The average consumer likely has a negative perception of targeted ads, but new data from Visual Objects reveals several key benefits of targeted advertising for small businesses — specifically, search retargeting strategies.
Updated March 28, 2022
Search retargeting strategies help small businesses effectively get their advertisements in front of the right audiences. But how does search retargeting work?
Consider this scenario:
Spring weather is just around the corner and you’ve already planned several weekend hikes to take advantage of the warmer temperatures.
You’ve spent a few hours searching online for trails and choosing the best routes to take. In your planning process, you realized your hiking boots are a few years old and could use an upgrade.
You search Google for top-rated hiking boots and click on a few product round-up articles like this one. After a bit of reading, however, you’re still unsure about making a final purchase.
A few days later, you’re catching up on the news from an online publication and see a display ad on the side of the page for top-tier hiking boots with strong traction, high breathability, and a lot of cushion that perfectly align with your needs — and, the brand is offering a discount on this boot style.
Would you click on the ad and make a purchase?
Most consumers can probably relate to this scenario, especially since online shopping habits spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 54% of people have made an online purchase in the early months of 2021, including 12% who made more than 20 online purchases. But do consumers know that this is a prime example of search retargeting?
Online shopping leads to prime opportunities for search retargeting for businesses to boost sales and drive revenue, but it’s often hard for smaller players to break into markets and compete with large competitors.
What Is Search Retargeting?
Search retargeting is a form of digital marketing where businesses use data on consumer search behavior to create custom audience groups, then direct specific display ads to each of those groups based on what keywords or phrases they’ve searched for in the past.
This strategy can help small businesses and digital marketing agencies reach more customers who have already demonstrated interest in their products or services through the following benefits.
Learn how small businesses are advertising their services and products in our 2022 Small Business Advertising Report.
Site Retargeting vs Search Retargeting
For marketing agencies, the phrases “search retargeting” and “site retargeting” come up frequently in this day and age. While both retargeting efforts have benefits, they are also different.
Search retargeting allows companies to target potential customers through search engines using keyword retargeting efforts as an example. Site retargeting focuses on targeting individuals that have already visited your website.
For example, if a site visitor leaves without converting, they can be targeted with your advertisement later on.
Search and site retargeting benefit companies by focusing on different pools of customers.
Additional Reading: ‘CRM Retargeting: Remarketing to Existing Customers’
For many, search retargeting is a viable targeted advertising strategy.
Targeted advertising, however, generally has a negative connotation among consumers. So, does it really work?
Visual Objects surveyed 500 consumers in 2021 to understand their online shopping habits and found that while some people have a negative outlook on targeted ads, there are several clear benefits for small businesses to invest in targeted advertising, especially search retargeting.
Benefits of Search Retargeting
Cost-effective marketing option: 52% of consumers make a purchase within 3 days of seeing an interesting product. As traditional PPC and SEO become more competitive, search retargeting can help small businesses reach consumers within this critical period.
Brand awareness: 59% of consumers frequently notice ads for brands they’ve previously searched for, implying increased name recognition.
Traffic and engagement: 26% of consumers are likely to click on ads for brands they have searched for in the past, driving users to company websites.
Appeal to all customer groups: 52% of consumers can identify at least one benefit of targeted advertising, implying that these targeted ads can resonate with both new and existing customers.
Results: Despite the 58% of consumers that have a negative outlook on targeted advertising, search retargeting can still help small businesses expand their audience and drive sales.
Search Retargeting Offers a Cost-Effective Alternative to PPC or SEO
Consumers vary in their approach to online shopping — some know what they want and are ready to buy it immediately. Others, however, spend time browsing and researching before making a purchase.
In 2021, most consumers (52%) made an online purchase within three days of seeing a product or service that interests them.
These three days are critical for businesses that want to reach interested users before they make a purchase.
Outside of search retargeting, businesses often implement various SEO and PPC strategies to ensure they stay top of mind (and top of page) for interested users.
