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Card Search

Digital acquisition and innovation for a top-three U.S. card issuer


  • 10X

    Increase in accounts, with higher quality applicants and a significantly lower CPA

  • 1,200%

    Increase in credit card application volume from program inception

  • 1,800%

    Increase in approved accounts with FICO score above 740

  • 400

    Campaigns deployed over four-plus years, across 1,500 ad groups and 120,000 keywords


A top-three U.S. card issuer and dominant brand with leading market share across all lines of business was experiencing slower than average industry growth in their branded (consumer and business) and specialty card products:

  • Consumer Demand Shrinking: The time period was just after the recession when consumer confidence was low and card portfolios were declining.
  • High Decline Rates: The client’s current search marketing program was producing relatively lower-quality applicants and a higher number of declines.
  • Complex Online Application Process: The online application process was complicated and there were no integrated tracking protocols.
  • Limited Targeting: The client was operating with a lack of conversion data and very basic targeting practices.

In need of a more effective acquisition model, the card issuer wanted to move to an acquisition-based program rather than lead based. With competition increasing online, they did not want to miss out on the opportunity to gain market share and grow the quantity of new card issuances with search.


Partnering with key client counterparts, Merkle’s team of digital marketing professionals used a test-and-learn methodology with several innovative tactics:

  • CRM Data: Tagged every application with a FICO score and reported it back anonymously to adjust bids and refine targeting. Over time, accounts were valued-based on payment performance and credit growth.
  • Campaign Structures: Deployed advanced segmentation to aid in quality targeting “affinity” segments: Active Shopper (apply, compare, etc.); Rates (balance transfer, zero APR, etc.); Rewards (cash back, miles, etc.). New campaign structures allowed for purchasing of keywords based on account penetration by area as well as econometric factors such as job growth.
  • RLSA: Implemented some of the first remarketing (RLSA) campaigns to retarget and re-message hand-raisers.
  • Video: Deployed YouTube video to engage and drive conversions.
  • Segment Alignment: Keywords were assigned to specific card products that best met user’s needs, while a hierarchy was created for keywords that crossed over more than one segment.

Other Highlights

  • CPA: Cost per account dropped substantially at program inception and then leveled off as volume continued to grow.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Higher quality approvals led to fewer declines which resulted in more efficient underwriting and fewer customer complaints.

Over a 4+ year relationship, Merkle helped the client grow dramatically through our unique approach to search which emphasizes: right budget, quality management, innovation, and strategic testing and targeting. Merkle deployed over 400 campaigns across over 1,500 ad groups containing over 120,000 key words. Program results consistently exceeded goals and the client renewed the engagement multiple times with step-change budget increases year over year.

Discover how we did it. Contact us today.