Retargeting: SEO & PPC Working Together

SEO and Retargeting

This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

It’s no secret that SEO is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy. 44% of consumers start the shopping process with an online search, and almost a third of e-commerce traffic comes from search engines. Even if you’re primarily a brick-and-mortar shop, organic search traffic is important: Half of mobile searchers visited a store within a day of their search. So no matter what type or size of business you have, search engines are a vital source of traffic.

Unfortunately, there’s one big problem: up to 96% of organic search traffic doesn’t convert the first visit to your site. A big part of this is just the natural sales process: The vast majority of searches have informational search intent. However, there’s an effective way you can find those visitors after they leave your site when they are more likely to convert: retargeting.

Site Retargeting: Recycling Your SEO Traffic

Site retargeting (sometimes called retargeting) is, simply put, targeting users who have previously visited your website with advertisements on ad networks around the web. It most commonly refers to banner ads, but you can also retarget visitors with text ads using Google’s Search Network (note: this is not the same thing as search retargeting, which we’ll talk about in a little bit). It differs from traditional display buying in that it only targets people who have visited your site, or a specific section or page of your site instead of using some other demographic segment.

How does site retargeting work? You start by placing a retargeting pixel, a little bit of Javascript, in the footer of your site that cookies your site’s visitors. Later, when your retargeting provider encounters those users out in the wild, it will know to serve them your ads, assuming, of course, that you’re bidding high enough for those ad impressions. This gives you a chance to reach out and find potential customers when they have moved further down the sales funnel, or to even gently nudge them along, even when they’re visiting other websites.

Retargeting conversion funnel

Even better, you can put a pixel on individual pages, so you can run targeted campaigns for specific products or categories.

The result? A combination of the two most effective online marketing channels. As mentioned above, SEO traffic generally converts at around 2% (2.35% to be exact). This is considered by advertisers to be the most effective marketing channel for conversions. When you combine this traffic with display retargeting, you can double that conversion rate. Some industries, such as financial services, had conversion rates increase by almost 150 percent!

Search Retargeting: Sort of SEO but Also Sort of Not

But what if you’re a brand new site, or a smaller site that doesn’t get as much traffic as you’d like? It’s hard to retarget visitors if they don’t pass through your website in the first place. Fortunately, there’s a way you can advertise to people searching for your target keywords, even if they never pass through any of your web properties, through a process called “search retargeting.” Search retargeting is like organic search marketing wrapped in a display advertising shell.

Search retargeting starts when a user performs a search. Ad vendors are then able to capture that search data a few different ways, depending on what search engine they use, but the most common is by using referrer data sent by the user’s landing page. Once the ad network sees a web surfer that has your target search term in the referral data, it will display your ad on that page.

It’s important to note here that keyword-level targeting, the process I just described, is not the same as keyword-only segments. The former is truly targeting people who have just performed a search online for that keyword, while the latter is an audience interest segment built by collecting past search behavior. Targeting these segments, while effective, is not true search retargeting.

The biggest benefit of search retargeting is that you get to combine the reach of display marketing with the precision of SEO. Of course, since this marketing channel uses SEO data, it starts with keyword research. Once you’ve built up a list of keywords, your optimization becomes much easier as landing page optimization switches from SEO to conversion rate optimization (CRO) based on your campaign goal. Ideally, you’ve segmented your keywords and landing page by search intent:

  • Informational: These keywords represent the very beginning of the conversion process, and are not very likely to convert on the first visit. If you’re running a branding campaign you’ll want to be sure to include informational keywords on your list. If you’ve got a conversion goal, you still can’t afford to ignore these keywords as they make up the majority of searches. Informational keywords often use words/phrases like “how to”, “do I need” and “where to find”. Consider these leads to be converted later via your website or site retargeting.
  • Research: These searchers are further down the funnel than informational searchers. They’ve already decided that they want to buy a product, but they haven’t quite decided which one is best. They’re looking for more information, so product keywords usually include words such as “review”, “top 10”, “comparison”. And while it may look like spam to you, a word like “cheap” can actually help turn researchers into conversions.
  • In-market: These are the “shut up and take my money” searchers. They expect search results to take them directly to the product they’re trying to buy. These keywords typically include words like “deal”, “free shipping”, “discount” and “buy”. They don’t have high search volume, but should more than make up for it with high conversion rates.

The obvious benefit of search retargeting is that you can reach people who are interested in keywords that you struggle to rank highly for. However, you can also use it to sneakily siphon off some of your competitors’ traffic. Check out their pages and identify their keywords by looking at phrases used in title tags, H1 tags, URLs and article titles. Then, track any keywords you compete over using WooRank’s SERP Checker. Up your bid for keywords they outrank you on to take some of that traffic for yourself.

WooRank SERP Checker

Organic & Retargeting Working Together

So far, we’ve been talking about how to use your SEO efforts to enhance your retargeting campaigns and increase conversion rate. But, the benefits go both ways. Running retargeting campaigns, both site and search, can work indirectly to boost your organic search engine traffic. One of their biggest advantages is that they overcome ad blindness: Three out of four consumers notice when they are shown retargeted ads. This is huge for improving and reinforcing brand recognition, and the numbers reinforce this. Back in 2010, comScore found that site retargeting led to a huge (1,046%) increase in branded search activity. That could be reason enough on its own to run a retargeting campaign.

That same comScore study found that running retargeting campaigns resulted in a 726% lift in return visitors four weeks after seeing the banner ad. Sites running retargeted ad campaigns also see a similar increase in time spent on site, and a much lower bounce rate. So it definitely helps your organic search marketing to keep your brand in front of users after they leave your site.


Search traffic has long been the quality standard against which all other marketing channels are judged, and for good reason. However, SEO is really only one piece of the marketing puzzle, and it’s quite possible you are losing out on a lot of opportunities to convert your website’s visitors. Fortunately, you can use retargeting campaigns to get those wayward users back on track and moving through the conversion funnel and, when part of a holistic marketing strategy, to reinforce your own branding and SEO efforts.