Anyone who has been online in the last several years has experienced retargeting, whether they recognize the term or not.
Let’s say you’re browsing an outdoor store’s website because you’re interested in buying a new tent. You see one you like and click on the product page, but decide to do some more research and leave the page without purchasing the tent. A couple days later, you see an ad for that outdoor store’s tents while browsing another site.
That’s retargeting, and it works like this:
- When you visit a web page, a small piece of code (known as a cookie) is stored in your browser.
- This cookie stores data related to your site interactions.
- As you continue to browse the web, the cookie lets retargeting providers know when to serve certain ads that are relevant to you based on your browsing history.
When used well, retargeting ads help remind people about products they were interested in and makes it easy to purchase those items if they’re still interested. When used poorly, retargeting ads can be kind of creepy and annoying. Let’s talk about how to avoid falling into the latter camp.
How to Get Retargeting Wrong
Although I still hear the occasional jokes about how retargeting seems like a form of stalking, the practice has been around long enough now that most people accept it as a normal part of the internet browsing experience.
However, it’s still possible for retargeting ads to cross a line into the realm of the obnoxious. Here’s what NOT to do, unless you like turning off potential customers:
Serve an ad that links to the wrong landing page. You serve an ad about a shoe sale to users who have browsed your site for boots, but when they click the ad they get sent to a landing page for your fall sweater collection. They’re not looking for sweaters– they just wanted a 25% discount on a pair of boots they’d been eyeing — so they navigate away from the page, and you lose out on a sale.
Place incorrect or outdated info in your ad. Let’s say you end that shoe sale after a week…but forget to swap out the copy on your ads, and continue luring people to your site with promises of a discount you no longer offer. No one’s going to be particularly happy if you can’t deliver on the claims in your ad, and you will damage your brand’s integrity.
Be obtrusive. I have yet to meet someone who truly enjoys pop up ads flashing onto their screen while they’re trying to browse online. Sure, you want your ad to stand out, but you don’t want it to distract web users to the point that they have negative associations with your brand.
Serve the same ad too many times. Showing a site visitor the same ad over and over again for a product that they showed a vague interest in is the internet equivalent of following someone around a store and out the door saying, “You’re sure you don’t want this? How about now? Or now?” To avoid this, you should set up frequency caps (which I’ll talk more about in the next section).
Serve an ad for a product that a customer has already purchased. Your customer just clicked on one of your banner ads and bought your product. They were feeling pretty good about their purchase — until they start seeing more of your retargeted ads for that same product around the web. Not only is this annoying, it also shows that your company doesn’t care enough about its customers to notice when they’ve converted and change the way you communicate with them.
4 Retargeting Best Practices
Segment your audience. You don’t necessarily want to serve the same ads to someone who just viewed your homepage as you would to someone who abandoned their shopping cart. Tailor your ads to visitors’ interests by creating different lists based on a visitor’s interaction with your site. Your segmented list should be as specific as possible, but don’t over-segment if your audience is too small. You typically want at least 1000 cookies per list.
Set a frequency cap. A frequency cap ensures that a web user stops seeing the same ad after it has been served to them a specified number of times. There’s no magic number — it will depend in large part on your product’s life cycle and advertising standards in your industry. Talk to your retargeting provider to determine the best frequency cap for your ads.
Pay attention when visitors convert. It’s easy to avoid following your customers around the web with ads for a product they just purchased from you. All you have to do is add a snippet of code to your transaction confirmation page so that customers are untagged from the segmented list once they convert. You can, of course, still add them to other lists in order to cross-sell to them based on their purchase history. Again, this is something that your retargeting provider will be able to help you with.
Keep testing. Don’t get complacent — when people keep seeing the same (or similar-looking) ads from your company over and over again, they may develop ‘banner blindness’ and stop noticing your ads altogether. Just make sure that when you A/B test your ads, you only change one variable at a time in order to pinpoint what works best.
Want to talk more about how to use retargeting without scaring shoppers off? Comment below, or contact Leverage Marketing.