What Is Search Retargeting?

Search Retargeting
(Image Credit: AdExchanger.com)

Search retargeting is a way to target ads to a select group of users, also known as an “audience.” This audience is comprised of users who search for particular keywords, and they are targeted with ads as they visit websites that are part of large display networks.

So we are retargeting to an audience based on their search history, rather than targeting them with ads at the point the search is made (on a search engine), which is how it differs from traditional paid search. It’s also different from site remarketing/retargeting. Remarketing is when we build an audience of users who have previously been to our website, and remarket to that audience on display networks.

Key Benefits of Search Retargeting

New Visitors

Since users don’t have to have previously been to your site (unlike remarketing), you’re more likely to be targeting new visitors. If getting net new visitors is your goal, then consider combining search retargeting with negative remarketing, to exclude the audience of users who have been to your site.

Use Case: Say you are a new brand or business with little existing market share. In this case, search retargeting could be a good option for getting the message out and exposing new visitors to your brand.

No Quality Score Penalty

With traditional paid search, relevancy (mostly quantified by click-through rate, CTR) plays a big part in cost-per-clicks (CPCs). Simply put, the more irrelevant your ad is to a what users are searching for, the lower your quality score (QS), which leads to higher CPCs. This makes sense since Google and Bing want to deliver a good user experience in addition to making a profit.

Search retargeting shows ads on display networks rather than on search engine result pages, so CTR is much less of a factor, and you won’t be penalized as heavily (if at all).

Use Case: Conquesting against the competition. Are you Coca-Cola? Consider retargeting to users searching for “Pepsi,” with ads speaking to how being authentic is the new cool. Are you Bell Media? Go after users typing in “Rogers” keywords, with ads highlighting the promotions you’re running for new customers.

Another Targeting Option

While there are already many different ways to target on Display (contextually, user interests, site topics, specific placements, …), another flavour or layer of targeting is always welcomed, as it allows us to show ads in a smarter, more targeted way. After all, one of the benefits of digital marketing over traditional marketing is this type of precision and efficiency.

Use Case: Are you trying to drive registrations or signups to an industry event, conference, or tradeshow? There might not be much search volume around the specific name of the event, however, you could target people searching for companies that will be represented at the event. Depending on the companies, you might also want to filter out irrelevant users by adding other layers of targeting.


Search retargeting provides us the ability to go beyond the search results page, and we should approach it in a deliberate way, by thinking about our goals and target market, and choosing the right search terms.

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Shockley is a digital marketing consultant, helping businesses succeed online through SEM/PPC, SEO, Social Media, and Web Analytics. He is certified in Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and Bing Ads.

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2 thoughts on “What Is Search Retargeting?”

  1. Another big benefit or search retargeting is the ability to bid on competitors’s brand terms, without starting a CPC war in Google. This can be really effective in high CPCs industry such as finance or travel.

    Disclosure: I run marketing at Chango, we offer search retargeting as a solution to our clients.

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