Your Guide To Retargeting Online

    Fact checked by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and… Read more

    Edited by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and…Read more


    A Six Sigma black belt, Sarah writes regularly on business and project management, marketing and technology. When she's not working with local youth or writing...Read more

    The average website converts at the rather unimpressive rate of just 2 percent. For many businesses, this means a depressing loss of business as customers migrate elsewhere, but savvy brands know that there’s a solution to bounce rates that could otherwise decimate their bottom line: retargeting.

    While building a natural relationship with consumers is always of the utmost importance, retargeting can help you boost your visibility while also establishing authority – two things that often mean the difference between oozing money or achieving massively successful conversion rates.

    What is Retargeting?

    Retargeting is a type of digital advertising that helps keep your brand in front of consumers even after they’ve clicked away from your website. While 2 percent of first-time visitors may actually make a purchase, the other 98 percent aren’t convinced, and that massive majority of consumers represents lost revenue that hungry brands can’t afford to miss out on.

    The percentage of visitors that leave a website after viewing a single web page – called the bounce rate – is also an indicator of how effective a brand’s ad campaign is and how aligned your advertising is with your product and message. Consumers who are attracted by your ad but not convinced by your content indicate you might need to improve one or the other. But you also don’t have to write off the expense that went into the initial advertising: When retargeting prompts wayward consumers to revisit your website, you’re getting a second crack at first-time visitors and the ad dollars used to attract them initially are no longer wasted.

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    Retargeting relies on cookie technology, which is essentially attaching a tracker to the user’s browser. While the user’s information remains anonymous, the retargeting program can trail the user as he or she navigates the web, targeting the individual consumer with ads from sites they’ve already visited. That re-exposure to a product or service the consumer was already considering has proven to be remarkably effective; while the average click-through rate for a typical display at is just 0.07 percent, retargeted ads have a click-through rate ten times higher (or double the industry standard).

    How does Retargeting work?

    Depending on the goals of your ad campaign and factors such as your budget and content, you can engage in several methods of retargeting.

    Pixel-based retargeting

    Remember those cookies we talked about earlier? This is where those come into play. A cookie, known more formally as a pixel by those in the industry, is a small piece of script that sits on the user’s browser collection and transmits information. Think of it like virtual GPS, except instead of communicating the user’s actual location, the cookie lets the retargeting software know where the user is and what they’re looking at so the software can deposit a targeted ad in the right spot.

    Pixel-based retargeting has several advantages:

    • It’s practically instantaneous, allowing you to retarget someone almost immediately after they navigate away from your site
    • You can use different pixels for different landing pages on your site, which means you can craft more focused retargeting campaigns by sending users ads about the product, service or content they’re most likely to be interested in
    • Pixel-based retargeting is based on the audience’s existing shopping or browsing habits, so you’re not trying to change their behavior; you’re building on interest they’ve already showed

    There are also some drawbacks to pixel-based retargeting:

    • You can only target people who have visited your website and, in some cases, only a specific page within website (if you’re using different pixels on different pages, for instance)
    • Multi-layered pixel-based campaigns can be overly complicated for new or inexperienced web-based entrepreneurs

    List-Based Retargeting

    List-based retargeting is when you mine your contact list for interested parties and then use that information to build a retargeting campaign. You can either do this via a retargeting platform or through the advertising arm of a social-networking site like Facebook.

    The advantages of list-based retargeting are:

    • You can create very narrow audiences, especially on Facebook where ad campaigns can be tailored using user-provided information like age, job title, geographic area, annual salary, hobbies, life events or family makeup
    • You can also exclude people based on the same criteria or if they’re already loyal customers or subscribers, saving on advertising costs and reducing the likelihood that you’ll annoy current customers
    • Specific salespeople can retarget their own contact lists for a more personalized approach

    List-based retargeting also has some disadvantages:

    • It only works if someone used the same email to sign up for your list as they used to create their social-networking profile
    • If the sign-up and social addresses don’t correspond, even a large contact list can yield few usable leads

    Both methods of retargeting can potentially come across as creepy or irritating to consumers if you execute them incorrectly or fail to take relevance into account. That’s why it’s so important that you learn what types of retargeting are best not just for your brand but for each specific goal you have in mind.

