Blog: October 2014

Bringing Customers Back

Come back later! Many of you have explored online advertising, and some of you likely rely on it as a key part of your marketing initiatives. Whether you buy display ads locally or go all-out with pay-per-click advertising, you’re probably familiar with the benefits of online advertising. First, online advertising – especially on the pay-per-click side – offers precision that few other advertising formats can offer. If you want to reach a user searching for “pink foam stress reliever”, there is nothing more precise than online advertising, unless you’ve unearthed some mind-reading techniques that no one else has discovered.

Further, if you want to reach a content-oriented audience – let’s say you want to advertise on any website that is focused on high school football – you can do so using a “content network” strategy. The best online advertisers, of course, use a mix of all of these, tailored to the particular product or category they are advertising.

For instance, you might run display advertising on local news and business sites advertising your promotional and marketing services with a broad message. You might also advertise on sites for specific interests with a category of products – such as sports-related products like water bottles, flags and coolers on the aforementioned football-focused sites. Finally, you can advertise even narrower selections of products (or single products in some cases) to users who enter specific keywords into search engines – like the stress reliever examples above.

All of these are important strategies for the savvy online marketer, and they make even more sense if you are actively selling products online using an e-commerce shopping cart. But they don’t address the biggest problem plaguing any online advertising effort: getting users to come back to your site when they’ve left it without purchasing.

Why won’t they stay?

I’ve addressed the abandonment issue before; shopping cart abandonment rates average around 70% across all industries, which is a pretty terrible number. That means that less than a third of the people who put something in your online shopping cart will ever actually complete that purchase. Even more troubling are high bounce rates – when users come to your site and immediately leave. You can try dozens of techniques to keep them there, but ultimately there are a lot of tire kickers and “browsers” in the world, and you’re not going to get all of them. Even those visitors that don’t bounce immediately may stick around for a few minutes and then bail. It’s brutal out there.

Now, there are a few things you can do while you have visitors on your site to increase the likelihood that they’ll stick around and make a purchase. Live chat is probably the simplest and least expensive technology to interact with a visitor who might be wavering about a purchase or needs to ask a question. But you may not have the personnel to man live chat all day long, and while many visitors use live chat, some of them find it intrusive.

Optimizing your site’s landing pages – that is, the pages where users enter from searches and online ads – is another critical step in ensuring that users find what they want and stick around to buy it. But optimizing landing pages is a time-consuming and often frustrating process – you make a change, wait a while, and then look at the analytics to see if anything has improved. Split-testing (also called A/B testing, such as that available in Google Analytics) can make this process less cumbersome, but it doesn’t get you results any faster. It’s just something you have to do over time.

Where did they go?

Ultimately, you have to resign yourself to the reality that a sizable chunk of your visitors will leave your site without giving you much of anything – not a purchase, not an email address, nothing you can really use other than some measurable indications of when they left and from where they departed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reach them once they’re gone.

Enter “remarketing”. Remarketing is a technology that raises the hackles of privacy advocates and might even provide a dose of the “creep factor” when you’re browsing around online. You’ve probably encountered it before – you went shopping at the Ford Motors web site for a new pickup truck, then a day or two later you notice that there are suddenly ads for Ford pickup trucks on a lot of the sites you visit.

The first time I encountered remarketing was many years ago; I was shopping for a new laptop bag from Timbuktu and left the site after not finding the one I wanted. A day later, I noticed while browsing news sites and technology blogs that I was seeing an awful lot of Timbuktu ads, and they all seemed to advertise the exact line of laptop bags that I had been looking for.

I was, quite frankly, a little creeped out by this. And I’m not the only one – plenty of web users who are very sensitive about their privacy take steps to block these ads, because the technology they use follows you around the web as you go from site to site. It can be a little unsettling to find out that you’re being watched.

But, as Facebook and Google have demonstrated time and time again, many web users will trade privacy for convenience, and the majority of users do not take aggressive steps to block this kind of technology. That means that it’s quite likely that the majority of visitors who leave your site can be reached later with advertising for your products and services. Best of all, this “remarketing” technology is now cheap to run and easy to implement.

How does it work?

Remarketing is devilishly simple: You add some code to your website, and the remarketing provider tracks your visitors by putting a cookie on their computer. When those users leave your site, the remarketing provider shows your ads on other websites that these users visit. You create the ads yourself and upload them (remarketing is most often done with display ads); and then enter where you’d like the users to go when they click. You can send them straight back to your home page or, if you’re a little more savvy, you might want to send them to a landing page geared specifically to what they were looking at when they first visited.

You can get even more precise than that if you have the time. Say a visitor shopped the T-shirts category of your website – if you so desire, you can show them a t-shirt ad. You can even give them offers that you wouldn’t normally advertise in your other campaigns; since they’ve already shown interest in your products, you might want to lure them back with a coupon that only gets shown in your remarketing ads.

How does all this work? Remarketing takes advantage of the massive amount of “inventory” online – that is, all the ad space sitting out there. Since a remarketing provider is showing an ad specific to a user, they (and ultimately, you) can pay a bit more for an impression than an advertiser who is showing the same ads to everyone else who visits that site. It’s a little more money for the site hosting the ad, a tiny bit of money for the remarketing company, and a higher likelihood that you get that click, since the user viewing the ad is already familiar with you.

Want to try it out? There are a number of remarketing companies out there; it’s built in to Google Adwords, but you have to enable it and set it up separately. Of the third-party providers; Adroll is my favorite, because of its simplicity and low cost, but you might want to look around if you’re going to give remarketing a try. You should – it’s inexpensive, easy to implement and gets results.

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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