Shield your eyes!
AdExchanger.com is "opening the kimono" on its recent retargeting – or do you say "remarketing" – campaign.
Disclaimer: the following should not be perceived as an endorsement of the vendor used (Google). It’s meant to be a simple, real world example of retargeting in action.
To reiterate, when I say "simple," I mean it.
AdExchanger.com was only driving awareness with this campaign as the bar was set very low in terms of success metrics. For vendors waiting to tell me how wonderful you are and that you can provide much better retargeting services, no doubt you can. And, that’s fine with me.
In general, the basic goal of remarketing is to reach out to users who have already visited your website by buying display advertising placements on other websites.
In AdExchanger.com’s case, the goal was to continue to drive awareness with display ads, have a little fun, and encourage users to “like” AdExchanger.com on Facebook. If the ad is clicked in this retargeting campaign, it takes the user directly to the AdExchanger.com Facebook page (see it here!). But, they have to click the “like” button. I could not track exactly how many “likes” were generated, which was not ideal. But, again, fine with me – this is a straightforward campaign about building awareness.
Here’s a smaller version of the 728x90 advertisement that AdExchanger.com used in its retargeting campaign (still running as of today!):
Certainly, whether for retargeting or not, awareness campaigns can go much deeper in providing useful statistics and insights such as those provided by any number of brand response vendors (Dynamic Logic, Insight Express, Knowledge Networks, Vizu, etal).
Also, the clear winner in remarketing are eCommerce retail sites that can run direct response retargeting campaigns such as those you might see for Amazon, Ebay and others and where a direct line can be drawn between an impression, a click and a purchase – cookie wars excluded.
Pixeling For Browsers
Assuming the AdExchanger.com cookie is not deleted or blocked, whenever the user’s browser visits a website with a placement that is using a Google AdSense or DoubleClick For Publisher 728x90 display ad tag (which is enabled for the auction), the placement then "recognizes" that the browser cookie matches AdExchanger.com’s request to retarget and AdExchanger.com enters the display ad auction for that placement.
AdExchanger.com bids at a fixed CPM of $20+ for all display ad placements. Why so high? First, this is a second price auction. If AdExchanger.com wins, it will pay the second highest bidders bid. So if the second-place bidder in an auction for a single website ad impression is a $3 CPM, AdExchanger.com would pay a $3 CPM.
Next, AdExchanger.com’s users are a (in Internet terms) small, yet powerful group numbering 35,000 uniques in October. AdExchanger.com wants to reach them – bid high I say!
Finally, there’s no way to bid according to recency. The "recency" parameter tells the bidder where in the session the user is – did he or she just sign on to their web browser? If so, they might be more prone to clicking or seeing ads. AdExchanger.com’s theory is that with no ability to understand recency through AdWords, bid high! Perhaps Google or the retargeting vendor will show AdExchanger.com’s retargeting ad sooner? But, that’s really a guess on my part.
A brief riff on "recency": this parameter could end up being another unwinding of publisher CPMs, too - perhaps this is why Google doesn't address it through AdWords (let alone another bidding parameter which adds more complexity). If bidders are only willing to bid for impressions early in the session, they may not bid later. Of course, one could say that media buyers will bid higher than ever for early session impressions so it all comes out even in the end? Who knows!?
Cookie Lexicon: Users and Membership
Let me tell ya…. Cookies are deleted by the user or degrade (whatever you want to call it) at a very high rate.
For example, at the end of November, the total number of cookies that were targetable through AdExchanger.com’s AdWords account was approximately 150,000 (called “Number of Users” in AdWords) which is significantly more than the aforementioned 35,000 monthly uniques. AdExchanger.com began pixeling users for retargeting purposes in January or February of 2010 give or take a month.
Also, another important variable to consider when retargeting is a “lookback window” or as Google calls it with its white-glove lexicon: “Membership duration.” This is the number of days that a retargeter wants to keep the cookies it has collected and try to retarget the display placements which the cookies can help identify. Google lets you store for a maximum of 540 days. From my perspective, with a site like AdExchanger.com and its simple goal of driving awareness, there’s no reason to not try and retarget a cookie for the maximum amount of time allowed.
Once again, if this was Amazon.com with a direct response focus, Amazon likely has a good idea that you can keep a cookie around for 4 days for retargeting a potential book buyer, or 7 days for a blender buyer, or two weeks for a PC laptop buyer, etc.
More Targeting Params!
In that AdExchanger.com likes to reach all of its users worldwide, nearly every AdExchanger.com user possible is targeted via geo-targeting parameters set in Google AdWords.
Also, depending on the robustness of the advertising platform, a retargeter gets to decide how often a user will be shown an ad - a.k.a. frequency capping. You can target every day with multiple ads if you like and it’s apparent how this could get freaky for the end user as it seems possible to spam the hell out of people. (I always think Google has solutions lurking that they do not divulge - hence "seems".) On the other hand, do web surfers just get used to it OR do they need controls which let them opt-out? OR all of the above? All of the above!
AdExchanger.com chose to target with one ad per week per user. In other words, not much – enough to keep the awareness bubbling.
In seven days, from November 28 to December 4, 2010, the results were as follows:
- 14,255 impressions bought
- Nearly 3/4 of all impressions bought were 728x90
- 89 clicks for a clickthrough rate (CTR) of .62%
- Average CPM of $6.95
- Average CPC of $1.11
- Total Spend $99.06
So with over 150,000 user, Google AdWords cookies available since January-ish, only 14,255 impressions were bought. Whoa! That’s a lot of useless cookies. Or maybe Google didn't find all the cookies that were available? -that seems less likely. Google, like any ad exchange or display ad supply source, wants me to spend! Or maybe AdExchanger.com was losing a bunch of auctions? ...Ya think? Nah.
One way to have increased the ability to target users is to obviously have targeted across multiple ad exchanges or supply sources (a separate pixel for each) through a DSP or ad network which will manage your cookie (or “membership”) pool across all supply. Still, this result suggests the limited value of cookies over a long time period.
And how about that CPM of $6.95? Seems pricey except that we’re talking about a spend of only $99 in a week. It would follow that as the long tail of websites with valuable audiences gets accustomed to retargeting, they will be bidding high with little impact on their bottom line and as a part of their overall marketing toolkit. The aggregate of long tail retargeter spend could drive up publisher CPMs – as long as the publishers have the valuable audience. Same holds true for the impact of mid and short/fat/wide end of the tail retargeting spend. The mid and short ends can pick their spots for retargeting whether on behalf of an advertiser (reach extension) or for the site itself.
But looking at the $6.95 another way - hey, there are a lot of second price auction bidders who are bidding high! - at least for AdExchanger.com's audience on the DoubleClick Ad Exchange (the auction marketplace which is accessed through AdWords).
The 728x90 versus 300x250 fill rate is also an interesting story. With 75% of all ad impressions bought going to the 728x90 display ads, it would appear that DoubleClick Ad Exchange inventory is heavy on the 728x90. But, that's another guess. For those who are curious, there were 4 728x90s and 5 300x250s running in this campaign with the ad rotation set to "Show ads more evenly." This should force even delivery of all ads available for each size as opposed to taking advantage of optimization available through AdWords.
Finally, whether you like clickthrough rate data or not, the .65% CTR data is heartening and one of the reasons any marketing services company such as a media agency will institute a retargeting campaign as a first step with any client. The results look good! But, it’s the scale of the campaign that remains the challenge.
By John Ebbert
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