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SEO Remarketing

May 24 2012 // PPC + SEO // 30 Comments

The single easiest way to get more out of your SEO has nothing to do with traditional SEO. That’s right, the best way to improve your SEO is a Google Remarketing campaign.

What Is Remarketing?

Stalker LOLcat

Google often botches their description of products but this time they’ve actually nailed it with a concise description and example.

Remarketing lets you show ads to users who’ve previously visited your website as they browse the Web.

When you use remarketing, you’ll tag pages of your site that correspond to certain categories you want to promote. For example, you could add a “TV” tag on all of the pages where you sell televisions. You can then create an AdWords campaign to show highly relevant messages (such as ads displaying a special offer on TVs) to people who’ve visted these pages as they browse sites across the Google Display Network.

One of the points where people seem to get confused is that they think it’s only for traffic that originally came from paid search. That’s not the case. Remarketing can be used for all traffic that comes to your site.

You’ve spent time and effort to get someone to clickthrough on that search engine result and visit your site, yet comparatively few wind up converting. So why are you just letting them walk into the HTML sunset?

You have the opportunity to continue the dialog with those users, reminding them of their interaction with your site and brand as they visit other web properties. Take advantage of this feature!

Does Remarketing Work?

Relevant LOLcat

People might say don’t want these types of ads but their behavior says otherwise. Sure, sometimes it feels a bit creepy stalking people around the Interent, but the numbers are pretty clear. (Later on I’ll discuss how you might attempt to make remarketing less creepy, but for now lets focus on why and how well remarketing works.)

The why is pretty straightforward. You’re advertising to people who have already shown an interest in your site and product. Talk about fish in a barrel! Instead of spending money advertising to all of creation you advertise to people who already have a fairly strong affinity with your brand.

How well does it work? Well enough that you should try it yourself. Whether it’s the study that showed a 400% lift, or the comScore study that showed a 1,046% lift or the AdRoll study that showed a 75% lift the numbers around remarketing are uniformly positive. A natural skeptic, I’ve run remarketing campaigns and been impressed by the results.

Yes, remarketing works.

Remarketing vs. Retargeting

Remarketing used to mean something a bit different before Google latched onto the term for their own retargeting product. So the definitions of remarketing and retargeting wind up being fuzzy.

In my mind, remarketing is essentially the easier and more straight forward version of retargeting. There are plenty of retargeting companies out there that do far more sophisticated things such as delivering dynamic ads based on other site behavior. It’s incredibly interesting and powerful but out of reach for many and, frankly, overkill in many respects.

Crawl before you walk before you run.

Setting Up A Remarketing Campaign

Setting up a remarketing campaign isn’t exactly hard but it’s not dead simple either. Here’s a streamlined guide to creating your own remarketing campaign. (Seriously, I tried to make this quick but there are a lot of steps so hang in there. It’s easier than it looks!)

You’ll need an AdWords account to run a remarketing campaign, however you don’t need to be running any other campaigns. This is an important distinction since you may find that a traditional AdWords campaign is pricey. You’re competing with a bunch of others for the same users.

With remarketing the number of competitors usually decreases and you’re certain that the user has already had an interaction with your brand, site or product. Fewer competitors and increased relevance is a winning combination.

Google AdWords Shared Library

Click on the Shared library link and then click on Audiences which will bring you to the following interface.

Google Adwords Select Audiences

Click the New audience button and you’ll have the option of selecting Remarketing list or Custom combination. For now, select Remarketing list.

Select Remarketing List

This brings up the following interface where you can create a new remarketing list.

Google Adwords Create a Remarketing List

Give your list a name and make it specific. If you’re just starting out with remarketing you may simply want to create a list of visitors to your site. I also recommend describing the list. Again, the more detail the better. It helps (a lot) once you start adding more lists.

The membership duration is the number of days that you’ll be remarketing to this list. The default is 30 days and the maximum is a whopping 540 days. So if someone visits your site and then leaves before converting, this is the number of days you’ll be advertising to them as they surf the web and visit other sites.

A lot of this depends on the length of your sales cycle, but in general I’d keep this at 90 days or less (for visitors). At this point you’re done and can hit the Save button.

