The Ultimate Guide To Retargeting For Ecommerce Businesses

Retargeting is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: you pixel/target visitors who have visited your website but not purchased from you, and put your ads directly in front of them at a later point in time. In a brick-and-mortar setting, there’s very little recourse to easily stay in front of a consumer’s face once they’ve walked out your doors empty-handed.

But thankfully, the internet is a lot different than the mall—thanks to cookies.

That’s right…cookies.

Not sweet circles of batter flecked with chocolate, but rather a small piece of data you can store on the devices of those who have visited your store. These snippets of fresh-baked HTTP code can be used to track consumer behavior and personalize your marketing attempts.

Types of Retargeting Campaigns

Site retargeting is done by placing a pixel on your website. This pixel drops cookies into the browsers of incoming traffic, which in turn will allow you to retarget the customer elsewhere on the interwebs. It may seem a little bit stalkerish, but it’s perfectly legal, ethical, and won’t require you to follow anyone home.

A more refined type of site retargeting called dynamic creative involves creating ads tailored to each customer based on which products they’ve looked at. For example, if I went on to the Nordstrom website and browsed around for a red tie, their dynamic creative retargeting campaign would show me ads of some red ties as I continued to surf the web.

And if on previous visits I had gravitated toward specific brands, even if shopping for other types of apparel, you can best believe the retargeting campaign would take that into account. It can get super pinpointed.

Search retargeting is all about targeting customers who have searched for products similar to what you offer, but have not necessarily visited your online store. In fact, the main goal of search retargeting is to draw in visitors who haven’t yet visited your site but probably would want to—based on their previous search queries.

Link retargeting involves sharing content with a clickable link and then using that clickable link to segment the audience that clicked through, for the purpose of marketing to them.

Then there’s email retargeting, which can work in a few different ways.

One way involves using a Data Management Platform where the IP address of an anonymous browser is picked up and matched with an email in the database of the DMP. With the contact info of that anonymous browser locked down, they can now be emailed directly.

This form of email retargeting, also called list-based retargeting, can also work by you submitting your extant list of previously-collected store visitor emails (you are collecting those, right?) to the DMP, who can then get those ads in front of browsers.

The drawback to this technique is that email addresses won’t always match up with other pieces of customer information, because people often have different emails—for example, one for business, one for social media accounts, one that they’d like to forget but just can’t bring themselves to delete— leaving you with a low match rate.

Another way of email marketing is to send out emails with a tracking pixel, which is then dropped into the recipient’s browser. Next time they browse the web, they’ll see your ads. Unfortunately, this technique doesn’t work with certain email services, such as Gmail… thanks for that Google.

Retargeting Platforms

Google ads are a must for any business. Retargeting, or remarketing (as Google calls it) on this biggest of search engine giants will allow you to time your remarketing campaigns so that previous site visitors are exposed to your ads while they’re in the process of searching for something similar to what you offer. You can also upload your email list to Google, and ads will be targeted to these specific users as they browse the web. Considering that Google’s market share of search queries is around 95%, retargeting on Google specifically should be a no brainer.

Another form of retargeting involves social media.

Facebook Retargeting

Facebook is a great place to run ads because you can make your campaigns super focused—then take the data and focus them even more. With retargeting, all you need to do is install the Facebook Pixel on your site, and you’re good to go. Retargeting on Facebook can be incredibly effective because it has over 2 billion users who are frequently on there, or at least engage with it periodically throughout the day. 

If you upload your product catalog to your Facebook ads account, your retargeting campaign can dynamically show browsers items they abandoned in their cart. Facebook also lets you get super pinpointed with who sees your ads, such as including visitors who hesitated to buy within the last seven days and excluding those who have already purchased something in the last month.  

Instagram Retargeting

Instagram is another platform where you can conduct effective retargeting campaigns, thanks to Facebook (which owns Instagram). You can use Facebook to create a custom audience of people who have viewed a portion of your Instagram videos, whether that’s 3 seconds, 10 seconds, or 95% of the video. You can retarget to Instagrammers (yes, that’s a noun) who have opened your lead generation forms on Instagram, even if they didn’t fill them out. 

You can retarget anyone who has engaged with your Instagram profile, whether that means liking a post or sending you a message. Instagram is a highly visual platform that’s a simple one-column arrangement—users can really only look at one post at a time, effectively—is excellent for getting focused attention on your retargeting ads.

Pinterest Retargeting

Pinterest is a great venue for retargeting, especially because Pinterest has a high percentage of users who are already browsing with the intention to make a purchase. Pinterest is not really a social media venue to post life updates and pics as much as it is a rolling bulletin board of cool things to do, see, make, and buy. If you put a Pinterest Tag on your website, you can track the behavior of visitors to your site and act accordingly. 

Pinterest also lets you target ads to a Lookalike Audience, which essentially allows you to target a broader group of Pinterest users who bear similarity to those who have previously visited your site or interacted with your pins. 

Twitter Retargeting

Twitter is a little more difficult of a platform to work with in terms of advertising because there is a lot of snippet-sized information flying around all the time. Even so, Twitter ads surprisingly have a higher click-through rate than Facebook ads, perhaps because of their prominent placement in the feed, especially on mobile. However, until Twitter implemented its retargeting technology, Facebook ads tended to yield more revenue. The reason is that until recently, retargeting could not be performed on mobile, and most Twitter users were tweeting from their phones. 

