How To Do Search-Based Retargeting Cheaply and Build Branded Search Demand

Author: Gab Goldenberg

At SMX West, one of the most interesting things I learned was that an advertiser who spent $30,000 on banners saw a 20% lift in branded search. When you consider how well branded search converts, that’s good news, especially if that demand lasts (for the caveats on measuring true branded search ROI see “What Every SEO Needs to Know About Branded Search“). This post is going to explain how you can use the link graph to get similar lifts in your branded search, through the use of what I call ‘poor man’s retargeting’ (incidentally, retargeting is aka remessaging).

Retargeting is an advanced advertising technique where some of your ads are only shown to people that have already visited your site (based on cookies, afaik). So ad publisher A’s server checks to see if a visitor has a cookie on their computer that marks them as having previously been to company X’s site. If it finds the cookie, then company X can ‘retarget’ the browser with another ad on publisher A’s site.

Visiting a site is one behaviour to base a campaign on, but you might also succeed by retargeting ads based on other actions, like having seen another one of your ads elsewhere.

The problem for the small to medium advertiser is that retargeting campaigns through bigshot display advertising companies cost 5 figures a month and up. So good luck trying to run a retargeting campaign when your annual marketing budget is five figures, if that. So how’s a small guy supposed to build up his brand?

Take advantage of the link graph to do “poor man’s retargeting.”

What’s the link graph? That’s basically just fancy talk for the network of links that connect sites together. So the link graph shows SEO ROI as being connected to Slightly Shady SEO, SEO Smarty, SEO 2.0, Dosh Dosh Internet Marketing, Wiep’s Link Building, Brand Curve etc. “THE” link graph refers to the graph for the whole web, but you can have “a” link graph of a smaller subsection of the web.

So the way to pull off retargeting on the cheap is to do research on what sites link to each other, preferably within topical communities for added relevance. The more frequent and prominent the linking, the better. Additionally, working with the potential ad publishers and asking them for data on outclicks (i.e. what links their visitors are actually clicking) would be helpful to make better decisions on where to run your ads.

For example, supposing yours truly accepted ads and so did all the other sites mentioned above, you would check through my posts (or have a script do it, more likely) and see which I link to most. If we got serious, or were doing moderate volume/price you might see my analytics too and get a look at where my visitors go. That way, you could increase your “frequency” – the metric used in branding to identify how often a given person saw your ad.

So the steps for poor man’s retargeting are like this:

  1. Find sites you’d consider advertising on.
  2. Look at who they link to most.
  3. Advertise on the sites that share the most common links/traffic.

Some notes on retargeting based on the link graph:

  • Obviously, this works better with advertising on blogs.
  • You may need to pay just for access to analytics. Depending on the scale of your campaign, it can be worth it.
  • Not all analytics track outclicks, nor do it consistently or for all visitors.
  • You can’t do behavioral targeting, which is a huge advantage of true retargeting. For example, you can’t show a loyalty message to a recent purchaser off your site and show a customer acquisition ad to a non-purchaser, the way you could with a real retargeting campaign.
  • This can be done both with PPC and CPM ads, not just display ads, which is an advantage over most real behavioral targeting networks.
  • Advertising your blog can help you become a thought leader in any given space. Consider running these ads on the established thought leader sites like my friends listed above (no, they didn’t ask for that plug).
  • I’m no expert on behavioral targeting or retargeting, so if I’ve made mistakes in any of the above, please share constructive criticism in the comments.

Some additional resources:

Related post: How To Build Your Company’s Brand Online

Mediapost on Remessaging

Consult Pivotal on Frequency in Advertising

For those who want to do search retargeting in the sense of retargeting visitors that came from search traffic (i.e. not just based on search in the sense of SEO and the link graph), you can look for other sites ranking in the top 100 that feature adsense, Chitika or other ad networks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this retargeting/remessaging technique, and I’d also love to see any tools/scripts you use to chart the linkgraph visually, like what Touchgraph does for personal networks. Smart comments get dofollow links in post updates. If you liked this post, do subscribe to my RSS feed.

