Remarketing: How to Make Your Content Marketing and SEO up to 7x More Awesome

Today, I’ll share with you a case study on how we used remarketing to make our content marketing and SEO efforts up to seven times more effective. In the last two years, we’ve moved beyond just doing SEO to kicking some major online marketing butt and I’d love to show you the lessons we’ve learned in the time it took to get here. Hopefully you can cut your own learning curve and get right to it!

Rockin’ SEO and the company no one knows

WordStream’s website launched late in 2008. My company is pretty much your typical B2B brand using content marketing and SEO to drive leads for the business. Today, our blog gets around half a million visitors each month; we’ve seen a compound monthly growth rate of 8.4% every month, for the last five years!

Here’s what that looks like:

At first glance, you might consider this a huge SEO success (doesn’t everything look better if you only take a glance?). As you might expect though, we’ve faced a few challenges over the last few years:

Issue 1: Low visitor engagement

Here’s what it looked like over a 60-day period last year, back when we had pretty weak user engagement metrics:

  • Just 1.9 pages per visit.
  • An average visit duration of 1 minute and 34 seconds.
  • A new visitor ratio of 79.2%.

We knew we could do better than this… yet we weren’t.

Issue 2: Low conversion rate

Our second challenge had to do with low conversion rates from website visitors to offer sign-ups. Like many other companies that do SEO/Content Marketing, we’re hoping to turn some of that traffic into offer sign-ups for things like white papers or free trials. We want to get interested prospects into our system so we can communicate with (and market to) them on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, our conversion rates were pretty low–just under 2%–as people were bouncing away and often not returning. I don’t care how great you are at getting eyes on your content; if you’re not converting, it’s worthless.

Issue 3: Virtually no branded searches

This one was probably our biggest problem. In organic search, only 3% or so of our approximately half a million monthly organic searches were branded searches. Check out this snapshot from last year, back when “not provided” was only around 10% and it was still possible to do this kind of analysis.

(Let’s just stop here briefly, shall we? We must have a moment of silence for our lost organic keyword data.)

Okay, we’re back… have a look:

I’m sure we’ve all seen our share of clueless clients, where 95% of the organic search traffic is branded search. I wouldn’t want to see all branded search; it means your SEO sucks if you’re only appearing in front of people who are already looking for your business by name.

My site was the exact opposite. We were driving hundreds of thousands of visits per month via SEO and only 3% of that came from branded search. What does that mean? It meant our SEO had gotten too far ahead of the brand.

On the one hand, it’s great to have growing SEO traffic numbers. However, as I pondered the issues above—low engagement, low conversion and very little branded search—I realized the situation was more like:

the best internet marketing company that nobody ever heard of

(image via Flickr)

Essentially, we were just driving tons of traffic to my link-juiced up domain using the amazing, optimized content we’d created, but people wouldn’t stay that long, convert, or remember the company brand.

That’s not a good thing at all. It’s pretty anti-climactic, actually; you do the work of creating killer content, optimizing it for both users and search, get it out the door and in front of the right people… and they still have no idea who you are. We had to stop throwing money out the door. We couldn’t just be SEOs anymore.

Remarketing primer for the uninitiated

Remarketing is basically the process of tagging people who visit your site, then targeting them with banner ads after they leave your site. No, this is not otherwise known as stalking—not if you’re doing it right, anyway. Remarketing can be a very powerful tool, if you avoid crossing over into the creep factor.

How Remarketing Works

It gives you the opportunity to appear in front of people who had already expressed an interest in your brand as they go about their business on the web. They could be checking their email, reading the news, watching a YouTube video… and there you are! Reminding them of that thing they were going to do when they checked you out a few days ago.

Why remarketing?

We did a lot of thinking about our issues and how to fix them. We were totally killing it with our SEO and driving traffic like no one’s business, but clearly, that wasn’t enough.

Remarketing was actually one of the first potential solutions I considered seriously, because by definition, remarketing provides opportunity to:

  • Turn abandoners/bouncers into leads
  • Increase brand recall (and thus increase branded searches)
  • Increase repeat visitor rates and engagement
  • Increase the effectiveness of SEO and content marketing

What we needed was to better connect with the people who were interested in visiting us in the first place. Obviously, we weren’t excelling at grabbing and keeping their attention, but then, we weren’t getting the chance to follow up with this mass of search traffic.

Remarketing would allow us a second chance to make that first impression, if you will (and even a third, and a fourth). We had to get past being forgettable. We had to get sticky.

And why remarket with Google, you ask? Why not? Quite simply, they were the largest and most recognized marketplace going; they just made sense for us. The Google Display Network is one of the largest remarketing networks in the world, with over two million sites in the network. It also includes AdMob for mobile targeting, meaning you can get your ads to show up in Angry Birds and other mobile apps.

the reach of the Google Display Network

Generally you can find your tagged site visitors on the network many times per day, several days per week, and across many different sites. On average, you’ll be able to connect with:

Soon, Google DoubleClick users will also be able to buy retargeting ads on Facebook, which is proving an incredibly effective platform for the tactic.

Remarketing as a Conversion Rate Optimization Tool

According to research from Forrester, 96% of people who visit your site don’t convert to a lead or sale. And 70% of people who put stuff in a shopping cart leave without placing an order. These people really are the low hanging fruit and from that perspective, I view remarketing as an effective conversion rate optimization tool—sort of.

average conversion rates

This was another major reason retargeting made sense for us. We really needed that help with brand recognition and getting people back to our site to convert (or at least get back on site and connect so we could nurture the lead).

