Search retargeting: Using display to enhance search effectiveness

Search is generally the recipient of any online budget’s “dollar one.” It generates strong, measurable ROI and influences important factors like brand metrics and later sales. However, search can hit a point of diminishing returns from an ROI perspective. With thousands of competitors bidding on coveted keywords, marketers can walk a fine line between paying enough and paying too much. It may be argued that a maximal amount of potential users search for anything at a given time. Therefore, marketers should look for tools to extend the effectiveness of their SEM campaigns, such as bid optimizers or lesser-known display tactics like search retargeting.

It’s no secret that there has been massive investment in the display advertising space over the past few years. Major portals and search players have all acquired ad-serving technology and ad networks to compete with established, full-service ad networks. This isn’t just a reaction to the fragmentation of user surfing habits, or a bet on greater growth coming from display-focused brand marketers. The vision that these players share is that data on all consumer Web interaction — search, Web-surfing and all other measurables — can be leveraged for marketer ROI benefit.

The good news is — as a marketer leveraging search — you don’t need to wait for technology to be developed in the space. The best ways to leverage display already exist. Enter search retargeting. Search retargeting is relatively simple: Insert code designed to drop cookies within your search click-through URL or on dedicated landing pages. This allows you to create valuable, granular segments of users in distinct phases of the purchase funnel and serve them relevant display ads as they visit a site within your portal or ad network partner’s universe of sites. An auto maker, say, may be able to serve rich-media display ads for the specific make and model of the users’ last vehicle search and create custom business rules based on site pages visited.

This clearly makes intuitive sense. A 2006 study by ATLAS showed a 22% lift in conversion rates over search alone by users who were exposed to display advertising for a specific marketer following a search. As a best practice, it’s advisable to test with highly trafficked search terms which can then be A/B-tested against an SEM control group. Either way, search retargeting can surely augment and extend the effectiveness of SEM.

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