Segment Based Search Retargeting & Keyword Search Retargeting: Discerning the Difference — It’s A Piece Of Cake

Baby Doesn't Like Birthday CakeAt a recent birthday party for one of the children in my neighborhood, I had my hopes for a slice of delicious birthday cake dashed. As the singing began, Mom came out with a candle-covered pizza. It turns out that junior just won’t eat cake.

You can imagine my angst at learning that a three-year-old child’s palate has already ruled out the seemingly infinite varieties of cake flavors, textures, and ingredient combinations.

How does this happen? It turns out our young friend recently discovered a five-month-old, partially eaten fruit cake in the back of the refrigerator and helped himself to a slice.

The cake was, of course, dense, cold, and filled with chunks of fruit that had long since lost any distinguishing color or natural flavor.  This experience was bad!  The dish was, in fact, a cake!  Ergo, cake = bad.

Don’t Let A “Fruitcake” Experience Get You Down

Just as there are many varieties of cake, there are also many varieties of “search retargeting”. Recently it seems media buyers have had an initial “fruitcake” experience with search retargeting, and this experience is keeping them from reaping the benefits of this technique — which can be highly effective technique when done right.

Unfortunately, the buyer employs the same logic as the aforementioned child with the cake, ruling out all search retargeting based on one bad experience.

Well, my goal here is to give you the vital ingredient, along with additional combinations of ingredients, that search retargeting should include to maximize the chances of success. Hopefully, this will spare many companies the horror of their own fruitcake experience.

To our credit, the industry in which we all work is filled with some of the smartest and most competitive professionals in the world.  However, sometimes this means multiple vendors sell their own products or tactics under a single identifiable name that shares some common element, but each solution contains highly varied ingredients and produces even more varied results.

The best of these solutions are the golden needles in the haystack producing passionate brand advocates. The worst can sour the taste buds of even the most adventurous media buyer, and taint the name other solutions have worked hard to create for themselves.

Exhibit A:  Keyword-Level Search Retargeting

If you are a direct response display marketer, by now you are aware of one of the latest audience acquisition tactics to hit the scene: keyword level search retargeting.

Search retargeting enables advertisers to target prospects with display ads based on the prospects’ intent-driven keyword searches, which are performed on search engines and/or publisher web properties.

The draw of search retargeting is the ability to leverage the effectiveness of search with the global reach of display.   The operative words here are, “the effectiveness of search”.  What makes “search” effective to begin with?

Well, search marketers already know what display marketers are quickly learning — the true magic is in “keyword level” control.

The non-negotiable, vital ingredient in effective search retargeting is the ability to dial up, dial down and/or adjust campaign settings for individual keywords. By doing so, every individual search term is bid on, reported on, and optimized as an independent element-level segment. Some examples:

Keyword-Level Bidding – The ability to raise and lower bid prices at the keyword level based on individual keyword conversion performance.

Keyword-Level Recency – The ability to define the time frame between when a keyword search is performed and when a display ad is served.  Instant, 15 minutes, one hour, twenty four hours, one week, one month, etc.

Keyword-Level Creative – The ability to personalize the creative, ad unit message and imagery specifically based on the keyword an individual searched on.

Keyword-Level Reporting – The ability to look at every impression, click, engagement, and conversion at the keyword level.

When you bake a display campaign with virtually unlimited control at the ingredient level, then you are almost guaranteed to find the ideal ROI that pleases your palate. This is a great behavioral targeting solution that holds great promise for brands everywhere seeking to acquire new customers.

Exhibit B:  Segment-Based Search Retargeting

Segment-based search retargeting varies greatly from keyword search retargeting.

First and foremost, segment based search retargeting often relies on pre-built fixed data segments bought through a provider. This limits campaign flexibility, as this type of segment retargeting cannot treat each keyword as an independent element, as segments are fixed and not editable on the fly.

Because of this, optimization and reporting are limited and there is no ability to adjust bids based on individual keyword performance. As search marketers know, optimizing around individual keywords is a key to driving the best performance from campaigns.

Segment-based search retargeting uses some of the vital ingredients (search data), but it omits the key differentiating capabilities that often make the difference between a successful and a failed campaign.

While segment-based search retargeting can use a cookie pool of consumers who have searched on certain keywords within a predefined time frame, it can’t replicate the experience of keyword level adjustments in real time. This version of search retargeting has all the promise, but none of the power.

Read The Ingredients Closely

In virtually every channel of ad tech, there are ingredients added, omitted, and generally replaced across multiple vendors under a single solution name.  This experimentation is good and often contributes to the rapid progress being made in the ad tech industry.

However, it makes the job of today’s media buyer a tough one, as he or she must possess the ability to discern the vital ingredients in campaigns of all types.

This ability allows the buyer to ultimately find the best complete option for their marketing needs, or most delicious cake, if you will.  The key is not only discerning those vital ingredients, but having an open mind, as you just might learn that the very next company you meet has solved the shortcomings of the last vendor and can take your next campaign from promise to a powerful reality.

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 | Retargeting & Remarketing


About The Author: is the Chief Revenue Officer for, 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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  • Dmitry Pakhomkin

    James, what’s in this for user data providers, i.e. the suppliers of keywords?

  • James Moore

    In short, I think better performance using keyword data would only increase the value of this data and demand.  The publishers are passing keyword behavior associated with individual users.  Like search, each user should and could be optimized to increase conversions.  A user who searches on “taylor swift” and a user who searches on “taylor swift phoenix concert” are potentially sending different intent messages that should drive how aggressively you would want to bid for one vs the other.  What sort of frequency and message you would search to one vs. the other.   If traditional media sales continues to lump all keywords into fixed segments then the power and effectiveness will diminish and search retargeting and keyword data will be viewed as far less valuable than it really is.  In the hands of a keyword (element) level system, that data is gold.

  • Dmitry Pakhomkin

    So if we have this “golden” data, then we’ll need to talk to I guess :)

  • James Moore would be happy speak with you.


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