Skip to main content ↓
A dart is stuck in the bullseye of a dartboard, which features a dollar sign symbol in the center, symbolizing financial success or monetary target achievement.
  • Home
  • Blog
  • SEO What Is Search Retargeting and How Does It Work?

What Is Search Retargeting and How Does It Work?

Marshall is looking for baby clothes for his son online. After Googling “baby onesies,” he browses for a bit, but doesn’t find anything he likes. The next day, though, he notices a paid ad that’s advertising an attractive and affordable blue baby onesie — so he buys it. In the above example, Marshall found that ad because of search retargeting — that is, ad targeting based on his Google search history. Without it, he probably wouldn’t have found that company or their baby products.

That’s why you can benefit from using search retargeting, too.

But what exactly is search retargeting, and what makes it different from regular site retargeting? We’ll explore the difference between search retargeting vs. site retargeting below, as well as how to implement your search retargeting strategy. Read on to learn more, and then subscribe to Revenue Weekly for more digital marketing tips from the agency with over 1,100 client testimonials!

What is search retargeting?

Search retargeting is an advertising tactic that involves targeting ads toward people based on their Google search history. It allows you to display your ads to users who have looked up particular keywords. For example, let’s say you’re a clothing company that sells, among other things, plaid skirts. If someone looks up “plaid skirt” on Google, and you’ve targeted that keyword with your ads, they might see one of those ads later that day.

Search retargeting ads are typically display ads, meaning they appear in the margins of third-party websites.

Adobe Acrobat DC display ad

Search retargeting vs. site retargeting

When you hear the term “search targeting,” it can be easy to get it confused with site retargeting. However, the two tactics are very different. Site retargeting — referred to as remarketing — is a process where you target ads to people based on their past interaction with your website. The idea is that people who’ve already visited your site have a vested interest in you, so they’re more likely to respond positively to your ads.

With site retargeting, you install cookies or pixels on your site to track user traffic to  pages.

Then you direct ads to those users. For example, you might target someone who abandons their cart with an ad encouraging them to complete their purchase.

Search retargeting is completely different. Rather than targeting people based on the website pages they’ve visited, it targets them based on their Google searches.

With search retargeting, users don’t need to have interacted with your business before. The other main difference is that while site retargeting often uses paid search ads — ads that appear at the top of search results — search retargeting is limited mostly to display ads on other websites.

How can search retargeting benefit you?

Search retargeting is such a beneficial tactic because it helps you narrow your ad focus to only the most relevant users. Relevance is key because irrelevant ads won’t drive conversions. Despite its differences from site retargeting, search retargeting still operates on a similar premise: Your most valuable users are the ones who’ve already expressed an interest in what you have to offer. But whereas site retargeting focuses on users who have indicated an interest in your specific brand, search retargeting targets people who’ve shown an interest in your products or industry in general. If you sell bicycles, you could target people who search for bicycles.

The benefit of Google search retargeting, then, is that you’re able to exclusively target users with a particular set of interests and follow up on their searches later on with content you know will interest them and entice them to click.

How to set up Google search retargeting

When you launch a search retargeting campaign, you want to make sure you take the time to get everything right.

The whole point of targeting specific searches is to help you reduce wasted ad spend, but a haphazard campaign could have the opposite effect. Here’s a simple, three-step guide to setting up a Google search retargeting campaign!

1. Choose your keywords

The first step in setting up a search retargeting campaign is to choose which keywords to target. This is a fundamental step, as it will determine which searches and users you reach with your ads. Aim to target keywords that are highly relevant to the ads you plan to show. If you sell kitchenware and want to advertise your pans, don’t target keywords about pots.

Your targeted searches should be variations on whatever you’re trying to sell with this campaign.

It’s a good idea to focus your retargeting on long-tail keywords — that is, those that are several words long. You can target short-tail keywords too, but it won’t reach a very specific set of users, so it’s not very advisable for your campaigns.

Learn Advanced Retargeting Tactics

2. Create your ads

Once you’ve drawn up a list of keywords, it’s time to create your ads. As with the previous step, keep relevance in mind. Each ad should be designed specifically for the keyword or keywords it’s targeting. Since search retargeting ads are display ads, they need to be visually compelling.

Create ads that will stand out on a page, and if you’re advertising a particular product, show a high-quality photo of it. Be sure to include your target keyword somewhere in the text of the ad, too. 

"New North" playbook display ad

3. Monitor results

When you’re ready to launch your ads, you can do so through Google Ads — but don’t stop there. Once your ads are up and running, use Google Ads to monitor their progress. Google Ads will let you view metrics like click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate, so you can see which ads are working for you and which ones aren’t. If you see a particularly underperforming ad or keyword, you can pause it to keep from wasting your budget. Successful ads, on the other hand, can clue you in to what advertising strategies might work well in your other campaigns.

Meet WebFX:

Your world-class, tech-enabled marketing agency with over 1.6 million hours of combined expertise.

cta38 img

Let WebFX help you optimize your search retargeting strategy

Need help developing a top-tier Google search retargeting strategy?

WebFX can help! With over 28 years of digital marketing experience, we know Google advertising inside and out, and we’d love to help you get your campaign off the ground. With our paid advertising services, you’ll get help optimizing not only for search retargeting, but for site retargeting and paid search ads as well. You’ll also receive a dedicated account representative to keep you in the loop about everything we do for you. To get started with us, just give us a call at 888-601-5359 or contact us online today!

Try our new free SEO checker at

Boost your site’s search performance with our free SEO Checker. Analyze your website for optimization tips on titles, headers, content, speed, and more.

Get your Free SEO report
{ "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": { "@type": "Question", "name": "What is search retargeting?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "

Search retargeting is an advertising tactic that involves targeting ads toward people based on their Google search history. It allows you to display your ads to users who have looked up particular keywords.

" } } }