How does the weatherman know what I’m thinking?

It’s been such a cold January so far that when I checked the weather this morning, the headline said: “Will it EVER get warm again?” Yeah, no kidding! I feel like I’m living in Antarctica here!

Michigan Nut Photography: Lighthouse Gallery - State of Michigan &emdash; St. Joseph Lighthouse on ice

Once I had satisfied myself that warmer weather was on the way, the next thing that caught my eye was an ad for “THE ENTREPRENEUR’S PHONE SYSTEM.” It was a display ad for Grasshopper  (see below), which provides toll-free numbers for distributed teams.

How does the weatherman know how I feel, and why does the ad for that product I’m interested in keep popping up on other web pages? How do they do that?

Answer: With remarketing ads.

Roanoke Weather - re-marketing ads

The Grasshopper ad above is an example of a  remarketing ad.  I saw it when I checked the weather this morning because a few weeks ago I visited Grasshopper’s website on the recommendation of a friend of mine who runs an insurance brokerage in Roanoke, VA.

How do remarketing ads work?

Remarketing ads are an example of  behavioral targeting:  You see them around the web based on the websites you visit.

1024px-Darts_in_the_middle_of_a_dartboard

Photo by Richard Matthews

Here’s how remarketing worked in the case of the Grasshopper display ad I showed you above:

  1. When I visited the Grasshopper website, they used a variety of tracking codes (Google Analytics, DoubleClick, AdRoll, and more) to collect information about me: for example, what pages I visited, how long I spent on each page, and (maybe) whether I filled out their sign-up form. (By the way, this isn’t a dirty secret: Grasshopper discloses their use of website visitor profiling in their Privacy Policy  as they are required to do.)
  2. Next, based on my behavior on the Grasshopper website, my web browser was added to a  remarketing list. This involved adding a little piece of code to my web browser called a  cookie.
  3. Finally, when I visited The Weather Channel to check the forecast, they checked to see if my web browser was on the remarketing list. Since it was, they showed me the ad for Grasshopper.

How can remarketing ads benefit your company?

Remarketing ads are one way you can tap into the buyer’s journey. Remember that the buyer’s journey is the process of active research a buyer uses when contemplating a purpose. The buyer’s journey can be segmented into three parts:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Decision

Grasshopper is using remarketing ads to pull me along the buyer’s journey. I am well aware of their “virtual phone system” service and I am considering purchasing them at some point. As Lead Web Developer for IXP, I am always looking for ways to provide a higher level of customer service to our customers. At some point, a toll-free number might be a good way to do this. But I’m not yet at the decision stage. Still, Grasshopper is very much on my radar, and their remarketing ads have helped to put them there.

You can use remarketing ads, like Grasshopper, to pull your prospective buyers along the buyer’s journey: from awareness to consideration to decision. If your company sells primarily to other businesses, you are probably dealing with a lengthy sales cycle in which your buyers conduct a multi-step research process before deciding to purchase your goods or services. Because your product or service is relatively complex and expensive, you cannot expect qualified buyers to purchase your products and services on the first visit to your website. And you cannot rely on their memories of your website, because no one has perfect recall.

In short, remarketing ads can benefit your company by providing you with a way to ensure buyers remain aware of your company and your products and services. They can’t decide to buy from you if they aren’t considering you, and they can’t consider you unless they are aware of you. And some folks with bad memories (like me) might not remain aware of you unless you remarket to them.

What vendors provide remarketing ads?

Digital advertising has been big business since the dot-com boom in the 1990s, and there a number of companies which provide remarketing ad solutions (also known as retargeting).

  • AdRoll  – “Full service display platform with tons of great retargeting features.” You can sign yourself up with a two week free trial.
  • Chango – “A  programmatic advertising platform that connects marketers with their exact target audience in real time across Display, Social, Mobile, & Video.”  To get started, you need to send them a message, or give them a call, which means they are a high-end solution.
  • Criteo – Headquartered in Paris, Criteo is “a ‘personalized retargeting company’ that works with Internet retailers to serve personalized online display advertisements to consumers that have previously visited the advertiser’s website.” To get started, you need to fill out a form, and it is unclear what happens next (probably you are contacted by a sales agent).
  • Google Ads  – Over 90% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising sales. In 2010, Google added remarketing to Google AdWords. In 2013, they made it much easier to integrate Google AdWords and Google Analytics, and added the ability to build remarketing lists using Google Analytics. To get started, you just need to sign up for a free Google AdWords account and a free Google Analytics account.
  • Perfect Audience – “Perfect Audience is a retargeting platform that lets marketers effortlessly bring back lost web visitors with Facebook ads on Facebook and banner ads across the web.” There are no set up fees or minimum spend requirements, and you can get started with a two-week free trial with your email and phone number.
  • ReTargeter – “ReTargeter is a full-service display advertising platform specializing in audience targeting and retargeting.” Their pricing begins at $500/month, and you need to contact their sales team to get started.

