Over the last two years, we’ve seen companies develop display solutions that show ads based on the keywords prospects search as they navigate the Web.

The introduction of search retargeting represented a major leap forward for direct response and brand marketers who were thirsty for new audience acquisition and engagement solutions that performed better. What they got was transparency and insight into the data used to reach consumers — they could use consumers’ actual online searches instead of the 3rd party data shoved into a fixed, black box audience segment that had become the norm.

Search Retargeting - Where Intent & Search Collide

Early leaders in search retargeting (including my company, Simpli.fi) have developed the technology to execute keyword-level search retargeting with display ads.

In addition, legacy demand side platforms have attempted to replicate the service with more fixed segments from 3rd party data providers; a small crop of managed media solution providers are beginning to market search retargeting to their clients; and most, but not all, are leveraging one or more of the previously-mentioned technologies or tactics.

Then Along Came The Search Giants

In 2011, industry insiders began reporting Google’s exploration into search retargeting. Zachary Rodgers wrote a piece in October of last year, in which he reported about some internal frustrations at Google as they debated leveraging their search data for display.

In the 2nd quarter of 2012, Adweek reported that Google was at long last going to allow advertisers to market to consumers on the Google Display Network based solely on a user’s search query, regardless of whether they had clicked on a search result or not. Alas, Google was quick to refute this article, resulting in a public correction.

Flash-forward to today, and there is almost universal agreement that Google will be a player in search retargeting. And why wouldn’t they? Yahoo search retargeting is in full deployment and clearly seeing growth as agencies and brands alike seek to leverage the power of search intent with the reach of display. The writing is on the wall that search retargeting works, and options for deploying campaigns will continue to increase.

Retargeting Déjà Vu

We have seen this exact scenario once before, and history often repeats itself. In the mid 2000’s, there launched a small group of companies who specialized in selling site retargeting, such as Fetchback and Dotomi. From the moment they launched until late 2009, almost every call these companies made to online brands was a first generation sale. Four out of five marketing decision makers had not even tried retargeting their existing site traffic.

Most didn’t fully understand that the capability even existed. With success and profit came increased competition in the form of Criteo, MediaForge, Steelhouse, Tellapart, Adroll, Retargeter and more. The future was bright.

Then, the almighty Google launched Google Remarketing. The earth shook, the pundits pontificated, and every retargeting company found themselves confronted with a large, well-known and well-funded competitor with an instant client base. As it turns out, Google’s full on entry into remarketing may have been one of the single greatest events in the lives of these site-retargeting companies. Their business began to accelerate. This happened for two key reasons:

  1. Google’s entry into retargeting increased awareness of the technology and aided significantly in moving the tactic from something used by a few into what is arguably a budget line item for most websites today. Retargeting went mainstream and the search for the best solution raged like a fire that still burns strongly today.
  2. Capitalizing on increased demand, retargeting companies provided: increased inventory reach, propriety features, tactic-specific innovations and levels of managed services that have allowed them to grow and retain their client roster faster than ever before.

Awareness + Competition + Performance = Growth

I am more confident than ever that the exact phenomenon detailed above is repeating itself, and this time, search retargeting is the benefactor.

Awareness of search retargeting among brands and ad agencies will increase sharply in the months ahead, and the testing and perfecting of keyword-level display marketing will accelerate. What began as something to explore will become a line item in the budget, particularly among those companies who are already investing significantly in PPC.

These companies will be able to reach more searchers, more often, outside of the confines of the search engines results page without the quality score restrictions they are forced to work around today. Often, they will be able reach prospects at a significantly lower CPC.

Further, Google will likely use searches performed on Google properties to market to prospects when they visit other Google properties. Yahoo will do the same across Yahoo. Unfortunately, a prospect may search on a Google site and then visit a property outside of the Google Display Network’s reach. Sure, that prospect may wander back, but who knows when and if the window to influence that consumer has vanished. The recency of the search and ability to reach the prospect post-search, wherever they may browse, is key.

Most of the companies that have built technology to perform search retargeting are seeing billions of search events across all the major search engines and well beyond, including on-site searches happening across thousands of websites outside of the search engines. They are also serving ads across hundreds of thousands of websites through numerous exchanges and networks. This means the user behind the search you are targeting can originate in Google and still be accessible when s/he lands on a website in the Microsoft family of websites within seconds of performing her/his search.

In the end, I am confident that companies in the search retargeting space will outpace the big search engines with specialized focus, insights and features designed to drive maximum performance and ROI across the vast display inventory that exists on the Web.

There will be innovation around improving creative impact and relevance. There will be discoveries about leveraging the search data against other known and collected data points to increase engagement and conversions. There will be priceless audience insights fed back to marketers that were previously beyond their grasp. Ultimately, superior customer service and ease of use will be a differentiator.

My Prediction

I predict that search retargeting will experience a surge in adoption in 2013 among virtually every industry engaged in online marketing. Google and Yahoo will shine a spotlight on the tactic leading to greater demand in the marketplace. In return, marketers and media buyers will win as the first-to-market search retargeting solution providers work diligently to provide superior benefits and service.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column


About The Author: is the Chief Revenue Officer for Simpli.fi, a company quickly being recognized as the authority in search retargeting. Since the mid 90’s James has been involved in leading companies who are paving new paths in digital space.

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  • Pat Grady

    Prediction: It’ll accelerate too rapidly, causing some crashes later. :-)


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