Retargeting: For the Performance Driven Marketer

What is retargeting?

Retargeting is a method of paid advertising which involves putting your ads in front of people who have visited your website in the past. Retargeting keeps your brand in front of your potential customers after they have left your website, with the aim of inducing them to convert when the time is right.

The purchase journey for your customers is complex. You should expect that they’ll research several businesses, across different platforms (social media, website, Google listing, etc.).

So, what do you do to get those website visitors back to your site to take the desired action?


What retargeting does is that it allows you, through social media channels and search engines to remind prospective customers who have already shown interest, that they wanted to solve a problem and that your product offers the best solution.

Here’s how it looks from a consumer’s perspective:

Few weeks ago, I was checking out at a pair of leather shoes online, they were so nice that I sent the link to my cousin. Some days later, he messaged me saying that he had been seeing ads for leather shoes everywhere he went online.

Guess what? they were following me around too!

In this article, we’ll be looking at the following concepts to fully understand retargeting:

  • How retargeting works
  • Why retargeting is important to you as a marketer
  • The difference between retargeting and remarketing
  • Obtaining data for retargeting
  • Goals for retargeting campaigns
  • Setting up retargeting campaigns; Google & Facebook
  • Components of optimized retargeting ads
  • Common retargeting mistakes to avoid

How retargeting works:

A small piece of code is inserted to the website (or landing page) controlled by either the marketer or publisher, which places a cookie in each visitor’s browser, that adds them to an audience list. That audience can then be retargeted with a special campaign aimed solely at them.

Why retargeting is important to you as a marketer

According to Marketo, about 96% of visitors coming to your site are not ready to buy.

What does this mean?

Since the buyer’s journey is complex, retargeting is super important. Retargeting is the most effective way to get prospective costumers back to your site and give them that soft push in the direction of a purchase.

There are other reasons why retargeting is so powerful, especially for performance-driven marketers:

1. Another Chance to Convert A Visitor

Retargeting targets visitors that have already been exposed to your brand and very likely your product or service. As a result, these visitors are more qualified and likely to be converted by continued marketing.

If majority of your traffic comprises of one-time visitors, organic or paid, that would have otherwise gotten away, retargeting allows you to continue marketing to those visitors to get them back into the conversion funnel.

2. Helps in Capturing Audience Data

If you already have a regular supply of organic visitors coming to your site, you should leverage that traffic into your own retargeting list. This is especially useful if most of your traffic is made up of one-time visitors that would have otherwise gotten away. Retargeting complements SEM and SEO efforts perfectly.

Also, any ad campaign that you have running is a chance to build an audience, so placing a retargeting pixel on your landing pages is only natural. By building an audience in addition to your primary campaign, you get to create an asset from your ad spend, much like a mailing list. This is a great way for marketers to derive long-term value from their campaign budgets.

3. Creating a Grand Illusion

It’s not unusual for people to believe that you’re running an ad campaign worth hundreds of millions in Naira when they see your ads on most of the sites they visit not knowing its retargeting at play. This is great for building trust with prospects and building an identifiable brand.

It is very important to understand that retargeting is way more than just a performance or conversion-focused tactic. Retargeting plays a major role in building brand awareness among your target audience, even if the end-result isn’t a short-term direct conversion.

4. Great Campaign Performance

A retargeting campaign, which only purchases impressions for individual users, means a cost-effective campaign. From a marketer’s viewpoint, this can translate into high ROI.

Also, because of the higher level of targeting, engagement is also typically higher. It’s not unusual to see astounding CTRs with retargeting, anywhere from 0.30-0.95% – which is 3-10x higher than the industry average. In some instances, they are even higher. In display advertising, where you pay by impression, having a high CTR like this makes all the difference.

5. Up-Sell, Cross-Sell or Onboard Converted Visitors

By placing a retargeting pixel on conversion or “thank you” pages, you can build an audience list of high-worth users. If they’ve purchased before and you have another compelling offer, there is a good chance they will purchase again.

