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A Primer On Retargeting: What Is It And Why Should You Care?

Are you using retargeting as an integral part of your strategy for effective digital marketing? If your answer is no, you are missing out on one of the hot topics in online advertising. The practice of retargeting, or remarketing if you’re using Google, has carved out a sustained niche in the digital marketing world. How it works and the most effective use of it is still unfamiliar territory for many marketers.

It May Sound Very Complicated

Being online doesn’t mean potential customers aren’t window-shoppers. With retargeting, those potential buyers are tracked as they go about their online shopping.

The retargeting kicks in when they visit other online sites. As they browse, retargeting displays your specific ads to them as a reminder of your fine products and great values. On average, only about 2% of shoppers commit to purchase on their initial visit to an online store. Retargeting focuses on the other 98%, working to entice them back.

In general, retargeting is simply matching ads to potential clients based on their individual prior interaction with your website. Site-based retargeting is the most popular, although other forms are available, such as CRM retargeting, retargeting through search engines, and direct email retargeting.

Site-based retargeting serves up selected ads to your potential customers after they leave your website. As the customer browses other sites, the retargeting ad appears on their screen as a reminder of your product. This keeps your online store fresh in the minds of recent visitors and helps in luring them back.

How Does It All Work?

Cookie-based technology makes retargeting effectively. It uses a JavaScript tag to inconspicuously attach a browser cookie to each new visitor to your website. All your website guru has to do is place the tag in the footer of your main page. This tag will place the cookie and generate a list of the people who visit your site.

This list can then be used to custom fit retargeting ads to each individual potential customer as they go about their web shopping.


This small bit of code, sometimes known as a pixel, is invisible to visitors to your online store and won’t impair your site’s performance in any way. The JavaScript tag simply waits for a new visitor to come along, then deposits the anonymous browser cookie with them. As these potential customers window-shop about the web, the presence of the cookie lets your retargeting provider know to serve up your reminder ads. Your retargeting ads are only shown to potential buyers who have actually visited your website.

Sounds Like an Ecommerce Solution

Here’s a basic example: Samantha Shopper visits your ShoeTown website and spends a little time looking at different pairs of shoes. She leaves your ShoeTown website without purchasing anything. As she browses to other websites, she sees retargeting ads that remind her of the great value she left behind at ShoeTown.

While this example is simplistic, it does effectively describe the process involved. It can also unfortunately help reinforce the idea that retargeting is a solution for ecommerce alone.

Ecommerce companies do commonly use retargeting but they are not the only businesses that benefit from implementation of this technology. Bringing back traffic that bounced from your website, leaving behind an abandoned shopping cart, is what retargeting is all about.


It can be an effective tool for many types of web-based companies, from B2B to schools, from recruiters to event or entertainment planners. Schools and universities can potentially increase enrollment and donations with retargeting. Qualified applicants can be reminded of your recruitment pitch and encouraged to complete your application process. Ticket and merchandise sales can increase through retargeting.

Retargeting is a useful tool that can benefit any website that does not enjoy a 100% conversion rate.

What Makes Retargeting So Effective?

Retargeting focuses your advertising on those visitors who already know your brand and have shown an interest by visiting your website. The ultimate goal is to generate increased online sales by reminding window-shoppers of your brand and great value.

Repeated exposure to your brand through the retargeting ads gives your product traction and increased product recognition. Good branding of your products and repeated exposure brings the typical increased sales conversions and high click-through rates associated with retargeting. This culminates in a higher ROI than other digital marketing options.

Does Retargeting Alone Work Well?

Retargeting can produce results when used alone, but the best outcomes are obtained when it is part of a broader overall digital strategy. Coupling retargeting with demand generation or inbound/outbound marketing works well.


AdWords, content marketing, and targeted banner ads and display are strategies designed to drive traffic but they do little for conversion optimization. Retargeting is a strategy that can increase conversions but it does little to steer customers in your direction. A combination of these strategies gives your website the best chance of succeeding in the online market.

Best Practices

Breaking your visitor traffic down into segments, such as people who browse shoes vs shirts, and then focusing the retargeting ads to the select group is the most effective use of retargeting. Timing is also of the essence when retargeting potential clients. For example, customers looking at travel ideally should be retargeted immediately, while those browsing through luxury items are best retargeted later.

Pitfalls and Starting Up

A retargeting campaign is not difficult to set up and launch into action. But mistakes can be made that have a negative impact on your business. Before beginning a campaign, take the time to educate yourself on the best practices, or engage a full-service provider to manage your retargeting for you.

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