I said, sometimes it may just be hard to get the volume you need to move the needle.

There are several ways to get started with retargeting. Here are some of the most obvious ones:

Google AdWords Remarketing

The first place to look for most of you will be Google AdWords Remarketing. The AdWords program allows you to deploy remarketing tags on your clients’ websites and retarget users as they browse other websites that are part of the Google Display Network.

You can buy these ads on a CPC or CPM basis, you can control websites and targeting options quite easily, and payments are made to AdWords. For these reasons, I would consider the AdWords remarketing program a great first step into retargeting.

However, you’ll soon find that the display opportunity is infinitely larger if you work with DSPs who connect to all of the sources of traffic (rather than just the Google Display Network) and who provide you with more flexible data management options. That is where the DSP comes in.

Demand-Side Platforms

This is the display equivalent of the PPC management platforms — DSPs are technology platforms that provide access to multiple auction-based yield optimization platforms, publishers, or ad exchanges. They let users buy, manage, report on, and optimize display media.

Some of the players in this field are Turn, MediaMath, X+1, and The Trade Desk. Of these, The Trade Desk has the lowest minimum engagement fee, which makes it a great place to get started.

Search Marketing Agencies Need Trading Desks

Search agencies have been trying to address the display opportunity for quite some time, but it has become impossible to buy media the old way without getting your ass kicked by your clients. Indeed the old way meant not knowing what you were buying, buying tons and tons of it, and of course, the results were (almost) never there.

Price discovery, which is built into the search model, is why we were so focused on this medium for the past few years. Now that price discovery is built into the display ad model, we have ourselves a new game, but it isn’t an easy one. Display is infinitely more complex than search.

In order to continue to win business and grow existing accounts, agencies need to build trading desks — they need to hire more people with data skills. They also need to get equipped with the right tools to get the job done.

The winners won’t necessarily be the biggest or the strongest. It won’t be those with the biggest sales force.

Rather, the winners will be those agencies who have been able to adapt to this new reality and create solutions to let their clients fully take advantage of this new opportunity. Those who win are those who will stop selling search marketing and start selling (and doing!) performance marketing.

Join us for SES London 2011, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place February 21-25! The conference offers sessions on topics including search engine optimization (SEO), keyword analysis, link building, local, mobile, video, analytics, social media, and more. Register now.

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