Audience lists of converted users are usually excluded from continued and unnecessary marketing (it wastes ad spend and drives negative sentiment). But when used in creative ways like onboarding new users or offering complementary products and services, you can have more value extracted from your retargeting campaigns. 

The difference between remarketing and retargeting

Retargeting describes the online display ads which are shown to visitors who came to your website but left without acting. This type of marketing is done using tracking pixels or cookies that follow the user around after they must have left your website.

Remarketing on the other hand, refers to reaching out to lost visitors through email i.e. you need visitors’ email addresses.

Why then are both terms used interchangeably?

Google AdWords defines remarketing in this way;

Remarketing lets you show ads to people who’ve visited your website or used your mobile app. When people leave your website without buying anything, for example, remarketing helps you reconnect with them by showing relevant ads across their different devices.”

Google basically classifies retargeting display ads and remarketing emails under the single term “remarketing” and most marketers follow the same definition.

Obtaining Data for Retargeting

The following methods can be used to collect audience data for your retargeting campaigns:

1. Retargeting pixel

This is the most frequently used form of audience collection. It uses a JavaScript code (pixel) that you put on your website or landing page. After the pixel is attached, each time a visitor arrives at your website or landing page, the pixel drops an anonymous browser cookie in the browser of the visitor.

When the visitor then leaves your page and browses other websites, the pixel lets your provider e.g. Google AdWords or Facebook understand that these visitors should to start seeing your ads.

This method of retargeting ensures that your ads are seen by those who’ve either looked through your website or clicked through to your landing page. Another advantage with pixel-based retargeting is that it starts instantaneously, visitors can immediately begin seeing ads that can convince them to back to your offer.

2. Retargeting lists

With retargeting lists, you use lists of your existing customers or visitors who have previously provided you with their email address and show specific ads to them. You might want your blog subscribers to download a case-study whose pop-up ad they have been ignoring on your homepage, or you might want free trial users on your site to upgrade to a paid plan. Both instances are ideal for retargeting campaigns.

All you need to get started off with list-based retargeting is to upload your list of email contacts to the retargeting platform of your choice, and your audience should start seeing your ads as they browse through the web. You may also send your audience personalized emails to persuade them to revisit the offer they showed interest in.

Goals for retargeting campaigns:

There are two major goals to set for retargeting campaigns:

  1. Awareness: Awareness campaigns are used to inform visitors about your product features and other announcements. This is a less targeted campaign as it is directed at visitors who haven’t interacted so much with your business. You can run awareness campaigns to precede your conversion campaigns.
  2. Conversion: Conversion campaigns are used for visitors who are more familiar with your brand and its products or services but haven’t committed to an offer, so what you want is for them to click on the ad, direct them to a landing page, and convince them to convert.

Setting up retargeting campaigns; Google & Facebook


Use these steps to successfully set up your retargeting campaign in Google AdWords:

  1. Sign-in to your AdWords account.
  2. Click the ‘Shared Library’ option.
  3. Click ‘Audiences’.
  4. Click ‘Set-up Remarketing’.
  5. Click ‘View AdWords Tag for websites’.
  6. Select and copy the provided remarketing tag code. The tag will work for both mobile and desktop websites.
  7. Place the tag code at the bottom of the website pages you want to use for your campaign.
  8. Save and publish your page.
  9. Use ‘Google Tag Assist’ to check if your tag is working properly
  10. Click ‘Continue’
  11. Click ‘Return to Audiences’

A typical Google AdWords retargeting ad looks like this:

In a couple of days, the tag will begin collecting the cookies of your website visitors, and the ‘All Visitors’ list in your account will begin to fill up.