To get around this hurdle, Twitter has developed technology that can link mobile users to their desktop usage, and pick up on cookies placed by other parties. Additionally, they have started to work with third parties that can provide the stats Twitter is lacking. Some industry experts are suggesting that Twitter will prove to be one of the BEST places to market in terms of ROI. 

Setting Goals with Your Retargeting Campaigns

As you can see, pretty much every popular internet platform is offering retargeted ads. But even though they’re incredibly effective, you’ve got to have some goals going into the game. Otherwise, you’ll just be throwing your money down the drain…and you can’t retarget that back.

Retargeting To Build Brand Awareness

Though it’s a hard pill to swallow, organic social media growth as we’ve known it might be dead. Left in its place is a venue where people interact with people they know…which, come to think of it, is why social media was invented in the first place. Businesses looking to grow a following are now going to have to “pay to play.” That said, retargeting campaigns don’t just have to be about closing a sale. They could be leveraged to get browsers to join a Facebook Group, sign up for an email list, or follow you on Instagram. View-through conversion windows will allow you to see how many viewers are interacting with your ads as you build brand awareness, even if they’re not clicking (yet).

Retargeting To Nurture Potential Customers

Unfortunately, a very low percentage of visitors who visit your site are actually ready to buy something right at that moment. Many of them will circle back to a moment of decision, even several times (for one of my ecommerce sites, I’ve seen someone come back 44 times) before entering their credit card number, and the internet (with all its distractions) has only made this worse. Retargeting campaigns can get potential customers warmed up to the idea of closing a sale with whatever it is you’re offering.

Retargeting To Drive Conversions

Retargeting campaigns are perfect for roping potential customers back to the corral. The nuanced way you can tailor each retargeting ad allows you to address specific reasons why a shopper may have abandoned their cart. Perhaps they didn’t find the item they were looking for. Have they seen this other one you offer? Perhaps the item was too much. Would they like a discount? Granted, you may not know exactly why each person abandoned their cart, but you can offer some sweet reasons to get back to your site. If driving conversions is your goal, then your remarketing ads might focus on coupons, freebies, or discount codes to knock something off the price.

3 Retargeting Services You Need To Consider

Adroll is one of the more expensive options out there, but with a self-professed ROI of $10 for every $1 spent, it’s not a bad deal. Plus, they’ve partnered with major companies like Outbrain, CNN, Instagram, Google, and Yahoo—helping you retarget to around 98% of the internet. Adroll also provides a lot of segmentation tools to get your retargeting campaign focused and delivering better results to the 1.2 billion shopper profiles in their possession.

Affectv brings identified prospects together with tailored content to deliver new customers to the brands they work with—which includes Logitech, Samsung, Bosch,, Microsoft, and a whole host of recognized brand names. Affect works by using their DMP of shopper profiles to build a lookalike audience they can bring your ads to. Their proprietary process has garnered praise from publications like Wired and Inc., which have both recognized Affect as one of the hottest startups in the UK.

Captify specializes in capitalizing on consumer intent outside of Amazon and Google. Their proprietary intent-based decision technology platform is one of the most advanced in the world and trusted by brands like Target, American Airlines, McDonalds, Nintendo, and Sony. One of Captify’s biggest claims to fame is that they’re at the forefront of voice search, which is taking up an increasing proportion of market share. Their software is geared to driving conversions by getting to the intent of what browsers are saying, no matter how they say it (sort of what like Google has done in the field of written semantics).

Retargeting Best Practices

Segment your audience.

You don’t want to show the same ad to someone who abandoned their cart to someone who bought something from your store in the past month. Segment your audience by placing pixels on each page of your store. That will allow you to create some criteria like time on site, pages visited, and browser location to tailor each message to address the specific needs and interests of the audience seeing that ad.

Determine your frequency.

Some markers believe you should get ads in front of previous shoppers as much as you possibly can, while others believe they might find this annoying. A good rule of thumb that is often cited places the number of ad impressions per customer at 17-20 per month. On the other hand, you’ll want to avoid retargeting people who have recently bought something from your site, because it can create an annoying impression of your brand. You can prevent this from happening by using a burn code—just create a thank you page and place a pixel on it to exclude those shoppers from remarketing…at least for a little while.

Rotate your ads.

Banner blindness is an epidemic on the internet. If you don’t rotate your ads, they’ll eventually become background noise. Since many businesses don’t rotate their ads, they see severe drop-offs in the clickthrough rate after just a few months. Avoid that by switching things up every few months to capture more conversions. You’ll also want to run different types of ads simultaneously to see which ones perform better, and to catch the interest of shoppers who have expressed interest in your brand.

Don’t forget offline conversions.

With all this talk about retargeting online, it can be easy to forget how offline conversions can play a part in your retargeting campaigns. If you have a brick-and-mortar store or offer an in-person service, you should still be collecting emails (as much as possible). You can then use these emails, upload them to your ad platforms and count them as conversions to close the loop and determine a true return on advertising spend.

A final word about the importance of retargeting

I hope you’ve gotten a better understanding of how vital retargeting is for your business and some of the prime venues and services that can assist in your remarketing campaigns. Don’t forget the importance of looking at your data and making changes accordingly. With a little work, you will see the huge payoff that retargeting can offer your business in terms of reducing the number of abandoned carts and closing more sales.

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