One huge targeting mistake and how to avoid it: Understand the context beyond few keywords

wrong-targetingContextual advertising is not new, when I first started writing about targeting advertising the technology was new, the concept was new and few bold marketers were trying and learning from their mistake while helping others teach on how not to make this mistakes.

A post by Kevin Hillstrom, Highly Targeted Digital Ads That, Well, Just Read The Article., tells me that we have yet to learn from the mistakes that have been made since the early years of online ad targeting.

I remember when we are first dabbling with display ad targeting and retargeting back in early 2000s, one of the things we were trying to solve for is to understand the full context of the content you were reading.  We saw many marketers making the mistake of not understanding the negative context of the content and wasting their ad dollars on wrong content. For example we saw an ad targeted (I believe it was served by Google) on a page talking about plane crash that showed an ad for carry-on luggage. When you are reading such a tragedy, last thing you want to see is an ad about plane travel. Technology and best practices have come a long way since then but the same mistakes keep happening.

Here are two things you can today to make sure you do not make the same mistake as VW dealer (or their agency) made:

  1. Filter ad placement on negative context: If you are going to show an ad about your brand then understand the whole context and then filter out any content that has negative context related your brand. For example the whole context of that video was about negative to VW because of recent emission scandal. You as a marketer need to know that a lot of recent content (video, articles, blog post etc.) are going to be about this scandal, so keeping this context in mind, create a list of negative keyword list e.g. emission, scandal, problem etc. Now filter out the ad targeting on the content which contain “Volkswagen” and these negative keywords because if you place your ads on such content it is likely not going be very effective. Stop wasting your dollars by targeting the wrong context.
  2. Show Ad to counter the negativity around your brand – If there is a message that you have in response to the negative press then use this opportunity to put your message in front of the customer and prospects.


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Online Personalization: Issue Is With People Not Technology

Today I came across an article by Isaac Weisberg, titled Unintended Consequences of Targeting: Less Information, Less Serendipity – Part I. In this article Isaac argues that online personalization limits the exposure of information to the individuals. I agree that current personalization practices are very limited though it is more of an issue with the marketers engaged in personalization than with the technology. ( Note: Retargeting, Behavioral Targeting, on-site recommendations, customized emails etc. are all different forms of personalization). So it is not Personalization that limits the flow of information but it is the people engaged in Personalization.

The purpose of personalization is to provide information that is relevant to an individual and in order to do so you will eliminate a lot of information that the person is not likely to be interested in. However that does not mean that the person cannot be exposed to new information with the personalization.

The issue is that most of the marketers engaged in personalization (targeting) do not exploit the full potential of personalization and limit themselves to basic targeting. I highlighted one such issues in my post 5 Questions to ask before starting a Retargeting Campaign.

Personalization does not mean that you have to limit yourself to the same product or even the category. User’s behavior gives you a clue on what he/she likes. Use that to figure out complimentary items that you might be able to promote and even items that don’t make sense together but you have seen patterns from sales data that tell you that they might go together. E.g. particular pair of shoes is bought by lots of moms, so maybe kids’ shoes might make sense to promote to a user who has shown interest in those shoes. Isn’t that flow of information to the user?
I once worked with a client who used two mutually exclusive behaviors (people who read financial news and view international weather) to promote a totally unrelated product (high end international travel) with a great success.

So, yes exposing people to new information while doing personalization is quite possible as long as marketers doing the personalization are willing to use their creativity and move beyond their comfort zone.

Questions? Comments?

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Follow the Shopper

Shoppers, via their online and offline actions, provide a ton of information to the marketers. Smart marketers can and should leverage this information to understand shoppers motivations and needs to create a better relationship with the shoppers and ultimately make more money for their organizations.

Every customer touch point is a goldmine of data. It starts from the keywords that shoppers use to arrive to your site, the links that they click on to get to your site (and the sites they visited before they came to your site), clicks on emails, clicks on banners, every click and every action on your site, purchases etc.. All these actions by the shopper provides you with the information that you can use to follow the shoppers.