So, with the decision made to at least try it out and test, we got started.

Important things to consider when starting remarketing

In remarketing, you usually need to create different audiences to remarket so you can adjust your bidding strategy and your ads. For example, we created one audience for people who visited our blog, one for home page visitors and another for people who visited one of our free tools (e.g.: Our Google AdWords Grader for PPC auditing). We can assume each of these high-level groups was looking for different types of information.

This basic segmenting allowed us to show different ads, depending on which section of our site they visited.

A secondary benefit was that we could bid more aggressively (get more impressions, higher more prominent ad positions) for visitors to our AdWords Grader, which is worth way more to us as a business than someone who visits our blog (because we blog about all sorts of random stuff that has nothing to do with WordStream there, intent is far lower, if at all).

Another cool remarketing strategy for content marketers is to define audience categories based on the different post categories in your blog. If you already have a ton of blog content that is classified by topic, leverage those existing classifications in your remarketing audience definition strategy.

Also, consider membership duration; that is, how long do you want to keep chasing these people around the Internet? I set ours to 30-60 days, which is pretty aggressive (you might even call it spammy). A shorter membership duration would improve cost per conversion metrics, since people are less likely to convert as more time passes. Also, consider the difference you might see between B2C and B2B. You know the length of your average sales cycle and will have to test to see if it’s worth going beyond that time, or if they’re apt to have completed a purchase.


  • Create audiences, groups of visitors based on the pages they visited or other factors.
  • Bid more aggressively on visitors who showed greater intent.
  • Segment your audiences based on the different content topics on your site
  • Test against the length of your sales cycle as a starting point to finding the right audience membership duration.

Killer ad creative strategy for remarketers

Now that we’ve tagged visitors and segmented them into different audiences, the key is to create cool ads in different formats that:

  • Drive a call to action.
  • Feature branding or images that will improve brand recall.

Lousy ads have sunken many remarketing efforts, so the key is to keep A/B testing with different ad designs. You want to have a high CTR (ideally more than 0.4%) and find the most memorable copy and image combinations, since one of the objectives here is to improve brand recall. You know you have finally “made it” when you get people tweeting your ads! Like this cute little puppy dog!

Another company killing it with their remarketing ads right now is none other than Moz, who has some of the cutest remarketing ads featuring the amazing Roger Mozbot!

Remarketing results 18 months out

We started our remarketing efforts early in Q1 2012, just over 18 months ago. How are things going today? Based on the title of the post, you know this was the best move we could have made, but how big was the impact?

Impact on brand recall

One of the biggest issues I had was poor brand recall – that a measly 3% of my organic searches were branded searches. Unfortunately, the whole keyword (not provided) mess makes it pretty much impossible to trend this branded searches over time [shakes fist at Google], however a proxy for brand recall is direct traffic. Meaning, to the extent that you’re building your brand, you would expect more people to visit your website directly, as opposed to stumbling upon your SEO’ed content. Here’s what my direct traffic looks like over last 6 years.

Impact on repeat visitor rate

Earlier, I mentioned that last January, we had a 20% returning visit rate. Today, it’s more like a 33% of our visitors are repeat visitors. That’s a massive over 50% improvement. We love to see the steady increase in repeat visitors (decrease in new visitors) over time.

Impact on user engagement and conversion rates

Check THIS out. Remember that ridiculous 1 minute and 33 second average visit duration? Today, it’s up 300% and is approaching 5 minutes. Furthermore, our website visitor-to-lead-form-submitted conversion rates are up 51%!

It’s important to note there was one other major factor that helped us here with the huge increase in visit duration and that was to embrace longer form content. Both were important for the overall strategy and I’ll write about that in a future post.

Repeat visitors +50%, conversion rate +51%, and and time on site +300% = 7x more awesome!

A few closing notes on our remarketing strategy:

Basically, we buy a truckload of impressions ever month. Around 44 Million of them per month—take a look below—I allocate my PPC budget 50/50 between search and display remarketing.

Why so much remarketing? At this point, we’re already generating hundreds of thousands of visitors to the site every month via SEO and content marketing, so it’s worth that much more to the business to convert the organic traffic we’re getting. I think this is very common among sites that do SEO well.

As we’ve gotten better and better at driving traffic via SEO, our PPC search strategy today is much more about getting additional ad space coverage around a very narrow set of high commercial intent keywords, which have lots of ads crowding out the organic results.

It’s important to note that my “7x More Awesome” metric was our ROI from remarketing as we specifically sought to improve engagement rates, brand recall and conversion rates – if you choose to test remarketing for your business, the ROI will depend on your goals and objectives.

Remarketing: moving beyond SEO towards building your brand

In summary, SEO is a great traffic acquisition method, but by definition, you’re going after people who are unfamiliar with your brand (since if they knew where to get whatever they were looking for, they would have directly navigated to your site).

In order to grow your business into a more mature company, you need to go beyond just SEO and build your brand!

Remarketing is an incredibly effective way to leverage and capitalize on your SEO and content marketing investments to build:

  • more repeat visitors,
  • more brand recall (branded searches, direct traffic),
  • more engagement (pageviews per visit, time on site, lower bounce rates)
  • and more conversions/leads/sales.

Personally, I think it’s crazy to be doing SEO without at least some remarketing. No, it’s not free, but neither is SEO/Content Marketing. The point is to understand where each tactic is most effective and how they work best together to drive audiences, then convert/retain to get way more bang for your buck. Like Rand has said, we can’t just be SEOs anymore!

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