3 SEM Campaigns For Customer Retention

Oct 31st 2014

3 SEM Campaigns For Customer Retention

“Sales of a given brand may be increased without converting to the brand any new customers, but merely by inducing its existing users, those who already use it at least occasionally, to use it more frequently.”

– John Treasure

In SEM we focus most of our resources on acquiring new customers and rarely focus on retaining existing customers. This chart from Marketing Charts shows that retail executives’ emphasis lies in retaining their customers, not acquiring new ones. With the power of word-of-mouth, the mythology of “it costs 10x more to acquire a new customer than retain an old one” and the increasing acknowledgement in the analytics community that a customer isn’t a “true customer” until they’ve purchased twice, the data shouldn’t be all that surprising. It got me thinking about the ways in which we can use SEM, a tried-and-true acquisition channel, to increase our chances of retention.

From a CMO lens, it’s important to remember that a customer retention strategy should not be channel-specific. Optimizing your product or service for maximum customer lifetime value (CLV) involves visualizing all of the brand impressions collected over time and all of the possible touch points of influence over a customer’s  “lifetime.” The place to start is during the sales/conversion process before the prospect becomes a new customer. Beyond that, how can we use SEM tactics to support the conversion process? I propose three powerful campaign types for retaining customers.

A Retention Search Campaign

What do your current customers search for after purchase? Do they have general or technical questions about your product or service? Are they thinking of switching? Can you influence their decision in your favor?

If you’re selling software and your customer is looking for software support – run an ad that takes your customer exactly where they need to be on your website to have their problem fixed. The sooner you can address lingering problems or help existing customers troubleshoot their own problems, the better chance you’ll have at retaining, upselling or cross-selling them. Find your customers’ common questions using these methods:

Develop a list of support, upsell or cross-sell specific keywords you can use to target existing customers. Build a separate campaign for these keywords. Be mindful of your landing page choices. Landing pages could include a customer forum or support pages.

Because this campaign is focused on retention rather than acquisition, you may want to hold it accountable to different goals depending on the action you’re expecting a repeat customer to complete. Common KPIs are engagement, calls, form-fillouts, and the most important metric – churn.

If you’re looking to keep this campaign more targeted, set it up as a Remarketing Lists For Search Ads (RLSA) campaign and only target users who have completed the checkout process or lead form process on your website. Create this list using Google Analytics.


A Retention Display Remarketing Campaign

We often think of Remarketing as a “closer” or a mid-funnel touchpoint along the conversion path. Savvy retargeters use Remarketing to drop brand impressions on current customers and upsell newly-acquired customers. Think of Remarketing in the same way retailers think of your email inbox. Email marketers send out newsletters, promoting new products you may be interested in, upsell you or bring you back by offering a discount. Remarket to your audience with these offers and tactics:

  • ~ Top of Mind Brand Ads – Sometimes all it takes is a simple reminder. Run brand ads across Display Network placements to keep your brand top of mind with your customers. Be sure your impression caps are set low so that you’re not annoying your customers – three impressions or less per day. If your sales cycle is long, set your cookie length to 60 or 90 days. While a “spray-and-pray” Remarketing strategy isn’t clever or “strategic,” it can be effective.
  • ~ Promotions – Promote new products or offer discounts on products that your customers have viewed but not yet purchased.
  • ~ Cross-Sells and Upsells – Offer related products or services, upgrade a plan or throw in a new service.
  • ~ Loyalty Programs – If you offer a loyalty program, then retarget your current customers who are not yet members to convert them into that new loyal customer.

A Brand Search Campaign

Branding campaigns are hotly debated in SEM and I won’t tackle the question of whether or not businesses should be running branding campaigns on search engines. I will say that if a prospect is looking for your brand on a search engine, you should make it as easy as possible for them to find you. In a competitive niche, you shouldn’t risk the off-chance that your competitor’s ad shows above or in place of your ad and you lose that opportunity for influence.

If you do run a brand search campaign, make sure to include your brand name in your ads, preferably including “Official Site” in the ad text. Use Sitelink Extensions, Callouts, Location/Call and other extensions that are applicable to your business.


The more you can stay in front of your customers, engender trust, and incentivize them to visit your website and purchase again, the more revenue you’ll see on the bottom line. Let’s break down the SEM-as-acquisition-only walls and consider the ways in which we can use the power of digital ad platforms for retaining customers. How do you retain customers using search marketing?

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