Sell, Don’t Repel: How to Make Sense of the Retargeting Landscape

Digital Marketing


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Research has shown that 96% of website visitors are not ready to buy, and that only 2% (on average) convert on the first visit. They land on your site, click around (hopefully), see something they like—and then something draws them away. Opportunity lost? Maybe not.

Retargeting, or remarketing, is an online marketing strategy that keeps your brand in front of users who have bounced out of your site. By placing a tracking pixel on your website, you can follow them when they leave and place an ad on another, unrelated website, just to remind them of how awesome your products or services are—and persuade them to come back over.

Users leave websites for all sorts of reasons: a toddler came screaming into the room, their boss walked up to their desk, the waiter brought dinner, etc. It doesn’t always mean they changed their mind about you, so sending some strategic reminders at a more convenient time can be a powerful marketing weapon. In fact, 90% of marketers say retargeted ads perform as well or better than search, email, or display advertising, according to AdRoll’s State of the Industry 2016 report.

When visitors bounce from your site, retargeting is a way to keep in touch, and keep your company’s product or service top-of-mind to get them back. But retargeting can be tricky. There’s a fine line between effective retargeting and internet stalking, and you certainly don’t want to wear out your welcome. The key to successful retargeting is to reach the right audience and engage them at the right time with the right message. Let’s take a look at how you can do this:

Retarget the Right Audience

Segmenting your audience is the first step to a successful retargeting strategy. Your ideal customer should not be “anyone who visited the site this month.” Here are some specific audiences you should consider targeting with customized messages:

  • Cart abandoners: These are likely your hottest prospective customers. They loved your products so much that they put them in their cart, but then they left your site without purchasing. Maybe they changed their mind, but chances are good that they were just distracted with a work deadline or cat video.
  • First-time visitors: These people were interested enough in something you offer to visit your site. Figure out where they came from and where they landed, and you may be able to draw them back. For considered purchases, it may take a few visits for a visitor to be convinced. 
  • Repeat customers: These people already know and love you. If they haven’t purchased in a while, they might just need a reminder.
  • Recent visitors: These may be recent visitors shopping around for the best deal or on a time crunch. Grab their attention before it’s too late.

Other opportunities—older visitors (less recent visitors), for example—are not a lost cause. Some audiences are easier or more time sensitive than others, but good timing and the right message can speak to any type of audience.

Find the Right Time to Retarget

No matter how well you know your audience, your retargeting efforts won’t succeed unless you capture their attention at the right time. Nailing down the timing of your retargeting effort will depend on the type of audience member you are targeting and the type of product you are offering. Here are timing options to consider:

  • Quickly: For most audiences, your first retargeting ad should show up fairly quickly. Catch cart abandoners before they really do change their minds, the first-time visitors before they forget about you, and the recent visitors before they go with your competition.
  • Around occasions: For repeat customers or old visitors, you can time your ads around a new product launch, service upgrade, or an event or holiday. Occasions are a great way for marketers to reactivate their audience without seeming too intrusive. With Valentine’s day coming up next month, jewelry stores can start retargeting consumers with relevant ads. Or if you’re a B2B marketer, retarget them with a registration discount before your next tradeshow.
  • Before customers restock: If your product is perishable, retarget existing customers around the time their last purchase is due to wear out. For example, you can monitor how often a business reorders printer cartridges or how long it takes the average runner to wear out a pair of sneakers. In other cases, however, you may need to retarget much faster—before the show leaves Broadway or the customer’s software contract is over.
  • Considerately: As you space out subsequent retargeting ads, don’t wear out your welcome. Create a “frequency cap,” to ensure your retargeting dies a natural death by controlling how often and how long your ad displays to your customized audience. And don’t be the nasty telemarketer who continues to harass someone even after they’ve bought in: if someone successfully converts, make sure you have controls in place to remove the ad and/or replace it with an updated one.
  • Based on behavior: There are tools such as Marketo’s AdBridge that also enable you to retarget buyers or potential buyers based on key behaviors like visits to a particular page, a lead score, or recent purchase.

Send the Right Message

Once you put together whom you are retargeting and when, the final step is to craft the right message, one that resonates with your audience. There are five things to keep in mind when creating a retargeting message:

  1. Design: Believe it or not, your ad may not be instantly recognizable—especially to a first-time visitor or a repeat customer who hasn’t been to your site recently. Make sure that your logo stands out and that the look of your ad is consistent with the look of your website. Use big, eye-catching images, and make sure the CTA is visually distinct.
  2. Language: Convey your message without being wordy so your audience can absorb it at a glance. Use simple language and an active (start with a verb), direct call to action. Focus your appeal on the benefit to the user, not the characteristics of the product.
  3. Feature: This is where segmenting your audience really comes in handy. Cart abandoners and recent visitors should see the items they left in their carts, while first-time visitors might need a special offer like free shipping. Repeat customers should see something that complements their last purchase or reminds them it’s time to replace a consumable.
  4. Link: Don’t automatically send them to your home page and expect them to click around to find what they want. Send the user directly to the product or service page, or to a complementary page, for the image or CTA they respond to.
  5. Demographics: You can also leverage a solution, like Marketo, to retarget key buyers based on who they are. This is critical because it enables you to have a more tailored message and offer, which increases the likelihood of conversions.

If you’re unsure about any element of the ad, use A/B testing to test and try out your options.

Ready, Set, Retarget!

Now it’s time to put it all together. Use this checklist to get your retargeting program started today:

  • Segment your audience: Determine which audiences you are going to reach and with what messages, based on your budget.
  • Schedule your ads: To schedule the timing and frequency of your ads, consider the type of audience member you are retargeting and the product or service you are offering.
  • Design a strategic ad:  Keep your brand identity consistent, use direct language, and send them directly to what they want.
  • Track your responses: Try A/B testing to see if it’s a specific headline, a visual, or an offer that helps convert.

Retargeting is a proven method for increasing conversion and reaching new and returning customers. The key is to find the balance between efficacy and overreaching so that your retargeting will sell, rather than repel.

Have you started integrating retargeting into your digital marketing efforts? I’d love to hear how it’s going in the comments below!