The Ultimate Guide to Search Retargeting

This is a guest post by Ben Plomion, Director, Marketing & Partnerships at Chango.

To most marketers, the term “retargeting” means “Site Retargeting,” the practice of placing display ads in front of people who have previously visited a website.

This is a limited view: Retargeting means Site Retargeting in the same way that “video games” means “first person shooter games.” Just as there are many different genres of video games, there are many different types of retargeting.

The most significant form of retargeting to emerge is Search Retargeting — the practice of showing display ads to users based on the terms they enter into search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and others. Search Retargeting is revolutionary because it brings the power of search engine marketing to display campaigns and makes it possible to hone in on users who have never visited your site. It can be used for acquiring new customers, prospecting, and competitor conquering.

Main Characters

In Search Retargeting Land, we’ve got a few key players:


Brands have a clear mission: spread brand awareness, recruit new customers, and drive sales. They’re excited by the potential of the digital space, but often view their display buys as a necessary evil, usually because they’ve been stuck with the SOB—Same Old Buys. They’re bogged down in inefficiency without knowing it, talking to the wrong people for too long with the wrong message, often because they’re relying on agencies that aren’t aware of the incredible boost retargeting has given the display industry in the past couple of years.


As the relationship between agencies and brands has grown increasingly fragmented in the digital age, agencies have grown extremely hungry to prove their value by delivering incredible ROI to their clients. Unfortunately, many media planners continue to execute display strategies that only incorporate basic Site Retargeting, and, as a result, only deliver one tenth of the ROI they could otherwise. They’re unaware that spectacular results are only a small step away.

Retargeting Companies

Simply put, search Retargeting companies use data in innovative ways to help marketers get unprecedented results from their display campaigns. There are six other types of Retargeting in addition to Search Retargeting: SEM/SEO, Email, Consumed Contextually Relevant Content, Engaged with Dispersed Content, Socially Connected Retargeting, and Site.

I represent Chango. Chango is recognized as the industry’s leading Search Retargeting solution. While Search Retargeting is our calling card, we’re also leaders in groundbreaking techniques like Programmatic Site Retargeting, a practice in which we combine many different data points around online behavior to transform conventional Site Retargeting into a much more precise science.

Ad Exchanges

Ad exchanges make it possible to buy and sell inventory across multiple ad networks. The buying and selling of each impression takes place in real time via Real-Time Bidding (RTB), making the entire process as efficient as possible. Smart marketers, and retargeters, in particular, rely on a mountain of data and carefully crafted algorithms when making their bids.

Demand Side Platforms (DSPs)

DSPs make it possible for marketers to use a single interface for managing accounts on multiple ad exchanges and data exchanges. Marketers can plug in data and set parameters to automatically bid the optimal amount to serve a display ad to a visitor.

Search Retargeting Walkthrough

How It Works

At the most basic level, Search Retargeting is a fairly simple three-step process:

  1. A user searches for something on a site or search engine by entering search terms.
  2. Search Retargeting remembers the search terms and tags the user with a pixel. The user remains anonymous throughout the process.
  3. Search Retargeting then targets the user with a display ad based on the search terms. For example, if a user searches for “Discount Leather Handbags,” a Search Retargeting company can target the user with a display ad for great deals on leather handbags. The process is similar to traditional search engine marketing, which allows advertisers to place ads next to or atop search results. The difference is that with Search Retargeting, users can still be targeted after they leave the search engine and with more dynamic display creatives.

Search Retargeting Powerups


Marketers tend to fall in love with Site Retargeting, since it outperforms more basic techniques on the media plan. But they ignore Site Retargeting’s fundamental drawback: It only reaches people who already know about your site.

Search Retargeting leverages the power of intent inherent in what people search, serving ads to people who want what you’re offering but have never visited your site before. Search Retargeting, in other words, delivers new customers.

Plugs the Leaks in Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

If you like search engine marketing ads, you’ll fall in love with Search Retargeting. The problem with search engine marketing is that there’s limited opportunity to display engaging creatives, and if the searcher doesn’t click on your link, it’s game over.

With Search Retargeting, you get second, third, fourth and fifth chances to win over the user.

Media Buy Efficiency

When marketers have more and better data,  they can make smarter bids to serve display ads to users.

Let’s say that Marketers A and B both represent large sporting goods retailers and are bidding to serve an impression to a visitor on Now imagine that Marketer A knows that the visitor recently searched “Cheap Football Pads” on Bing, and Marketer B does not. Marketer A is going to bid more, win that impression, and serve a creative for football gear. Marketer A will likely reap the rewards, while Marketer B limps back to the retailer with mediocre results.

Increase Brand Awareness

With Site Retargeting, you’re only talking to people who know about you already. That doesn’t help spread your brand awareness one inch. With Search Retargeting, you’re talking to people who might not have known about you before, and you’re locating those people based on search terms that clearly demonstrate their interest in your product or service. In other words, you’re spreading word about your brand to exactly the right people, and only those people.

For a deeper dive into how Search Retargeting works, check out Part Two.

Prior to joining Chango, Ben worked with GE Capital for four years to establish and lead the digital media practice. This led to the development of GE Capital’s digital value proposition and its execution worldwide. The new venture re-energized paid, owned and earned media across 70+ web sites. Ben graduated from GE’s Experienced Commercial Leadership program after completing his MBA at McGill University. Before GE, Ben held a variety of Marketing & Business Development roles in the e-payments industry, working for Gemalto in London. Ben writes frequently for Digiday and and has spoken at IAB and OMMA.

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5 replies on “The Ultimate Guide to Search Retargeting”
  1. says: Rahul Raj

    Fantastic guide TAMAR, I follow your blog and every time I learn new things about online marketing. I like all the posts, Awsome job. Thanks to all Guest authors you have.

    Editor’s Note Thanks Rahul, but I’m not approving any comments that say “iOS to computer.” Read my blog policy below.

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