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How to Build a Search Engine Retargeting Campaign

Wilson Lau

Sr. SEO Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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"Retargeting" and "remarketing" are terms that are often thrown around the world of digital marketing as if they are universally understood. In truth, though, retargeting has been around as a marketing practice for decades, even before ecommerce, display ads, Google, and social media. Before the Internet, brands sent communications to their customers via TV and physical mailers, suggesting products and services that might have interested customers based on what the brands knew about their interests from past purchases or even through things like magazine subscriptions.

Retargeting happens most often online, with brands using email, social media ads, display campaigns, and search to present consumers with ads that reflect their demographics and interests. This is typically executed using websites and social media — far down the conversion funnel where customers decide what to buy rather than which company to buy it from.

Search engine retargeting is a little bit different.

What Is Search Engine Retargeting?

As with other types of retargeting or remarketing, search engine retargeting allows brands to present ads to customers who have demonstrated interests or behaviors that make them likely to engage with the brand. However, it's a bit different from social media or site retargeting. Instead of retargeting ads to customers who interacted with the brand or made a purchase, it displays ads to consumers who have never interacted with the brand.

How do you retarget customers you don't know? That's where the power of search engine retargeting comes in. This method allows you to expand your reach and engage new audiences who are likely to buy from your brand even though they've never interacted with you before. They may have never heard of the brand before seeing the retargeting ads on search engine results pages (SERPs). Through tagging and user behavior tracking, major display networks like Google's use their data to determine where to place retargeting ads to generate a significant return on investment. 

Data suggests that retargeted website visitors are 40% more likely to purchase than the average customer (of which 2-4% convert). Search engine retargeting is a powerful tool for reaching new audiences with personalized content, making it a top tool for digital marketers.

So, how do you set up search engine retargeting campaigns? Let's run through the basic steps.

For more information on developing a retargeting strategy:

1. Set up search tagging

Data capture is essential for search engine remarketing. While this tactic doesn't require a pre-existing relationship with the customer to serve them retargeted ads, ensure the ad platform you use (e.g., AdRoll, Google Ads) uses tagging to track audience behavior on your website. This will help the search engines find consumers whose interests and behaviors intersect with customers or people who have engaged with your brand. 

If you've been using a digital marketing platform for a while, the chances are good that you've already set up your global site tag. If not, go into your platform's settings under its audience category. You should be able to find a tracking code to be placed in your site's HTML. Note that the tag should appear on every website page and be placed in between the <head> tags at each page's start and finish. This will allow search engines to associate your brand with search terms to display relevant ads to new consumers searching your niche.

2. Identify the keywords or keyword groups you want to retarget

Next, you should review your marketing data to determine which keywords you want to associate with your search retargeting campaign. One of the primary benefits of search engine remarketing, especially for younger or smaller ecommerce brands, is the ability to capture audience attention from primary high-cost keywords that otherwise might be out of reach financially. Using this method, you can grab part of your site's core traffic without needing to dump resources into expensive PPC campaigns for competitive keywords. 

3. Identify search intent around those keywords and expand your campaign

The ability to capitalize on search intent without a significant investment in specific keywords is one of the most potent search engine remarketing benefits. Look at the search intent around the keywords you've selected and analyze them for ways you can expand your campaign. 

For example, consider the case of an individual searching for "best hiking trails." This individual is looking for new places to explore, so why not include terms like "most popular hiking trails," "trail reports," or "guide to local hiking trails" to get in front of the user for all of those search terms? This will help you grow your campaigns to encompass new search niches that could hold value for your brand.

4. Optimize your creative

Now that you've selected search terms for your retargeting campaigns, it's time to make sure your ads are optimized specifically for customers who are unfamiliar with your brand. That means that headlines and copy should be punchy and informative about your brand's values and offerings and should speak to people in a way that invites them to learn more. Note that you don't have to focus these campaigns solely on product pages — serving ads to relevant content marketing that could help the buyer make a decision will also enhance your brand's authority and voice.

For tips on how to launch a retargeting campaign:

Use Your Existing Traffic

Search engine retargeting is a critical tool for digital marketers in today's world because it enables brands to capitalize on existing traffic without spending large amounts on specific keywords. When correctly implemented, search engine remarketing can expand your audience far beyond where you'd be able to grow by solely retargeting to consumers who already know about your brand. 

Even better: the data you glean from search engine retargeting campaigns can help you refine your existing marketing strategy and focus your resources on the most effective channels. By combining search retargeting with social media and email retargeting, your brand can continue to deliver relevant content to existing and new users, nurturing more people into becoming dedicated followers and expanding your brand's overall presence on the web.

For more information on social media retargeting strategies:

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