With the ability to track almost everything online these days, effective retargeting ads are a great marketing tool that can help grow your ROI.

Here you’ll find:

  • The difference between retargeting and remarketing
  • Steps to create a successful retargeting campaign
  • Key elements for an effective retargeting ad
  • The benefits of running these ad types

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who stumbled upon your ads or website for the first time was primed to buy? A marketer’s dream!

But the reality is that, for nearly all site visitors, it’s just not true. That’s why retargeting can be a powerful tool.

As a highly effective way to turn window shoppers into new customers, retargeting ads that speak to the right people can be a game-changer for your business. These are ads that populate around the web for those who have visited or otherwise taken interest in your business, but haven’t yet become customers.

What is retargeting?

Retargeting is a marketing technique that shows ads to people who have previously interacted with a website or brand. It works by using cookies or pixels to track user behavior and display relevant ads across various websites and platforms. 

For example, if you visit an online store but don’t make a purchase, you may see ads for the same products on other websites you visit. Ad retargeting helps businesses stay top-of-mind with potential customers and increase the chances of conversion.

How do retargeting ads work?

Imagine you’re shopping online for a new pair of shoes. You visit a particular online store, browse the various styles, and maybe add a pair to your cart. But then you get distracted or decide not to purchase immediately. 

After leaving the website, you start seeing ads for the same shoes or that particular online store on other websites like news sites or social media platforms.

This is ad retargeting in action.

Ad retargeting is a marketing technique that allows advertisers to show ads to people who have already shown interest in their products or services. 

It works by placing a small piece of code on the advertiser’s website, called a pixel or tag. This pixel tracks the behavior of visitors, such as the landing pages they visit, the products they view, or the actions they take (like adding items to the cart).

When you leave the website without making a purchase, the pixel stores this information. The advertiser can then use this data to retarget you with relevant ads across various websites and platforms, reminding you about the products you showed interest in. 

The goal is to bring you back to their website and increase the chances of conversion (i.e., making a purchase).


Different types of retargeting ads

Let’s dive into different types of retargeting ads.

  1. Display retargeting: This common form of retargeting involves displaying image ads (aka Display Ads from the Google Display Network or GDN) to people who have visited a specific website. For example, if you visit an online clothing store but leave without making a purchase, you may see ads for that store’s products on other websites you visit.
  2. Search retargeting (or RLSA, remarketing lists for search ads): Highly targeted ads using cookies or email lists to reach users who’ve engaged with a website before. For instance, if a user visits a shoe store and later searches for a related term, like “women’s boots,” the advertiser can use RLSAs to bid more aggressively on that specific search term. This makes search ads more competitive by targeting high-intent audiences.
  3. Email retargeting: Uses customer email lists to remarket to audiences that started shopping or checking out but didn’t checkout. You can upload first-party user data people submit when they subscribe to your newsletter. These are brand loyalists who can generate high ROAS, especially if you place ads across various search engines and social media networks. 
  4. Social media retargeting: Social media platforms like Facebook (Meta) and Instagram allow advertisers to retarget users based on social media activity, email lists, website visits, purchase history, and more. If you engaged with a brand’s social posts or visited their profile, you might see their ads while scrolling through your newsfeed.
  5. Dynamic remarketing: Dynamically generates ads based on the specific products or services a user shows interest in on your website or mobile app, then tailors the advertising experience to match their preferences. For instance, if a user recently viewed sunglasses, it’ll showcase the products or services they viewed, with messaging tailored to them. 

The difference between retargeting and remarketing

In recent years, the fine line between retargeting and remarketing has become blurry. This has led to many using the two terms interchangeably, which is normal and okay. Both retargeting and remarketing are tactics to re-engage consumers, and there are only a few slight differences between the two.

Remarketing is email outreach strategy used to re-engage site visitors and previous customers who show interest in a product or service online and signed up for its email list.

For example, this email is sent by Mt. Capra to customers in its email list who forget items in their cart:

email remarketing

On the other hand, retargeting uses ads through paid media, such as paid search or paid social ads, to re-engage consumers who showed an interest in your brand. But rather than focusing on one channel, it uses multiple, including platforms like Meta, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Instagram, and LinkedIn. 