Google AdWords retargeting allows you to create customized lists, run tests like; frequency cap testing, custom combination testing, ad testing, and bid tests. It also offers the following types of retargeting campaigns:

  1. Standard Remarketing: shows your ads to past visitors as they visit Display Network websites and use Display Network applications.
  2. Dynamic Remarketing: ads shown to visitors include specific products or services that they browsed through on your website.
  3. Remarketing for Mobile Apps: Shows your ads to visitors who have either used your mobile app or mobile website.
  4. Remarketing Lists for ads: Shows your ads to visitors as they do follow-up searches for what they need on Google.
  5. Video Remarketing: Shows your ads to visitors who have opened your YouTube videos.
  6. Email List Remarketing: Upload a list of your customers’ email addresses, when these visitors browse through different websites, they will see your display ads.

Note that when you choose to run your retargeting campaigns through Google, your ads will get the most exposure across the internet as they have the most expansive network.


To run a Facebook retargeting campaign, you need to have a Facebook account for Business ads. When you’re finished with the account setup, go to the Audiences section in the Facebook Ads Manager, select the “Custom Audiences” option for retargeting as this will allow you to reach out to visitors with relevant ads who have previously been on your website.

From the “Custom Audiences” list, select the “Website Traffic” option, this lets you create a list of people who have visited your website or viewed specific web pages. Now select the audience you want to target your retargeting ads to from the drop-down menu in the “Website Traffic” tab.

These are the audience options given:

  1. Anyone who visits your website
  2. People who visit specific pages
  3. People visiting specific pages but not others
  4. People who haven’t visited in a certain amount of time
  5. Custom combination

Once you select the audience options, Facebook gives you their pixel tracking code that gets placed on the website to track visitors who land on your website.

A typical Facebook retargeting ad looks like this:

Facebook retargeting allows you to optimize ads based on the data that you gather from your campaigns and track conversions on your Facebook ads so that you can create better ads in the future.

The major advantage of using the Facebook Pixel for your retargeting campaigns is that it is also possible to serve retargeting ads to your visitors on Instagram.

When your campaign has been set up and audience segments selected, all you need now is to create the retargeting ad. However, just creating a retargeting ad won’t bring back visitors, you need to optimize the ads to persuade online users to click and return to your page.

Components of optimized retargeting ads

Retargeting campaigns typically consist of display ads that use images, video, and rich media to engage audiences, so you’ll want to ensure the image and copy are appropriate for the product feature or offer you want to grab the visitor’s attention with.

It is advisable to create different display ads for each retargeting audience segment, this helps you create laser targeted ads that appeal to the visitor you’re trying to get back.

An optimized retargeting ad has these elements:

  1. An engaging headline: Your ad should have a headline relevant to the visitors’ experience on your site, it should be written in a way that grabs their attention.
  2. Relevant, visually appealing media: You may add an animation or a still image on your display ad, however the chosen media should be relevant to the offer showcased in the ad copy.
  3. A click-worthy CTA button: Your CTA button should be designed in a contrasting color and have actionable, personalized copy on it. (e.g. “Watch Demo”)
  4. Actionable copy: Display ads are not meant for lots of copy and you have limited characters to explain the offer. Your ad copy should get to the point quickly and offer visitors an incentive to click, this will likely produce more clicks.

Common retargeting mistakes


Retargeting as straightforward forward as it may seem is often characterized by some common mistakes by marketers. They are as follows;

  1. Not taking the time to segment and customize the ad experience: Retargeting is highly effective when it is timely and highly relevant to each individual consumer. All part of the experience, from the ad copy and the ad creative all the way down to the landing page experience should closely match the consumer intent.
  2. Using ads that mimic the design of your website: You need to make unique ads for your segmentations, make them stand out so viewers don’t get tired of the same design from your website.
  3. Focusing too much of their efforts on your retargeting campaigns: Retargeting can exhaust your existing traffic. When you start to see your retargeting campaigns slow down, increase your prospecting campaigns so you can get more traffic to your site and by so doing, see a higher return on your retargeting efforts.

Finally, retargeting provides incredible opportunities to target the exact customer you want by giving you another chance to display your brand and message to users who have already shown interest. It will be a waste if you direct visitors to a page that won’t get you immediate conversions for a specific offer e.g. a cluttered homepage. To get the most out of your campaigns, create optimized retargeting ads and connect them to dedicated landing pages.

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