5 Powerful Ad Retargeting Techniques


When it comes to customer acquisition, the next best tactic after search engine marketing is retargeting. The concept of retargeting, however, is much larger and more complicated than what many brands may be used to. On a macro level, we’ll use this definition of retargeting: to serve an ad to a consumer that has taken an identifiable action related to your brand. This definition will guide our discussion of five micro-level tactics:

  • Site retargeting
  • Search retargeting
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) retargeting
  • Engagement retargeting
  • Contextual retargeting

Site Retargeting
This most common type of retargeting takes advantage of website visitors. More successful site retargeting tactics segment visitors based on their experiences to date with the brand/website, serving creative catering specifically to that experience. For example, a visitor that hits a store locator page should be served messages related to local in-store promotions for her home store, while a visitor that puts something in his shopping cart without checking out should be enticed back to finish his transaction with specific online offers related to the product placed in his abandoned cart.

Site retargeting can have a 10-times lower cost per acquisition than tactics targeting consumers that haven’t yet interacted with your site. It’s a logical, efficient place to start boosting conversions.

Search Retargeting
This tactic relies on consumer search activity related to a brand or category. For example: When someone conducts a search for “Sperry shoes,” she leaves a data trail behind her based on what she clicks on and where she ends up. Either a brand’s search terms can be directly used for retargeting consumers with display ads (when they click), or widgets that live on the pages they land on after they click can identify consumer interest based on the inbound query that brought them to the page.

Because the consumer has indicated his in-market presence by conducting the search in the first place, this tends to be a very successful tactic to widen the net beyond what you can capture with site retargeting alone. A retailer we work with has found that search retargeting is five-times more effective than other acquisition tactics.

CRM Retargeting
Leveraging your mailing lists can also be effective when done correctly. This requires a data partner that matches postal and/or email addresses to an online cookie pool through a privacy-compliant, secure environment. Any segmentation strategies in direct/email marketing can also be carried through to display tactics once the segments are matched.

One successful deployment of CRM retargeting by one of our e-commerce clients uses the matched cookie pool of current customers as a filter for other acquisition efforts, increasing the chance that promotional ads are served to prospects that aren’t already buying from the brand.

Another successful deployment by a retail client leveraged CRM retargeting to bring lapsed customers back into the store. A test/control design found incremental return visitation from the test group that had been passed through to CRM retargeting versus the control group, driving significant return on investment for the brand.

Engagement Retargeting
This tactic leverages interactive creative to identify consumers that have taken some action on a digital advertisement, segmenting them accordingly based on that action. It is very similar to site retargeting, but takes the concept to the consumer rather than requiring the consumer to come to the brand. Interaction rates are 10-to 50-times higher than standard click-through rates, so this can be an effective way to expand the pool of those interested in the product or brand, but not yet interested enough to visit the website.

The best deployment for engagement retargeting uses image pixels on ad panels that only fire (and cookie the consumer) when that consumer has taken deliberate action on the ad to get to that panel. Otherwise, the engagement retargeting pool is stuffed full of accidental actors that are not any more likely (and may be less likely) to convert than the next consumer you might reach with that impression.

Contextual Retargeting
Another tactic very similar to site retargeting — indeed, it is site retargeting — but differentiated by the environment in which the consumer is first tagged. Creating content is a great way to capture consumer interest in a broad category before driving them to the brand. With content marketing, sometimes it is the brand creating the content, and sometimes it is a third party. In either case, when that content doesn’t live on the brand’s site, but allows the brand to identify visitors for future ad targeting, that’s contextual retargeting.

An example we’ve used that showed twice the effectiveness of other acquisition tactics leveraged content that was created specifically for broadening the top of the purchase funnel to get more people interested in a client brand’s service offering. Users visiting this brand-neutral environment not only found the content helpful but also became more qualified retargeting prospects, showing a higher likelihood to convert.

Retargeting Improves Acquisition 
Of course, there is a natural ceiling to the amount you can invest in retargeting that is directly related to the amount of consumers taking any of the above actions in the first place. Once you’ve reached a 20-to 25-times frequency against any of these pools, you’re likely to do more harm than good with that particular audience, and you’ll need to shift focus (and budget) back to getting more fresh prospects into those pools. Deployed effectively, the above retargeting techniques can significantly improve acquisition rates and drive incremental profit margins — while showing a positive return on investment.

Want more content like this? Subscribe now!

Ryan Derrow
Ryan Derrow

Ryan is Vice President of Media at Empower MediaMarketing, one of the largest independent media agencies in the country. His team plans and executes integrated and programmatic media for clients like Bush's Beans, Dremel, Famous Footwear, LasikPlus, and Rust-Oleum.