What is Retargeting? A Guide to Effective Retargeting Ads

Visitors who come to your brand’s website, browse your offerings, and even fill up their shopping cart, but leave without purchasing any goods or services, are all too common. In fact, 96% of website visitors are not ready to buy on their first visit, and only an average of 2% convert on that first visit. 

These potential leads are obviously interested in what you have to offer, but for whatever reason, they didn’t decide to make a purchase. So how do you keep customers interested in your product when they’re no longer in your sales environment?

That’s where retargeting comes in. Retargeting ad campaigns are online ads that allow you to re-engage users who visited your site but didn’t convert and bring them back into the funnel.

Using a retargeting approach, your marketing team can create an advertising campaign that captures the attention of potential customers who have already expressed interest in your company. Retargeting, often referred to as remarketing, directly advertises to customers who have bounced without making a purchase. 

In order to capture the attention of a bounced lead, a marketing team will create what are called “retargeting ads,” which pop up throughout the web to remind potential customers of the goods or services they viewed but did not purchase. Retargeting is an effective approach when leads are in the consideration phase, pushing potential customers down the funnel to conversion.

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Remarketing vs Retargeting: What’s the Difference?

Although remarketing and retargeting can be used interchangeably, the difference between the two strategies revolves around where each advertising campaign is run. 

Businesses use retargeting when customers are very close to converting. Retargeting generally uses cookies or email addresses to push paid ads on sites or social media networks where potential leads are visiting.

Remarketing, on the other hand, is a top of funnel approach, where the business goal is to bring potential customers into the funnel. Remarketing usually involves email marketing, where a business deploys a series of creative emails as a strategy in order to engage with potential customers. 

Although remarketing and retargeting strategies approach marketing in slightly different ways, it’s important to leverage both strategies in order to deploy an effective campaign.

How do Retargeting Ads Work?

Retargeting ads work by deploying cookies, which are small pieces of data stored in a web browser used to track your activity on the internet. To enable tracking, brands will place a cookie on their site to follow web activity. Let’s break down how this works:

  • Pixels: In order to collect information for retargeting, you’ll need to place a retargeting pixel—or piece of code—on the pages of your company’s site where you want to monitor customer behavior. As visitors are captured by this pixel, they will then be “cookied” and served display ads across other sites in your network.

  • List-based: List-based retargeting involves collecting and grouping email addresses of both current and potential customers in order to target these leads on social media. After uploading your contact list on a social network’s ad platform, a retargeting campaign can be created to target certain behaviors and traits, such as personal interests, hobbies, age range, and location. While list-based retargeting is less common and involves more prep work than pixel-based, this approach provides companies with more information about customers. 

How to Launch a Retargeting Campaign

Before you launch your retargeting campaign, you’ll need to identify the goals of your company’s marketing efforts, which audience you’re targeting, and where you’ll be pushing out these retargeting ads. It’s very important to complete this step thoroughly in order to measure results effectively. 

Choose a Type of Retargeting Campaign

First, you’ll need to choose a type of retargeting campaign. Are you serving these ads to generate more brand awareness? Or are you looking to capitalize on conversions?

If you’re hoping to drive brand awareness, you’ll want to serve ads focused on the mission of your company, as well as the message you want consumers to walk away from. Make sure your value proposition is clear and easy to follow and optimize for maximum impressions as opposed to purchases.

If your campaign is more focused on conversion, you’ll want to serve a direct, sales-oriented message. Make sure it’s clear to your potential customers what you are offering, and ensure your campaign is optimized for clicks, downloads, or other conversion goals.

Segment Your Audience

When launching a retargeting campaign, you’ll want to be very clear on the audience you’re targeting. By understanding your audience, you’ll be able to better tailor the ad. Here are some other factors to consider when segmenting your audience:

  • Demographics. What’s your ideal audience’s age range? What’s the primary location of your target audience? Are there any interests or behaviors that your target audience shares? Most retargeting tools will allow you to segment an audience based on a variety of demographic information, so make sure you have these essential questions answered when coming up with your audience segment. 

  • Time. Grouping your audience by time is another key variable that can impact your campaign’s settings. Identifying the length of time between a customer’s first visit and last visit—and visit frequency—will help in segmenting groups. This data may also help in identifying the best approach to setting up the time between a lead’s visit to your site and when they see both their first and last retargeting ad.

  • Existing customers. If your retargeting campaign includes existing customers, make sure you take their known behaviors into account. Leverage your company’s CRM to ensure you’re setting up a campaign that will engage with existing customer’s demographics. 

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How to Choose a Retargeting Platform

When you’re considering a retargeting campaign, you’ll want to evaluate which tools to use. Remember that different social networks and web search tools offer different platforms and each tool will allow different types of segmentation and results.


Facebook Ads and Facebook Pixel are two ways to use retargeting on Facebook. You’ll either need to set up a Facebook business account to run ads or implement a pixel on your site. From here, your team can segment your audience through Facebook’s demographic filters, set a daily or campaign budget, and track your campaign’s results. 

Google Ads

Similar to Facebook, you can install a Google pixel on your website to help with retargeting or you can set up your ad in Google Ads. You’ll be able to segment your audience and manage your campaign right from the Google console. 

Best Practices for Retargeting Ads

There are many ways to run a retargeting campaign, but you’ll want to make sure you’re adhering to best practices when setting up your campaign in order to hit certain goals. Here are some rules to follow:

  • Brand your campaign. Make sure everyone who sees your ad understands it’s from your company, realizes what you’re selling, and knows what your brand stands for. Whether you’re looking for conversion or awareness, it’s important potential leads know what you’re selling. 

  • Make sure your cadence is right. No one wants to see the same ad over and over. On the other hand, you don’t want potential leads to only see your ad once and forget it. Make sure you’ve created the right cadence for your ads to guarantee you won’t annoy current or potential users, while still capturing and engaging leads. 

  • A/B test. Copy and design can have an impact on how your ad performs, so make sure you’re A/B testing your messaging. As you run different ad versions, you can always stop the one that isn’t performing as well and capitalize on those that are getting the best results.

  • Make sure your ads are optimized for your goals. Whether your goal is awareness or conversion, ensure your ads are set up to deliver the business goals you’re trying to achieve.

  • Set up the right view-through window. Customers don’t always take action the second they see your ad. Just because you don’t get immediate clicks and purchases, doesn’t mean your ad isn’t having impact. It’s important to set up the right view-through window, about 30 days, so that you’re tracking someone who saw the ad and if they visited your site and took action within that window.


Begin Your Next Retargeting Campaign Today

Retargeting can be one of the most important tools in your integrated marketing campaign—helping you achieve a variety of goals while keeping customers moving through your conversion funnel. Make sure you’ve laid out your goals and designed effective ads to maximize your results. 

Marketo Engage—Adobe’s best-in-class digital marketing solution—can help your business drive brand success and achieve desired results through retargeting. Try Marketo Engage to begin your next best retargeting campaign today.

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