Businesses use SEO tactics such as optimizing their website for topic relevance and algorithm recognition to help their website or specific webpages rank at the top of organic results pages on Google and other search engines.
While investing in SEO has lasting benefits, effective strategies can take a long time and generally rely on unique or authoritative content, making it harder for small businesses to compete with large companies with flexible resources.
Companies that choose PPC strategies pay to appear at the top of search results pages. Small businesses will see quicker results from PPC ads, and it is easier to tell if their efforts are successful. PPC strategies, however, require financial investment that will likely increase and too many paid ads can actually turn users away from a brand.
With the increased competition around SEO and the costs associated with PPC, small businesses can still get their brand in front of the right audience through search retargeting.
Businesses can place targeted ads to nurture consumers’ interest before they’ve made a purchase.
For example, Thomas Flutz, CEO and founder of home-brewing company Coffeeble, was looking for a coffee mug with a heating pad to keep his drink warm. He didn’t make a purchase at that moment, but was later served a targeted ad.
“I clicked on the ad after I had looked at the page myself a couple of days ago, and it just popped up again,” Flutz said. “I was very happy with the purchase.”
This search retargeting experience highlights the importance of reaching consumers between the moment they decide they are interested in a type of product or service to when they make an actual purchase.
This timeframe, however, will vary from consumer to consumer, or even from product to product.
Stephen Light, CMO of mattress company Nolah Mattress, explained that his approach to online shopping depends on the price point of the product.
“For cheaper products, I compare prices and reviews in a single e-commerce platform,” Light said. “For high-ticket items, however, I do extensive research and comparisons before purchasing — sometimes, it can take up to a month if I am undecided.”
Small businesses can use search retargeting strategies to ensure they are getting their brand in front of consumers during the research phase of their online shopping journey without having to invest in SEO or PPC strategies.
Search Retargeting Increases Brand and Product Awareness
Brand building is one of the most challenging tasks for both new businesses and small businesses, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Small businesses can use targeted ads to increase their name recognition with the right audience.
Visual Objects found that 59% of consumers frequently notice ads for brands they have previously searched for in 2021.
After finding out about a brand, consumers may be more likely to recognize that same brand’s display ads as they appear on their screens. A clear benefit of search retargeting.
Search retargeting strategies are a great option for small businesses or brand consulting firms looking to build name recognition.
Jacob Fitzpatrick, owner of creative agency Fitz Designz, agrees that both large and small businesses can benefit from targeted online advertising.
“Brand awareness is crucial for online success,” Fitzpatrick said. “Digital ads can serve as a visual nudge to increase top-of-mind awareness and recognition for potential customers.”
Using data on consumer search behavior, small businesses can place targeted ads in front of interested users who could either be reminded of the brand or introduced to it for the first time.
One of the oldest rules in the advertising world is the rule of seven: prospective buyers should hear or see a brand’s marketing or advertising efforts at least seven times before they buy.
Targeted digital display ads are a quick way for small businesses to get their name in front of potential customers multiple times.
Ney Lins, a marketing and events expert, believes that display ads are a win-win when it comes to building brand awareness. There are two possible outcomes when users interact with display ads: They click on them because they are curious, or they ignore them
“Both scenarios still increase brand awareness because users will learn about the brand and get interested or they will at least establish familiarity and the chances of remembering are good,” Lins said.
Targeted display ads can help small businesses make a name for themselves in the market, but it’s still important to approach search retargeting efforts strategically.
“To increase brand awareness with digital display ads, pay attention to segmentation,” Lins said. “Brand awareness is not all about reach, it’s about relevant exposure.”
Small businesses may be tempted to place tons of display ads to get their name in front of as many users as possible, however, it’s better to look critically at consumer search data to build a search retargeting strategy that avoids oversaturating users or coming off as spammy.
If done right, search retargeting strategies can help small businesses establish name recognition with potential customers and build brand awareness with their target audience groups.