Bottom line:

  • Google Advertising is the best place to start for the average online marketer.
  • The do-it-yourself options provided by AdRoll and Perfect Audience are worthy of consideration as you seek to work smarter and optimize your ROI.
  • The solutions provided by Chango, Criteo, and ReTargeter seem to be for high-end businesses only.

Google remarketing ads: How do they work?

First, watch this two minute video. It’s a bit dated in some of the details since it’s from 2010, but it is still the best quick video introduction available.

I want to highlight a couple key points from the video:

  • You manage remarketing ads in Google AdWords, not Google Analytics. This should be obvious, but I say this because the Remarketing Lists feature in Google Analytics has blurred the lines between the products and created a bit of confusion (at least for me, but then again I am not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree).
  • Remarketing campaigns commonly use  Google Display Network  to show your ads to users as they browse the web. The Google Display Network consists of millions of websites which have agreed to display advertising in exchange for a cut of Google’s advertising revenue.  

This one minute video explains the concept of the Google Display Network:

Before we go further, let me address a few misconceptions about the Google Display Network and remarketing ads:

  • You can use the Google Display Network without a remarketing list.
  • Google Display Network ads are often images, but they can be text ads or multimedia ads as well.
  • Google Display Network is not the only network you can use for remarketing ads: You can also use remarketing lists for search ads, or mobile apps.

How to set up a remarketing campaign with AdWords and Analytics

Let’s suppose that you are the marketing director for a healthcare company with facilities in multiple states. Last year you launched a network of beautiful new websites which convey the compassionate professionalism of your operation. As a result, the vast majority of your facilities are thriving. However, a handful of facilities in specific localities are struggling due to the competitiveness of the local market. After considering the possible causes of this problem, you conclude that lack of awareness is the root cause. Your facilities have great staff and great ratings from the government inspectors.  You’ve tried some search engine optimization techniques, but for whatever reason you haven’t been able to get on the first page of results in those localities yet.

Since you are looking for some results in the short-term, you decide to try a two-pronged paid advertising technique to capture additional market share:

  1. Increase overall website traffic to your website through pay-per-click text ads.
  2. Nurture awareness of your facilities by remarketing to website visitors using display ads.

Here’s a diagram showing what’s involved in implementing this particular remarketing technique (and let me stress that it is only one possible way to run a remarketing campaign):

Remarketing Graphic ver 2

Let’s walk through the image above:

  1. Before you start your remarketing ads, you will need to make made a couple of important adjustment to your website. You will need to adjust the Google Analytics tracking code to support display advertising. You will also need to adjust the privacy policy on your website to disclose to website visitors that you will be collection information about their behavior which will be shared with third-parties. Because your website relates to healthcare, you will also need to make sure that you won’t be violating any of Google’s restrictions that apply to sensitive categories in interest-based advertising.
  2. Next, you will use Google Analytics to establish the criteria for your remarketing lists. Theoretically, you could create as many different remarketing lists as you want. But to keep things simple, let’s create two remarketing lists: One for all website visitors, and one for visitors who completed a specific goal on your website as defined in Google Analytics. At this stage, you will need to link your Google AdWords and Google Analytics accounts if you haven’t done so already.
  3. Now it is time to build your campaigns in Google AdWords. Note that you are actually going to build two separate ad groups: The purpose of Ad Group #1 is to drive traffic to your website from search engines. Ads in Ad Group #1 are text ads, primarily on the Search Network. By contrast, Ad Group #2 uses the remarketing lists gathered by Google Analytics to serve display ads on the Google Display Network.

As with any advertising campaign, you will need to evaluate the results and make adjustments for optimal return on investment. You should plan to do this early and often.

Conclusion

If you want to learn more about remarketing ads, I recommend the following resources:

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