July 20


Guide to Retargeting for Successful Digital Marketing

By Hanson Cheng

July 20, 2023

  • minute read
  • Last Updated on July 20, 2023 by Hanson Cheng

    This comprehensive guide to retargeting will introduce readers to the concept, purpose, and key components of retargeting in digital marketing. It will delve into the various types of retargeting, such as pixel-based, list-based, search, email, contextual, social media, and mobile app retargeting. The article will also discuss popular retargeting platforms, including AdRoll, Google Ads, Facebook, Criteo, and Perfect Audience, along with tips on creating successful retargeting campaigns.

    Lastly, it highlights retargeting best practices and strategies such as consistent brand messaging, offering exclusive deals and promotions, cross-device retargeting, and the combination of retargeting with other marketing efforts while adhering to privacy regulations and guidelines.

    What is Retargeting and Its Purpose?

    Retargeting, also known as remarketing, is a form of digital marketing in which online advertisements are targeted toward users who have previously engaged with a company’s website, social media, or other digital platforms. This type of marketing is an effective strategy for businesses to re-establish contact with potential customers who have shown interest in their products or services but have not yet converted into paying customers.

    The primary purpose of retargeting is to build awareness, re-engage potential customers, and ultimately encourage them to convert and perform the desired action, such as making a purchase or subscribing to a service.

    Key Components of Retargeting

    There are several essential components of a successful retargeting campaign, which include:

    1. Tracking involves placing a pixel or cookie on the user’s device when they visit a website or interact with a certain piece of content. This helps track their online actions and informs the retargeting system of their engagement.

    2. Segmentation: To ensure the delivery of relevant and engaging ads, users should be segmented based on their behaviors, interests, or preferences. This way, personalized ads can be served to the right audience, increasing the chances of conversion.

    3. Targeting: Once the tracking and segmentation are in place, marketers can set up retargeting campaigns targeting specific audience segments. This is accomplished by setting parameters like frequency cap (the number of times an ad is shown to a specific user), ad placement, and desired actions to be taken.

    4. Creative: The ad creative plays a significant role in capturing the user’s attention and encouraging them to interact with the ad. Creating compelling visuals, engaging headlines, and persuasive calls to action can help drive conversions.

    5. Measurement and Optimization: To ensure campaign success, monitoring campaign performance regularly and optimizing strategies accordingly is critical. Continuous evaluation and analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs), such as click-through rates (CTR), conversions, and cost per acquisition (CPA), can guide marketers to fine-tune their tactics for better results.

    The Benefits of Retargeting in Digital Marketing

    Retargeting offers several benefits for businesses looking to enhance their digital marketing efforts:

    1. Higher Conversion Rates: By targeting users who have already shown interest in a company’s products or services, retargeting can drive higher conversion rates as it capitalizes on their existing awareness and interest.

    2. Improved ROI: Retargeting can lead to a more effective cost-per-acquisition (CPA) model, as marketing spend focuses on engaging users more likely to convert.

    3. Increased Brand Exposure: By regularly showcasing ads to an engaged audience, retargeting can help increase a brand’s visibility and awareness among potential customers.

    4. Personalization: Retargeting enables businesses to display tailor-made messages to users based on their interactions, leading to more relevant and engaging ads.

    5. Stronger Customer Relationships: By being present during a customer’s online journey and keeping in touch with relevant messaging, retargeting can help build stronger relationships with potential customers.

    Common Retargeting Misconceptions

    Despite its advantages, retargeting is often misunderstood or perceived negatively. Some common misconceptions include:

    1. Invasiveness: Some users may perceive retargeting ads as invasive or “creepy” as they appear to “follow” them around the internet. However, this can be addressed through proper segmentation, creativity, and frequency management to control user ad experience.

    2. Limited Reach: Some marketers believe retargeting is limited to display networks or social media platforms. In reality, retargeting can be employed across a variety of channels such as email, mobile apps, video, and even search engine marketing.

    3. Complexity: Retargeting may seem complex or overwhelming, but with the right tools, data, and strategy in place, marketers can effectively harness the power of retargeting for improved results.

    By understanding the fundamentals of retargeting, businesses can tap into the power of this digital marketing strategy to strengthen their online presence, drive conversions, and ultimately enhance their return on investment.