What does following the shopper mean?

In simple terms, following the shopper (visitor) essentially means using the shoppers behavioral data to understand the shoppers’ needs and then serving them with personalized ads/messages/offers , wherever you see them online, to bring them back to you site to buy from you. (This concept goes beyond online though).

Following the shopper has several other names such as Behavioral Targeting, Retargeting, Remarketing etc.

Who is following the shoppers?

Pretty much all the major eTailers follow the shoppers (read my posts on Behavioral Targeting to see how widespread this is).

eCommerce giants have been following the shoppers for years using some combination of in-house solutions and 3rd party solutions. Recently they have also tapped into cookie exchanges to reach shoppers who have never been to their site.( More on cookie exchanges in future post).

Can small retailers with limited budget do this?

Yes they can. Until recently small eTailers did not have the know-how or the money to engage in such activities. But that has changed now, Google has came to the rescue of small/medium retailers with Adword remarketing. More and more small/medium companies are now “Following the Shoppers”.

Sounds good, right? But wait before you jump into it.

Remember, Remarketing is not easy and there are privacy concerns. You should think and plan before you leap into remarketing because if it is not done right then you can make your customer uneasy and risk losing them forever. (see my post titled 5 Questions to Ask before Starting a Retargeting Campaign).

Where can I learn more?

Well you can start on this blog and shoot me any questions you might have. Tomorrow, I am going to be moderating a panel at OMMA Behavioral in San Francisco on this very subject.

If you read this in time (before the panel) send me the questions that you would like answered and I will ask the panelists. The panelists include:

  • Michael Andrew, Director, Search and Analytics, Mediasmith
  • Michael Blais, Manager, Interactive Marketing, eBay
  • Chris Duskin, Director, Product Management, Omniture, An Adobe Company
  • Scott Jensen, Interactive Marketing Director, Extra Space Storage
  • Matt Karasick, Sr. Director of Product Management & Marketing, Advertising Decision Solutions, Akamai
  • Thomas Knoll, Community Architect, Zappos

So go ahead and email me your questions or tweet your questions to @anilbatra

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5 Questions to ask before starting a Retargeting Campaign

Retargeting or Remarketing is way to put your ad in front of the people who have been to your site before and are likely to respond to you ads and offers.

Retargeting via Google Adwords

Retargeting is not new, I have been writing about it since 2006 and working in this area since 2003. Recently, Google Remarketing, via adwords, has brought retargeting to the masses. Though, in my opinion, Google has not done a good job in educating advertiser on how to effectively engage in retargeting. To start with, Google says, you should retarget every visitor who came to your site. That is a wrong approach and I highly discourage it. As you read through this post , you will know my reasoning behind it. You have to understand remarketing to effectively use it. I am listing 5 questions that you should ask before you put that JavaScript code to start remarketing.

5 questions to ask before starting a Retargeting Campaign

  1. What is the purpose of this retargeting campaign?
    This is first question you should always ask. Also ask, Why are we doing this? What is the purpose of retargeting? As you answer this question, you will automatically start to answer some of the questions listed below.
  2. Who are your target customers?
    Remarketing to all of you visitors, in most cases, not a good idea. If you are a portal, news site, have daily updates then it might (maybe) make sense to remarket anybody and everybody who visited your site. For most of the sites it doesn’t make sense to retarget everybody. Think about this, why would you want to target me with an ad to sell TV when I recently bought a TV from your site?

    Trying to sell ice to the Eskimo?  Try it. You’ll be sorry. To be effective, you should segment your visitor base and understand their needs. For example, by targeting the shopping card abandoner you have a better chance of conversion. By targeting those who have already downloaded a whitepaper, you have better chance of selling your free trial. The message (ad) you will put in front of these visitors will speak to their needs and hence will be more attractive than a generic message. Which leads to our third question.

