According to a surveyÂ commissioned by AdRoll, more than 90% of marketers believe remarketing is as effective or more effective than email marketing,Â display ads, and even paid search. But ask many of the same peopleÂ what retargeting is, and theyâ€™ll tell you about Googleâ€™s remarketing campaigns â€“ the kind that cookies a user and serves him or herÂ Google Display Network ads for the next 30 days.
While thatâ€™s certainly a great example, itâ€™s only a small portion of what you can accomplish with retargeting campaigns, which for our purposes means serving an ad to a specific group of people based on their past web-browsing behaviors. The image to the right, for example, featuresÂ two Facebook retargeting ads recently served to an unnamed Ripen employeeÂ with a self-described eCommerce addiction.
In this post, weâ€™ll exploreÂ the strategiesÂ youÂ can use to find and targetÂ shoppersÂ as well as theÂ different ad types and companiesÂ that exist to help you buildÂ retargeting campaigns. We’ll also touch on how you canÂ measure retargeting campaigns once they’re live.
Audience retargeting is based on your users’Â browsing habits â€“ where theyâ€™ve been and what theyâ€™ve seen. It allows you to follow your visitors after they leave your site.
Example:Â Customer AÂ decides to do some “window shopping” on Nordstrom’s website for her beau’s upcoming birthday. She likes several pieces of apparel, but for some reason she isn’t ready to commit, so she leaves the site without making a purchase.Â Nordstrom ads suddenly start appearing elsewhere on the web, cleverly touting the company’s incredible shipping and return policy.
Since this cookie is so simple, it can be used in a lot of different ways. The code can be dropped onto an entire website and set to last for 30 days, signifying â€śthis person has visited my site in the last 30 days.â€ť It can also be dropped into the HTML of an email newsletter, which essentially says, â€śThis person has opened my newsletter in the last 30 days.â€ť
(*Note: Donâ€™t fret if your coding skills are slim to none; any good developer will know how to “drop a pixel” for your marketing team.)
Of course, it can get more complicated when you start combining audiences and designing rules for how they intersect â€“ though most platforms support this type of Boolean logic.
For instance, a common target for eCommerce companies is someone who has been to your site in the last 30 days, but has not been to the thank you page of your checkout. These are site visitors, but not buyers, and are therefore a segment of special interest to keen marketers.
Best uses:Â Audience retargeting is incredibly versatile. Since the audience youâ€™re tagging is typically your own, you can create any audience segment you want. Want to target shoppers of a given product category or someone whoâ€™s been to your clearance section? Just drop a tag on each page.
The simplicity of audience targeting also means it has the broadest support of ad types (more on that later). Donâ€™t feel confined to the typical leaderboard ad or Google text ad â€“ thereâ€™s much more you can do with audience retargeting.
Funnel position:Â Since youâ€™re reaching people who are already actively browsing your site, youâ€™re at the bottom of the funnel. Use this channel to convert customers instead of trying to attract new ones.
Where you can buy it:Â This is the most basic form of retargeting, so you can get it almost anywhere. You can go directly through Google AdWords, or you can opt to work with several other vendors, including AdRoll or ReTargeter, to gain access to a larger display network.
You can use audience retargeting to tag your buyers, but this limits you to your own shoppers. What if you could speak to people who have purchased products like yours on other websites? Transactional retargeting makes it a reality.
Example:Â Customer BÂ â€” we’ll call him Dave â€” purchases an expensive piece of jewelry during the holiday season and uses PayPal to complete the transaction. Two days before Valentine’s Day, he’s included on an eBlast from PayPal forÂ a dozen roses from 1-800-Flowers.
(This may or may not be a true story from aboutÂ yours truly.)
Where the data comes from:Â The data collection method varies greatly by source. One example isÂ PayPal, which has a payment platform connected to verified email accounts. Avid PayPal users generate a great deal of data around what theyâ€™ve bought (and what theyâ€™re most likely to buy) whenever they complete anÂ online purchase.
Best uses:Â Find shoppers who buy products similar to yours or whose shopping habits indicate a potential interest in your products.
Funnel position:Â Here youâ€™ll be at the top of the funnel, attracting and acquiring new customers.
Where you can buy it:Â PayPal offers a variety of ways to reach shoppers, including display advertising and email campaigns. Keep in mind, however, that its media purchases are done as insertion orders with five-figure price tags. PayPal typically works with larger advertisers, leveraging its extremely valuable data to fuel reach a very sizable customer base.
OwnerIQ is another option; this advertising platform makes it possible for retailers and brands to share data. This can include audience retargeting (down to products they viewed on a site) as well as post-purchase targeting (transactional retargeting).
