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Retargeting Potential Customers with Advertisements: Why Should You Do It?

This blog post is inspired by the January DFWSEM meeting on retargeting with speakers Shelley Ellis and James Moore.

Before we answer the question in the headline, you probably want to know what, exactly, is retargeting? To put it simply, it is online search’s second chance. When users visit your site, they get cookied or identified with a specific piece of code. If you are running a retargeting campaign, you can use those cookies to show them ads relevant to your marketing initiatives if they leave your site without making a purchase or other conversion decision.

For example, Susie comes to your site and looks at several products in the same category: shoes. You have created a cookie that will tag her as interested in shoes. Susie leaves your site without buying anything and continues to surf the Internet. Your retargeting plan triggers that cookie when she lands on websites with advertisements served by the ad network you’ve chosen for retargeting. The network then shows Susie ads relevant to shoes and your brand on those other sites.

A light bulb should have gone off in your head at the end of that last sentence. There are some serious benefits to retargeting. As a marketer, you can tag users who have been to your site and remind them of your brand. With an effective retargeting campaign, you will see increased brand recognition and a lower cost per conversion since you are targeting users who you have are already qualified.

Retargeting is something that every ecommerce site should do, though there are some common errors to avoid. The first think you should avoid is showing ads to customers on every other site they visit. Like James Moore said at DFWSEM, “There is a fine line between creepy and magical.” You want to make sure that you have enough reach, but also that you are not showing up on every page. Susie is not going to be happy if she sees your ads for the next 30 days after she has been to the site. Frequency capping allows you to avoid the error.

Case in point:

Also consider how long you set your cookies. Google automatically will set them to last for 30 days. However, they should be the length of your sales cycle. As Moore said, “It is a continuation of a sales conversation,” – so keep it going until the conversation is finished.

It is important to have clear objectives when you are starting a retargeting campaign and to stay away from tagging all users that come to the site. Through the use of cookies, marketers can segment their users and target specific users with specific ads that will help them convert by being more accurate.

Don’t forget about your keywords. With an accurate keyword list, your retargeting vendors can discover the reach you can achieve with your budget. That allows you to set expectations and scale accordingly. You can then graduate to keyword recency data and see the correlation between search times and when customers converted. This will make your data more valuable for when you want to target that user in the future.

To sum up it all up more simply: keywords + recency + message + optimization will create an effective retargeting campaign that will act as a second chance to get a customers’ money through search.

About Jenneva Vargas


  1. Good article Jenneva! It’s also interesting to note the differences between search retargeting and display retargeting and the opportunities for businesses to use each. If you ever have any questions about display retargeting specifically feel free to reach out to me. I work at FetchBack (

  2. Jenneva — this is a great intro to retargeting! I love the quote you used from James Moore’s talk: “There is a fine line between creepy and magical.” I think that’s a great mantra to keep in mind while launching retargeting campaign. Frequency caps are a must to avoid the potential creepiness of retargeting, but another safeguard is the use of conversion and burn pixels.

    Adding a conversion and a burn pixel means that you stop retargeting users who take the desired action. Piggybacking on the ecommerce example you use, let’s say that after seeing retargeted ads for two weeks, Susie buys a pair of boots. Your retargeting provider sees the conversion pixel and ends the campaign. Depending on your goals, you might want to show Suzie a new set of ads featuring referral offers (refer a friend, get 30% off), simple branding ads, or no ads at all. Whatever you decide, you can bet that after her purchase, Suzie won’t want to continue seeing ads for boots all over the web.

    (Full disclosure, I work for a company called ReTargeter that specializes in retargeting).

    • It’s a great point. Another idea would be to target customers vs. non-customers *cough* @seomoz *cough* i have SEOmoz’s banners follow me everywhere, but i’ve already taken action and signed up to pay them monthly. Now what? that cookie/pixel/stalker-bot that you put on my machine should be able to tell that i’ve logged in as Paid vs. Unpaid and either dont serve me retargeted ads or serve me ads informing me of things i can now do with what i purchased.

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