Display Search Retargeting Wish List, Part 1

This article originally ran on ClickZ.com on May 29, 2009.

One of the biggest opportunities in search marketing over the next two years has nothing to do with a SERP), nor is it a text ad. It’s search retargeting. Yet most forms of behavioral targeting available today, particularly those offerings directly available from the search engines, leave a lot of room for improvement. That’s understandable, given the evolution of display-ad targeting and the parallel evolution of search advertising platforms.

Over the years, search engine representatives have asked my team and me if we have an interest in search retargeting. Our answer has always been a resounding yes, particularly given the success of site-based search retargeting (using visitors to an advertiser’s site as the targeting trigger). Some engines have even asked for advice on how to design such a system. That advice has also been freely given.

It’s in everyone’s best interest for the next version of behavioral targeting to be the result of a well thought out product road map. I’m so excited about where behavioral targeting can go that I’ll do my part to toss a few suggestions to the search engines in an open forum. It’s my hope that these suggestions will be combined with those of agencies, advertisers, and technology firms whose input is also gathered by search engine product managers.

Behavioral retargeting of individuals who searched — to show those individuals a relevant ad — is a huge opportunity for all players in the search marketing ecosystem, including the consumers. The content we all love to consume on the Web is almost always paid for either exclusively through advertising revenue or (even in the case of subscription products) subsidized through ad revenue. This means publishers must find ways to charge a reasonable rate for display ad impressions (or text ads, for that matter). Contextual and channel-based advertising are great, but with the addition of behavioral and profile-based targeting, a consumer can see ads even better suited to her interests.

As advertisers and search marketers, we often find ourselves with inventory shortages on certain keywords, particularly when our preference is to combine keyword-level targeting with other options, such as geography or, potentially, demographics. Because it’s rare to sell (or capture leads from) more than 5 to 10 percent of site visitors, we may have an interest in targeting the remaining 90 percent of our search audience with display ads.

Yahoo’s retargeting offering (which I’ll cover in more detail in a future column) allows a search marketer with a current Yahoo account to retarget searchers who have made a prior search on the keywords. However, the initial version of the product doesn’t meet search engine marketers’ expectations as much as it might meet the needs of display media buyers who think in broader targeting terms. If you have graphical banner assets and, in particular, if you or your agency use the Right Media ad exchange, it may make sense to look into the Yahoo product. Yahoo has promised that the current product is only the beginning of an integrated offering that will include a bevy of new features.

Therefore, to help Yahoo, Microsoft, and even Google (which has currently communicated a preference not to release retargeting), I’ve put together the following wish list of all the things I’d like to see in search retargeting as offered by a search engine. Not every item is critical, but many of them will stimulate additional ad spending at higher ROI (define) — which everyone can agree is a good outcome.

  • Have a self-serve version. Allow some advertisers who don’t have a display ad already created to bid on a per-click or even a CPM (define) basis directly within your search interface. Ads shown could be text ads similar to the contextual text-link ads shown now on display sites, but they would instead be targeted behaviorally. If a CPM bid is the model, the entire ad unit should be sold to a single advertiser and used for a text or graphical ad. Advertisers will understand that in a pay-per-click implementation the display ad unit could be shared as it is in contextual environments. One might even envision text-link ad units currently in use purely for contextual advertising to eventually contain a combination of behavioral- and contextual-targeted ads. Search retargeting is a form of search marketing. Treat retargeting of searchers as appropriately in your self-serve interfaces.

I’ll continue this list next week.