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Display Advertising: Targeting Options 101

With display advertising growing quickly both in investment and sophistication, we thought it would be a good idea to break down the different types of targeting options available and how they differ (and what they are called in the Google Display Network interface, since Google has its own naming conventions for all of these concepts).

There are two basic ideas in targeting for display: targeting people and targeting sites.  In simple terms, with targeting methods that are focused on users, you are able to show ads to people across the internet (or GDN if you are exclusively working through AdWords), no matter where their browsing takes them, whereas, if you are using a method that targets sites, you are showing ads to any possible visitor on that site.  From there, we can break down our options further.

Targeting Users:

Site Retargeting (aka Remarketing on the GDN)

By placing special tracking tags on your website, you are able to show display ads across the web to users who visited your site, regardless of what site they are currently browsing. You can target based on activity to specific parts of your site, such as users who visited the homepage or a specific product page.  The shopping cart page can also be tagged, and, by excluding converted users, you can target users who were close to ordering but got interrupted and never completely checked out.  A good rule of thumb is to exclude converted orders from all your retargeting groups so you don’t continue to advertise to happy customers, unless you are going to retarget them for an upsell.

Search Retargeting

Allows you to target users who have searched for terms relevant to your products on a search engine (Google, Bing, Ask, etc) but did not click through to your site.  Later, as the searchers are out browsing the web, you can target these individuals with your ads for similar products on your site. In the example below, the user searches for “tick medication” and clicks through to a general site discussing tick medication (or they don’t click through to any site, but simply navigate to another page).  Sometime later, that user is browsing another website and is eligible to see an ad for your site (in this case 1-800-PetMeds), even though the user never clicked through to the 1-800-PetMeds site from the SERP.

3rd Party Data Buys (aka Interest Categories on the GDN)

Users are categorized based on their previous browsing history and identified with certain likes and dislikes.  You can apply these categories to campaigns to target people who fit certain characteristics or like certain activities.  Buying third party data from providers like BlueKai will allow you to target individuals based on their browsing history or data collected from sites where users enter information about themselves (dating sites, social media sites, etc).  Google’s Interest Categories are developed based on your browsing history.  Curious to see how Google classifies you?  You can see what they think about your interests at www.google.com/ads/preferences.

Targeting Sites:

Site Targeting (aka Placements on the GDN)

Shows ads on specific sites you select, regardless of the user who is visiting the site.  Conversely, you can also block specific sites on which you do not want your ads to appear.

Categories of Sites (aka Topics on the GDN)

Shows ads on sites that fall into specific categories you would like to target.  Again, this is independent of the users who happen to be browsing that site.  For example, say you want to target sites in the “music streaming” category, which would put your ads on sites like pandora.com, grooveshark.com, etc. without you explicitly having to list them all like you would in site targeting.

Direct Buys/Run of Site (Reserved Inventory Buys typically on youtube.com through the GDN)

You can buy a block of impressions to show on a publisher’s site with varying specifications depending on the site’s capabilities.  You can dominate a specific spot on the page with your ads for the whole day, get a guaranteed number of impressions for the whole week, etc.  Your ad will be blasted to anyone who browses that site or one of its sub-pages.  These deals are usually negotiated on a case by case basis.

Combining the Two:

You can, of course, overlap these methods in a campaign. This will make your targeting more precise, but in many cases it will greatly shrink the available traffic for your ads.  For example, say you set up a retargeting campaign with a specific site list also applied to that same campaign.  Alone these two would have 2 distinct pools of traffic to pull from.

But together, only the combination (users with the retargeting tag AND happen to be browsing the site on the list) is eligible to have an ad show. It’s just like the Venn Diagrams from 3rd grade, it leaves a much smaller group of potential users that will see the ads.

Traffic volumes and the available audience size will also vary by the type of targeting. For example, with retargeting the pool of qualified users is small and restricted to users who have already visited your site. They have a higher likelihood of conversion and would be a good strategy for an ROI-focused initiative.  Run of Site can be a great method for a branding initiative because the potential traffic volume is large and not as specifically targeted. Depending on the goals of your program you may want to try different combinations or hybrids of these campaign strategies.

  • Michelle Ulizio
    Michelle Ulizio is a Product Manager for Display at RKG.
  • Comments
    12 Responses to “Display Advertising: Targeting Options 101”
    1. Steven says:

      Fanatastic article…. Do you know a good how-to tutorial for “Search Retargeting”. This optioned seemed to have evade me previously

    2. Hi Steven! Search retargeting is only available through a select few DSPs (Simpli.fi, Magnetic, Chango, etc). Whichever platform you or your agency chooses to partner with will be able to walk you through the set up process. It typically involves placing a few extra lines of java script on your site and selecting a group of keywords you would like to re-target.

