The how-to of retargeting

Retargeting can boost your ROI, create brand awareness, and drive conversions. However, if retargeting is perceived as intrusive, it can even drive away potential customers. Here's an how-to guide.


Picture this: You’re moving into a new house in a month and have started shopping online for new furniture. You’ve spotted a coffee table from home24 that you like, added it to your shopping cart, but haven’t bought it — yet. You take your time.

A few days later, you see an online ad for the exact same coffee table from Amazon Yes, you see the same coffee table ad now on various websites and social media platforms and you finally decide to buy it.

That’s retargeting in action, a technique that (when used correctly) can prove to be an effective tool for increasing conversion rates.

Consider this:

  • Customers targeted this way are 3 times more likely to click on your ads than customers who have had no previous contact with your company.
  • 30% of users respond positively to online advertising.
  • Retargeting advertising achieves a click-through rate 10 times higher than traditional ads.
  • Retargeting is 70% more likely to convert traffic to a retailer’s website.

Definition of retargeting

Retargeting is the targeted use of advertising to recapture the interest of a site visitor who has left the site without making a purchase or responding to your call-to-actions. It gives you the opportunity to stay present in the visitor’s mind and encourages them to return to the site and complete the purchase.

How does retargeting work?

Companies add Javascript code or pixels to their websites, usually in the footer. The browser then places a cookie on the visitor’s computer when they visit the website. This cookie stores information about the consumer’s online behavior, such as products accessed, web searches performed, and social media usage. Based on this data, retargeting providers then play out personalized ads that they think will appeal most to the consumer in question.

Note: To ensure that your retargeting does not violate any privacy laws, you must clearly state that you are collecting and using your visitors’ data. (Remember: cookies only follow users, not computers).

Is retargeting annoying to users?

Some people don’t mind being followed. They voluntarily leave their personal information to receive relevant advertising.

Others may find regular retargeting annoying. This can occur when they receive retargeting ads after visiting sites they weren’t really interested in.

To avoid the feeling of being annoyed among visitors, apply the marketing rule of 7. That means you use multiple marketing channels (not just ads) to stay top of mind with consumers. As it turns out, the more visible and relevant you are to consumers, across numerous different channels, the better your chances of conversion. In other words, you sell 50% more than through other channels!

Is retargeting the same as remarketing?

Retargeting and remarketing both have the same goal, but the approach is completely different.

Retargeting uses ads to bring back potential customers who visited your website but left (for different reasons) without buying anything.

Remarketing uses personalized email campaigns to bring visitors back — a tactic that can also be quite useful for reducing churn. According to eMarketer data, 80% of all retail professionals rank email marketing as the top driver of customer retention.

Static and dynamic retargeting

Static retargeting involves creating multiple versions of the same ad as part of a broader campaign. Using various parameters, you can determine which ads to display to visitors based on which pages they visit on the site.

Dynamic retargeting, on the other hand, is more specific: it creates personalized ads for visitors based on how they behaved on your website (often incorporating machine learning to analyze behavior and optimize the campaign).

Tip: Retargeting simply doesn’t work for some potential customers. Once you’ve identified these “no-go” visitors, it’s best to remove them from your list and focus on prospects who are more “receptive”.

The right setting for retargeting

While there are several targeting platforms to choose from, the two most popular are Google AdWords and Facebook. (You don’t necessarily need to use both. However, you do need to know which one will be more successful in reaching your potential new customers).

Then there are various retargeting vendors like AdRoll, ReTargeter, and Perfect Audience that cover different platforms (including Google).

Segment your audience

Visitors have different goals and interests. That means retargeting doesn’t work with a universal approach.

To retarget a visitor to a product page, ads could be presented in a carousel format to encourage the visitor to discover new products. For a visitor who has left their cart behind, a retargeting ad that promises a discount or free shipping would be more effective.

You should also consider segmenting your visitors based on the amount of time that has passed since they last visited your site. A visitor who accessed your site a week ago should not receive the same ad as a visitor who was last on your site a month ago.

Optimize your advertising

In a HubSpot survey, 63% of respondents said they felt most online ads did not give a professional impression and were an insult to their intelligence.

To avoid this, try incorporating the following into your ads:

  • Images that catch the eye: Images need to complement the text of advertisements. In general, it can be observed that ads with photos of people have more impact than ads without photos.
  • Significant titles: express user expectations in as few words as possible.
  • Clear expression: without being boring, address the user’s concerns and stimulate their curiosity.
  • Clear call-to-action (CTA): use an action-oriented tagline to attract readers. Replace trite verbs with compelling ones, such as claim, reserve, activate, etc. Use the urgent aspect if it fits the context.
  • Post-click landing page: Make sure users get what they expect.

Set a Frequency Cap.

Showing the same ad 100 times is not necessarily the best way to attract attention. In many cases, users even develop a kind of “banner blindness” and ignore the ads completely.

Set a Frequency Cap to determine how many times an ad should be shown to the same user. There is no such thing as the ideal frequency. So, to find out the optimal value, it is best to perform A/B tests for campaigns. These tests can reduce campaign costs, improve click-through rate (CTR), and increase conversion rates.

(It’s also worth considering “recency capping,” which is how much time elapses between displaying the same ad to a user).

Rotate your ads

A ReTargeter study found that when the same ads are displayed over a period of about five months, CTR decreases by nearly 50%. Among the main culprits is the fact that the more often people see the same ad, the more that ad fades into the background. The ad becomes invisible, regardless of the attractiveness of the CTA.

To overcome this hurdle, design different versions of the same ad with different images and CTAs. This results in another advantage: you find out what kind of messages visitors are most likely to respond to.

Use Burn Pixel

Retargeting the wrong audience is a waste of time and your marketing budget. To prevent this, try using a burn pixel: a snippet code placed on a post transaction page to remove users who complete a purchase.

The goal is not to retarget these customers with the same product they already purchased, but to redirect them to campaigns that focus on upselling and cross-selling with purchase history as the foundation.


Retargeting can boost your ROI, create brand awareness, and drive conversions. However, if retargeting is perceived as intrusive by users, it can even drive away potential customers. It’s especially important to segment audiences, choose the right cadence, and constantly test to stay relevant and keep users returning to your site.

Klaus Wegener