    Different Types of Retargeting

    Pixel-Based Retargeting

    Pixel-based retargeting is the most common form of retargeting. It involves placing a small, unobtrusive piece of code, called a pixel, on your website. This allows you to track user behavior as they interact with your site. When a user visits your website, the pixel is triggered, and a cookie is dropped into their browser. As the user continues to browse the internet, this cookie allows retargeting companies and platforms to display targeted ads to the user based on their behavior and previous interactions with your website.

    The highly-targeted nature of pixel-based retargeting leads to increased relevance in ads shown to users, thereby improving the chances of conversion. However, a downside of pixel-based retargeting is that it only works with users who have visited your website.

    List-Based Retargeting

    List-based retargeting is a method of retargeting that utilizes a list of email addresses or other contact information you have gathered from your customers or prospects. By uploading this list to retargeting platforms such as Facebook or Google Ads, you can target ads specifically to these individuals. This method can be useful for targeting people who are already familiar with your brand or have expressed an interest in your products or services.

    While list-based retargeting is highly targeted and can yield good results, it requires a substantial list of contacts to be effective. Moreover, it is reliant on the accuracy of the information in the list, and outdated or incorrect details can lead to wasted ad spend.

    Search Retargeting

    Search retargeting is a technique that targets users based on their search history and the keywords they have entered into search engines. By identifying keywords related to your products or services and creating ads that reflect those search terms, you can create highly relevant ads for users who are actively researching and looking for similar offerings.

    Search retargeting can reach a wide audience, but it may lack the precision of pixel-based or list-based retargeting methods, as it does not have full visibility into individual users’ browsing history.

    Email Retargeting

    Email retargeting involves tracking user behavior in response to marketing emails you send. By monitoring opens and clicks within your emails, you can personalize the ads that users subsequently see when browsing the internet. This ensures that users receive relevant ads based on their interactions with your email content, potentially increasing conversion rates.

    Email retargeting requires a robust email marketing strategy, which can be resource-intensive. However, executing well can lead to higher engagement and conversions.

    Contextual Retargeting

    Contextual retargeting involves placing ads on websites based on their content and relevance to your products or services. This retargeting method is most effective when the context of the website matches the advertised product or service. For example, if you sell sports equipment, you might choose to show ads on sports-related websites, as users browsing these sites are more likely to show an interest in your products.

    Mobile App Retargeting

    Mobile app retargeting is focused on targeting users who have downloaded and interacted with your app. By tracking user behavior within the app, you can display in-app ads or target users when they browse other apps and websites on their mobile devices. This form of retargeting can be especially useful for driving re-engagement and retaining your existing user base.

    Retargeting Platforms and Vendors


    AdRoll is a popular retargeting platform that serves businesses of all sizes. AdRoll offers several retargeting tools, including pixel-based, social media, and email retargeting. With AdRoll, advertisers can create, customize, and manage campaigns targeting multiple platforms, including Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

    Google Ads

    Google Ads is a powerful advertising platform that allows businesses to run retargeting campaigns across the Google Display Network, which reaches millions of websites, videos, and apps. Google Ads offers various retargeting methods, including pixel-based, list-based, and search retargeting.

    Facebook Retargeting

    Facebook is another platform where advertisers can run retargeting campaigns, leveraging the vast user base and extensive data available on the platform. Advertisers can create pixel-based or list-based retargeting campaigns, targeting users on both Facebook and Instagram.


    Criteo is a global retargeting platform that specializes in personalized, dynamic ads. Criteo offers advanced machine learning technology to create personalized ad experiences based on individual user behavior. The platform is compatible with both web-based and in-app retargeting, making it versatile for various industries.

    Perfect Audience

    Perfect Audience is a retargeting platform that focuses on cross-channel retargeting, offering web, mobile, and social media advertising solutions. It prides itself on its user-friendly interface, affordable pricing, and robust analytics tools to track and optimize campaign performance.

    Comparing Retargeting Platforms

    When choosing a retargeting platform, consider factors such as cost, ease of use, targeting options, and analytics capabilities. You will want to consider your specific business needs, goals, and resources to determine the best platform for your retargeting efforts. Exploring and testing multiple platforms may be beneficial to determine which one best suits your specific requirements and produces the best results for your campaigns.

    Creating a Successful Retargeting Campaign

    Retargeting campaigns are a valuable digital marketing strategy that helps businesses stay connected with their target audience. These campaigns display ads to users who have previously interacted with your website or, in some cases, those who match a certain demographic or behavioral profile. Implementing a successful retargeting campaign can significantly boost your conversion rates and strengthen brand recognition.

