Need to campaign for the loyal ones?
9 mins read

Need to campaign for the loyal ones?

Regular customers are often considered loyal customers. But should you pay for their loyalty?

I have been in search engine marketing for more than 18 years.

Most things in this area change regularly; The examples are a dime a dozen.

When I started in this industry:

  • Yahoo was the dominant US search engine and advertising platform (then known as Overture).
  • Yahoo only had two match types: Standard and Advanced.
  • AOL and AskJeeves had separate advertising platforms.
  • Bing (it will never be Microsoft for me) was powered by Yahoo.
  • The Google creatives were 70 characters long in total.
  • … And the NY Jets were still good.

But one question continues to bother me, and I’m looking for an answer like Captain Ahab chasing the great white whale in “Moby Dick” – a question that has no definitive answer, just a point of view: “Should I get the Make the effort to spend on search ads?” Customers who have made a purchase before?”

Now that I’ve got the symbolism out of the way, let’s get down to business.

The reality is that the answer is part industry best practice, part semi-definitive answer, and part pure subjectivity.

I’m starting from what I think is the best course of action.

Recommended course of action

First, let’s look at the context of this question.

This actually includes all paid digital media (not just search).

You need retargeting lists

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, you absolutely need retargeting lists.

Whether it’s a Google Ads pixel, GA audience, UET pixel, Facebook audience, CRM, or email list upload, you’ll need them.


Simple, if you want to continue targeting these searchers, you want them to appear on a remarketing list to show if they were of value, made a purchase, etc.

If you don’t want to target these people, they’re just as quickly placed on an audience exclusion list.

These are just the facts (any conscientious marketer).

Google ad groupDifferent audiences in the buying cycle (described as parts of a tree).

Advertise to get repeat customers

If you don’t advertise to a regular customer, remember that your competitor will.

  • Clickshare doesn’t matter if you’re not there because you may have lost market share.
  • For those of you who aren’t convinced, I urge you to take a look back at an old Bravo show: Flipping Out with Jeff Lewis, when his former business partner was actively bidding on his name for interior design leads ( Season 3, Episode 11, The Reunion).

Never stop working on organic search

The absolute most important thing to think about – and I can’t stress this enough – is whether or not you choose to spend money on a potential regular customer.

You should never stop working on your organic search or organic media efforts.

The moment you do that, you will be further behind than you ever thought possible.

Semi-definitive answers

Next, let’s look at something that’s slightly subjective, but actually has a well-defined answer.

Never stop brand search

While there is no real Bible to look up (although Kirk Williams’ Ponderings of a PPC Professional is a good guide to that), I can say with certainty from experience that if there were 10 SEM Commandments, #1 on the list would be this:

Never stop looking for brands, even for regular customers (except for a few big brands and/or target audiences).

First Time Customers > Regular Customers

First-time customers are more valuable than repeat customers because first-time customers become repeat customers – provided you manage their experience properly.

So there are few reasons not to approach a first-time customer (yes, I get asked that question way more often than I should).

Unless you’re one of those “one-and-done” industries (which actually exist), always measure new customers through the lens of lifetime value (LTV).

First-time customers and repeat customers are not (literally) the same people and should receive different experiences or incentives based on their history.

Subjective Answers

I agree: Yes, you should continue to advertise to loyal/repeat customers.

To answer why, you need to segment it into multiple groups.

brand search

As mentioned in the previous section, you should never stop at the brand – if for no other reason than to defend your place in the market.

A first-time customer typically closes the deal for other media activities (e.g. social media, display, etc.). First-time customers are the most valuable, and often providing a discount/incentive in the ad or UX helps close the deal.

Repeat customers have built up a level of loyalty, and you should customize your ad copy to remind them why they made the first purchase. But there is also less need (or no need at all) to motivate them in the ad or UX.

Repeat buyer marketing will most likely have the highest conversion rate, and by spending the money on it, you can continue to tailor their experience to what best suits your business needs.

I would like to point out that there are some exceptions to this rule.

Some reasons are:

  • You are in a “One and Done” industrywhere they are not expected to come back and buy again.
  • They have a hyper niche industryif you have a well-known brand, but only a specific segment of consumers are eligible to buy from you (in this scenario, overlay your ads with strong audience and demographic targeting).

Non-Branded Search

The obvious answer to spending for first-time customers is yes. No further explanation is needed.

Repeat customers search for non-branded keywords for a variety of reasons, including:

  • cost point.
  • I’m not aware of any vertical options.
  • Previous experience with your brand.
  • Time has passed and they just can’t remember your brand name (this happens a lot).

I remain a proponent of spending on repeat customers looking for non-branded items for the following reasons:

  • You can entice them with incentives (but not as good as the first time buyer) in the ad or UX.
  • Non-brand spend allows you to gather more data about an individual to better understand their needs.
  • In addition, they are added to remarketing lists.
  • My personal favorite is customizing ads to remind them why they bought from you in the first place.

Pro tip: Don’t aggressively bid on repeat buyers on unbranded keywords. If they’re shopping by price, it’s just not worth it – unless you have the best price.


Everyone who is entitled to it is always willing to spend money on it. The image and price will do the work for you.

audience segmentsApproach all qualified customers.

power max

(Note this is as of May 2023).

You can bid for all or first-time customers.

The reality is that you cannot (yet) exclude anyone.

I’m a fan of splitting it into two campaigns: one for first-time customers (with an inflated budget) and another for repeat customers.

I set the first-time customer campaign to use a maximum conversion strategy (either no CPA cap or a higher CPA cap than returning visitors) to prevent the all-audience campaign from outperforming it.

(Disclaimer: This is a workaround, not a condoned or 100% effective tactic.)


Again, I would like to reiterate that I would like to draw the attention of all beneficiaries to this.

However, the purpose of these elements is different than search elements and should therefore be broken down differently:

  • Prospecting: Never visited (possibly without knowledge of the brand). Give them a message about who you are and what you do.
  • Engagers: Those who visited the site and didn’t convert (neither at all nor in a selected window). Let them know why you’re the right choice and convince them to keep them buying.
  • retention: Those who previously bought. Tell them why they need to buy again (get the guilt here).

Google Discovery

This is one of the exceptions I have where I don’t believe in investing in standalone Google Discovery for regular customers for the following reasons:

Performance Max is already picking them up, and you just can’t get out of PMax’s Discovery page.

If you know what you’re doing, you’ve already collected their emails and can use your email marketing strategy to reach them.

Bring away

I want to tell you that there is a concrete answer to whether or not you should spend money on customer retention.

There are parts that you absolutely should spend money on, and for the rest I think you should for the most part.

However, if you want to be successful at retaining customers, you end up having to spend money one way or another.

If it’s not paid search, it’s email, investing in SEO work, or organic social media posts.

One way or another, you will pay for it.

It is entirely up to you to decide which strategy makes the most sense.

More resources:

Featured image: batjaket/Shutterstock