Search Retargeting Increases Website Traffic and Engagement
Seeing an ad is one thing, but clicking on that ad is what really matters for small businesses looking to grow.
In 2021, one in four consumers (26%) were likely to click on display ads for brands, products, or services they have searched for in the past.
This data is encouraging for small businesses, considering the low clickthrough rates for display ads.
Using search behavior data and search retargeting strategies, small businesses or advertising agencies can serve relevant display ads to interested audience groups that are more likely to click through and visit a company’s website.
Beyond targeting, small businesses can even further optimize their display ads to stand out and visually appeal to casual online shoppers by following some common best practices:
- Creating multiple ad formats
- Including your brand logo and colors
- Presenting a unique value proposition
- Highlighting a clear and urgent call to action
- Using simple fonts, formats, and frames
- Sharing strong images and visual
When in doubt, ask family, friends or colleagues for insight into what makes them click on digital display ads.
Ethan Taub, CEO of fintech platform Goalry, likes to stay current with new technology and recently clicked on an ad for a new mobile phone.
“When I saw the ad for the phone I was instantly attracted,” Taub said. “I am more likely to click on ads with high-quality images of the product that is clearly visible — I don’t like it when other information distracts from the image because it looks messy.”
Visual aspects of display ads are important in initially catching the eye or potentially interested consumers — but the content of the ad itself is just as important in generating a direct response.
“Small businesses should make sure they have a strong promise stated in their copy and a clear CTA.” Lins said, implying that small businesses should craft digital display ads around offerings that resonate specifically with their target audience.
“Focus on people,” Lins said. “Their behaviors, desires, and needs are key to success.”
“Their behaviors, desires, and needs are key to success.”
Using search retargeting strategies and display ad best practices, small businesses can get their name in front of the right audience, increase clicks, and drive traffic to their website.
Search Retargeting Offers Access to New and Existing Customers
It is widely believed that targeted ads carry a negative connotation for many consumers who find them too frequent, intrusive, and even creepy.
The truth is, however, that more than half of consumers (52%) in 2021 said that they could identify at least one benefit to targeted advertising.
While privacy concerns still prevent many from supporting targeted advertising, most consumers appreciate the benefits.
Consumers believe targeted advertising helps them:
- Find promotional sales and incentives (15%)
- Find new brands (14%)
- Get personalized product or service recommendations (13%)
- Identify local businesses (12%)
- Access a more efficient online shopping experience (11%)
When done well, search retargeting can provide all of these for consumers.
With the overwhelming amount of products available online, most consumers welcome targeted ads because the content is more relevant to their interests.
“It only sucks if you want it to,” Flutz said.
Flutz agrees that targeted ads make his shopping experience more efficient. “At least I am seeing the stuff I want to see rather than something that doesn’t appeal to me at all,” he said.
Other consumers, like Taub, find targeted ads helpful to finding new brands.
“I like targeted display ads because sometimes the items shown are a little different for what I’ve been browsing for,” Taub said. “It makes the experience a little more interesting.”
Search retargeting strategies can help small businesses resonate with both potential customers looking for new and interesting products or existing customers that already know what they like.
It’s important, however, for small businesses to be careful with targeting strategies and avoid being grouped into the negative stereotypes around targeted ads.
Chris Laan, founder of Designer Sheds, admits that search retargeting is one of the best top-of-funnel search marketing tactics for businesses to use, but he also highlights some potential cons.
“If a company’s ads appear too often — say, in more than half of a single user’s searches across a variety of websites — it may come off as spammy,” Laan said.
“If a company’s ads appear too often — say, in more than half of a single user’s searches across a variety of websites — it may come off as spammy."
Search retargeting can help small businesses reach new customers and build loyalty with existing customers, but if done wrong, oversaturation can have negative impacts on both sales and brand reputation.
Search Retargeting Generates Tangible Results for Small Businesses
In 2021, only 12% of consumers admitted to having a positive outlook on targeted advertising despite its benefits.
On the other hand, 58% of consumers viewed targeted advertising negatively and 30% have neutral feelings.