Here’s an example from LinkedIn:

Mediacom linkedin

Retargeting ads appear to consumers who recently took certain actions on or off your site, but didn’t follow through with a sale. This can be during a user’s first visit or return visit. 

Ever clicked on a product like headphones while scrolling on a website, then moved on without adding it to the cart? If you log onto another site like Facebook and see an ad pop up for that exact product, you’ve experienced a retargeting campaign for cart abandonment.

Retargeting and remarketing are proven ways to increase visitors’ chances of following through with a purchase. In fact, retargeted website visitors are reportedly 70% more likely to convert.

Now that we’ve cleared up the difference between retargeting and remarketing, let’s dive into the four steps for creating an effective retargeting ad.

How to create a retargeting ads campaign

Ready to start building your first retargeting ad campaign? We’ve got you covered — just follow these steps:

1. Identify you retargeting audience

Every advertising campaign should have a specific audience to target. Otherwise, you risk getting irrelevant clicks from non-converters. 

“One mistake businesses make with retargeting is setting up generic retargeting ads that serve to their entire audience set,” says Rachel Corak, associate director of search engine marketing at HawkSEM. “The most effective retargeting ads start by first deciding who the subset audience is, so you can create catered assets that’ll appeal to them.” 

For example, if Nordstrom ran a shoe sale, it’d get a higher ROI by targeting visitors browsing the shoes category on their website, instead of everyone who’s ever visited its website. 

2. Determine advertising platforms

As with any digital marketing strategy, you must ensure your message resonates with your target audience. You also want it to show up where they spend their time online. The same concept is true for your retargeting ads. You should choose the advertising platforms that’ll be most effective for reaching the people you want to retarget.

Popular advertising platforms include Google, Microsoft, and social media platforms. Take a closer look at your audience’s demographics and habits to determine the most effective platform for running retargeting ads.

Understanding your targeted audience will ensure you reach the right people in the right places with the right messaging. This way, you won’t have to worry that you’re blowing your advertising budget on ineffective ads.

3. Collect data for retargeting campaigns

Retargeting ads are prompted when a user takes a specific action. So, how do you ensure these are the people who see your ads? Collecting data for your specified actions is essential to creating an effective retargeting campaign.

Two common methods for collecting this data are by using pixels and creating manually gathered lists. Installing a tracking pixel may require a bit of technical knowledge. If necessary, sync up with your go-to tech or dev pros, or the marketing agency you partner with, to make sure this is set up properly.

Retargeting an email list is another one of the best ways to connect with those already familiar with your brand, so you can continue building lasting relationships.

Retargeting pixels

A pixel is a piece of code embedded into the HTML on your website, product pages, online ads, or emails. Once added, it begins tracking different data and metrics about visitors through their browsers and passes on the information to the preferred advertising platform.

If a visitor leaves without completing the desired action, your chosen advertising platforms will be alerted that they should be served relevant retargeting ads. This method is an instant, ultimately hands-free option for ensuring the right people see your ads.

Retargeting lists

List-based targeting is a way to re-engage the customers or website visitors whose emails you’ve already collected, possibly via a sign-up or free-trial offer. A customer relationship management (CRM) tool is one of the most efficient ways to create an organized list of contacts to use for retargeting.

Even for those who prefer the old-school way of collecting emails via in-person sign-ups, a CRM will help keep those emails organized. With your list of contacts in hand (or saved on your device), upload it to your advertising platform. Once added, this targeted audience should begin seeing your retargeting ads as they scroll online.

4. Set your retargeting goal

As with any marketing strategy, you must set goals before starting a retargeting campaign. Two common goals are increasing brand or product awareness and converting previous visitors.

An awareness campaign is beneficial for educating audiences about new product offerings or special announcements. This goal will usually have a larger audience of people who have recently engaged with your business. This makes it ideal for running before a conversion campaign.

With conversion campaigns, visitors have engaged with your company or products but haven’t made the commitment leap. These retargeting ads are created with the goal of recapturing previous visitors to follow through with their purchases.