    Defining Campaign Objectives

    Before starting a retargeting campaign, defining the specific objectives you want to achieve is important. This helps to streamline your efforts and measure the success of your campaign. The most common objectives revolve around increasing sales, generating leads, promoting particular products or services, enhancing brand awareness, and increasing customer loyalty.

    Segmenting Your Audience

    Not all website visitors are created equal—some are casual browsers, while others are potential buyers or even existing customers. Segmenting your audience is crucial to create more targeted and relevant ads. By properly segmenting your audience and identifying their behaviors, interests, and preferences, you can create ads that resonate with them and are more likely to prompt action.

    Setting Up Retargeting Pixels and Lists

    Retargeting pixels or cookies are small pieces of code placed on your website that track users’ actions, allowing you to target them with personalized ads. To set up retargeting pixels, you need to create a custom code snippet provided by the retargeting platform, such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads, and install it on your website.

    After implementing retargeting pixels, you should create retargeting lists, which are collections of users that meet specific criteria, such as visiting a certain page, adding items to the cart, or engaging with your content. These lists enable you to target your ads to specific user segments, improving your campaigns’ overall effectiveness.

    Designing Engaging Ad Creatives

    A retargeting campaign’s success hinges on your ads’ ability to capture users’ attention and encourage them to take action. When designing your ad creatives, focus on creating visually appealing, informative, and engaging content.

    Use high-quality images, catchy headlines, and a clear call to action while ensuring your ads are aligned with your brand identity and campaign objectives. A/B testing different ad creatives can help you identify which performs best among your target audience and refine your campaign for optimal results.

    Optimizing Landing Pages

    Ensuring users are directed to landing pages customized to their experiences within the retargeting campaign is critical. Your landing pages should be designed to drive home further the message presented in your ad and provide users with relevant information that pertains to the retargeting ad they clicked on.

    Frequency and Timing of Retargeting

    Retargeting is essential to digital marketing campaigns, helping businesses maintain ongoing engagement with potential customers. Properly managing the frequency and timing of retargeting efforts is essential to maximizing benefits and minimizing negative reactions from users. 

    Understanding Frequency Capping

    Frequency capping is limiting the number of times a retargeted ad is shown to a specific user within a given period, typically on a per-day basis. This helps avoid overexposure, irritation, and potential negative associations with your brand or product. The cap ensures that your ads are displayed to your target audience without overwhelming them so your campaigns continue to be well-received and effective.

    Benefits of implementing frequency caps:

    1. Improves user experience and brand perception:

    Excessive ad frequency can lead to annoyance, and frequent retargeting can potentially associate negative emotions with your brand. Capping ad frequencies ensures a more pleasant user experience for your audience and promotes positive sentiment toward your brand.

    2. Reduces ad fatigue:

    Continuous exposure to the same advertisements can diminish their effectiveness due to ad fatigue. Balancing ad exposure ensures consistent and fresh engagement to maintain the intended impact of your campaign.

    3. Cost-effective advertising:

    The more impressions your ad receives, the more you have to pay. By establishing a frequency cap, you can allocate your advertising budget more effectively to reach additional users or promote other aspects of your marketing strategy.

    Determining Appropriate Ad Exposure

    Choosing the right frequency cap for retargeted ads is crucial to optimizing campaign performance. Different industries and products may require varied exposure levels, so it’s essential to consider the factors affecting your audience’s receptiveness.

    When determining the appropriate ad exposure, consider the following factors:

    1. Product complexity: Products and services with longer sales cycles and more extensive decision-making processes may need higher ad exposure frequency to stay top-of-mind in each customer journey stage.

    2. Competition: If your market is highly competitive, it could be beneficial to increase ad exposure compared to less competitive industries to stand out in a crowded space.

    3. Customer loyalty and recognition: Established brands with loyal and frequent customers may need lower ad exposure than newer or lesser-known brands, as building familiarity strongly affects conversion rates.

    4. Seasonality: During peak periods, like holidays or sales, you may need to increase ad exposure to retain customers’ attention while reducing the frequency during off-peak times to account for lowered demand.

    Testing and analyzing your audience’s response can inform your decisions further in setting an optimal retargeting frequency cap. Split testing and comparing different exposure levels can help you determine the ideal balance between engagement and ad fatigue.