Despite overwhelmingly neutral and negative perceptions from consumers, the real value of targeted advertising is for businesses: Targeted advertising strategies actually work, even if consumers consider themselves immune.
As the director of marketing at social media software company HeyOrca, Datis Mohsenipour is very well versed in the search marketing world.
“I’m definitely more receptive to targeted ads when I am browsing in my spare time and I am a strong advocate professionally,” Mohsenipour said. “There is data that shows targeted advertising is an effective and often low-cost method of generative conversions.”
“There is data that shows targeted advertising is an effective and often low-cost method of generative conversions.”
With the right targeting strategy and ad frequency, small businesses and marketing experts have been able to accomplish many objectives with search retargeting:
- Boosting conversions: “Our company uses search retargeting to reach a warm audience that has already shown interest in our business, allowing us to develop more mid-and bottom-funnel messages to convert the customers.” Geoff Crain, digital director at Kingstar Media
- Finding new audience groups: “Because search retargeted is highly specific, you can reach a broader audience instantly.” John Li, co-founder of Fig Loans
- Engaging new customers: “Search retargeting is a great way to find new customers. They have already been searching for something similar, but never actually landed on our site — it’s like we’re reaching out to say hello!” Jerry Han, business development manager at PrizeRebel
As with any marketing strategy, tracking performance in search retargeting is important because it can help small businesses identify areas for improvement.
Laura Caveney, digital marketing manager at Ruler Analytics, believes the most important aspect of a targeted advertising strategy is reporting.
“For B2B marketers in particular, it can be difficult to qualify the success of advertising because users might convert in other ways,” Cavaney said. “We recommend using a marketing attribution tool to properly track targeted advertising strategies.”
Compared to other commonly tracked metrics such as cost per lead or total conversions, attribution tracking connects results with revenue to help small businesses fully understand how their ads impact the company’s bottom line.
While most consumers have negative perceptions of targeted advertising strategies or believe it doesn’t work on them, experts agree with the data — search retargeting works.
Small businesses can use consumer search data with search retargeting to direct ads that boost conversions, find new customers, and broaden their audience.
Additionally, it’s important to implement a clear tracking system to understand how these campaigns are impacting revenue and identity opportunities for improvement.
Search Retargeting Benefits Small Businesses
Search retargeting allows small businesses to reach audiences that have already demonstrated interest in their products or services.
While consumers generally have negative opinions of targeted advertising strategies, their online shopping habits reveal that there are clear advantages for small businesses that choose to add search retargeting to their digital strategies.
- Search retargeting is a cost-effective alternative to PPC and SEO, allowing small businesses to get their name in front of potential customers without investing the time and money required for traditional search marketing.
- Serving digital display ads to targeted audience groups can help small businesses build their brand and product awareness.
- Search retargeting strategies tied with best practices for display ads can help increase clickthrough rates for small businesses, driving traffic to their websites.
- Small businesses can reach new customers and build name recognition with existing customers through search retargeting strategies.
- If done correctly, search retargeting can help small businesses by reaching more interested customers boost conversions, and drive increases in revenue.
The search retargeting benefits are clear, but small businesses still need to be wary of oversaturating users with too many targeted ads. This could come off as creepy or spammy and have negative impacts on brand reputation.
A balanced search retargeting strategy with clear success metrics offers small businesses the opportunity to grow their audience, build their brand, drive traffic and increase revenue.
Convinced about the benefits of search retargeting? Hire a digital marketing agency to get started for your small business.
About the Survey
Visual Objects' 2021 Search Engine Marketing survey included 500 U.S. consumers.
Thirty-four percent (34%) of respondents are female; 44% are male, and 22% chose not to disclose this information.
Respondents are located in the Midwest (32%), South (31%), West (22%), and Northeast (14%).
Fifteen percent (15%) of respondents are under 35 years old; 25% are between 35–55 years old; 37% are over 55 years old; 23% chose not to disclose this information.