Remarketing/Retargeting: Why the Fuss? What You Need to Know

Note: This blog post was co-authored by Brad MillerNoah Brooks and Joe Castro.

Remarketing, or the practice of serving a display ad to a user based on what he/she visits or searches, has recently been split into two categories:

  1. Site retargeting: The “traditional” retargeting approach that retargets users who have already been to your website.
  2. Search retargeting: The newer form of retargeting where you display your ads to individuals who search for terms relevant to your site within a search engine, but don’t click on your ad or organic listing.

After attending SMX Advanced in Seattle this year, more than 75% of PPCer’s in one audience had only used Google (Site) remarketing vs. 25% that were trying 3rd-party remarketing vendors such as Chango, AdRoll and Fetchback.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using Google vs. the 3rd-party vendors:

Advantages of Google remarketing:

  • Management within the same interface as Google search & display campaigns
  • Cost-per-click pricing
  • No set-up required if already in AdWords billing—do not need an I/O signed
  • You reach a large audience within Google’s network

Advantages of using 3rdparty vendors:

  • Better ad creative options (e.g. dynamic product retargeting)
  • CPC, CPM or performance-based pricing (e.g. pay-per-view-through conversion or last -click conversion)
  • Larger reach into major ad exchanges in addition to Google’s network

For the rest of this post, we’re going to focus on Google site remarketing, since the majority of users rely on Google AdWords for remarketing to begin with. However, if you’re no longer a beginner to remarketing or are looking to expand the number of users you reach with your targeted display messages, we recommend reaching out to the 3rd-party remarketing vendors above.

Google site remarketing

Remarketing is Google’s tool for retargeting which can be an extremely powerful persuasive technique. It works by tracking your prospects through the buying cycle and then targeting them with ads that will encourage them to complete their purchase. If they visit a place like your website, you can continue to market to them as they move to other websites.

How does it work?

In order to remarket to your prospects, you need to create a remarketing list. Lists are created by embedding a small piece of code on a particular Web page. You then create a custom combination that will combine two remarketing lists (such as “visited page A, but did not complete an action”). When someone visits that page, the code tells Google to add the visitor to a specific remarketing list.

Using cookies, you are then able to track these visitors’ movements across Google’s display network and target everyone on your list with paid ads. These ads are designed to encourage these visitors to come back and complete their purchases.

How will you use it?

Retargeting can be extremely powerful. The problem is most marketers aren’t using it in the right way. As with any marketing channel, to get the most out of it you need to think about how it can benefit your business and modify your strategy accordingly.

Theone-size-fits-allapproach simply doesn’t work.

These are the 5 most commonly overlooked elements in remarketing. Get these right, and you will quickly see the value in remarketing.

1. Understand your customers

The most important consideration when you begin a remarketing campaign is your customers’ typical buying cycle. One of the most important factors is the average time between your prospects’ initial contact and the completion of a purchase.

If you have a good understanding of your buying cycle, you must utilize “membership duration.” If the average buying cycle for your products is several months, but prospects are only being remarketed to for 30 days, you may be missing out on valuable traffic when those people are ready to buy.

For example, someone buying a laptop might spread research out over a couple of months before finally making a purchase. For this type of campaign, your ad retargeting might extend over a month or two. In contrast, someone looking for a rental car is likely to want something for a specific impending trip. For this type of product, you only have a very short remarketing window.

If you’re a lead-generation company selling software, you could retarget the visitors with ads for free trials or case studies of how your software has been successful.

To ensure maximum engagement, you need to match your remarketing techniques and timeframes to your prospects’ typical buying patterns.

2. Don’t cut corners.

When creating a remarketing campaign, most marketers are lazy. They will create one list which targets all visitors to a site with the same retargeted ads. Though this may deliver some positive results, it is also likely to annoy a large number of your potential customers and produce very limited returns.

When you create your campaign, it’s worth spending the extra time creating multiple lists based on each visitor’s position in the buying cycle. By delivering the right message to the right person at the right time, you will keep interest and therefore be far more likely to make a sale.

Don’t cut corners; spend time getting it right.

3. Be creative.

Another very common mistake that remarketers make is to miss crucial steps in the buying cycle. The social Web now hosts the first contact point for most e-commerce transactions. Whatever site your prospects visit, you are able to add them to a remarketing list. Maybe they’ve watched one of your product videos on YouTube or looked at a presentation you’ve put together on Slideshare. You’ve caught their attention: now make the most of it! Retarget these prospects. Bring them back to your website.

4. Don’t be creepy!

I heard this expression at SMX Advanced from one of the presenters in the remarketing session, and I couldn’t agree more. Definitely have a relevant message, but don’t be so specific that it’s creepy.

5. Don’t be annoying!

Use frequency capping to prevent bombarding, otherwise you’re going to annoy your prospects. Then they will never buy from you!

Getting started

The first step is creating your remarketing list and getting the codes installed on the various pages. This part is critical. You’ll want to target visitors differently based on the pages they’ve visited. What insights has the visitor provided based on their actions? Did they visit a product page or your homepage? All scenarios should have completely different messaging. For example:

  • Homepage: They came to the homepage but left. Perhaps your homepage didn’t provide enough information to confirm your site is solving their problem. If so, your retargeting message could provide different useful facts and hooks about your solution.
  • Product Page: They reached the product page but left. This means the interest was there … great news! They might have left the page because they didn’t see enough supporting evidence that your solution is best. Perhaps you present case studies or testimonials on why your product is the best. You could also provide free trials or limited subscriptions.
  • Shopping Cart: If they added to the cart, but never completed the order … maybe they started comparison-shopping and noticed a better price? Try showing them a “free shipping” message or a discount of their order to get them to complete it.
  • Cross-Sell: Perhaps a user completed an action and actually bought an iPhone from your site. If you have your lists set up in a way to add this user into a particular customer list, you could then remarket them with say, an iPhone case.

Every day I see companies using remarketing in new and exciting ways. It can be profitable, cost-effective and surprisingly easy to set up.


If you’d like to learn more about remarketing, check out:


Photo courtesy of Wired Canvas via Flickr.

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