Anne Fleshman, Director of Marketing - Demand Generation at Autopilot

Lesson 5: Boost Low-Cost Acquisition with Ad Retargeting

98% of your website visitors take zero action on their first visit. You get them to come back by retargeting.

Retargeted visitors are nearly 70% more likely to make a purchase than those who are not retargeted. It’s no wonder companies are investing in retargeting ad strategies to get visitors back to their websites and improve conversion rates.

In this lesson, you’ll learn:

Retargeting ad examples from around the web

What is ad retargeting?

Have you ever visited a website then noticed a bunch of ads following you around all over the internet? Put simply–retargeting is an advertising method that displays ads to users who have previously visited your site while they are browsing other sites. Unlike traditional banner ads which are intended to attract new traffic, retargeting ads are designed to re-target known website visitors or contacts in your marketing database (like leads or customers) with a personalized call to action.

Retargeting ads get a 10x higher clickthrough rate than regular display ads.

Marketers use these ads to draw people who haven’t taken conversion actions back to their website, things like making a purchase, filling out a lead form, opting-in to a newsletter or signing up for a free trial are common conversion goals.

The data shows retargeting ads get a 10x higher clickthrough rate than regular display ads and can dramatically decrease customer acquisition costs. Why? Because visitors who’ve stopped by your website before are a highly targeted audience. They have already been exposed to your brand and are more likely to trust you.

Remember the marketing adage “Rule of 7”? It says that someone needs to be exposed to your marketing message at least seven times before taking action. Now the number seven is debatable, but the idea of effective frequency of messages holds true: Messages are more effective when repeated. Not only is your audience more likely to remember a repeated message, they are more likely to believe it and understand it as the popular opinion.

Enter ad retargeting.

How does it work?

Getting your website set up for retargeting is easy. Whichever tool you use for retargeting will provide a piece of Javascript to place on all pages of your website. When someone visits your site, this code drops a browser cookie that tells your advertiser to serve them relevant ads around the Internet (see examples here).


Sometimes your retargeting tool will provide a second script to place on the page following a successful conversion–for instance, a confirmation page that says, “Thanks for your order!” Other solutions will allow you to create conversion rules based on defined criteria like viewed at least three pages or visited a success page URL which contains “/thankyou”.

The next part of this lesson will cover the best tools available to succeed with ad retargeting.

How to pick your retargeting tools

Let’s review the top retargeting tools available, which fall into two camps:

  • Managed retargeting tools–best-suited for beginners want to get started quickly or take a more hands-off approach. They often come hand-in-hand with account managers and automated optimization features to help you maximize campaign performance and reach your target goals without much legwork.
  • Self-service tools–ideal for experienced advertisers who want more minute control over campaign details, such as audience segmentation, bidding strategy, or ad placements. These tools require more time and energy to manage effectively, but give you the flexibility to drastically influence results.

Managed retargeting tools


A frontrunner in the retargeting space, AdRoll provides a clear, easy-to-use interface to set up and manage your retargeting campaigns. It’ll launch display, Facebook, and Twitter ads on both desktop and mobile, with access to over 500 ad exchanges including DoubleClick. AdRoll has recently expanded its product suite with Prospecting and Sendroll. Prospecting displays ads to potential new customers on the sites your visitors go to before and after they convert, while SendRoll delivers personalized emails triggered by browsing behavior on your site. Although spendier than other managed retargeting tools, AdRoll’s experienced team and real-time bidding algorithm make it a foolproof bet.

retargeter-retargeting-adsReTargeter caters to companies with traffic volumes greater than 40,000 visitors per month. Every ReTargeter account comes with a dedicated account manager or operations specialist to set up, monitor and optimize your campaign–making it a great choice for advertisers who are new to retargeting. The tool works across multiple ad networks with display, search and Facebook retargeting options.

perfectaudience-retargeting-adsPerfect Audience makes it simple to launch retargeting ad campaigns on Google and Facebook in a matter of minutes. This tool has features built specifically for e-commerce stores who want to run retargeting ads for shopping cart abandonment and a unique ability to retarget recipients who open your emails.

These are all excellent options for getting started with ad retargeting. In a nutshell, if you do lots of email marketing and want a super simple solution, go for Perfect Audience. If you need guidance from an expert and have large traffic volumes, try Retargeter. For the no-fuss, reliable option, use Adroll.

Self-service retargeting tools

google-adwords-retargeting-adsGoogle Adwords uses the term “remarketing” to describe their retargeting. It allows for detailed control over audience segmentation, bids, placement, other campaign settings and automated rules. You can run banner, search, dynamic and even video remarketing ads through Google’s ad network, DoubleClick.

facebook-retargeting-adsWith over 1.4 billion users and the majority of those users logging in daily, Facebook can be one of the most powerful channels for your retargeting efforts. Not only does it have a vast and active user base, Facebook has a wealth of user data like location, age, job titles and interests that can help you narrow your retargeting to an even more precise audience. While you can run Facebook ads using a managed platform like Adroll, using Facebook’s Ad Manager directly gives you more granularity and flexibility when it comes to audience, placements, budget, and creative–namely video ads, carousel ads, Instagram ads, and access to Facebook’s Audience Network.


