What Is Retargeting? A Marketers Guide To The Basics

A simple guide to help marketers understand the basics of site, social, behavioral and search retargeting
Lionel White on May 29, 2013 at 9:09 am

Retargeting is not a new concept to the digital industry — in fact, it has been around for some time — but its uses and forms have definitely evolved. Over the course of this evolution, “retargeting” has become somewhat of a loose term – we now see it used alongside “search” and “social” in addition to its original form, “site retargeting.”

In my opinion, there is a real need for clarification of, and education about, retargeting. For example, is search retargeting really re-targeting? Despite its name, search retargeting is more of a mid- to upper-funnel strategy that engages new users, as opposed to re-targeting current customers. Can you truly retarget someone new? It seems like a bit of a contradiction.

We have also seen a similar trend with social retargeting. Just because a user shows interest through social media or intent through search, does this automatically qualify as a form of retargeting? What if they have never been targeted to begin with? As we continue to apply data to our display campaigns, we should be careful with how we bucket various forms of targeting and make sure we understand what their strategies are and the audience they are designed to engage.

Site Retargeting

Site retargeting is probably the truest form of retargeting because you are re-marketing or re-engaging current customers. In this scenario, the consumer has been on your site and has perhaps even made a purchase of your product. You then use that data, along with your existing relationship and knowledge, to try to bring the consumer back into purchasing more. This is the very bottom-of-the-funnel, as they are already your customers or have already visited your site.

Search Retargeting

As mentioned above, search retargeting is a mid- to upper-funnel strategy that seeks to engage new consumers from an audience group that has shown some interest in a brand’s product (or a related product), yet may not have had any previous interaction with the brand. In this sense, it’s not really remarketing or retargeting because there is no existing relationship to the consumer — at least not in many cases. Search retargeting doesn’t rely on an existing relationship for its data.

By looking at data on consumers’ search habits, search retargeting allows an audience of interested consumers to be built and marketed to, whether they are current customers or not. As I explained in a previous article, an audience built by search retargeting is larger than an audience based purely on SEO keywords or an audience built on site retargeting data.

Social Retargeting

Social retargeting is even more upper-funnel than search retargeting because it uses purely interest-based data points from consumers to identify and create audience groups, whether or not they have searched for, bought, or researched the brand’s product or a related product.

Until recently, Facebook was a prime example of social retargeting, as it would use social data (such as a status update or brand comment) to reach consumers with ads. Today, Facebook has expanded its targeting capabilities to include search- and site-level data.

Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting has one thing in common with social and search retargeting: it focuses on building audiences. However, the main difference is the data it uses to identify those audiences. Behavioral targeting is less about fact (i.e., a consumer actually searches for a product and/or references a brand through social channels), and more about inference. As a result, marketers may be less likely to reach “qualified” consumers through behavioral targeting as compared to search retargeting.