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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses in very different ways. While many industries are being challenged by a decrease in web traffic and a drop in engagement, other industries face different challenges. Perhaps counterintuitively, some industries are facing a decrease in traffic, but an improvement in engagement. As our 2020 Online Behavior Dashboard shows, businesses in industries like retail and food/beverage/alcohol are facing that scenario.

This could be due to less-qualified audiences no longer engaging, leaving the organization with a smaller, but more highly-qualified audience. Alternatively, it could be due to a fundamental shift in the customer base, with entirely new types of customers coming into focus, while others leave. Regardless, businesses in these scenarios will be asking: how can we rebuild our audience size — and hence our pool of potential customers — without sacrificing the improvement in engagement we’re currently seeing? In this post, we’ll explore a variety of tactics businesses can use to drive increased traffic and expanded audiences, without resorting to “spray and pray” methods.

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Remarketing

Remarketing is a simple idea. By using channels like search, social, or display, you can reach out to previous visitors and customers and entice them to re-engage with your brand. We’ve all been followed around the Internet by ads reminding us that we left that pair of jeans in our shopping cart — that’s remarketing (sometimes called retargeting). Of course, since the idea here is to re-engage with people who have already been exposed to your brand, remarketing isn’t a way to expand the size of your audience, but it is a great way to drive increased traffic from your existing audience.

Like all marketing tactics, remarketing will work best if you have an underlying strategy. Many organizations apply remarketing liberally — you visit a website one time, then see ads for that brand for what feels like an eternity. To avoid being that advertiser, carefully consider the following elements of a remarketing strategy.

Who should qualify for my remarketing audience?

If you take everyone who’s ever been to your site and bombard them with ads, you’ll likely see an increase in traffic, but it won’t be the kind of well-qualified traffic you’re probably hoping for. Instead, think about the kinds of people who could actually benefit from being remarketed. In other words, who would find remarketing messages from your brand useful?

Perhaps it’s those visitors who have been to your site several times, but for some reason still haven’t purchased, become a lead, signed up for an account, or whatever your “conversion” is. Maybe it’s previous customers who haven’t been back to your site in the last 60 days, or who have bought products in Category X, but never Category Y. Maybe it’s people who submitted a support ticket, or left a negative review — can you turn those situations around?

Each organization’s circumstances are unique, but the more thought you put into who should qualify to be remarketed, the more specific and relevant an offer you’ll be able to put in front of them. This, in turn, should drive highly-efficient performance, especially compared to a broader, more generic approach.

Consider the examples above:

  • Repeat visitors who still haven’t converted: offer a specific, time-sensitive incentive (e.g. a discount)
  • Single-category buyers: cross-sell into additional categories by featuring relevant products with valuable incentives
  • Frustrated visitors: use customized messaging to acknowledge a challenging situation and a specific method to resolve it (e.g. priority access to support, promotional code for a future purchase)

With a clear strategy and customized, relevant offers, remarketing gives you a way to scale up traffic in an efficient, cost-effective way. In addition, the up-front costs tend to be minimal; you’ll generally need to have your website/app equipped with tags provided by ad platform vendors (think Google, Facebook), but that’s a process that in many organizations can be completed by marketers rather than IT.

How long should a person stay in my remarketing audience?

Once you’ve established a model for how people qualify to be remarketed, consider how long people should stay in the remarketing “pool.” For example, if a user still hasn’t converted after 7 days, should we still be remarketing them? What about 30 days? 60? 90? Choose a threshold that makes sense in the context of your business and your sales cycle. Whatever the details, being attentive to this issue will help you avoid being a brand that doesn’t know when to stop.

You may be able to set up a framework in which people “age out” of one remarketing audience, and into another. Consider the graphic below.

In this example, a business would remarket a user for up to 120 days. Notice, however, how the messages and offers that a person would see would vary over time, with offers becoming more compelling as more time elapses. This ensures that your remarketing efforts aren’t seen as repetitive by your customers, and also helps you avoid offering deep discounts to customers who are more interested in purchasing again soon.

How many times should a person see my remarketing ads?

Separate from the question of how long someone should remain in your remarketing audience is the question of how many times a person should be exposed to your ads. Many ad platforms offer a feature known as frequency capping (or similar), which allows you to limit the number of ad impressions that any given person would see. For example, you can configure a remarketing campaign to show ads to the same person no more than 2x/day, 10x/week, and so on.

Depending on the analytics tools you have at your disposal, you may be able to measure performance associated with ad frequency. For example, does ramping up frequency from 2x/day to 5x/day increase conversion rates, or drive people away? Even if you can’t measure this directly, you can experiment with frequency caps to observe how your conversion rates change. At a minimum, though, consider implementing a cap of some kind so that you can still drive results via remarketing, without bombarding people needlessly.

Lookalike Modeling

We introduced lookalike modeling in our last post, and it’s a useful companion to remarketing. Where remarketing aims to deepen engagement with people who are already familiar with your brand, lookalike modeling is used to attract new people — who share some characteristics of your existing audiences — to your business. As with remarketing, you’ll want to start with analyzing who your best customers / audience members are, because that will be the basis of your efforts with lookalike modeling.

Targeting lookalikes is often thought of as a way to expand your reach within a given channel, like search. For example, you can augment your existing Google Ads campaigns with new campaigns specifically designed to target lookalikes. Similarly, you can add (or reallocate) budget for social campaigns that are going after lookalikes. For many businesses, managing this tactic on a channel-by-channel basis will work fine. However, for businesses with some more advanced technology at their disposal, such as a DMP (data management platform), it’s possible to orchestrate lookalike targeting (as well as other types of campaigns) across channels.

