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Retargeting and You

Retargeting is a hot topic in the online advertising space. If you aren’t using it as a part of your digital marketing strategy, you’re probably being retargeted right now by someone who is.

Despite the fact that retargeting (referred to as re-marketing by Google) has become an established part of the digital marketing lexicon, many marketers are still unfamiliar with how it works and when it should be used.

What exactly is Retargeting?

Retargeting is the practice of serving ads based on prior engagement; technically, it is cookie-based technology that relies on Javascript code to trail your audience anonymously all around the Internet. While there are many different forms of this technology, the most common type is site-based retargeting.

To make a simple comparison about site-based retargeting, it is similar to putting a tracking device on a user when they visit your site, so that your ads continue to follow him/her around while they browse other websites on the Internet, continuously inviting the user back to your webpage.

How Does Retargeting Technology Work?

Cookies are the key ingredient in site-based retargeting, as they “hook onto” the user allowing them to stay in front of previous site visitors. When someone enters your website, they are greeted with a few lines of code (provided by your retargeting vendor) which leave an anonymous browser cookie. The information stored on the cookie includes the site visit, but does not gather any sensitive or personal information- nothing can be used to personally identify the visitor.

Once this cookie is dropped off onto the user and they leave your website to browse other places online, the cookie alerts your re-targeter when the user appears on another website. The re-targeter then (in real time) checks out the website for available advertising space, then bids on any open space—then if they are the highest bidder, they secure the ad space and your ad will appear on the page.

The whole process happens within a fraction of a second due to automation, and allows a seamless ad campaign to essentially follow your visitors around after they leave your site, enticing them to come back.


In order to have retargeting be the most beneficial to your site, segment your visitors by what they look at on your site, and then tailor the retargeting ads that will follow them around the Internet. Also, make sure that the consumers who did convert while on your page (purchased something, signed up for something, etc.) don’t get retargeted once they leave.

The retargeting ads that perform the best have a clear call-to-action and usually promote an offer for your website. Lastly, the amount and timing of retargeting is important too. If you sell airfare or book hotel rooms on your website, chances are good that your visitors need to convert sooner rather than later.

In this case, they should be retargeted immediately, and often. On the other hand, people shopping for luxury goods most likely aren’t in as big of a hurry to commit, and should be retargeted later.

Who Can Profit from Retargeting?

Since retargeting is one of the most successful ways to bring bounced traffic back to a website, e-commerce companies love to use it. Consumers who abandon their shopping cart can be offered an incentive to come back to the site and make their purchase, or if the consumer hadn’t even made it to the shopping cart, the retargeting can bring them back to continue shopping.

While e-commerce companies seem to be the most obvious type of business to profit from this technology, B2B companies also benefit greatly from retargeting. When B2B companies use retargeting, it helps them stay in front of leads during extended purchase cycles.

Schools can use retargeting to increase donations and enrollment numbers. Venues, events and entertainment brands are able to use retargeting to increase ticket and merchandise sales. Basically, any website that doesn’t see 100% visitor conversion rates can benefit from retargeting strategies.

Best Practices and Tips For Retargeting

When used correctly, retargeting is an incredibly powerful tool. There are however, some best practices you should keep in mind when running your retargeting campaign(s). In order to avoid annoying customers who did convert on your page, make sure to include a burn pixel (a snippet of code) in your post-transaction page.

This will remove the cookie from the users’ browsers so that they are not annoyed with constant advertisements to a store where they already made a purchase. However, you now have a chance to retarget those converted customers with new ads. Instead of showing them what they have already purchased, you can cross-sell, upsell, or even offer referral discounts with the new ads. Essentially, you’ll burn the previous retargeting campaign and enroll them in a different one.

Also, just because a customer visits your site once or twice, doesn’t mean that they are necessarily interested in seeing your advertisements at every turn they take. Inundating customers can lead to decreased campaign performance, so it is recommended to use a frequency cap. A frequency cap limits the number of times a tagged visitor will see your advertisements and it will prevent possible consumers from getting overwhelmed.

Another best practice is to use audience segmentation. This allows you to have customized ad campaigns for users in different parts of the converting process. Regardless of the visitor’s level of interest, audience segmentation promises to deliver relevant and engaging advertisements to the consumer.

Even if you have the most creative and enticing ads lined up in your retargeting campaign, running those same set of ads for months on end it will likely result in consumer disinterest and a low performing campaign.

When someone sees the same ads over and over again, their interest will no longer be piqued and the advertisements are likely to fade into the background. If instead you rotate for ads every couple of months you can keep the consumers interested in your company. Instead of depending on what you think might work, run simple A/B tests for quantifiable and utilizable results.


All in all, it is fairly easy to design and launch a retargeting campaign—however, it is also fairly easy to make simple mistakes that can undermine your whole campaign.

Make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for in a retargeting campaign, be aware of the best practices and follow all of the steps, or hire a full-service provider who can manage your retargeting campaign for you, leaving you free to focus on the creative advertising side, and running your company to the best of your ability!

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About Sean Donahoe

Sean is one of the most recognized industry leaders in business and marketing. As a popular speaker, author, consultant he has helped over 50,000 students world wide find success in their businesses and has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and businesses of every size grow and thrive...

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