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5 Lessons Learned in Site Retargeting


Website retargeting–a display advertising method that shows your ads to visitors who previously visited your website, but are now visiting other sites–is growing in popularity among marketers. And for good reason: according to a study by retargeting vendor Criteo, website visitors who are retargeted with display ads are 70 percent more likely to convert on your website. If you are new to retargeting or just need a refresher, read this great post on SEOMoz that covers the basics.

At Software Advice, we’ve experimented with site retargeting over the last two years. As a young company with a limited budget, we had to learn effective retargeting through trial and error. To help companies that are considering dipping their toes into the retargeting pool, we’d like to share five lessons we learned along the way.

1. Choose a Platform with the Level of Control You Need

The first step is to select a retargeting platform. There are several vendors to choose from, and, as usual, each has its strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.

Retargeting platforms are broadly classified into two groups:

  1. Managed platforms are ideal for retargeting newcomers who are unlikely to roll up their sleeves and dig into the minutia of managing a retargeting campaign. Managed platform providers will help you run your retargeting campaigns based on the target metrics and settings you specify. These platforms offer account managers and automated optimization tools that help build and tweak campaigns to maximize performance.
  2. Self-service platforms are best-suited for Internet advertisers who want control over things such as detailed audience segmentation, ad spend and reporting capabilities (e.g., custom tracking parameters to draw data into your in-house reporting system). These platforms require more attention to detail and effort on your part, but give you more control over results.

We’ve worked with five of the leading retargeting vendors. Below, we break down what we liked about the platform and the limitations we encountered.

VendorWhat We LikedLimitations Encountered
Google AdWords RemarketingGoogle provides some of the most granular audience segmentation, allowing you to segment by pages viewed and then target each audience with unique offers. You can get better control of where on a page your ad appears by managing your cost per click (CPC) settings. And you can use exclusions to keep your ad from appearing on sites you don’t want to target. Bonus: your data feeds directly into Google Analytics.You only have access to Google’s DoubleClick ad network. While this is the largest ad network out there (accounting for more than 29 percent of the total online ad-serving market share), you may miss out on opportunities to bid on ad placement for websites that don’t use the DoubleClick network, such as Facebook.
ReTargeterAs a managed platform, ReTargeter provides a dedicated Account Manager to every account--regardless of ad spend. This is useful for companies that are new to retargeting and need help getting things started. They also work across multiple ad networks.Retargeter was the first platform (outside of Google) we tried. While our ad copy, offers and landing pages have evolved quite a bit since then, we failed to get any ROI from the program. We might do better today, but we're hesitant to give up the granular control we enjoy from self-service platforms to perform another test.
AdRollAdRoll runs your ads on most of the ad networks--including DoubleClick--and provides a user-friendly interface. The AdRoll interface makes it easy to segment your audience, upload ads and add unique URLs with tracking. It also allows for quick campaign analysis by providing key metrics such as click-through rate, number of impressions, and your weekly budget constraints front and center in their dashboard view.We haven’t experienced too many difficulties with AdRoll and we continue to use the service. We have fairly granular control over our campaign settings and the network has the broad reach we need to expand beyond Google’s DoubleClick network. That said, our CPCs are a little higher because AdRoll has to bid into ad networks it doesn’t own, so our campaign margins are lower compared to Google.
FetchBackFetchBack promises above the fold ad placement (at a slightly higher CPM) so users are more likely to see your ad than if the impression was below the fold. FetchBack also has a unique capability to dynamically create banner ads to show a visitor based on the pages and content they viewed.We found FetchBack's audience segmentation approach, which is based on a keyword in your URL string rather than the URL itself, difficult to work with relative to other services. We also felt the setup process was inefficient because we had to email back and forth with reps to upload campaigns, set up tracking and adjust other campaign settings.
Perfect AudienceWe’ve found Perfect Audience fairly easy to use and they are one of the few retargeting platforms with access to Facebook’s ad network. Since there aren’t many companies using this strategy yet, CPCs and CPMs are still very low compared to other networks.We are just beginning to test Perfect Audience so our feedback is limited. If you haven’t built any ads for social media retargeting, you’ll have to do so. We had to create new Facebook-friendly ads to use with Perfect Audience but we’ve found that it’s worth the effort as the same ads work for other social media retargeting.