Google Remarketing List Creation Successs

Here’s where it gets a little complicated. Because all you’ve done is tell Google what type of list you want to create. You’ve created the definition. Now you have to grab the code so you can start to build that list. So, click the Tag link.

Google Remarketing Code

Here’s the code that you’ll need to place on all of the pages you’d like to add to this list. The recommendation is to insert this code right before the closing </body> tag. For me, that meant editing my theme and placing this code into my footer.

Once you have this in place you’ll start ‘drop cookies’ on users and build that list.

Now, if you don’t want to spend time and money advertising to people who’ve already converted you need to create another list. You’ll go back in and repeat the same steps but this time name your list something like ‘Converted’. Once again, you need to place the tag for this list on the ‘success’ or ‘thank you’ page for that conversion event.

This isn’t always easy, so you can either commit to some frustrating but rewarding hours figuring out how to make this happen or get someone else who knows the code inside and out to do it in about 10 minutes.

So now you’ve got two lists, Visitors and Converted. It’s time to go and build a new Custom combination list.

Google Custom Combination Remarketing List

This gives you what will look similar to an Advanced Segment interface in Google Analytics.

Google Build a New Customer Combination List

You want to build a list of Prospects which means you want all of those people from Visitors but none of those from Converted. Click ‘select audiences’ and then use the drop down to select from your Remarketing lists. The UI here is pretty janky so try not to get frustrated.

Google Prospects Remarketing List

At the end this is how your Prospects list should look. Click Save and you’ve now got the list you want to use for your remarketing campaign.

Google Remarketing Audiences Lists

A big word of caution here. Your campaign will not begin to serve ads until your Audience reaches 500 users.

Now we’re finally ready to create a remarketing campaign. Google has done a better job on the UI here.

Create a Google Remarketing Campaign

Simply select Display Network only (remarketing) under the Campaign type drop down to get started.

Google Remarketing Campaign Settings

Fill out the basic settings and then you can decide whether you want to play around with ad scheduling and frequency capping. The latter is probably the easiest way to reduce the creepy factor of your remarketing campaign. So instead of showing your ad to a user 14 times in a day you may decide 3 a day is enough.

However, I’d leave this alone for now since you’re never quite sure if a user has truly seen that ad. It may not have been in view or they simply may have had banner blindness.

You could also decide not to show ads during certain times, thinking that those surfing between midnight at 6am might not be in the market for your product. Again, I’d leave this as is and not make any assumptions about what might trigger the user to re-engage.

Google Image Ads for Remarketing

You can choose to run a number of different ad types through a remarketing campaign. I prefer image ads that have a compelling and simple offer. But test it out for yourself and see what works for you.

Google Display Targeting Options

There are even greater levels of targeting available should you choose to only target people visiting certain topic areas. And Google does a good job with a simple venn diagram to show you what happens when you make these selections.

Again, I don’t see a compelling reason to do this until you’re running a super sophisticated remarketing campaign (i.e. – you might create different creative to serve to users as they visit different types of sites.)

Once your campaign is up and running you can start to look at how it performs.

Google Remarketing Results

Hopefully you’ve also implemented conversion tracking so you can see both 1-click conversions and view-through conversions. I know there’s a lot of debate about the value of view-through conversions. I tend to believe they are valuable. I’m not saying I’d attribute all of that conversion to the view, but the combined synergy of marketing channels is important.

Also, while the example above is highly redacted I can tell you that the remarketing campaign has the lowest CPA (on a 1-click basis) of all other campaigns except for branded search. Add in the view-through conversions (even discounting it by 50%) and remarketing is a monster winner.

Remarketing Isn’t SEO

If you’ve made it down here you might be muttering that this is all well and good but it’s not SEO. But it is if you think of SEO as generating productive traffic. My job as an SEO is to help clients get the most out of their marketing efforts.

In most of my initial conversations with clients, I ask if they’re running a remarketing campaign. Nearly all respond with ‘What’s that?’ or ‘No’. This makes me sad. Whether I wind up working with them or not, they can get so much more out of their efforts by implementing a remarketing campaign.

If I do wind up working with them, I’m going to want to drive the right visitors to the site, convert more of them in that first visit (CRO) but also give myself a chance to convert even more after that first visit.