Just as with “normal” search-based advertising, search retargeting leverages the value derived from usersâ€™ assumed interests and intent whileÂ they surf the web.
Example:Â Customer CÂ searches for “men’s suits,” stumbles around the internet for a few minutes, and gets distracted and leaves. A fewÂ days later, Men’s Warehouse – a brand that Customer A hadn’t come across during his search – starts serving ads based on his previous query across the web.
Where the data comes from:Â Search retargeting is a way to retarget users based on searches theyâ€™ve performed online. While Google is practically synonymous with search, most search retargeting data comes from publishers that can track inbound search terms (for example, Bing), as well as various publishersâ€™ on-site search data.
Best uses: The data of search coupled withÂ the vast reach of display advertisingÂ offersÂ an alluring combination for smart marketers. That said, it can be devilishly tricky to get all the moving parts working together, which is why the three major providers of search retargeting (see below) all provide a full-service product (with required minimum campaign spend).
Funnel position:Â Search retargeting is best for attracting attention and customer acquisition, so this option also sits at the top of the funnel. ItÂ canÂ aid in retention, but itâ€™s not the most efficient way to target existing customers.
Retargeting Ad Types
What they are:Â If youâ€™re looking for raw reach, basic display banners have the most available inventory – in fact, you can see examples peppered throughout this guide. They can include:
- StaticÂ images (like a gif or jpeg)
- Animated gifs, flash, and HTML5
- Rich media (significantly limited inventory)
As a highly established medium, display ads follow some pretty common specs and have tons of programmatic inventories throughout the web. You can use them in conjunction with anyÂ of the retargeting methods described above.
Where you can buy them:Â Any platform that offers retargeting options will have display ads inventory. The only real exceptions are publisher-specific platforms, like Facebook or Twitter.
Below are various banner sizes available on the Google Display Network. Some ads are shown significantly more than others simply because more publishersÂ accept the format. In theÂ chart below,Â WordstreamÂ has broken down the potential reachÂ for eachÂ ad size on the Google Display Network.
What they are:Â Dynamic ads are actually a type ofÂ display ad with a key difference. They use the capabilities of Flash or HTML5, a second cookie, and your storeâ€™s database to serve tailored adsÂ based on a visitor’s individual browsing history.
For example, instead of a general retargeting display ad for Zappos, a previous site visitor would see an ad with the exact pair of shoes he or she was just considering (or in this case, the exact pair of Birkenstocks with several similar options).
Most systems share the same processÂ for tagging and retargeting an audience with dynamic ads:
- Track the products (or product categories) a user interacts with.
- Value each interaction and determine the most relevant data point (for instance, weighing a userâ€™s history of product views, items in cart, and purchased products to determine the most relevant ad).
- Then, when the ad is served, populate the ad in real time with the appropriate product(s).
It’s worth noting that some advertisersÂ accomplish a similar level of personalizationÂ by manually segmenting theirÂ other retargeting efforts.Â For example, ModCloth could tag “dresses” with a retargeting pixel and serve ads featuring products from that category to anyone with that particular cookie.Â
However,Â this method isn’t truly dynamic becauseÂ the ads won’t necessarily feature the exact product(s) a user was considering. But it is does help make ads more relevant and can usually be accomplishedÂ with less ad spend.
Where you can buy them: You can buy dynamic ads anywhere you can buy a display ad with Flash or HTML5 capabilities. They’re available through the Google Display Network, but, as with any display ad,Â the inventoryÂ is entirely dependent on the number ofÂ publishers willing to host these ads.Â Google offers an out-of-the-box solution that makes it relativelyÂ easy for retailers to implement on their sites.
What they are:Â Retargeting text ads are just what they sound like. Theyâ€™re simple, text-based placements that can appear anywhere display ads are shown as well as other niche online locations. (You may have noticed them in your Gmail sidebar.) They donâ€™t stand out as much as banners, but they do give you more room for detailed messaging.
Where you can buy them:Â No surprises here â€“ Google is the leader in text-based retargeting, though many services include text ads alongside their more popular banner inventories. Here’s an example ofÂ a text ad on eBay:
Social ads â€“ Facebook
What they are:Â Facebook’s “custom audience” feature offers a retargeting solution. Shown in both the sidebar and news feed, FacebookÂ ads have great engagement potential and perform better than you might expect.
Custom audiencesÂ work in two basic ways. First,Â you canÂ upload a list of contactsÂ to ensure your ads reach existingÂ followers or even just a segment of your audience. (This is a great way to engage your customer list beyond email.)