With your established retargeting goal, you can segment your audience for a successful campaign. Some segment examples include:

  • Visitor of specific pages
  • Frequency of site visits
  • Existing customers
  • Cart abandoners
  • Past converters

Segmenting your targeted audience will ensure you’re speaking to the right people that will help you achieve your retargeting goals.

Pro tip: Forbes suggests that once a campaign is established, a business should try to allocate at least 20%-30% of its total ad spend on retargeting.

5. Optimize your retargeting ads

You may know we’re not fans of the “set it and forget it” mindset. That’s because we know ensuring your ads are optimized is the key to a successful campaign, no matter which type.

An effective retargeting ad can have a combination of elements such as compelling visuals, videos, and text relevant to the featured product or service that grabs the viewer’s attention.

To optimize your retargeting ads for a lasting impression, keep these factors in mind:

  • Attention-grabbing headline: Ask yourself: Is the headline engaging? Does it relate to the action taken on your website? And does it target the right audience?
  • Eye-catching media: Whether you opt for a photograph, animation, or video, it’s essential to keep it relevant to the ad copy and how they have previously interacted with your site
  • Straightforward copy: Speaking of copy, you want to keep it short and sweet. If people can’t determine the incentive or reason for seeing your ad quickly, they’ll likely move on with their day and leave your ad clickless.
  • Click-worthy call to action (CTA): Ensure your audience can identify their next step with an action-oriented CTA button.

Another option is to partner with the experts at HawkSEM (yes, that’s us!). We work with businesses to improve traffic, leads, and conversions using ad retargeting. Take, for example, Grayson Living, a high-end furniture store in Beverly Hills. 

They came to us because they wanted to grow their e-commerce sales. So what did we do?

We ran retargeting ads, built custom landing pages, and conducted feed optimization. The results: a 279% increase in sales in the first year and an 11% increase in the average order value.

Types of ad retargeting strategies

It’s time to re-engage your target customers. What are the best strategies to use? Here are several (not all) that we use at HawkSEM:

1. Search retargeting:

    • Targets users based on their site interaction behavior.
    • Ads are displayed to users who have previously interacted with the website
    • Helps reach users who have shown interest in relevant products or services.

2. CTV/cross-channel retargeting:

  • Targets users across various devices and channels, including Connected TV (CTV).
  • Displays ads to users who have interacted with a brand across multiple platforms.
  • Enhances brand visibility and reinforces messaging through a cohesive cross-channel approach.

3. Social retargeting:

  • Targets users based on their activity on social media platforms, or interactions with the website
    Displays ads to users who engaged with a brand’s social media content, visited their profiles, or interacted with the website.
    Allows for tailored messaging based on social media behavior and interests.

4. Conversion retargeting:

  • Targets users who previously completed specific actions on a website.
  • Displays ads based on previous conversions, such as completing a purchase or filling out a form.
  • Focuses on driving repeat purchases or encouraging users to take the desired action again.

5. Retargeting audiences for exclusion:

  • Excludes users from targeting in specific ad campaigns.
  • Ads are not shown to users who have already converted or taken the desired action.
  • Helps allocate advertising budget effectively by focusing on new potential customers.

6. Retargeting existing customers: 

  • Targets customers that purchased at least once from your website.
  • Displays ads based on previous purchases, showing upsells, cross-sells, and other relevant products or services they may be interested in purchasing next.
  • Focuses on driving repeat purchases to maximize ROI potential of campaigns and keep brand loyalists returning for more.

By using these ad retargeting strategies, small businesses can maximize their marketing efforts and connect with potential customers who already showed interest, increasing brand awareness, engagement, and conversions in the long run.

The takeaway

The benefits of retargeting ads are many. When done effectively, retargeting campaigns are a way to grow your ROI with an audience that has already shown an interest in your brand or product.

The flexibility retargeting offers makes it possible to tailor your campaigns specifically to your target audience, wherever they spend the most time. 

Need more  help planning and executing your next (or first) retargeting ads campaign? We’d love to help.

This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2021.

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