SEO isn’t a one session proposition.


Get the most out of your SEO efforts by implementing a Google Remarketing campaign. Don’t let search engine visitors just leave your site. Extend the life and improve the effectiveness of your SEO by reminding visitors of their interaction with your site and brand as they visit other web properties.

Dynamic Keyword Insertion and Quality Score

December 04 2010 // PPC + Rant // 1 Comment

I recently fired up a new AdWords campaign for a client that was perfect for Dynamic Keyword Insertion. But it didn’t seem to be working, so I emailed AdWords support and got this answer.

No Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Dynamic Keyword Quality Score

First off, my name isn’t John. This isn’t the first time I’ve been addressed like this though. Since I go by AJ many customer service folks seem to transpose the J onto my last name (Kohn) and come up with John. Now, at one point in my youth I told my parents I wanted to be called Tom after the cat in Tom and Jerry, but I’ve never used John as a pseudonym.

What was more surprising was the fact that Dynamic Keyword Insertion as a feature is gated by Quality Score. Was I supposed to know this? Nowhere does it mention that you must achieve a certain Quality Score to use Dynamic Keyword Insertion. But more to the point, does it make any real sense?

AdWords (il)Logic

The advice they have is to create static text ads (for the nearly 10,000 keywords I have) until such time as they grant me the ability to use Dynamic Keyword Insertion. You tell me to make it more relevant. I can do that … by using Dynamic Keyword Insertion. But I can’t use that until I make the ads relevant. It’s a Catch-22.

I wrote back explaining that it seemed like an onerous amount of work. You really want me to create static ads until the Quality Score increases to a point where you turn on Dynamic Keyword Insertion?

AdWords WTF

Yeah, still not John. But here’s the kicker. This is a new campaign! Yet users are not finding my ad very relevant to click on? So – how did you figure that out before it was launched? (Okay, I actually know they’re probably using an account or domain Quality Score. But tell me if that’s the case.)

And lets talk about relevancy. While I can’t divulge the exact keyword set, it is very specific. This ad is relevant if you’re searching for any of these keywords.

Making Relevance Difficult to Achieve

I’m still trying to figure out why Google would decide to gate this feature. Dynamic Keyword Insertion is a fairly advanced strategy. You’re not going to get a lot of small businesses using it, particularly if you’re playing these types of games.

Using the keyword in the ad is a pretty good way to make the ad more relevant. That seems to be one of Google’s goals. The advice is essentially to make a static ad that would be the same as the dynamic ad. So … Google wants the ad to look that way and include that keyword, they just don’t want me to use the feature that makes that easy to do.

It makes about as much sense as a smiling Spock.


Can anyone give me a good reason for this policy?

Don’t Average CTR

November 08 2010 // Analytics + PPC + Rant + SEO // 6 Comments

One of the biggest errors I see (consistently) in SEO and PPC analysis is using Excel’s AVERAGE function on Click Through Rate (CTR). As I mentioned in my SEO Pivot Tables post, do not do this. Here’s why averaging CTR is dangerous.

Take the following set of 10 data points.

Don't Average Click Through Rate

If you SUM all of the Impressions and Clicks and then do the CTR calculation you arrive at 10.05%. If you AVERAGE the 10 CTR percentages you arrive at 6.14%.

If I change the Clicks for these 10 data points I can produce the opposite effect.

Don't Average CTR

And will you look at that, the average CTR is the same in both instances. Can you see how misleading average can be here?

Don’t Average Click Through Rate

For years, I’ve used a structured Excel quiz in my hiring process that tests just this issue. In my experience upwards of 50% of applicants fail the quiz. If you’re pulling down data into Excel for PPC or SEO, make sure you don’t fall into this trap.

Google Instant Analysis

September 09 2010 // Analytics + PPC + SEO // 2 Comments

Google Instant delivers a new search experience, both in how users enter searches and how those searches are presented. What does it mean for the search industry?

Google Instant

Did Google Instant Kill SEO?

No! A thousand times no. Those making these claims are either being purposefully provocative or are … simply misinformed (see how nice I can be) about SEO. What makes SEO interesting is that it continually evolves. Google Instant is simply another evolution of search and those who adapt will flourish and those who don’t will fall behind. Pick a side.