    Burn Pixels and Limiting Ad Fatigue

    Burn pixels, also known as un-targeting pixels, are a method to prevent overexposure and ad fatigue among users who have already completed a specific action, like making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter. By placing a burn pixel on the post-conversion page, users who reach that point will no longer be targeted by your retargeting campaign, ensuring you only engage users who are still in the decision-making process.

    Implementing burn pixels can:

    1. Improve the user experience: Users who have completed the desired action do not need to be exposed to the same ad repetitively. By excluding them from your retargeting pool, their online experience becomes more pleasant.

    2. Increase campaign efficiency: Focusing your retargeting efforts on users yet to convert helps ensure a higher return on investment and better utilization of your budget.

    3. Maintain brand integrity: Saturating users with ads, even after they’ve converted, can lead to negative perceptions of your brand. Burn pixels help maintain a positive image and avoid alienating satisfied customers.

    In conclusion, managing the frequency and timing of retargeting campaigns is key to maximizing their effectiveness, improving user experiences, and optimizing your marketing budget’s use. Implementing frequency caps, determining suitable ad exposure levels, and utilizing burn pixels can help you achieve those goals and create more successful campaigns.

    Measuring Retargeting Performance

    Retargeting is a digital marketing strategy that focuses on re-engaging individuals who have previously interacted with your brand or visited your website. It aims to convert these potential customers by displaying personalized and relevant advertisements based on their past behaviors and interests. To determine the success of a retargeting campaign, there are several key performance indicators (KPIs) and methods to consider.

    Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Retargeting

    KPIs are essential metrics used to evaluate the effectiveness and progress of digital marketing campaigns. For retargeting, these indicators provide a comprehensive understanding of campaign performance, allowing businesses to identify areas for improvement and optimize their strategies. Some crucial retargeting KPIs include:

    1. Impressions: This measures the number of times an ad is displayed to a user. A high impression count indicates that your retargeting campaign is reaching your target audience effectively.

    2. Click-Through Rate (CTR): CTR is the ratio of ad clicks to impressions. A higher CTR suggests that the retargeting ads are engaging and persuading users to click on the advertisements.

    3. Conversion Rate: The percentage of users who complete a desired action (e.g., purchase, form submission, account sign-up) after clicking on an ad. A high conversion rate signifies that the retargeting campaign is effectively driving customers to complete desired actions.

    4. Return on Investment (ROI): ROI calculates the profit generated from the retargeting campaign relative to its cost. A positive ROI indicates that the retargeting efforts are profitable, while a negative ROI suggests that adjustments need to be made to the campaign strategy.

    Attribution Modeling and Retargeting

    Attribution modeling is the process of assigning credit to various marketing channels and touchpoints that contribute to a conversion. Implementing an accurate attribution model is vital for understanding the specific role retargeting plays in your overall marketing strategy.

    Different attribution models consider different aspects of the customer journey, such as first touch, last touch, linear, time-decay, and position-based models. Choosing the right attribution model for your business will help provide a more precise measurement of retargeting performance and reveal the interplay between retargeting and other marketing tactics.

    A/B Testing and Campaign Optimization

    Once the KPIs, conversion rates, and attribution models have been considered, businesses should focus on optimizing their retargeting campaigns by running A/B tests. A/B testing involves comparing two different versions of an ad to identify which one performs better.

    Businesses can gather insights into the most successful tactics and strategies by testing various elements of retargeting ads, such as headlines, visuals, call-to-action buttons, and landing pages. These learnings can then be applied to improve campaign performance and maximize the ROI of retargeting efforts.

    Measuring and optimizing retargeting performance is critical to a successful digital marketing strategy. By focusing on essential KPIs, conversion rates, attribution models, and A/B testing, businesses can continuously fine-tune their retargeting efforts for maximum effectiveness and profitability.

    Retargeting Best Practices and Strategies

    Retargeting, or remarketing, is a powerful digital advertising strategy that helps businesses stay in front of their target audience after users leave their website. By displaying personalized ads on other websites and platforms, retargeting effectively reminds users about your brand and entices them to return and complete their purchase or action. However, to make the most of your retargeting campaigns, it’s important to implement some best practices and strategies to optimize conversion rates and ensure a seamless user experience.