The second “custom audience” drops a pixel on anyone who visits your site (and later serves them your ads on the social media network).
Facebook ads doÂ come with certainÂ drawbacks. First,Â you wonâ€™t be able to (and shouldnâ€™t) try to re-use creative from standard banner or text campaigns. Second, a custom audience with email addresses will follow users from one deviceÂ to another, whereas a retargeting/pixel “custom audience” is tied to a user’s search history and not their account. Still,Â Facebook’s very nature makes sophisticated retargeting campaigns possible.
For example, let’s say a young man goesÂ in search for an engagement ring on Blue Nile, and he’s listed as “in a relationship” on Facebook. Hypothetically, he could be served Facebook retargeting ads from Blue Nile’s marketing team morning, noon, and night until just after he either completes a check out on the Blue Nile websiteÂ orÂ his relationship status changes to “engaged.” That’s some pretty powerful, highly targeted messaging. Hypothetically.
Where you can buy them:Â If your ads donâ€™t require any data from Facebook or social interaction, they can be purchased through third party vendors (e.g. PerfectAudience). If they do include social data or actions, your campaign must be purchased through Facebook.
For example, if you want to retarget people who have visited your site with a newsfeed offer for free shipping, you can go through a third party vendor. But if you want to target 18 to 35-year olds who are fans of a certain page, you will need to purchase an ad through Facebookâ€™s platform.Â
Why go third party? These vendors provide greater control over things like how many times a given user sees an ad over a time period. Youâ€™ll also benefit from consolidating all your retargeting to one platform when it comes to measuring your campaigns. That being said, as Facebook’s ad platform has become more sophisticated, the need forÂ third party vendors has decreased.Â
Social Ads â€“ Twitter
What they are:Â Just like Facebook, Twitter offers a way for you to target your current customers using their email addresses, recent site visits, Twitter IDs, or other CRM data. TwitterÂ calls this feature “tailored audiences.”
These ads are limited by the character and content constraints of Twitter, but benefit by being interactive (available for retweets, replies, and favorites) just like a normal tweet.Â Theyâ€™re best used to gain Twitter followers, drive social interactions, or push traffic back to your website via a direct link.
Where you can buy them:Â Twitter placements can be purchased through… Twitter. To date, there isn’t a true Twitter ad exchange, though some third-party platforms, like AdRoll and Retargeter, may be easier to use.
What they are:Â Most video-retargeting inventory is made up of 15 second pre-roll ads. These brief commercials are shown before a video plays, drawing impressions while users wait for their content. On YouTube, these take the form of TrueView pre-rolls that allow users to skip the ad after the first 5 seconds have played.
Where you can buy them:Â YouTube andÂ BrightcoveÂ video retargeting areÂ available through real-time bidding platforms (like Simpli.fi). YouTube ads are also availableÂ through AdWords; in fact, you can even use the same remarketing lists youâ€™re using for other AdWords display or search campaigns.
Search ads â€“ Google
What they are:Â While Google’sÂ Remarketing Lists In Search Ads (RLSA) areÂ technically a form of text advertising, theyÂ deserveÂ theirÂ own section because the application is very different.Â They also offer two very powerful advertising opportunities.
First is the functionality to targetÂ text-based ads onlyÂ to Google searchers who have visited your website before. This may not seem earth shattering, but the service allows marketers to target search terms that would not be profitable outside of this context.
For example, bidding on all searches of â€śspring outfitsâ€ť may not normally be worthwhile for yourÂ plus-size clothing store. But with RLSA, you can target (only)Â visitorsÂ who have actually been to your website and are actively looking for springtime apparel.
The second functionality enabled by RLSA is a remarketing-based bid modification. Letâ€™s say youâ€™re bidding conservatively for â€śboy’s bathing suitsâ€ť because youâ€™re far from dominating the market. With RLSAâ€™s flexibility, you can increase your bid to get in front of searchers who have already been to your site.
As a result, you can target customers who are more likely to give you a chance without draining yourÂ AdWords campaign budget on search engine users that aren’t familiar with your brand.
(Want more AdWords insights? DownloadÂ Ripen’sÂ white paper here.)
Where you can buy them:Â Both features of RLSA are exclusive to AdWords, so youâ€™ll have to go directly to Google if you want to try them out.
What they are:Â Native ads are designed to look exactly like a publisherâ€™s normal content; from the general styling to the in-line placement of an image, copy block, or video, these ads stand out by blending in. With their guards down and a (hopefully) relevant retargeting message in front of them, users are more likely to click through on your product or offer.
