A target-focused approach to digital advertising is nothing new. Behavioral remarketing and first-/third-party, audience-based display tactics are staples of many well-optimized media plans. Yet, while many features and extensions have been released throughout the years, the core functionality of an SEM program has remained largely the same since the early 2000s: advertisers bid on “keywords” in an auction-based system, competing for a user’s click.
Then in 2012, Google started testing Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) to recognize how far the buyer had already journeyed. This cookie-based approach allowed advertisers to adjust ad copy, bids and keywords based on users’ previous site interactions. For the first time, marketers could accelerate the buy cycle by aggressively targeting (or excluding) those audience segments with a history of past website interactions. Common use cases included:
- Bidding more aggressively for users who had already begun a checkout or form process but had not yet converted (e.g., cart abandoners)
- Isolating bidding to previous site visitors or converters (thereby increasing efficiency for high-cost or competitive terms)
- Upselling or using sequential messaging for users that had already converted
While RLSAs were a welcome and effective addition to the SEM landscape, few media and social marketers have evolved their targeted capabilities beyond simple behavior-based strategies. While Google focused on previous site behavior, Facebook was rolling out Custom Audiences, a tactic that allowed advertisers to upload and target users based on CRM data (e.g., phone numbers, email addresses, etc.)