Is Google Instant an Algorithm Change?

No! Google Instant does not impact search rankings. It is not an algorithm change. However, it may have an impact on traffic as search behavior changes. So lets look at exactly what Google Instant is and why it could be a major shift for SEO.

Google Instant vs Facebook Typeahead

Facebook Typeahead Search

Before we go into the details, let me take a brief detour. I believe Google Instant was developed, in large part, because of a continuous effort to provide users with a better search experience. However, I also think that Google Instant was influenced by the work Facebook has been doing with Typeahead Search, which has been presenting results in the same way for about a year.

Remember, the Open Graph is just another way to build a search index and one day soon you’ll go to Facebook and that small search box will suddenly be twice as large and presenting more results from outside the walled garden than inside.

The era of Facebook SEO is just around the corner and Google knows it.

Search Speed

At the launch event, Google stated that the average time to type a search was 9 seconds and the time to evaluate the results was 12 seconds. Google Instant seems aimed at reducing both of these metrics.

The time to type has clearly been reduced as Google delivers results on a letter-by-letter basis. However, the evaluation time may also be reduced as users become used to scanning the ever changing search results, watching them go from ‘wrong’ to ‘right’.

If you pay attention to UX (and you should) you know that users scan web content. Google Instant seems poised to take advantage of this behavior.

The Fold

Users will be evaluating the quality of searches as they type. The speed in which Google delivers these results means the evaluation will likely take place above the fold. Will users become more focused on above the fold results, even when they land on the ‘right’ search result? If so, this is compounded by the extra space taken up by Google Instant’s set of five auto-complete suggestions.

If the evaluation time decreases and the focus is on results above the fold, a greater emphasis would be placed on achieving top rankings and having a result that stands out. In other words, SEO becomes even more important.

Auto Complete

Google’s auto-complete feature becomes a much more powerful part of SEO. Today, the algorithm behind search engine results is refined on a daily basis. Gone are the ‘Google Dance’ days in which a monthly algorithm change created havoc on search results.

However, the auto-complete algorithm is not updated with that type of frequency. Some SEOs (myself included) target auto-complete suggestions (formerly know as Google Suggests) for optimization. While some of the suggestions change, most of them do not – and if they do, they do so infrequently. When they do change, you feel the impact – immediately.

The increased reliance on auto-complete and infrequent updates to those suggestions could result in a new type of Google Dance.

The auto-complete algorithm seems loosely based on search volume, location and recency with a heavy emphasis on volume. Google Instant creates a secondary SEO algorithm. It’s not just about those 10 blue links, it’s about those 5 auto-complete suggestions too.

We simply don’t know how often Google will change auto-complete suggestions, how they’ll change the criteria for those suggestions nor how quickly SEOs will find ways to influence and game those suggestions. Auto-complete gives Google quite a bit of power to direct user queries.

Google Analytics

Initial reports seem to indicate that the keyword returned to Google Analytics will be the auto-complete suggestion term that produced the click. This reduces the visibility into the actual typed search that triggered the click. This may inhibit the ability to infer the actual intent of those queries, or to determine if the auto-complete suggestion is creating non-qualified traffic.

While seemingly innocuous at first glace, I believe the lack of visibility is dangerous. Thankfully, a parameter (‘oq’) in the URL string has been identified that should provide the ‘original query’ string. If you’re already tracking rank through Google Analytics, setting up the Google Instant tracking shouldn’t be too hard. Experimentation on the exact output is necessary to ensure you’re able to leverage the data.

I’ll post my own Google Instant Analytics Hack after I find the right configuration.

Paid Search

Google Instant dynamically displays both organic and paid search results as you type. While the threshold for booking a paid search result as an impression is 3 seconds, many believe (myself included) that the number of impressions will increase.

This could have a dampening effect on clickthrough rates (CTR) which is the primary way Quality Score (QS) is measured. A lower QS leads to higher CPCs and impression thresholds. It remains unclear how Google will handle this potential scenario and whether more scanable paid search results will be more effective.

