As a consumer, I HATE retargeting ads because they work so well.

As a marketer, I LOVE retargeting ads because they work so well.

Tale of retargeting

You’re at your desk, daydreaming about being somewhere else. Maybe you wish you were sitting back with a book at the beach. Maybe you wish you were hiking along the Appalachian Trail. Maybe you wish you were letting loose in Las Vegas.

The beauty of technology is that it’s so simple to indulge that daydream just a bit further. You take a quick break and surf over to a vacation planning site to see if there are any specials for a weekend trip to Las Vegas. But you are JUST LOOKING, right?

You don’t buy and get yourself back to work. It’s just a momentary lapse to let off some steam, a daydream that you will forget about in an hour.

a tale of retargeting for retargeting ads

Not so fast!

Simply typing in a search for “Las Vegas” is far more powerful than you think. Your simple search has resulted in a slew of ads at every site you visit, even though you didn’t sign up for anything and even though you’re not on sites that have anything to do with Sin City.

But thanks to those ads it’s in your brain now. Each one has a more enticing deal, and now you’re thinking about it even more!

A couple of days later, you’re on a plane. All because of retargeting ads.

2 Types of retargeting ads

Retargeting ads are simply ads that present a consumer with information that’s related to content that they’ve seen before online.

Where targeting takes aim at potential new customers who aren’t familiar with a product or service, retargeting takes aim at individuals who have already shown some interest in a product or service through visiting a website or sharing their email information.

There are two common ways to accomplish this:

1. Pixel-based Retargeting

These ads offer material to visitors who have previously visited a site. A small piece of Javascript code (known as a pixel), that’s invisible to the end user is embedded into their browser, adding a “cookie” from your site. Then when that user leaves your site and heads on out into the web, the cookie is activated through retargeting platforms, and then offers advertisements to that user based on the specific pages that they visited and the content that they were interested in on your site.

The best part about pixel retargeting is that it is very specific. If a user visits a page on your site about a specific product, then you can retarget that customer with that very product in a day, a week, a month, etc.

2. List-based Retargeting

Rather than relying on Javascript cookies, these ads work from a database that the advertiser provides, generally either one that consists of customers or leads depending on what’s available.

Companies can then upload that list into a platform that they wish to target advertisements through, often a social media site like Facebook or Twitter. The platform then cross references that list with the list of email addresses that they have for their users and targets ads for products based on the input that the advertiser provides.

There are a wide variety of ad networks that create and manage retargeting advertisements, which can be displayed just about anywhere on the net from Facebook, to search engines, to individual websites.

3 truths on why retargeting ads work

Retargeting ads are unlike traditional banner ads because they don’t pop up based on keywords. Instead they serve individuals who have already visited your website or who are contacts in your database. This is incredibly powerful for the following reasons:

1. People don’t tend to buy on the first visit

It often takes two, three or more visits to a site to convert a window shopper into a buyer.

The path from learning about a product to actually purchasing isn’t straightforward – it’s a winding road that’s full of detours. That process can happen naturally and often does, but companies can help to guide it thanks to retargeting ads.

2. Personalization

A custom, personalized experience is one of the things that people love most about modern technology, but it’s also one of the most feared and hated aspects of modern technology.

That’s because in order to deliver that customized experience that guides the mind and the mouse click, companies use information (like databases) or actually reach out into an individual’s device (through cookies). It can feel like a customized experience, but it can also feel like an invasion. Providing an easy way for customers to opt out is one way to ease these types of fears.

3. It’s a matter of trust

As the process has become more streamlined and as tactics like retargeting become more refined, the hate and distrustful aspects of the relationship become less negative and are transformed into a more reliable relationship of appreciation.

People are increasingly trusting of companies with their personal information as online interactions become seamlessly integrated into modern life. In the end that’s why people love retargeting more than they dislike the repetition of advertisements – they visited a site originally because they thought it offered them some value and retargeting ads reinforce that value.

Then of course there’s the payoff of a positive experience that comes from those interactions, the satisfaction of the final sale.


You might feel a bit taken in when you’re boarding the plane to Las Vegas, thinking that perhaps you could have saved some serious cash if it weren’t for those ads that kept popping up. But once you get there you’re overwhelmed with the shiny fun of it all and realize that however you got here, you’re glad to be on the strip.

This is the magic of retargeting – getting inside the heads of consumers to guide them towards the result that you want for them. Rather than marketing being a behemoth that comes from a single source, it’s a web of interconnected partners that work together to get the right message to the right customer.

It’s marvelously effective and as an advertising method that’s the future of marketing. Only the future is now, right there on your screen.