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Search Retargeting: Targeting Display Ads Using Data

In 2008, Stephen Baker published a great book called “The Numerati.” The book is a fascinating look at how data is being used in various industries, including healthcare and politics, and opens with an interview with Dave Morgan, the founder of Tacoda, one of the first and largest behavioral targeting companies. In the first pages of the book, Dave speaks about the impressive correlations his team found by looking at thousands of pieces of information per user per month including the fact that people who read romance novels rent cars more frequently on the weekends.

This book, paired with my experiences at DoubleClick and Yahoo!, were the inspiration for creating a company that targets online advertisements using the most abundant and effective form of data online: search data.

Frankly, despite my admiration for Dave and his work, I don’t think he had it quite right. The industry is muddied with companies trying to assign meaning to specific behaviors and the level of detail they engage to examine all of these data points is, at times, overwhelming.

Despite all of the available technologies to enhance digital marketing, and the plethora of opportunities in online advertising, off-line still seems to work much better. This may be a bold claim coming from someone that has founded a search retargeting company, but let’s look at this closer. If you look at my laptop and you look at my girlfriend’s laptop, you’ll see basically the same emails and the same display advertisements.

However, if you look in the mailbox at my house and then in my girlfriend’s mailbox, you’ll find that we’re being served totally different catalogues and direct mail. Not only does the content we receive offline differ more significantly between each individual, it actually maps to the customer’s current stage of life. This means that as shopping habits evolve from Abercrombie & Fitch to J. Crew to Banana Republic to Diesel to Prada, so, too, do the mailers we receive at our homes.

Offline targeting, which in its most basic form simply sends catalogues to past customers or past customers of related companies, works amazingly well. And, at the new data exchanges, we are following this same approach—combining the most basic and reliable online information (search data) to target in-market shoppers or interested potential clients.

The new targeting methods simply show ads to people that previously visited your site (site retargeting) or show ads to people that previously searched for a product (data targeting). This is a departure from the previous generation of behavioral targeting companies that look at thousands of pieces of data per user per month.

We keep it simple. We show car rental ads to people that previously searched for “car rental.”