And if a change in search behavior does come to pass, does that change the distribution of clicks between paid and organic? The cynic in me says Google wouldn’t have launched Google Instant unless the impact on paid search revenues was thought to be neutral or positive.

Search Behavior

Google Instant makes hitting the return or enter button nearly obsolete. This simple action (or lack thereof) may change search behavior. There will be no delimiter – no time in which to enter, evaluate and iterate. Instead, evaluation and iteration take place almost simultaneously.

Users will ‘flip’ through results by typing, until they find the results they want. The speed also reduces the hesitation to try another search, particularly since searches are dynamically shown as you type or delete.

Ben Gomes (Google Distinguished Engineer) did state during the launch announcement that Google Instant resulted in more search queries.

Search may become less about a single search and more about a series of iterative searches. As such, SEOs may need to understand how to either interrupt or attract a click during that series of searches or understand how to optimize for the last search in that iterative process.

The Long-Tail

Google Instant should have an impact on the long-tail, but what exactly that impact will be depends on how search behavior evolves. In the short-term, I believe the number of words per query will rise as users take advantage of the auto-complete suggestions and iterations. The ability to drill-down to more refined queries should go up. We’ll see an expanding mid-tail.

Google SIdewalk Ends

However, what happens when you get to the end of auto-complete suggestions? Will users keep on typing and ultimately hit return? Or will they begin to view the lack of auto-complete suggestions as a sign they’ve gone too far, that they’ve reached the end of the sidewalk? Will they simply delete and try to iterate the search within the auto-complete suggestions?

We’ll have to wait and see.

Google Instant Analysis

Google Instant will not kill SEO.

Google Instant is not an algorithm change.

Google Instant looks eerily familiar to Facebook Typeahead Search.

Google Instant reduces the time it takes to type a query.

Google Instant may impact traffic as search behavior changes.

Google Instant may reduce the time users spend evaluating each SERP, putting a greater emphasis on having a scanable and eye-catching result.

Google Instant pushes all results down the page because of the five auto-complete suggestions.

Google Instant may make ranking above the fold more important as users become focused on evaluating results as they type.

Google Instant makes auto-complete suggestions extremely powerful, creating a secondary algorithm that can have serious traffic implications.

Google Instant could reduce the visibility of true search queries unless you configure Google Analytics to capture this data.

Google Instant will change the distribution of search terms on the tail.

Google Instant may increase paid search impressions which could negatively impact CTR and Quality Score, resulting in odd CPC cost and performance.

Google Instant is addictive.

Facebook 2010 = Google 2003

July 03 2010 // PPC + SEO // 1 Comment

This isn’t a post about predicting the future of Facebook or taking sides in the Google v. Facebook debate. Instead, this is a warning.

Changed Traffic Conditions Ahead

Google 2003

AdWords was launched in October of 2000. In February of 2002 Google switched AdWords to a cost-per-click model. Later that same year the first Google Dance was held. By 2003, smart marketers were figuring out how to get the most out of AdWords.

Search volume continued to climb and the Google algorithm became more complex. Search engine optimization became more important and the landscape was changing … fast.

Facebook 2010

Facebook Ads launched in November of 2007. Today (figuratively, not literally) the platform seems to have hit critical mass. Thus far, most marketers have focused on engagement at the urging of the many social media experts/gurus/rock stars. “It’s about conversations” they shout.

But others are finding out how to make Facebook ads really work. Dennis Yu recently shared one of his Facebook ad secrets as well as how he’s using Facebook ads to increase Facebook fans.

In addition, Facebook has created more complexity and opportunity through the introduction of the Open Graph. Suddenly, Facebook search results can be seriously manipulated optimized. Like farms could spring up and savvy operators like Marty Weintraub will crack Facebook SEO.

Different But The Same

Google and Facebook are different, but figuring out PPC and SEO opportunities is the same. Compare the time lines above and you’ll see an eerie similarity. What I left out was that both Google and Facebook launched an advertising initiative approximately three years after launch. Am I the only one who sees the pattern?

Right now, I believe Facebook is at the same tipping point Google was in 2003. There is a tremendous opportunity for growth through experience. Jump in and start figuring it out. This is the fun part!

Those who aren’t afraid to fail are going to be the ones reaping the rewards.