So, You Thought Site Retargeting Was Personalized?

Marketing technologies and strategies are like a runaway train these days — if you blink, you’ll probably miss the latest techniques; and, if you don’t hold on for dear life, they will pass you by entirely.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be this hard. An evolving market has far more benefits than disadvantages, if only you know how to wrangle them. Personalization is just one example of this, especially within site retargeting.

Before you scratch your head and think that personalization is already in full force within site retargeting, take a step back and let me explain. I’ll walk you through the evolution, current landscape, and actionable steps you can take to truly weave personalization into your site retargeting for unmatched ROI and impact.

Understand The Evolution

Site retargeting is a powerful idea that began as something really elementary. Initially, the process went like this:

Buyer visits site. Buyer leaves. Buyer is served a relevant ad.

Simple. Basic. Effective. Of course, we quickly realized that this powerhouse needed to be let loose — cue, audience segmentation on the website. The next stage of the process went like this:

Buyer visits site. Buyer’s behavior on site is collected, including categories searched, products viewed, cart abandonment, etc. Buyer is bucketed into a segment with other buyers of similar actions. Buyer is served ads based on the bucket he/she was relegated to.

At this stage, site retargeting basically evolved from serving the same ad to everyone in the ocean to segregating the audience into smaller ponds. It made some sense, but we knew that more could be done. So, we began tapping even further into the world of personalization, and the process evolved to look like this:

Buyer visits site. Buyer is segmented into a bucket of like-buyers. Buyer is served personalized creative based on product(s) viewed, recommended products, product interaction, etc.

With this latest evolution, creative aspects were tailored to fit specific visitors’ behaviors — to very successful ends, I might add. The shortcoming? For most companies, personalization stopped there. The site retargeting train was making serious progress, but those segmented buckets we talked about earlier slammed on the brakes — hard.

If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know that I’m a fan of unstructured data rather than segmented data. Personalization of creative is great, but there’s a huge opportunity to take it even further by treating each individual visitor as a “segment of one,” thus ensuring that bidding and optimization decisions are also personalized. And — you guessed it — that means looking at and using raw, unstructured data rather than their bucketed cousins.

Unstructured Data vs. Segments

Extend Personalization To Produce Better-Optimized Bids & Creative

As I mentioned briefly above, most site retargeting companies are continuing with the same ad frequency, same bidding and same optimization across bucketed data elements — which makes zero sense.

For example, if a male buyer visited a high-end retailer’s website and checked out two very expensive luxury watch brands, ads targeting him should be very different from those targeting a male buyer who visited the same website and looked at a couple of inexpensive exercise watches.

The important takeaway here is this: if these two buyers were each to visit a brick-and-mortar store and then leave, which of the two would you allocate more money toward trying to get back?

There will almost always be one, clear-cut choice that will equate to higher ROI, and understanding buyer behaviors on a granular level (via unstructured data) gives the insight necessary to optimize bids and ad creative far more intelligently. This is key for increasing ROI and performance levels.

Next Steps?

By now, I think I’ve hammered home the idea that personalization is great, but that it must also extend to better optimization of bids and ad creative. The next logical question becomes this: how do you make that happen? Here are some dos and don’ts:

Don’t: Use Separate Companies For New Audience & Existing Audience Retargeting

In theory, I get why you might do this. But, separating your new audience buys from your site retargeting (or existing audience) buys is a recipe for misinformed decisions, attribution challenges and weakened power behind your efforts. We all understand the idea that maybe you chose company X because it’s full of experts in site retargeting, and then paired it with company Y for your new audience buys because that’s their specialty. This sounds ideal, right? Not so much in practice.

The browsing history of each prospect before, during and after a site visit makes your audience buys smarter across all display channels. If you rely on the information collected through one vendor and view the data from the other as an entirely separate piece, you’re missing out on a heap of valuable insight. It’s time to bring new audience buys under the same roof as existing audience buys and allow them to strengthen and reinforce each other.

Do: Embrace Micro-Segmentation

Many retargeting companies are waxing poetic about taking a website and shrinking it down to the smallest segment possible. Yes, drilling down to the smallest segments is the goal, but stop to think if this is really the best way to get there. Instead of trying to break audiences down further and further into niche markets based on your site, why not use a platform that utilizes data that’s already broken down to the most granular level?

Unstructured data, anyone? A platform like this already has this “pre-visit” interest and intent data on your audience before they arrive at your site, so you can personalize from the ground up instead of breaking down existing audiences.  It’d be in your best interest to explore these platforms first.

To reach the highest level of impact with site retargeting and get the best ROI, look for a partner that can build, bid, report and optimize based on unstructured data. Viewing audiences as individuals allows decisions to be made based on more information than what was viewed. You end up with historical information as well as behavioral details on what they did after they left. These data equip marketers to target based on the nuances of why certain customers convert and others don’t — making them smarter and more successful.

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, 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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  • Porth

    Hi, very interesting article, the ability to get to that granular level makes absolute sense and will be key in helping to achieve your goals. Can you recommend any UK based partners that can build, bid, report and optimize based on unstructured data? Are there any that stand out for you?


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