Retargeting: What it is, when to use it – and when not to

Years ago people started noticing a curious phenomenon during the course of their internet browsing. They would visit a website (let’s say, a hotel), then later notice ads on other websites, trying to pull them back to that same hotel.

Such advertising efforts represent one element of the internet’s wider ad personalization / precision targeting technology. The concept is called retargeting, and its use can have near-miraculous effects on a business’s ad spend ROI, when compared to non-targeted efforts.

Retargeting in Theory

Most people don’t make a purchase the first time they visit a website. They shop around online, visiting competitors or just browsing out of curiosity. They might get distracted by an instant message from a friend or some real-world occurrence, and lose their train of thought. As soon as they click away, your chances of making a sale diminish.

But they’ve already shown at least some level of interest in your product by virtue of visiting your site, so from an advertising standpoint, you’re much better off targeting such visitors rather than targeting a less-specific cross-section of the population. That little reminder that you can put in their consciousness may be enough to tempt them back, resulting in a sale.

This idea is slightly different from remarketing, which involves using email lists to put sales-themed messages in the inboxes of potential (or former) customers. Remarketing has its place, but it needs to be done with extra-special care, tact, and common sense – otherwise you may risk annoying your customers, creating experiences like this one:

Retargeting and remarketing can work if they are employed sensibly; if not, they become an irritant.

Retargeting in practice

Google and Facebook lead the field in the retargeting industry. With the amount of user data they collect, these two platforms allow a level of customization that other advertising platforms have difficulty matching.

For example, when setting up a retargeting campaign, you can adjust the specifications so that it ignores visitors who clicked to your website and then clicked away a moment later. You can also adjust the time settings to activate the retargeting campaign after a certain period has passed, so that people don’t begin seeing ads instantaneously. These types of modifications can increase the effectiveness of your ads, because they take into account the likely mindsets of your visitors.

Other types of adjustments might involve whether the visitor has interacted in any way with your website, by browsing your catalog or reading your blogs; such visitors might be deemed more interested, and more worth targeting with ads.

Visitors that do make a purchase can also be isolated and selected for inclusion, as can those who voluntarily enter their email addresses into your system.

However you set up your retargeting campaign, you’ll also need to put together a special ad for such potential return visitors, using crisp visuals and wording to entice them to click back into your website. Special offers might be a good choice here, as they promise new opportunities to customers who might need a little extra convincing to click back in to your system.

Clicking on these ads should send customers directly to a purpose-built page on your site, rather than the generic homepage. If they’re looking for that special offer, don’t make them scour the website trying to find it; put the details and the purchase button right in front of them.

Benefits and limitations

Retargeting is an excellent tool if you know what you’re going to use it for. Raising awareness and making sales are really the only main purposes for retargeting, given the way the systems are set up. So you’ll want to have everything well-prepared and looking good on the website side of things, before hitting the ‘go’ button.

You’ll also want to coordinate between the style and substance of your retargeting ad, and the specific customer segment you’re going after. If you’re retargeting people who have already made a purchase, then you can design an ad that promises a one-click purchase option, because their credit card data is already in your system.

Keep in mind that not every product is ideal for this type of campaign. Some types of products should be advertised more discreetly, while others may have benefits that are too abstract or complex to be listed inside a retargeting ad.

But as a general tool to reconnect with potential customers who have already found their way to your website in the past, retargeting can be a marketer’s dream. In this online age of novelty and distraction, users may need to be reminded about your product or service. By bringing them back and offering them a chance to easily purchase the very thing they had their eye on before, retargeting can make life a whole lot easier for you and your customers alike.

Lexicon is a full-service digital marketing agency in Bangkok, Thailand. We specialize in corporate storytelling and produce all of our content in-house, including branding,  copywriting, video production and graphic design. Lexicon’s social media marketing services start from just 25,000 THB per month.


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