Where you can buy them:Â While a few companies offer “native retargeting,”Â Triggit is far and away the most prolific provider. Theyâ€™ve partnered with several big-name publishers and have developed several particularly cunning tricks for native ad placements. Here’sÂ one example featuringÂ a Triggit client:
By now you should be chomping at the bit to get started, but you won’t be able to truly evaluate the success of your work without a good understanding of how to measure a retargeting campaign. Unfortunately, that sort of advice is not one-size-fits-all; it depends on your customers’Â unique buying behaviorsÂ and involves setting up experiments to determine a barometer for incremental lift. With that in mind, here’s an overview of how retargeting measurement works:
Unlike your typical analytics suite, most retargeting services claim credit for everything that goes through their platform. If they see activity and then a conversion, they will report it as their own. But the very nature of retargeting means youâ€™re dealing withÂ complex user journeys, and with more complex user journeys, itâ€™s a really bad idea to silo data in a way that keeps relatedÂ data independentÂ from one another.
Letâ€™s take a quick look at the two kinds of conversions a retargeting platform reports:
A user clicks an ad andÂ some time in the next 30 days, they complete a conversion on the website. The conversion is almost always attributed to the last ad in that platform the user clicked prior to the conversion. But any number of interactions with ads from other platforms or channels may have influenced that decision; click-through tracking does not take that into consideration.
For example, letâ€™s say youâ€™re running retargeting ads with Adroll and search campaigns with Google. A user shopping for Brooks Brothers might experience the following path:
- Early Day 1: The user searches for â€śsuitsâ€ť on Google and clicks your paid search ad.
- Late Day 1: The user browses around for a while, then gets distracted and leaves.
- Day 4: The user sees a retargeting ad that youâ€™re serving through Adroll for Brooks Brothers and clicks on it. This time, he puts something in his shopping cart, but thinks itâ€™s a little too pricey.
- Day 8: That weekend Brooks Brothers sends out an email with a 15% offer. The user clicks through and buys.
Hereâ€™s what each platform would report:
- Google AdWords: one conversion for your menâ€™s suits campaign (on day 1)
- Adroll: one conversion for your retargeting campaign (on day 4)
- Google Analytics: one conversion for your email campaign (on day 8)
Whoâ€™s right? All of them, to a degree â€“ they each contributed something to the sale, and hanging your hat on any single touchpoint would be foolish. But just saying that doesnâ€™t make it any easier for marketers to follow a userâ€™s precise path to conversion, especially with more complex campaigns. Is there actually a way to sort out which efforts worked â€“ and which didnâ€™t?
This problem of multi-channel attribution can be an enormous chore or a fun mental exercise, depending on your disposition. Itâ€™s important to have strong data from each system so you can improve the performance of every channel. Third party analytics suites like Google Analytics and multichannel reporting can offer critical insight into where users engaged and (to some extent) why. I also highly recommend reading Avinash Kaushikâ€™ book on web analytics â€“ itâ€™s a fantastic place to start for any marketer with lots of data to comb through.
Similar to a click-through conversion, a view-through conversion tracks sales (or any kind of a conversion) that occur within 30 days of seeing an ad. Since this kind of data doesnâ€™t imply the user ever clicked an ad, itâ€™s making a prettyÂ bigÂ assumption that viewing the ad resulted in driving the user back to the site to purchase.
Thereâ€™s a lot of ambiguity here â€“ certainly an ad has some effect. Many platforms approach this issue by allowing you to choose a percentage of view-through conversions to count. In principle itâ€™s a good idea, but it usually winds up being a totally arbitrary percentage.
Despite the difficulty of measuring view-through conversions, they remain an important metric in evaluating large-scale display campaigns. According to a report from comScore,Â onlyÂ 8% of internet users account for 85% of all clicks.Â ThisÂ means click-through conversions alone cannot account for the success of a display marketing campaign. Until you factor both types of conversion into your analysis, youâ€™ll always be missing a major piece of the puzzle.
Powerful RetargetingÂ is in Your Hands
If thereâ€™s one thing marketers should take away from this piece, itâ€™s that the tools they need to run a successful retargeting campaign are already out there. In just a few years, retargetingÂ has gone from a relatively newÂ concept to a robust space with room for text, display, and video campaigns across a broad number of sites and services.
With so manyÂ options, marketers can target potential customers at key moments with personal, relevant, and enticing offers. Itâ€™s just a matter of doing your homework, implementingÂ the campaign, and making meaningful changes based on your unique data. So donâ€™t wait â€“ get planning!