Roadmapping The Ad Exchange For Search Marketers

Displaying Search“Displaying Search” is a column capturing the intersection of display advertising and search marketing.

Today’s column is written by Tim Ogilvie, CEO of, a demand-side optimization platform.

Many search marketers want to expand into the display ad exchanges but aren’t sure where to get started. Auction-based pricing looks familiar, but there is a dizzying array of targeting options and vendors. We’ve developed a three-phase “roadmap” for these search clients, allowing them to get some early wins while laying the foundation for significant scale.

Phase One: Launch & optimize a re-marketing campaign.

Re-marketing is a great opportunity for an early win. The audience is tightly defined and represents your lowest hanging fruit: customers that have already expressed interest in your products. Use this sandbox to understand the nuances of buying on each of the exchanges, measure and optimize your creative assets, and determine the pricing that will meet your performance goals.

If you’re not reaching your goals with re-marketing, don’t move on to Phase Two. Continue to improve your creative and landing pages, or adjust your goals. But if you can’t make it make it profitable here, don’t try to make it up on volume.

Phase Two: Build a target profile of your audience.

With success in Phase One, you’ll want more scale. You’ll now move from harvesting existing demand to creating new demand from users that look like your best customers.

To do this effectively, you’ll develop a profile of the audience that responds to your marketing. Identifying your highest potential customers will allow you to target your ads as tightly as possible. Highly targeted ads are more relevant and more likely to succeed. (Just like search.)

Audience traits that are predictive of success vary dramatically, but can include demographics like age, gender and household income, “intent” data that identifies in-market shoppers (re-marketing is a highly specific form of intent data), and likes and dislikes from social networks. Identifying these predictive audience traits is a topic for a separate post.

Phase Three: Find the most efficient way to reach your target audience.

After identifying the audience segments you want to reach, you’ll want to get your message in front of the right audience as efficiently as possible. Exchange targeting generally falls into one of two buckets: people (i.e. users that meet specific audience criteria) and pages (i.e. site content that meets your criteria or where your audience hangs out online).

Should you target people or pages? You should use both! This is like asking whether you should use exact match or broad match in search. Targeting people, much like exact match keywords, provides access to a tightly defined audience but can be expensive and limited in scale. Targeting pages is more akin to broad match keywords: it’s usually only a loose proxy for the audience you’re trying to reach, but it’s easier to build scale and often more efficient.

As in search, the best marketers test a variety of options and manage their placements based on market pricing and their ROI objectives. You will also want to evaluate the performance of your campaigns relative to your search campaigns to determine where to allocate your marginal budget and how to prioritize your efforts.

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  1. alex becker

    everybody assumes that remarketing works. sometimes. just taking credit(attribution) for would-have- converted-anyway conversions does not mean there is ‘incrementality’ in it. A well designed measurement framework needs to be in place to measure remarketing properly.

  2. Alex – I completely agree and think that understanding “true” attribution across major marketing channels is really important and really hard. You could make the same claims about search.

    We think re-marketing is the right place to start because we see it as a controlled sandbox for search marketers to optimize messaging and understand the ecosystem, not because it is the alpha and omega.