In the same vein as Facebook, Twitter retargeting gives you access to an active audience base, though not as large (305 million users). Twitter users have a higher tendency to follow and respond to brands more so than any other platform, especially for those in SaaS and startup companies. They allow you to retarget audiences using tweets, lead generation cards and videos.

While you don’t have to use self-service retargeting tools, they can pair nicely to reach a larger audience when launched in conjunction with a managed retargeting tool such as AdRoll. If you’re comfortable with the Google Adwords interface, adding remarketing audiences to your display campaigns is a cinch. If managed tools aren’t giving you enough control or visibility over performance on Facebook, try using Facebook Ads Manager directly. If you have an existing community on Twitter or know that your audience is active there, give Twitter retargeting a shot!

Now that you’re armed with the right tools to launch your retargeting campaigns, the next part of this lesson will share what successful companies are doing to quickly (and cheaply) acquire new leads and repeat customers with retargeting.

Retargeting ad examples – what works (and what doesn’t)

In this section, we’ll explore examples from companies who have been successful with ad retargeting—and share smart tactics from their campaigns that you can apply to your own.

Rotate creative ads and offers to keep click-through rates high

The best performing retargeting ads promote a relevant offer and have a clear call to action. Rotate messaging, imagery, and offers to keep your ads fresh and to make sure people don’t get tired of or annoyed with your brand.

While the number will vary across industries, the average click through rate for a typical display ad is only 0.07%, where as a retargeted ad’s CTR is around 0.7%.

Some ideas you can experiment with include:

  • Headline
  • Images
  • Background color
  • Ad dimension
  • Call to action

Below are example sets of retargeting ads from Insightly and Freshdesk:

Display retargeting ad examples from Insightly
Source: Insightly
Insightly’s retargeting strategy tests a variety of messages and creative with a focus on increasing free trial sign ups. Their copy employs social proof pulled directly from Twitter, compelling questions and humor like “Grandmas & Geeks Love It” to grab attention.

Display retargeting ad examples from Freshdesk
Source: Freshdesk
All of Freshdesk’s ads look and feel like they come from the same company, but their display retargeting ads have two goals:

  1. Increase free trial sign ups with benefits statements like “world’s simplest customer support software” and “make customers happy.”
  2. Establish thought leadership with content potential customers may find valuable, in their case a whitepaper on scaling support.

Bid up on search ads to previous site visitors

CEO of Instapage, Tyson Quick says, “Remarketing through search is a little known secret that everyone should be using.” Whereas banner ads are typically used as an awareness play, search ads can be a powerful indicator of buyer intent and often receive more qualified clicks.

Search retargeting ad examples from Instapage
Source: Instapage

Perhaps someone has read one of your blog posts and is now searching Google for more info on that topic. The idea is that you’d bid up on search ads by 30-40% to previous visitors, guaranteeing placement one or two spots ahead of your competition. Instapage has done this and is now seeing a doubling in click through rates compared to regular search ads served to non-website visitors and a 35-40% free trial conversion rate on their landing pages (2X higher than a regular click).

Remarketing through search is a little known secret that everyone should be using.

Ready to launch a search retargeting campaign? Learn how to set up your remarketing list in Google Adwords here.

Use dynamic ads to personalize the purchasing experience

Most retargeting ads are static, meaning the ad creative doesn’t change from person to person in your audience. Dynamic retargeting ads let you personalize your ads with recently viewed products or content relevant to the individual viewer. “The end result of this personalized content results in a 2-3x boost in click rates for dynamic ads over static ads,” according to Perfect Audience.

The difference between static and dynamic ads
Source: Quarticon

The results are impressive. Chubbies, the thigh-enthusiast brand specializing in men’s shorts, saw 33% lower customer acquisition costs compared to the average apparel store across Facebook and the web, in addition to a 13% lift in conversion rates—all from dynamic ads served to shopping cart abandoners.

Dynamic retargeting ad examples from Chubbies
Source: Chubbies
Dynamic ads can result in a 2-3x boost in click rates over static ads

Similarly, Sudara, an e-commerce company that provides training and jobs to women in India, created several personalized ad sets of both carousel and single image Newsfeed retargeting ads on Facebook. They increased sales 10% and decreased cost per acquisition by 53%.

Dynamic Facebook retargeting ad examples from Sudara
Source: Sudara

Read the full Sudara case study on Facebook

Practice sequential retargeting for long or complex sales cycles

Sequential retargeting is kind of like the ad version of drip nurture emails—it shows a logical progression of different ads to the same person over time with the goal of staying top of mind until that person converts.

Perricone MD is one example of a company that has employed this strategy. Their sequential retargeting flow is as follows:

  • Ad #1 offers a time sensitive promo code and runs for 2 days.
  • Ad #2 changes messaging to focus on customer service benefits like free shipping and samples.
  • Ad #3 pushes an animated version of ad #2 in an attempt to capture attention with movement and reinforce benefits.
  • Ads #4 and #5 are shown simultaneously, one geared towards new customers and the other highlighting a core company value.
  • Ads #6 and beyond become dynamic, showing specific products viewed and touting specific benefits of that product.

