What is retargeting?
Your definitive guide.


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The latest numbers show that only 4% of site visitors end up making a purchase. This leaves marketers with a very pressing problem: How do you convert the 96% who left without buying? Retargeting. Retargeting is a strategic way to remind shoppers of their initial interest and bring them back to complete their purchase. Let’s take a closer look.

What is retargeting?

A shopper, let’s call her Kim, browses products on your website from her laptop. She views several items, but leaves without putting anything in the cart . A few days later, Kim is on her mobile device and sees an ad for a product she viewed, plus some other related items she hadn’t seen before. She’s reminded of your brand, intrigued by the ad, and returns to make a purchase. This is retargeting in action.

dynamic retargeting can reach the 96% who left without buying

Basic vs. Advanced Retargeting:

Basic retargeting engages the customer throughout the purchasing journey by showing ads for the product they most recently viewed. Advanced retargeting programs take it several steps further by:

  • Delivering dynamic, personalized ads based on the items your shoppers like. These can include items that a shopper may not have even looked at, but that are predicted to drive a purchase by sophisticated product recommendation technology.
  • Unifying the omnichannel shopping journey with identity matching, so you can connect across devices and environments as they shop your store and browse elsewhere.
  • Personalizing each ad with dynamic creative optimization, which understands which combination of ad layout, colors, and CTA will most resonate with each shopper.
  • Predicting when a shopper is most likely to convert and serving ads only at these high value touch points, further maximizing ROI.

What’s the difference between static and dynamic retargeting?

Static retargeting involves creating a set group of ads to be served depending on which pages of your site someone visited.

Say you developed a marketing campaign around an eBook. You create four ads that direct people to the eBook. Each one is triggered when a visitor browses a specific product page or article on your site. One ad may target people who looked at the product, while another may appeal to those who read articles about a topic similar to that of your eBook.

Static retargeting is best for B2B companies. It’s also a good strategy for when you want to target a certain type of audience, but not a specific individual, or when you only want to promote one specific product or offer.

Dynamic retargeting creates custom ads for each shopper. It requires more sophisticated technology, including machine learning, to analyze shopper behaviors, tailor the ad based on individual preferences, and determine when to serve the ad to maximize the likelihood of conversion.

If you’re in the B2C commerce business, and have a large product catalog, and a large customer base, dynamic retargeting is for you. The variables involved in a successful retargeting ad are simply too great to do manually, and the ROI of delivering personalized ads is too great to pass up. In fact, 88% of U.S. marketers reported seeing measurable improvements due to personalization — with more than half reporting a lift greater than 10%. (Evergage)

static vs. dynamic retargeting

Why use retargeting?

Besides addressing the 96% problem, retargeting is an effective strategy for several reasons.

  1. It’s a smart way to convert an already interested shopper. Whether they were just visiting your site, or actually put an item in the cart, these are people who have shown an interest in your products. Which means the effort it will take to win them over is much less than someone who’s never been to your site before. A smart retargeting solution can help you reach these shoppers at the right time, with the right product for maximum sales and profits.
  2. It reinforces and reminds. Shoppers need to be exposed to an ad several times before they’ll buy something. Especially today, where there are so many twists and turns and distractions along the path to purchase. Retargeting provides a gentle reminder of that shirt, or pair of shoes that a shopper was browsing, and reignites their desire to buy.
  3. It’s a cross-device, omnichannel solution. Shoppers move across screens with ease – to meet them, advertisers need to be able to do the same. Some retargeters can match a shopper across desktop, mobile, and apps, allowing you to reach them with a consistent message and experience wherever they are. Some can even use offline data to inform the retargeting program, like stopping ads because a shopper bought the product at a physical store.

It’s cost-effective, with a proven ROI. Retargeting is highly profitable, especially when run according to best practices. Personalized ads, served at the right time, deliver maximum engagement. And with CPC-based pricing (offered by some retargeting providers), you only pay when someone clicks, so your budget goes further.

How much does retargeting cost?

The actual cost of a retargeting campaign depends on the cost of each ad placement and, of course, on the budget you allocate. The value you get depends on the pricing model being offered and your specific goals.

Typcially, retargeting campaigns are offered on a CPM or CPC cost basis:

  • CPM = Cost per “mille,” or 1,000 impressions
  • CPC = Cost per click

CPM is best when your goal is awareness, as you pay for impressions, but aren’t guaranteed any clicks. Many times, you pay for an impression that’s at the bottom of the page and isn’t even seen. Not an ideal model for driving sales.

CPC means that you only pay when someone clicks. And someone who clicks is likely very interested in the offer. When you have a specific performance goal, like increasing revenue, CPC is the model of choice.

Retargeting vs remarketing – what’s the difference?

Retargeting and remarketing are sometimes used interchangeably, but in most marketing circles, they are not the same thing. Retargeting and remarketing are both strategies to convert a site visitor who hasn’t yet bought anything. It’s the method of outreach that’s different.

  • Retargeting attempts to bring visitors back to buy via display or native ads on other sites or apps.
  • Remarketing tries to do the same, but via email. Examples include a cart abandonment email, reminding shoppers of an item still waiting in a cart, or an upsell/cross-sell email pushing other products based on what browsing history.

What are some dynamic retargeting best practices?

  1. Use a technology that deeply understands your site visitors. Having access to a massive amount of shopper data that can adapt in real-time to constantly changing behaviors and interests is crucial for driving performance at scale. This requires a powerful technology that can do just that, aligning with your objectives and driving growth for your business over time.
  2. Show only the most relevant products. It’s important for you to go beyond showing shoppers the last product that they viewed on site, or even the top converting products. In order to inspire them to engage with your brand, you need a proven product recommendation technology that’s able to predict which products they would be most interested in buying – even if they haven’t viewed them on your site.
  3. Reach shoppers when and where they are most likely to convert. Having the ability to predict in real-time when a shopper is most likely to convert, and reach them at that moment requires both a powerful predictive technology and access to the best and broadest inventory – including app and video inventory.

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