Understanding What Retargeting Ads Are And How They Can Work For You. 

Want to master and hack the ultimate marketing tool?

Show banner ads to your customers… in the Wall Street Journal… like the big guys do?

We’ve seen increases in brand searches by 1,046%…

Conversion rates jump by +70%…

And click-through rates go up by 1,000%….. Gasp!

I’ll show you how to do the same in just a second, but first…

(you can also join us at a Feb 23rd webinar at 2pm EST)

What is Retargeting?

Ad retargeting is a cookie-based technology that uses a simple JavaScript code to “tag” somebody’s browser, allowing the system to recognize the user. This is used to avoid having to log into a session after the users leave the website, for Amazon to allow the one-click purchase, store your credentials and preferences etc.

How Retargeting Works

Nowadays you get tagged everywhere for all different reasons and it is normal for browsers to store around 50 cookies at any given moment. Ad retargeting uses the same principle. It allows ad publishers to recognize a browser that was tagged by anonymously visiting a site.


 The Origins of Retargeting

DoubleClick, now part of Google, reportedly ran the first ever retargeting campaign for Victoria’s Secrets in the late ’90s. The campaign focused on shopping cart abandonment and reportedly provided a 1,000% lift in click-through rate. The service was appropriately called “Boomerang”.


Because almost nobody kisses at the first date…

Retargeting evolved as a universal tool to target site visitors that didn’t convert. This category represents, on average, 85-98% of those who visit websites. This is because, as human beings, it is normal for us to “think about it”, compare alternatives… and decide later.


How effective is retargeting?

Highly effective! An article published in CMO Magazine compiled 15 mind-blowing stats about retargeting. Some of the data reported shows brand searches lift by 1,046%, conversion rates increasing by +70%, ad click-through rates by x10, all of this after consumers see banner ads after their first visit.


Who are the largest retargeting providers?

The promise of keeping the advertiser “top of mind” as the visitor “thinks about it” is what most retargeting services, like AdRoll, ReTargeter, Criteo and Google Remarketing, are communicating as their value proposition.


How Does Retargeting Work?

Simple… As explained above, an anonymous cookie (or tag) is left behind on site visitors’ browsers. As the former visitor browses the web, the cookie gets recognized by banner ads networks and ads are displayed to all those that have your cookie.

I still don’t get it: can you explain again?

Picture yourself entering a store and leaving without buying anything. Now let’s assume the person that greeted you at the door gives you a tap in the back as you walk out and leaves a “tag” in your back.

As you continue to visit other stores and walk down the street, the advertising display at bus stops and other locations recognize your tag on your back and shows you an ad from the store you just left.


What are the Retargeting Parameters to Watch For?

Retargeting often involves real-time bidding (this is where Amazon normally bids more than anybody else and gets to have their ads shown first), cookie burning (visitors that convert are not shown ads), cookie expiration or frequency caps (no more than x15-20 ads are showed and the cookie expires after 120 days).

Other variables that can help advertisers fine-tune their campaign are geo-fencing (ads are shown only to IPs in certain countries/locations) and the ability to show banner ads to visitors that demonstrated genuine interest for the site (as measured by the time they spent on the site or number of pages visited).


What is the Future of Retargeting?

Retargeting is maturing as a technology and growing more sophisticated. Expect to see massive improvements in these 3 categories:


1. Link retargeting

This is done by placing your retargeting script in a short link. It is used by social media and email marketers when sending users to interesting or viral content (especially when it’s third party content).

All those who click will be tagged by the marketer’s retargeting campaign. Retarget Links (or, for those that don’t have a retargeting campaign AdLinks) pioneered the concept (disclaimer, this is a company that I am running) and used it to successfully promote Traction Conference in 2015 (See this article – #6 – that includes a link retargeting case study)

Using Retargeting Links to Advertise on Facebook


2. CRM retargeting

This is done by exporting your email database to a retargeting platform that is able to match the email addresses to social media accounts (including Gmail) and display them banner ads. Check this AdRoll and Kiehl’s case study.