2. Focus on Campaigns Settings to Dial in Returns

After picking a vendor, you need to set several targeting parameters. Among other things, you need to decide where (geographically) you want to run your ads, at what time they’ll run, how long they’ll run, and how often visitors see the ad. Here are some tips on each consideration.

  • Audience geography. You should always double-check your audience geography settings because many vendors default to displaying your ads internationally. We neglected this area with two vendors early on and had to contact our account manager to turn off the international setting. Fortunately we caught the mistake, but we wasted ad spend on clicks we couldn’t monetize.
  • Day and time. Our sales team leaves the office at 6:00 PM every day and doesn’t work weekends. So, we pause our accounts during off hours because we know we have less success with conversions at these times. To determine the best time to run your ads, evaluate conversion rates and return on investment (ROI) by day of week and time of day.
  • Cookie duration. You should align your retargeting efforts with your buying cycle to limit the cookie duration of your ad. For instance, interest in planning a vacation wanes quickly, so a travel site might limit their cookie duration to five days. But an enterprise software purchase will play out over several months, so the vendor might retarget a visitor for 60 days. The default setting for most retargeting platforms is 30-90 days, so be sure to adjust the cookie duration to match your sales cycle.
  • Number of impressions per visitor per day. Buyers get tired of seeing your ads everywhere they go on the Web. To limit ad fatigue, we restrict the number of times a visitor sees our ads to no more than 10 impressions per day. The number of impressions you serve each visitor is influenced by your buying cycle. Longer buying cycles, for instance, will likely require impressions to come at less frequent intervals because you’ll just want to stay top of mind through the buying process without annoying the user.
  • Offer rotation. In addition to limiting the number of impressions per visitor per day, you want to rotate the ads you serve each visitor. They may not be interested in that whitepaper offer, but they do want a free trial. This allows you test different creative content while also limiting the chance of ad fatigue setting in with the user.

3. Segment Your Audience Into Targeted Pools

All visitors are not the same. So, you shouldn’t show every visitor the same offer and ad copy after they’ve left your site.

To segment your audience, you first need to divide your website into areas of interest. One logical segmentation would be to organize your website by industry (vertical market). Another might be to segment based on the products you offer. In either case, you’ll build a profile of your visitors by tracking which URLs they visited (e.g.

Using this method, you could offer a large financial services firm a different ad than you would a municipal utility. Or present offers for the product the visitor reviewed while on your site. Of course, the success of your retargeting efforts will depend on having a clearly defined website architecture, but you can evolve that over time to create more granular and targeted URLs.

4. Test at Least Four Offers in a Disciplined Way

We all know it’s about putting the right offer, in front of the right people, at the right time. To determine which ad best speaks to our target audience, we test at least four offers. Although ads are fairly small, there is a lot that you can change to test ads, such as:

  • Ad headline
  • Ad copy
  • Background color
  • Images
  • Ad size
  • Calls to action

At Software Advice, we’ve focused most of our testing around adjusting headlines, main body text and the image. You can see the impact these adjustments can have on click-through (CTR) and conversion rates.

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We run our ads for three months so we can achieve statistical significance in our tests. While the timeframe will vary for your industry, we believe you need 500-1,000 clicks (or 50-100 conversions) on any ad in order to gather enough data about its effectiveness.

When working on a limited budget, we recommend testing in your largest segment first so you can quickly achieve statistical significance and then roll it out to your smaller markets only if it performs. As you’re conducting these tests, it’s important rotate your ads because you’ll quickly encounter diminishing returns if you oversaturate visitors. If the target has not clicked on an ad after 5-10 impressions, change the ad and see what happens.

5. Be Aware of Attribution Conflicts

As you test and tweak your site retargeting campaigns, it’s important to remember that it can be difficult to properly attribute your retargeting efforts. For instance, how do you attribute a conversion from a visitor who originally found your website via a PPC campaign, bounced, and then later converted from a retargeting ad? Or what about a view through conversion, where someone converts on your site because they saw your ad but they didn’t click on it?

This problem is as old as advertising itself and there is no definitive solution. However, we give 100 percent attribution to our retargeting campaign if the conversion resulted from a click on a retargeting pixel.

While this post doesn’t cover every aspect of retargeting, it should help get you started on the right path–and save you time and money in the process. If you have any tips to offer others, please leave us a note in the comment section below.

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Derek Singleton

About the Author

Derek Singleton joined Software Advice after graduating from Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. At Software Advice, he manages content related to the CRM software market and reports on business-to-business (B2B) marketing technologies, topics and trends.

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