  3. What will be your message?
    If you know the purpose and audience segment for the campaign then it is much easier to write your message (ad copy). Your ad copy has to be effective to drive people to take action. Make it right. Say you want to target all the people who downloaded a whitepaper on A/B Testing but did not sign up for free trial then your message can be “You know A/B Testing leads to higher conversions. Get started with a Free trial of xyz tool”. Alternatively, if you are trying to remarket to all the visitors who came to your site, reviewed few page and left without downloading the whitepaper then your message should drive them to download the whitepaper. Remember, one message does not fit all. Message has to resonate with the segment that you are targeting.
  4. Where will the visitors land?
    You have identified why you want to engage in remarketing and who you are targeting, now you have to make you sure that when customers arrive on your site they get the relevant information and clear call to action on the page they land. Sending visitors to an appropriate landing page is critical for the success of remarketing .
  5. How will you know you are successful in remarketing?
    You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Define your KPIs so that you can measure the effectiveness of remarketing. Properly defined success measures will also allow you to take necessary actions (test and fine tune ad copy, message or even the segments) to ensure you achieve your goals.

Google Remarketing Gone Wild.

Recently I came across two examples of remarketing where, in my opinion, the thought was given to the first 2 questions. I have an example to share with you. A while ago I visited Lyris newsletter template download page via a newsletter link. I gave my email address and downloaded the templates. Since I am done downloading, I don’t have a need to download them again.

However, the remarketing campaign keeps remarketing to me with a message inviting me to download the whitepaper (see below). If they have something new to offer then I might go back. If they have to offer the next logical step in moving me towards the sales, I might pay attention to it but I am not going to go back again to download the same templates that I downloaded few days ago. Seriously! Do not waste your impressions on me. If increasing brand awareness is the goal of this campaign then they should have a different message in the ad copy.

(Note: Currently there is a limitation in Google Adword retargeting which makes it harder to segment and target that segment only. If you are interested in segmenting and targeting then send me an email and I will provide you a solution that will help you target efficiently.) 

Sidebar: Below are some of the ways you can use remarketing
  • Cart Abandonment – Target visitors who have abandoned the shopping cart to bring them back to the site and complete the purchase. This is the most widely used and talked about use of remarketing.
  • Next Steps towards Conversion – Target visitors who took some prelim steps but did not complete the next steps towards purchase. E.g. Target the visitors who downloaded a whitepaper but have not come back to sign up for free trial.
  • Cross Sell/New Products – Target past customer with an up sell or cross sell. If a visitor bought a shirt recently maybe it is time to show them an ad for a tie that will go well with that shirt.
  • Brand Awareness – Remarket to people who have visited your site in past. Remarketing can put your brand right in front of them to further build brand awareness. Though this one is difficult to measure.

Thoughts/ Comments? Are you doing remarketing?

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Google Adwords Remarketing: Behavioral Targeting

This week Google Adwords announced that it is rolling out a feature called “Remarketing”. This feature is essentially “Retargeting” which I described in my blog post Retargeting 101

How does it work?

You visit a site, look at some products, maybe add some of the products to the shopping cart but then decide not to buy them because you need some more time to think about it. You close your browser and are done with that site. Few minutes later you go back to your computer and browse to another site, say a news site. As the page of that site loads so does an Ad that is from the site that you visited yesterday (where you looked at some products but did not buy). For Google Remarketing to work, the news site will need to be a part of Google content network.

So far Google used to show Adsense ads based on the content of the page but now it will start showing ads that match the interest of the person viewing the page (as identified by a cookie and retargeted by a marketer).


Neel visited Netflix. He looked at the site but decided that he is not going to become a member at that time. He went back to his work and completely forgot about Netflix, maybe because he got a movie from Redbox.

Few minutes later he gets back on his computer and browses to a site to read about Indian Food Recipe. This site happens to be a part of Google content network. Even though the content that Neel is reading has nothing to do with the movies, Google’s remarketing shows him a Netflix ad.

What is happening behind the scene?

