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What Is Retargeting Advertising And How Does It Work?

Wouldn’t marketing be a breeze if every visitor to your website followed the same orderly path through to a purchase? They click where you want them to click, fill in the form you want them to fill in, download and read the document you want them to read, and then they decide to give your business…

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Wouldn’t marketing be a breeze if every visitor to your website followed the same orderly path through to a purchase? They click where you want them to click, fill in the form you want them to fill in, download and read the document you want them to read, and then they decide to give your business a call. Your sales team does the rest. Done!

Unfortunately, the journey your potential customers tend to take is not so linear. It’s far more likely that they’ll click through to your website from an advert – or a Google search if your SEO game is strong – and poke around for a bit before deciding to leave. They probably won’t interact with the form you thoughtfully put there, and if they make a purchase at all it’ll probably be a couple of months down the line when something reminds them to pick up the item they were going to buy – and they’re just as likely to go to a competitor.

What is a retargeting ad?

The truth is, consumers just aren’t that predictable. As marketers we have access to all kinds of user data and behavioural analytics that we like to think give us the edge, but online prospects are an elusive bunch. For a small impulse buy, perhaps it’s more about your businesses being in the right place at the right time, but for anything approaching a more considered purchase, consumers need time. Retargeting ads are what businesses use to fill that time and subtly keep themselves on a consumer’s radar while they mull things over.

Unlike normal banner ads that you pay for on certain prime internet real estate, retargeting ads are specifically served to people who have already had some kind of interaction with your website or are an active lead in your database. Ever left an item in your Amazon shopping basket and then noticed Amazon ads for that item all over the internet, all the while wondering what a crazy coincidence that was? That’s one form of retargeting in action, and here are the things you need to know about it.

How do retargeting campaigns work?

There are two types of retargeting: list-based and pixel-based. Most businesses will be more familiar with the latter, but for the purposes of this article (and to give you a nice, full picture) we’ll look at both.

Pixel-based retargeting

Pixel-based retargeting is what most of us experience on a day to day basis when browsing the web. Simply put, it’s a way for businesses to re-display their content to users who have already visited their site. When someone lands on your website, a very subtle piece of code is placed in their browser (also known as a ‘cookie’ or pixel). When they leave your site and browse elsewhere, that piece of code tells advertising platforms to surface specific ads based on their experience with your site (such as the Amazon shopping basket example above).

The advantages? For one, the surfaced ads are quick and will start appearing immediately after a visitor has left your site.  So if they go searching for competitors there’s a good chance your business will still be advertised along the way.  Another advantage of pixel-based retargeting is specificityThese ads can be tailored to speak directly to a visitor’s experience of your site, taking into account the pages they visited or the products/services they engaged with.

Now for the disadvantages. The main downside is volume; only those who have visited your site and taken certain actions can be targeted with adverts. This means that your campaign is likely to be smaller, and it puts pressure on your website and SEO efforts to generate traffic in the first place. Another potential negative of pixel-based retargeting is that implementing the code onto website pages can be complicated, and having to serve cookie notices to visitors can be intrusive.

List-based retargeting

List-based retargeting is less popular but still highly effective if adopted by the right kind of business. It uses an already populated contact database to find its audience, which means you’ve got to have a decent sized list of email addresses to make it work. You then upload your list of email addresses to a retargeting campaign platform (the likes of Facebook and Twitter are very popular), and the platform will then identify those users on their network and display ads exclusively to them.

The upside? You’ll be able to target massive volumes of people if your database is big enough and you’ll be able to choose which email address goes on which list. If you’re a big company with a lot of user data then you could devise highly customised campaigns and optimise them over time.

I guess the problem with list-based retargeting is that it only works if you’ve got reams of data at your disposal, and even if you’ve got that there are other issues to content with. For example, it’s extremely common for users to give your business one email address and use a completely different one for their social media accounts. In fact, MediaMath did some analysis on this a couple of years back and found that match rates for email addresses can be as low as 20% on some platforms – that means 80% of your data is effectively being wasted.

Is retargeting for you?

Retargeting is a fantastic way to keep potential leads engaged. If you’re selling a product or offering a service that is of high value and regarded as a ‘considered’ purchase (i.e. something you’d want to research and think about before getting out the credit card) then retargeting can help keep your brand at the forefront of a prospect’s mind while they mull things over. It’s also a good way to stir up repeat business if you’ve got a good database of contacts and want to ‘remind’ them to buy again or introduce them to new, similar product lines.

Either way, make sure you have a solid campaign strategy in place before you get down to designing adverts and writing ad copy. With the right processes and resources in place, retargeting can pay dividends.

Does your business run any retargeting campaigns? If not, what are your main concerns?

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