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  1. Hey Gab, great post that actually gave a more SEOish idea to what you suggested. You want to extra the sites linked FROM all those authorities you would get links from too and advertise on those sites they link out to. This certainly would help your brand by capturing the traffic from people of your target market where they go to by just advertising on a few (more expensive?) sites. But I think looking at the link value would make it VERY worthwhile to try to get linked from those sites your sample subset links out to. This idea goes in line with Jim's "Get links from pages that have links", but more on a site based view. Or in other words, taking our fancy "Common Backlinks" tool and reversing the backlink to a forwardlink extraction would spot all those sites that are commonly linked to from your target group, i.e. the authorities in the niche. AFAIK there's no tool doing "common forwardlinks", but I'm putting this into our developer's queue _right now_ :-) cheers Christoph

    Comment by Christoph C. Cemper the Marketing Fan - June 10, 2008 @ 6:50am
  2. hey Christoph, My point here isn't so much about link building, though you've certainly found a good application for this analysis too. What I'm getting at is a way to increase your advertising frequency and grow brand awareness more cost effectively. Cheers Gab

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - June 11, 2008 @ 9:48pm
  3. Hey Gab, you are right and that's how I understood it... thanks for the great inspiration!

    Comment by Christoph C. Cemper the Marketing Fan - June 12, 2008 @ 6:03am
  4. I think this idea is kinda interesting..^^ I might as well give this a shot and see what will happen..thank you Gab for sharing this with us!..^^

    Comment by Internet Marketing Joy - June 12, 2008 @ 4:38pm
  5. Thanks for the awesome article. As an SEO, we can get so concerned with actions... like Pageviews, clickthrus, etc. But a marketing friend of mine recently pointed out that impressions are what it is all about these days. I mean getting a user to make an ACTION is great, but even if they don't click on the banner, they still saw it. And that counts for something. So all of this time... (the last decade or so) many advertisers have been putting in a penny and getting the dollar show! Geez, hindsite sure is 20/20. -Brad

    Comment by Brad, the Wordpress SEO - June 13, 2008 @ 8:31pm
  6. My pleasure guys, and thanks for the kudos! @ Brad - that wasn't my point. Branding is really important and banners help a lot for that. But at the end of the day it still is about actions. Branding doesn't put dollars on the bottom line. Actions do. The point of retargeting is not to get better impressions - it's to use better impressions to drive actions.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - June 14, 2008 @ 10:19pm
  7. Hi Gabriel, Thanks for this informative post regarding this innovative form of effective advertising. You mention in your post that retargeting can be out of reach for many advertisers, but this is something that any size company can afford! At FetchBack, we do retargeting for the largest and smallest of companies in a cost-effective manner; without compromising results! I would love to discuss your post further with you to learn more about your ideas behind this link graph suggestion.

    Comment by Kim Stearns - June 16, 2008 @ 11:45am
  8. Kim, I've had a look at your site; there's no specifics on how much money it takes to get started. As to discussing this further, if you can come up with a tool like what Chris meant, to graph these link relationships and ID where your ad spend will work hardest, I'd love to see that.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - June 17, 2008 @ 7:40pm
  9. My company has been using to run a retargeting display campaign and so far so good. Fairly inexpensive and gave us a 2 week free trial also.

    Comment by Jessica - December 17, 2009 @ 3:03am
  10. Glad to hear it Jessica :).

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - December 20, 2009 @ 4:37pm
  11. Hey Gab, These are all great suggestions. However, one notion to consider is that an agency (such as can really help businesses reach a larger audience. How so? They can more aptly display retargeted banners across multiple content networks, instead of just one.

    Comment by Jas - April 16, 2010 @ 7:54pm
  12. If that's going to get you better placements or otherwise yield a higher ROI, sure. Otherwise, I think 1 network vs multiple networks is just a question of reach.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - May 3, 2010 @ 9:50am

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