This enables a shift from channel- to people-based marketing, which creates multiple benefits. First, you’ll get a holistic view of the audience you’re targeting, rather than a siloed view, in which each channel is a silo. This means you’ll get de-duplicated measurement of how many people you’re reaching, for example. Second, getting that holistic view allows you to rationalize your budget. With a cross-channel view of your target audience, you’ll reduce the amount of dollars that are wasted chasing a given prospect across individual channels like search and social. Whether you’re targeting lookalikes within individual channels or across them, using data collected from your pre-existing high-value audiences to reach new customers is a great way to scale in an efficient manner.

Expanding Reach Within Search

Consumer search behavior is ever-changing, with people constantly searching for new terms in new ways. As you’d expect, COVID-19 has impacted the way people search as well. While this means that keeping tabs on how search is driving traffic and customers for your business is an ongoing process of measurement and optimization, businesses that mine search data effectively can capture additional traffic in a cost-effective way.

There are many tools that businesses can use to measure how search activity in their industry is changing. For example, Google Ads and Google Analytics can help you understand how paid search ads are working: which search terms are effective, which version of ad copy works best, etc. When it comes to organic search, Google Search Console will show you which queries are causing your site to appear in the search results, how highly-ranked your site is for those queries, what your clickthrough rate is, and more. In addition, Google Trends can help you see how search behavior is changing — which terms are emerging, which are dissipating — regardless of whether those terms are currently driving traffic to your site. Let’s look at some ways you can use the tools to expand your organization’s reach through search.

Augment Organic Traffic with Paid Traffic

If there are certain search queries that you’re currently struggling to drive traffic from in organic search, consider using Google Ads to gain more visibility on those terms. Within Google Search Console, look for queries that generate a lot of impressions for your website, but where your site has a low CTR and/or low position.

In the example above, we can see how people are searching for these terms thousands of times, but this organization is getting virtually no traffic from these searches. Of course, you’ll want to exercise judgment about how relevant these terms are to your business, and how important it is for your business to appear in the search results for these terms. Search Console makes it easy to filter this query data in a variety of ways — for example, to contain certain terms, to only show terms with more than a certain amount of traffic, etc. Using these filters, you’ll be able to isolate terms that you’d like to be getting traffic from, but currently aren’t.

Optimizing your site to gain more organic traffic from these terms is likely going to be a long-term project. However, Google Ads gives you a way to quickly gain more visibility. You’ll only pay for clicks that drive people to your website, and you can easily control your spending. 

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Capitalize on Emerging Terms

For many businesses, the key search terms that drive a lot of traffic and customers are pretty stable over time. For example, your top 10 traffic-driving terms in August have a pretty good chance of being your top 10 terms again in September. Once you start to dig a little deeper, though, you may find valuable nuggets of information that you can capitalize on before your competitors have noticed the opportunity.

For example, even if you know what your top 10 terms are — do you know which terms have generated the largest increase in queries over the past 7 days? There’s no reason not to — once again, Search Console makes this information really easy to find.

If you’re faster than your competitors to recognize shifting patterns in consumers’ search behavior, you’ll have a first-mover advantage that can play out in multiple ways.

  • Act fast to dominate organic search results. Once you’ve realized that your potential customers are searching in new ways, optimize your website to ensure you’re capturing that traffic. For example, publish new content — or update existing content — to better reflect the new terms people are searching for. In addition, look at the landing pages where you’re trying to drive this traffic. Have you optimized them for mobile-friendliness? Have you worked to reduce the page load times on those pages? The more confidently you can answer “yes” to these questions, the better position you’ll put yourself in to capture a healthy share of organic traffic from emerging search terms.
  • Double down by leveraging Google Ads. At the same time that you’re working on the above techniques to capture a leading position in organic search, consider that you can quickly double your organization’s presence on key search terms by investing in Google Ads. If you can make yourself the first mover, you’ll be able to use paid ads to drive incremental traffic before your competitors see the opportunity, which means prices for those key search terms will be lower.

Search Console is great for seeing how your site ranks and otherwise performs for a variety of search queries. However, what about emerging search terms where your site isn’t visible at all? That’s where a tool like Google Trends can come in handy (along with a variety of other SEO keyword research tools). Take a look at the example below: Google Trends makes it easy to discover breakout search terms that are related to any search term you’d like to start with. Here’s what came back in relation to the search query “can you freeze” for the month of July.

“Breakout” terms, of which there are several here, are terms with the most dynamic growth. These terms often had very little, if any search volume, in the past — so the large increase may be from a low base. For terms that are still growing quickly, but not “breakout” terms, you’ll see the relative growth period-over-period. For example, “can you freeze figs” was up 200% month-over-month for July.

Although the data source has changed, the key idea here is the same as the idea behind mining your Google Search Console data. Being the first mover can bring you valuable advantages, so use these data to identify highly-relevant, fast-growing, and potentially low-competition search queries that you can leverage to drive new growth in a cost-effective way.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for ways to expand your organization’s reach and customer base, but want to do so in a targeted, efficient way, consider some of the techniques we’ve laid out here. First, use remarketing to increase the frequency with which you’re touching your best customers and prospects. Second, use lookalike modeling to find new people who, though they may not already be familiar with your brand, closely resemble your high-value audiences. Lastly, use tools like Google Search Console, Google Trends, and Google Ads & Analytics to mine for emerging search queries that will allow you to capture more search traffic — before your competitors do.

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