    3. Hi Steven and Michelle, Steven, I use Chango for search re-targeting and it performs very well. Whatever the cost it will produce a higher ROI. Also keep in mind that targeting certain sites that fit your industry demo to build the pool of re-targeting in display will only reap higher conversions and more return visitors. The success of a re-targeting campaign rest on how many visitors you fill the pool with. I like the GDN and it’s re-targeting. But also use ad networks targeted to predictive segments and certain demographics. Hope it helps.

    4. Hi Michelle – This is a great overview of targeting and the various aspects to remarketing strategies. One thing that Magnetic is very interested in is the search activity across the web (compared to just core search engines). Recently, Magnetic and comScore hosted a webinar which focused on the value of search data and retargeting. The webinar was centered around data that exposed consumer search activity and the share of searches happening beyond search engines. When you consider the search patterns of most individuals, a lot of search activity occurs outside of Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc. comSocre data pointed out that nearly 43% of all search in December 2011 occured on non-search engine entities. There’s a lot of value in search data on vertical sites, e-commerce and shopping comparison engines. The webinar might be helpful and of interest to the readers.

      here’s a link to the full webinar at comScore: http://www.comscore.com/comScore_Magnetic_Webinar

    5. Search Re-targeting says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Simpli.fi, Magne+ic and Chango are not DSP’s but more so data providers who package their search data with media bought from the exchanges utizlizing a DSP which essentially make them an ad network.

      Almost any player in the ad tech space that is selling media(trade desk, network, dsp) can sell you search re-targeting.

    6. Jamie & Greg – thanks for your input. With all the available options out there it is super helpful to share experiences and data findings to aide others in finding the solution that is right for them.

      Search Re-targeting User – thanks for making that clarification. I did not intend to mis-label those 3 as DSPs, more to call out that they are 3 common providers of search re-targeting services. The line between DSPs and ad networks can sometimes be very grey and will vary based on who you talk to.

    7. R Kumar says:

      Hi Michelle,
      Do you know whether or not when Chango/Magnetic/Simpli.fi are saying they have Google data they are referring to intent
      (search query) data from Google.com specifically or are they using other methods of gathering this data (AOL.com search powered by Google, etc.)? I only ask because it would seem odd that they would put such powerful information in the hands of such few people (and not leverage it themselves via AdWords/AdX or major DSPs).

      Thanks,
      RK

    8. Good question, RK. Google doesn’t give out their search data, so I imagine that they (Chango, Magnetic, Simpli.fi, etc) rely on data from partner sites.

    9. R Kumar says:

      Thank you, Michelle! I really appreciate your time and the great work you and the whole team RKG does on this blog/content.

    10. Great article Michelle. Thanks for sharing. I still have a question on targeting visitors based on their browsing history.

      First question is, can Google display ads be set up to target one’s web browsing history (not necessarily search history)?
      If so under which area should that go in according to your classification?
      Can this method be used to target competitors website visitors?

      After a longtime I recently visited SurveyGizmo. From the next session onwards I started seeing SurveyMonkey display ads (via Google display ads) on all websites I visit. I guess this is happening through my web browsing history

    11. Hi Suranga,

      Great questions.

      Google display ads that are targeting a person’s browsing history falls under the Interest Category targeting on the GDN. Interest Categories are groupings that Google buckets a person into based on their web browsing history, among other factors. For example, if you visited a lot of food blogs about cooking, recipe sites, and looked at electric mixers & baking tins, they might determine that you belong in buckets that show you are interested in “Cooking”, “Baking”, and “Desserts.” So if a company that sold oven mits wanted to advertise to people who might be interested in their product, they could go after those categories and you would see one of their ads.

      In that way, an advertiser could end up showing ads to people who have been to a competitor’s site because they would have similar interests. However, they can not only target users who have been to their competitor’s site because that would require placing specific retargeting pixels on their competitor’s site and going after users who have landed there.

      If you wanted to ensure that you were targeting only “new” customers to your site, you could create a custom combination group to target in the Google interface that INCLUDES the interest categories you want to go after and EXCLUDES people who have already been to your site via your own retargeting pixels. That way you would be targeting people interested in your products that have not yet been introduced to your brand (and are likely your competitor’s customers).

      Also, Google does not list search history specifically as a contributing factor for determining one’s interests, so I can’t speak to whether or not it is considered along with the browsing history.

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