Read more about Perricone MD’s sequential retargeting strategy on Pagewiz.

If these examples weren’t enough to get your creative retargeting juices flowing, check out these 33 retargeting campaigns. In the next section, we’ll outline key tips for rocking next retargeting campaign.

Rock your next retargeting campaign

Now that you’ve seen real examples of what companies are doing to get results with retargeting and have some ideas of what a successful strategy looks like, we’ll share our top five tips to keep in mind while implementing your next retargeting campaign.

1. Set clear goals

Retargeting ads will bring people back to your website, but what’s more important is how they’ll contribute to your overall marketing priorities. Setting a clear goal that aligns with your existing marketing objectives will determine the offer you make, the landing page you link to, the amount you spend, the call to action you include and so on.

The question to ask yourself is—how are you trying to grow your business right now? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Grow marketing qualified leads by 25% per month for 6 months
  • Upsell 5% of free users into paid this quarter
  • Recapture 25% of abandoned shopping cart users within 7 days
  • Turn 1-time buyers into repeat buyers to increase revenue 10%
  • Drive free trial signups to reach your July goal of 800 trials

2. Segment those who are most likely (and least likely) to buy

Just because someone visited a site once does not mean they are a potential customer. A website visitor who looked at your pricing page, spent five minutes reading a blog post, and almost signed up for a free trial is completely different than a website visitor who bounced after being on your blog for five seconds.

Retarget people who’ve shown an active interest in your product or service. To find these likely buyers and save ad spend in the process, segment your audience into precise audiences using criteria like:

  • Behavior: Figure out which pages viewed on your website drive the most conversions. For example, targeting visitors who view your pricing page or click through to a checkout page are expressing an openness to making a purchase.
  • Language & Location: Double check your audience geography and language settings to avoid wasting money on clicks from places you don’t serve or sell to.
  • Device: Research your new audience to find out their behaviors with smartphones, tablets, and desktops to give insight into where and how you advertise. Pro tip: Very few people click on mobile banner ads intentionally. Do yourself a favor and exclude mobile devices from your display campaign.
  • Named Lists: You can upload custom lists of people already in your database to retarget. This allows you to go beyond behavioral retargeting and reach specific people who meet criteria like industry, use case, product purchased, or event attendee. Note that you’ll need to manually update this email list regularly and ensure a large enough sample of contacts in order for this type of retargeting to be effective.
  • Exclusions: Remember to exclude groups who have already converted, any spam traffic, and visitors who quickly bounced after first arriving at your website. Think about other segments that make sense to exclude for your business. For example, if your app only works on desktop, does it make sense to exclude users on mobile devices?

3. Set frequency caps to avoid banner fatigue

Your visitors see ads on Facebook, Twitter, Google search results, website after website after website, and it’s overwhelming.

Avoid overexposure by limiting the number of times your ads are shown—for businesses with longer buying cycles, it may make sense to only serve an ad once every few days. For more impulse purchases, like a pair of socks, the frequency cap can be higher, e.g. 6-10 times per day. Sticking within this range will still keep you on people’s minds without sabotaging your retargeting efforts.

4. Nudge visitors along your customer journey

Retargeting ads are typically used at the top of the funnel—driving people to subscribe to a newsletter, make their first purchase, download a piece of content or sign up for a trial—but it can also be an effective way to nudge known leads and customers who are in the middle or bottom of your funnel to take the next step their customer journey.

This strategy, what some call push-along or nudge-along retargeting, works especially well for SaaS companies and other businesses who have a conversion funnel with a series of goals or multiple touch points where users need help moving from one stage to another.

Here’s how it works: When a website visitor takes the first action you want them to from your retargeting ad, the conversion will fire and you’ll be able to exclude that contact from seeing future ads with that call to action. From here, the contact would move into a new segment that displays ads with the next conversion goal that matches their stage in the buying journey. Once they convert, move them out of their existing segment and into a new one with the next conversion goal and so on.

B2B and B2C examples of retargeting ad progression from early to mid to late stages in the customer journey

Getting to this level of sophistication will take time, but the key takeaway is retargeting tools can give you a lot of granular control over who is seeing which of your ads and when, allowing you to recapture potential users and revenue at every stage of the customer journey.

5. Track Click-Through Conversions and View-Through Conversions

When it comes to retargeting ad performance, advertisers will report on click-through conversions, view-through conversions and a total of both.

  • Click-through conversions happen when people convert directly as a result of clicking on your ad.
  • View-through conversions are counted when people see a retargeting ad and later complete the conversion goal, kind of like goal assists in soccer. Even though the conversion’s last touch is attributed to another channel, these view-through conversions are helpful in understanding the downstream effect of seeing retargeting ads online.

Best practice is to wait until you’ve had 500 to 1,000 clicks (or 50 to 100 conversions) before analyzing the results of your retargeting ad campaign. From there, you’ll have gathered enough data to pause what’s not working and expand on what is.

Further Resources

We hope this lesson helps you create retargeting campaigns that increase your leads and customers without breaking the bank. To go deeper with your retargeting efforts, we recommend the following resources:

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