Understanding Facebook Custom Audience

If you want to go direct to social media providers, Facebook’s feature is called Custom AudienceTailored Audience (on Twitter), Nurture Leads (on LinkedIn) and Customer Match (on Google AdWords).


 3. Email retargeting

This is about tagging those that you send the email to. Naturally, it will only work with web-based email providers like Hotmail (Gmail has reportedly blocked this) so the only option to do email retargeting is to use link retargeting (see above) to take your targets out of the email program and into a web-browser where they are tagged by the campaign.

Email Retargeting


Ad Retargeting Marketing Strategies

Any advice on how to create banner ads?

The best way to grab the attention is to have a face in the ad as the human brain is wired to spot people looking at them. A celebrity, if you can afford one (never put a celebrity on an ad if they haven’t endorsed your ad), is even better. Also make sure the background color stands out from the rest of the site (orange, red, purple).

An ad that grabs the attention is useless if it can’t convey the message in a split second. Short sentences (5 words max) describing the benefit (not the feature) for the target audience is a must. Don’t forget the call to action as well (Learn more, Register, Buy now etc).

Banner Snack and Google Webdesigner are the best tools to make banner ads on your own. For more design tips, see this great 99 design post.

Most popular sizes are 336×280, 300×250, 728×90 and 160×600 pixels (they all need to be under 45kb – this is the most difficult limitation).

Facebook’s size limitation is 1 Mb but text should not cover more than 20% of the area which is not bad as, after all, a picture is worth more than thousand words. Standard ad size is 1,200 x 628 pixels.

Banner Ad Example






Are users annoyed to have ads following them?

If ads get noticed, you are accomplishing your goals. The trick is to make banner ads interesting and attractive. A crisp value proposition, nice graphics and humorous content that, importantly, rotates will keep your target interested and would welcome your ads.

An AdRoit and Toluna survey shows that, retargeted ads are noticed and that the majority of those that view them are neutral. Other studies show that consumer are aware that they have been tagged after a site visit and are not that neutral about it.

Logically speaking, ads targeted to user preference are logically more welcomed than untargeted ones. Also to consider is that most banner ads that are displayed due to a retargeting campaign have an option called AdSense that allows those that are tagged to opt out from campaigns.


I am using AdWords, should I be use retargeting?

It is already difficult to bring prospective customers to a site, so any B2C or B2B business should use retargeting, especially if running an AdWords campaign. As a matter of fact, displaying banner ads is a great way to keep promoting your value proposition weeks after your prospect user left the site.


What is your take on ad blockers?

Banner ads are a $50 billion market and growing +20% per year so it is probably here to stay. Ad Blockers are the result of unscrupulous marketers being too aggressive and ad upload time slowing page rendering but the industry is taking notice and regulating itself.

The general consensus is that ads are part what pays for sites that are free and have high quality and entertaining content or services. It wouldn’t be surprising to see ad-blockers-blockers where this content wouldn’t be displayable if an ad-blocker is being used (Wired online magazine just did it a week ago).


Final Thoughts

Retargeting is a powerful and natural evolution of online advertising. It’s most likely the lowest hanging fruit for any business that has any sort of traffic. Wondering what types of retargeting ads you can run for your business? Check out Derric Haynie’s post on 3 types of retargeting ads that will boost your business.

You are also invited to join the the Feb 23 2016 2PM ET Webinar on the subject.

Author: Serge Salager

CEO of AdLinks link retargeting and Visualping page monitor

Serge is an ad-tech entrepreneur formerly CEO of OneMove Technologies  a Toronto Stock Exchange listed company. He is a Guest columnist in all things marketing at TechCrunch, a former marketer at Procter & Gamble and Harvard MBA. He is a frequent speaker on advanced online marketing subjects.