Retargeting Best Practices

Ed Knowles
May 25, 2017
Retargeting helps close the gap between a site visitor being ready to buy and converting. Retargeting is a core component of digital tactics today: 82% of marketers use retargeting, per an AdRoll 2016 study. According to Comscore, retargeting is the most effective way of driving prospects back to a website; their study found that retargeting […]

Retargeting helps close the gap between a site visitor being ready to buy and converting. Retargeting is a core component of digital tactics today: 82% of marketers use retargeting, per an AdRoll 2016 study. According to Comscore, retargeting is the most effective way of driving prospects back to a website; their study found that retargeting resulted in a 726% increase in site visitation rates within the first four weeks of the initial exposure to an ad. A website’s average conversion rate is around 2%, while around 4% of all website visitors are ready to buy. So how do we close that gap?

With so many marketers using retargeting today, it is important to review best practices for retargeting campaigns.


Retargeting vs. Remarketing


               Remarketing Example    /   Retargeting Ad Example


Before we talk about retargeting, let’s talk about a term that is often used to refer to retargeting and vice versa. That term is remarketing.


What is Retargeting?

In digital marketing, retargeting typically refers to cookie-based technology that uses a Javascript code to anonymously ‘follow’ your audience around the web.


What is Remarketing?

In digital marketing, remarketing refers to reengaging users with email, typically through shopping cart abandonment emails.

Google’s retargeting product is called “Remarketing”, hence why the terms are often used interchangeably.


Retargeting Campaign Best Practices

Now that retargeting has been defined, let’s review some best practices.

Here are the general best practices marketers should follow:

  1. Use one partner for retargeting: If retargeting is implemented across multiple partners, then you are bidding against yourself to reach the same users.
  2. Rotate Creative and A/B test: According to a study by, click-through rates decrease by almost 50% after five months of running the same ads.
  3. Use Frequency Capping: Set frequency capping per user to help maintain the highest level of performance. Around 5 ad exposures is when performance will start to decline according to Comscore.** Once a user is served an ad too many times, banner blindness starts to kick in and ad performance starts to decline.
  4. Track View-through Revenue: Retargeting, like any other display related tactics, should be measured on both click-based and view-through revenue to show the full value of ad exposure and how it influences action.
  5. Utilize all available inventory: Typical important Inventory includes: Display inventory (including cross device), social network inventory, CRM/email matching inventory.


3 Audience Behaviors to Consider when Defining Retargeting Audiences

Defining retargeting audiences by their behavior sets up a campaign for the highest return on ad spend. These 3 audience behaviors are indicators of purchase intent and a good place to start for setting up retargeting audiences.

  1. Interested Pages: This is a category of pages that indicates a user who is interested in buying – like a cart page, product description pages, or webinar pages.
  2. Recency: A user leaving your site is just like someone walking out the door of your retail store emptyhanded. Time is essential for influencing purchase decisions. How long has it been since the user has been to the site? This can be the greatest predictor of behavior.
  3. Page Depth: How many pages did a user visit and does this relate to higher intent to buy?


Retargeting Creative Considerations

Social Retargeting:


Facebook News Feed Example   //   Twitter Card Example


Once audiences have been defined, it’s time to set up retargeting creative. Having the right creative, delivered at the right time, is a key component of retargeting performance.


There are three main things to consider for creative assets in retargeting.

  1. Inventory: Where/how will the retargeting ad be served (display, social, mobile)?
  2. Product Feed: Serving an ad of a product they have already visited is an efficient way to leverage retargeting creative.

Dynamic Ad Example

  1. Time
    • How long has it been since a user visited the site? It’s best to mix up creative depending on how much time has elapsed since a user has visited the site.
    • Sequential creative means serving a slightly updated ad to a user based on the amount of time that has elapsed and/or the count of visits to the website.

Diminishing Returns + Testing in Retargeting

After the creative has been built, it’s time to launch. Once launched, it is best to run a retargeting campaign until you reach the diminishing returns point. The diminishing returns point is where increasing investment would not help performance as the audiences have been saturated. Testing in retargeting is something that can be done as soon as the campaign launches and should be used to maximize campaign performance.


Testing the Effect of Retargeting: A Few Different Methods:

  • Control and exposed groups: These can be executed by running a campaign in different geographic areas or by running control and exposed groups concurrently, reaching significant data.
  • Test in AdWords: AdWords splits audiences for you and run tests at same time.
  • Cookie Exclusion: Working with a partner, like Criteo, to exclude users from being served ads based on cookie data on their platform.
  • Offline Effect of Retargeting: Leverage an outside partner, like Monetate, to track lift on offline sales by pulling in point-of-sale data.


What’s Next for Retargeting?

The increase in popularity of multi-touch attribution platforms or MTAs is impacting the tactical role of retargeting. MTAs ingest data sets and automate the process of attributing credit for ad exposure over a consumer’s journey. Retargeting technology relies heavily on last-touch attribution and it will have to either align more with an equally weighted approach or face less and less funding.


Conclusion// What Marketers Need to Know

Retargeting can be a valuable tactic for helping convert additional users that have visited your website. A structured approach to retargeting by identifying audiences, selecting the right creative and running retargeting tests will help ensure success.  With so many people using retargeting, following best practices offers marketers a competitive advantage and the opportunity to gain additional revenue out of their websites.


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