Note: This is a hypothetical example and I am not sure if Netflix is really participating in the Google Adwords Remarketing.

Netflix, which participates (let’s assume) in Google Adwords decides to remarket to people who had visited Netflix in past but did not sign up for the service. Netflix decides to use Google Adwords new “Remarketing” feature for this remarketing.

Netflix sets up a remarketing campaign in Google Adwords. Netflix puts a JavaScript from Google Adwords on its pages to identify those people (audience) whom it wants to remarket i.e. people who came to the site but did not sign up for the service. This JavaScript lets Google know which cookies belong to the audience segment that Netflix wants to target. When Google comes across a person (cookie), who belongs to the audience segment that Netflix wants to remarket, on its content network, it will show them a Netflix ad (remarketing ad) instead of an ad that matches the content of the page the person is on.

I speculated this in 2007

In 2007, I speculated that Google will roll out something along these lines. I highly encourage you to read the following blog post as I think there is more to come from Google on Remarketing and Behavioral Targeting.

And some more Google related posts: All about Google

Comment? Questions?

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Retargeting 101

According to Wikipedia

Behavioral retargeting (also known as behavioral search retargeting, or simply, retargeting ) is a form of online targeted advertising by which online advertising is delivered to consumers based on previous Internet actions that did not in the past result in a conversion.

How does it work?

You visit a site, look at some products, maybe add some of the products to the shopping cart but then decide not to buy them because you need some more time to think about it. You close your browser and are done for the day. Next morning you go back to your computer and browse to a news site. As the page of that site loads so does an Ad that is from the site that you visited yesterday (where you looked at some products but did not buy)


Neel visited Sketcher’s site (They engage in retargeting – He looked at few shoes, added one to his cart but then decided that he is going to look some more before he buys them. He was tired after long day so he decided to logoff from his computer and takes some rest.

Few minutes later he gets back on his computer but before he goes and checks more shoes, an article about online privacy in an email catches his eyes so he clicks on the link to open the webpage to read that article. As he browses to that article on, he sees an ad from sketchers on that same page. The page content has nothing to do with the shoes but the person reading it has. Sketchers is retargeting to bring back the visitor who had left the site ( without converting (purchasing). The main idea behind retargeting is to reinforce the brand message and bring the visitors back to the site so that visitor can convert and become customers.

Shopping at

NYTimes Serves Sketchers Ad

How does it work technically?

When a visitor visits a site (sketchers in this case), the site ( runs a JavaScript from a 3rd party ad network or an ad exchange, which (the JavaScript)then drops a cookie on the visitor’s computer. This cookie is usually anonymous i.e. it contains an identifiers to identify the visitor (computer) but does not know any personally identifiable information such as name, phone, email etc. of the visitor. As the visitor browses the site this JavaScript can collect the information about visitors browsing behavior and then tie it back to the cookie. All an ad network (3rd party) knows that cookie id 123ABC67NBZ looked at some product, put them in shopping cart and then left without completing the purchase. Most likely, it does not know that cookie id 123ABC67NBZ belongs to Neel (some retargeting products now are tying PII information too but most of them are still anonymous).

If the visitor then browses to another sites on the internet ( in this case) which also has a relationship with that same ad network (the relationship between sites and ad network gets complex but that’s beyond the scope of this post) i.e. this other site also has a JavaScript from that same ad network on their pages then that JavaScript(on a page on can read the previously set cookie to identify the visitor. By reading the cookie, the Ad Network knows who this visitors (computer) is (anonymously) and what sites this visitor (computer) was on, what products he looked at and if he abandoned the shopping cart or not and then serve up an appropriate retargeting ad.

Related Post
Behavioral Targeting 101

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Search Retargeting – My View

I recently read an article on ClickZ by Robin Neifield title Search Retargeting It’s ready. Beahviroal Targeting networks currently selling search retargeting include, BlueLithium, and Revenue Science.