    Consistent Brand Messaging

    One of the most critical aspects of retargeting best practices is maintaining consistent brand messaging throughout your retargeting ads. Consistency in branding helps to strengthen your brand recognition and build trust with your target audience.

    Offering Exclusive Deals and Promotions

    Offering exclusive deals and promotions to users who have previously visited your website is an effective way to re-engage them and encourage them to return to your site. People love feeling special, and knowing that they are receiving a unique offer because of their prior interaction with your website can entice them to revisit and make a purchase.

    When offering exclusive deals, make sure they have a strong appeal to your target audience and are time-sensitive to create a sense of urgency for users to take action. Personalizing the offers to match the user’s previous interaction with your website will also help improve the chances of conversion. For example, if a user browses a certain product category on your website, provide them with a discount for that specific category in the retargeting ad.

    Cross-Device Retargeting

    In today’s multi-device digital landscape, users increasingly move between different devices (desktop, tablet, smartphone) throughout the day as they browse the web. Therefore, a critical retargeting best practice is ensuring that your ads can reach users across all devices for seamless user experience and improved conversion rates.

    To implement cross-device retargeting, make sure your ad creatives are designed to be mobile-friendly and responsive for optimal display on any screen size. Also, utilize platforms that enable targeting users across devices, such as Google Remarketing, Facebook Custom Audiences, or dedicated retargeting platforms like AdRoll or Criteo.

    Combining Retargeting with Other Marketing Efforts

    While retargeting can be highly effective on its own, combining it with other digital marketing initiatives can lead to even better results. For example, implementing retargeting in tandem with search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, email marketing, or other paid advertising efforts can compound your overall marketing reach and improve conversion rates.

    Adhering to Privacy Regulations and Guidelines

    Retargeting campaigns rely on collecting user data to personalize and deliver relevant ads. With growing concerns over privacy and data protection, it’s important for businesses to ensure their retargeting efforts comply with applicable regulations and guidelines, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States.

    To safeguard user privacy, be transparent about your use of cookies for retargeting purposes and provide users with the option to opt out of retargeting campaigns. Additionally, consider using platforms that emphasize privacy and adhere to industry best practices when it comes to data collection and protection.

    Retargeting – FAQs

    What is the main purpose of retargeting in marketing campaigns?

    Retargeting is a marketing strategy in which an advertiser aims to engage and re-capture potential customers who have left or navigated away from their website by displaying personalized ads related to their previous browsing behavior, thus increasing conversions and brand awareness (Chaffey & Ellis-Chadwick, 2012).

    How do cookies and tracking pixels contribute to the retargeting process?

    Tracking pixels or cookies are small files placed on a user’s device, recording their browsing activity. This data allows advertisers to analyze visitor behavior and subsequently serve targeted ads based on past interactions, enabling a more personalized and effective retargeting campaign (Kritzinger & Weideman, 2013).

    What are the various retargeting platforms available for marketers?

    There are multiple platforms marketers can utilize for retargeting campaigns, each offering unique features and targeting options. Some popular platforms include Google Ads remarketing, Facebook Custom Audiences, Twitter Tailored Audiences, AdRoll, and Criteo (Chaffey & Ellis-Chadwick, 2012).

    How does retargeting benefit businesses in increasing their sales and conversions?

    Retargeting helps businesses by targeting potential customers who have previously shown interest in their products or services but have not completed a purchase (Jansen, 2012). By displaying personalized ads to these users, companies can increase the likelihood of conversions, resulting in improved sales and return on ad spend (ROAS).

    Are there any potential drawbacks or pitfalls to consider when using retargeting in a marketing campaign?

    Possible retargeting drawbacks include privacy concerns from users, ad fatigue, and the risk of overexposure if ads are displayed too frequently (Verhoef & Kannan, 2013). To avoid negative impacts, marketers should follow best practices, such as setting limits on ad frequency, using attractive and engaging ad creatives, and fine-tuning targeting criteria.

    How can marketers effectively measure the success of retargeting campaigns?

    To measure retargeting success, marketers should track key performance indicators (KPIs) such as click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, cost per acquisition (CPA), and return on ad spend (ROAS) (Jansen, 2012). Regularly monitoring and optimizing these KPIs will ensure the retargeting campaign remains effective and drives desired results.

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    Hanson Cheng

    About the author

    Living in Portugal with my wife and puppies.
    Scaling online businesses and sharing lessons learned on this website and in our email newsletter.

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