    Types of Retargeting

    You can deploy the two methods of retargeting via various tools and platforms.


    The first thing you should know about Google AdWords is that it refers to retargeting as remarketing. Don’t get confused – it’s just the same ad/conversion strategy with a different name (but is slightly different from the remarketing campaigns we cover in our guide on remarketing). The second thing you should know is that Google makes it really easy, especially if you’re already familiar with their AdWords platform.


    Facebook retargeting is built around the platform’s Custom Audience feature, which allows you to reconnect with users who have already shown interest in your brand, as well as pixel-based ad campaigns (see above). Those ads that follow you around Facebook when you leave a company’s website to go check out your newsfeed? That’s retargeting hard at work.

    Facebook has about 1.79 billion active users who access the site each month. That number might seem exciting, but reaching out to all of those people is not only ineffective, it’s also ridiculously expensive. Facebook advertising is largely PPC-based, meaning you pay per click each time your audience takes action (watches your video, clicks on your link, “likes” your page, etc.). Paying for people to casually look at your page isn’t nearly as efficient as targeting people who have already shown interest and who are therefore much more likely to keep clicking down your sales funnel.

    Facebook is also one of the most detailed forms of retargeting. Because the platform gathers user information for you – provided by the users themselves both when they sign up and via every action, they take while using the site or its app – you have unparalleled data with which to shape your retargeting campaigns.


    Email lists are a fantastic way to corral users through the sales funnel, but it’s not always easy to turn a casual subscriber into a committed customer. Perhaps you’ve populated your list by offering a free ebook in exchange for email information or you’ve gone more low tech and input hundreds of business cards from a convention into a spreadsheet. The basic level of interest it takes to opt-in to an email list doesn’t always translate into a sale, but by understanding how users are engaging with those emails, you can learn how to better tailor your pitch to consumers who may be on the fence about your brand.

    Email retargeting campaigns can be limited to people who haven’t opened emails, those who regularly open emails, people who have clicked on links in the email or those who have forwarded the email to others. Each action indicates the person’s level of interest and that’s information you can use to your advantage. That, in turn, leads to increased return on investment (ROI). In fact, Facebook retargeting has been shown to have double the reach of static ad campaigns and the cost per click (CPC) is an impressive 26% lower.


    Twitter announced their own remarketing tools in 2014, and they run fairly similar to Facebook’s retargeting except Twitter doesn’t have the same amount of user data available. Twitter’s tailored audiences function allows you to create an audience on your Twitter ad dashboard and connects it to a tag installed on your website. Any user that visits the webpage you’ve installed the code on will remain in your targeted Twitter audience for 90 days, assuming they have an active Twitter account during that period as well.


    We’re in the middle of the rise of visual marketing, and it’s showing in the popularity of Snapchat, Facebook Live, and YouTube. YouTube has over one billion users, meaning one-third of Internet users worldwide have watched at least one thing on YouTube. That’s a staggeringly large audience, but how can you use it effectively? Not surprisingly, YouTube retargeting is all about video ads.

    Certain video channels can opt to show pre-video ads. This generates revenue for the channel and gives brands a chance to reach out to customers in new and exciting ways. Perhaps someone visited your site but got lost in the text or couldn’t really understand what your service is about. Rather than (or in addition to) relying solely on the text-limited internet or social media ads, you can create a 30-second video clip that demonstrates the product, draws in the viewer and brings your brand to life. Pair that approach with the remarketing technology we’ve already discussed and you’re priming your targeted audience for a quick conversion.


