Column: Retargeting Your Searchers

While it’s true that some visitors to your Web site might convert on their first visit, most don’t do so in this initial session. Up until recently, marketers really didn’t have any real way to reconnect with these “lost” visitors, but one of the most exciting developments in the last year has been the evolution of technologies allowing this to happen.

“Behavioral search retargeting,” sounds like a term that was hatched in a lab, but its basic operation is easy to understand. A user arrives at a search engine with a specific query in mind (let’s say the query term is “digital camera.”) He performs the query, receives a SERP, and then clicks on an ad, which lands him on the advertiser’s page. He spends a few minutes looking at cameras and either converts or terminates the session. In the meantime, a cookie has been created on the user’s machine that records the instance of the click, the site visit, the conversion behavior, and perhaps other details about the user’s navigational behavior.

This same surfer, coming back a few hours later, now goes to a digital camera review site where he spends a half hour reading reviews. If this site is a member of a network participating in behavioral search retargeting, the original ad appearing on the SERP may reappear (or another ad with customized creative). The same creative could “follow the user” around the Web: whenever he lands on a site participating in the network, he will see the ad and be offered a chance to return.

These technologies are emerging now because they solve several important issues affecting each of the primary stakeholders (publishers, marketers and Web users) in the online advertising marketplace. Publishers benefit because they are given an opportunity to get more value from their online display space, which is often unsold or sold for very little money on a CPM basis. There are millions of pages housing such “remnant” advertising on the Web. (Think of all the generic ads you’ve stared at while using Web-based e-mail, or while digging through obscure areas of large portals such as Yahoo or social networking sites such as Marketers spending thousands of dollars a month on engine-based cost per click campaigns like behavioral search retargeting because it lets them mine value from clicks that didn’t convert the first time at minimal cost. Retargeting also benefits Web users, who spend the overwhelming majority of their time not on SERPs, but reading, watching and otherwise interacting with Web sites where such retargeted advertising could appear.

How effective is behavioral search targeting in practice? Our own tests show double-digit gains in conversion improvements; other studies have recorded similar gains. Naturally, the amount of lift you’re likely to get depends on the sales cycle behavior of your typical customers. For example, the time interval between searching and buying is very different for car buyers than it is for buyers of consumer electronics or downloadable goods. Make sure that any ads “following the users” around the Web run throughout this cycle.

If you want to learn more about behavioral search retargeting, the following vendors provide such services:

Revenue Science (Search Retargeting)


Did-it (Search Connect)




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