Basic concept behind Search Retargeting is to target Visitors who come to your site via search and then leave without converting. The idea is to reintroduce them with relevant message on the network once they leave your site.
For example a Visitor searches for cellphone arrives at your site (that cells cellphone and other electronics) but than leaves without buying one. Sometime in future (next day or whenever) visitor arrives to a news site (which does not cell phone), the visitor is shown a targeted message from your company trying to bring the visitor back to your site so that visitor can purchase the cellphone.

In a nutshell what these networks selling Search Retargeting are implying is that the fact that visitor searched something on a search engine and then clicked on paid or organic listing to arrive at a site is a strong indication that a visitor is interested in a particular products/service. I agree that such a behavior (searching for a keyword) indicates strong interest.

But isn’t the fact that visitor who arrived to the site (no matter how) and looked at product pages (cell phone in above example) indicates the visitors strong interest? Isn’t the whole idea of behavioral targeting based on determining visitor intent via their behavior on site or on the network? So why only target those visitors who arrived via search? Is search stronger indication than on-site behavior? Maybe it is, I don’t think Behavioral Targeting companies will agree with that. By just focusing on retargeting the user who arrived via search only you will be missing out an opportunity to fully utilize Behavioral Targeting. So why do I think so?

Let’s look at a scenario of a visitor:

A visitor searches “cell phone” on a search engines and lands on your site. As soon as visitor arrives on your site you should make an attempt to engage the visitor by having a well designed and optimized landing page. If the landing page is generic then you should use the tactic I described in my article title “Follow the search”. Granted not everybody buys in the first session and so you need to target them with right message based on their behavior (intent to purchase cell phone in this case) even after they leave your site, this is behavioral targeting.

Now there are two scenarios after the visitor arrives on your site.
1.Visitor looks further into the site – Great you landing page probably has done its work. Which leads into the following two scenarios
a.Visitor converts
b.Visitor does not convert
2. Visitor leaves the site without looking further than landing page – Your landing page or the offers are not enticing enough for this visitor.

Let’s analyze each of these scenarios one at a time

1a. If Visitor looks around and converts then no more targeting need. Mission accomplished.

1b. Visitor looks deeper into the site and then leaves without converting– In this case you need to target them. But the question is – How is this visitor different from those visitors who did not come via search and then browsed you site for cellphones? Didn’t their behavior showed that they were interested in cellphones and need to be retargeted?

So my point is that weather a visitor comes from search or some other way, if they have looked around on your site for a particular category or product and their behavior (on site usage) show they are in market or aremost likely to buy a product then they should be retargeting (if you are going to invest time an money in retargeting). How does it make a difference how they arrived to the site? Search is one more element of the behavior but on site behavior (BT Company’s core strength) is suggesting the same thing. By Offering Search Retargeting are BT companies indicating that search is better indicator than on-site behavior so we should only target those visitors who came via search? Does not make sense to me because this goes against their core offering which was based on the premise that onsite behavior is a better indicator of visitors interest.

2b. If a visitor leaves the site without going any further then you have a bigger problem which won’t be solved by search retargeting. It won’t matter how user arrived at your site. It requires landing page optimization and over all product/or service that your company offers. No matter how much you retarget if your landing page sucks or you don’t have the products or services that Visitors want then you are not going to convert.

If BT networks are going to place their bets on search retargeting (by showing that search is a better indicator than onsite behavior) than they better watch out because Google, Yahoo or MSN will have a more understanding and control of Search than them. For example, Google knows a lot more about visitor’s search behavior (I am not talking about Google and Behavioral Targeting that I talked about last month). Google knows not only which keyword drove visitor to your site but also which other sites the visitor clicked on before and after. Google also know what kind of keywords and keyword combinations (e.g. cellphone battery or buy a cellphone) Visitor searched before or after she searched “cellphone” to reach to you site, this is far better information for retargeting than just knowing “cellphone” keyword drove them to your site. Google can easily target the Visitor with their “Personalized Search” or Adsense network.

What do you think? I would like comments from BT providers as well as those who have tried search retargeting.