    Behavioral retargeting is when you create a retargeting campaign based on users’ previous actions. This is directly linked to pixel-based retargeting (see above). The cookies you leave on someone’s browser will monitor and interpret things like which sites they browsed, what products, in particular, they looked at and how long they stayed on the site. That way you can eliminate people who stayed less than a few seconds (demonstrating that had very little real interest) and zero in on consumers who perhaps loaded their virtual cart but failed to complete their order.


    LinkedIn is a veritable goldmine of contact information, especially if you’re looking to reach second- or third-tier contacts (“friends of friends,” for example, or people you contact to through a third party) or segment your audience according to their occupation or employer. The site launched Lead Accelerator in early 2016 and closed it just a few months later, but it’s still possible to use your contact list from LinkedIn to create retargeting campaigns via email or other platforms.


    Dynamic retargeting campaigns take personalization to the next level. In addition to targeting consumers who have already visited your site, you can actually reference specific products or services those consumers looked at while they were visiting you. For instance, if you have a crafting website, you could send users an ad featuring the knitting kit they looked at or paints for the paint landing page they spend time on. Because these ads are so personalized, they’re even more likely to convert – at a purported rate of two to three times that of static ads, in fact. People see the product they looked at, second guess their decision to surf away, and if they’re shopping for the same item somewhere else, they’re instantly reminded of your site.


    Display ad retargeting refers to the ads you use within your retargeting campaign. These ads might target:

    • The individual user, by referencing their past behavior (“We see you recently visited our site”)
    • A specific product (“You loved our content marketing ebook – wait until you see our new course!”
    • A previous connection (“We love having you on our email list and, as a reward, here’s a preview of our new membership site!”)

    Display ads are only as limited as your imagination and your audience, but specificity (see dynamic ads, above) is the only way you’ll get a decent ROI and results in that matter. Remember, 10,000 visitors a day only means something if a good portion of those visitors is converting. Otherwise, traffic is just noise.


    You can retarget visitors to your website using pixels tied to other platforms or services, as with AdRoll and Facebook, or you can use on-site push notifications to remind users that they saw something they liked and might want to check back in. This is the type of cookie-based campaign we discussed earlier.


    AdRoll is an online advertising platform that provides a number of different services, but they’re best known for crafting winning retargeting campaigns. Rather than putting together a multitude of individual retargeting campaigns – one each for AdWords, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. – and dealing with all the recalibration, data mining and monitoring that entails, you can partner with AdRoll and take advantage of the fact that they have already partnered with all the platforms mentioned above plus many more.

    According to AdRoll, their reach extends to about 98% of the internet and they have a massively impressive ROI of $10 for every $1 their clients’ spend. By using smart but far-reaching targeting techniques like geotargeting, audience segmentation and behavioral analysis, AdRoll helps people like you create user groups and focus your advertising dollars in a smart and rewarding way.

    Retargeting do’s and don’ts


    • Put a frequency cap on your retargeting ads. You’ll never annoy someone into becoming a customer, but you can easily poke at somebody so many times that they hate your brand forever
    • Think narrow rather than broad. A narrow audience allows you to focus your energies while broader audiences cost more money for fewer results. Remember, it’s all about ROI!


    • Rely on just one network for your retargeting efforts. Use an umbrella service like AdRoll or start up several campaigns on several different platforms to maximize both your efforts and your returns
    • Assume that clicks are the be all end all. Click-through rates can be an indication of success, but the overall climb of your end conversation rate (and, of course, sales) is the real indication of marketing success
    It can be frustrating to run an ad campaign that seems to generate interest but not sales. In the past, you might’ve thrown good money after bad, seeking new customers instead of nourishing the leads you’ve already created.
    Now, you know a bit more about retargeting and you’re poised to win as a result. Keep an eye on your ad copy, remember to emphasize personalization, and always put yourself in your audience’s shoes – do that, and your remarketing campaign will not only help you connect, but it will help you convert visitors too.



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