It’s Like Magic (But Not)
Even if you’ve never heard of retargeting when it comes to online ads, it’s likely that you’ve still experienced it. Here’s how it works.
A person visits your site. They browse around and check out some of your products. Your site drops a little cookie in their browser that tells other sites they’ve been to your site.
Now they visit another site—one that has ads on their site. And these ads are delivered by a retargeting service. Including an ad for your site.
So now that visitor is on another site, but since they’ve been to your site before, they see an ad for your site—reminding them that they had previously checked you out and subtly (or not so) suggesting that you head back there.
It seems almost like magic the first time you notice it. Especially if you visited a site you normally don’t. I visited a site for my wife—to help her look up something sewing related. Later, every site I went to offered me sewing patterns and more. Strange.
But it’s been demonstrated to be somewhat effective. So you might think this is the smart way to do ads. After all, the normal banners don’t seem to really work too well, right?
Re-Imagining an Alternative Approach
But I didn’t want a static one. And I didn’t want a random one.
Yes, I’m picky that way.
What I really wanted was a targeted ad based on behavior. You know, based on what someone had done on my site—the pages and posts they’d visited and read.
Here’s what I imagined.
A user navigates my site and visits and reads certain posts. I track that behavior. And when they hit a certain set of posts (all of a similar topic—like membership plugins for WordPress), I wanted to tag the anonymous visitor as someone interested in membership sites.
Then, whenever they came back, I’d want to show them a single ad for a membership plugin that I liked. But only to them. Everyone else would see my site without an ad.
I thought of it as a targeted ad. And to do it, I would need to be able to design the rules of what posts needed to be viewed before tagging the visitor. And then I’d need a conditional display in my widgets to show the ad only to tagged visitors.
So I Called a Friend
With the specific ideas in place, I called a friend—Erik over at ORBTR—and we spent some time talking about it. (If you’ve never heard of ORBTR, you may want to check it out; they’re truly amazing.)
Erik and I talked about it at length, and over a set of releases, he put it all in place. First he created orbits (groups that could be populated by rules related to page visits and more). Then he created a conditional widget that would be driven by whether a person was in an orbit or not.
I sponsored some of this development because I believed it would be something others would use. And I hoped it would work. And then we set it up on my site.
Whenever you do something like this, you can only tell how well it’s worked by comparing it to a baseline of data. That’s what I’d collected for several months.
On average, I was sending 30 folks a day to a membership plugin’s site. This had been constant for months.
Then I created the orbit and the conditional widget with an ad for the membership plugin—only to be seen by specific people who had visited specific posts (within a specific period of time).
And the results were fantastic. Over the quarter that I ran the ad, I saw an increase of 120%. Daily.
I would have been fine if the experiment hadn’t worked, or if the sponsored development hadn’t paid off. I love products and product development, and it was worth it just for that reason alone.
But it did work out. And I’m thrilled to be able to tell you that you now have an alternative option beyond retargeting which lets you do smarter ads on your own site, rather than paying to have your site’s ads plastered all over everyone else’s sites.
Anybody else experimenting with targeted ads? What works for you?
Chris Lema is the VP of Software Engineering at Emphasys Software, where he manages high performers and oversees product development and innovation. He’s also a blogger, ebook author and runs a WordPress meetup in North County San Diego. His coaching focuses on helping WordPress businesses, or businesses wanting to leverage WordPress.