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What is the Best Way to Use Retargeting?

With dozens of retargeting options available, the question is no longer whether to use retargeting? Rather, what is the best way to use retargeting?

What is the Best Way to Use Retargeting?

Back in 1998, DoubleClick launched Boomerang, offering advertisers an unprecedented opportunity to track and target past website visitors.

And, in the 18 years since Boomerang was introduced, retargeting has become a staple of online advertising.

Now, with dozens of retargeting options available to marketers, the question is no longer, should you use retargeting? Instead, the real issue is, what is the best way to use retargeting?

Guiding Your Customers Along the Path to Conversion

Often, retargeting advocates use the fact that 98% of web traffic leaves without converting to explain the value of retargeting.

It’s a fair point.

After all, that 98% (or more, in many cases) of your traffic was interested enough in your advertising to visit your website in the first place, which means they must be interested enough to potentially buy, right?

So, if you can keep your company in front of those crazy people who left your site without converting, you should be able to win them over for good.

What most people fail to mention, however, is the fact that most people aren’t ready to buy when they first visit your site. In fact, Hubspot, up to 4% of visitors to your site are not ready to buy. 

4%, eh? That’s pretty close to that 2% conversion rate figure we were just talking about.

But, if only 4% of your web traffic is in buying/converting mode and you are converting 2% of your traffic, that means you’re cashing in half of the people who are willing to convert right now.

The other 96% of your traffic simply isn’t ready to convert yet.

So, if the goal of your retargeting is to get people to “Buy Now” or “Convert Now,” you’re probably not going to have the success you’re hoping for.

Sure, you might get that extra 1% of your traffic to convert, but your messaging is wrong for the other 96% of your audience.

Obviously, the exact numbers will vary by industry and conversion action, but the fact of the matter is, if most of your audience isn’t converting the first time they visit your site, they probably aren’t ready to buy—no matter how many retargeting ads you bombard them with.

Lead Them to the Next Step

If you want your retargeting to be truly effective, you have to stop thinking of retargeting as a rehash of your original advertising message.

Clearly, that message didn’t work, so continuing to show the same message over and over (and over…and over…and over) again isn’t likely to produce a different response.

In fact, Einstein would probably define this sort of advertising as insane.

Smart retargeting, on the other hand, focuses on where your customers are in their buyer journey and helps them take the next step towards conversion.

For example, if you are running paid search ads for an accounting software company, your goal might be to get people to sign up for a free 14-day trial.

If you’re bidding on the terms “accounting software,” you’ll probably send people who click on your ads to a landing page that talks about your software and encourages people to create an account.

Unfortunately, not everyone will create an account, so it might be tempting to retarget your non-converting traffic with more info about how great your software is.

The only problem is, you already made that pitch…and it didn’t work.

That means it’s time to try something different.

Participate in Their Decision-Making Process

To be honest, if you’ve done your marketing homework, you probably have a pretty good sense of what your buyer journey looks like.

Now it’s time to apply that knowledge to your retargeting ads.

In the case of our previous example, maybe you know that most people who are interested in your accounting software but don’t convert are looking at a wide range of software options to decide which one best meets their needs.

In this case, your customer’s next step isn’t converting—it’s comparing. If you keep trying to get an audience that wants to compare to commit, you’re just going to frustrate and potentially alienate them.

On the other hand, retargeting ads that talk about and point to landing pages that compare a range of software solutions create value for your audience.

Now, instead of trying to force your audience to convert, you are participating in their decision-making process.

As a result, your retargeting ads build positive feeling towards your company and simultaneously allow you to explain why your software is the one they should choose.

Can you see how powerful this can be?

Most retargeting ads try to get users to do something they aren’t ready to do. However, truly effective retargeting ads focus on getting the customer to the next step in the funnel.

Greasing the Wheel

Depending on your company, market, and goals, here are a few ways to create retargeting ads that help coax your customers through their buyer journey:

Address Typical Concerns

Often, people don’t convert because they don’t feel comfortable with your company, product or offer.

Maybe your product seems overpriced. Maybe you’re asking for sensitive personal information. Maybe there’s a significant time commitment that comes with signing up.

Regardless of the specific reason, if you know that a significant segment of your audience isn’t converting because of a specific concern, retargeting can be a great way to directly address those points of friction.

For example, if you know that people get stressed out by the idea of creating a website, you may want to run video ads showing how easy it is to use your platform, like this video from Wix:


This is just a snippet of the video, but the full 1:07 video walks through the process of designing a site on their platform.

The video itself is slick, but the important thing here is the implied message: we’re here to make setting up your website as easy and painless as possible for you.

Offer a Discount

Price is another big sticking factor for many potential buyers. Many people are willing to buy, but they are waiting for the right deal to come along.

Price cuts are a classic sales tactic, but there’s a reason for that—they are incredibly motivating.

So, if you know that price is a big concern for your audience, offering a discount or promotional price can be a great way to get people who wouldn’t otherwise consider converting excited about your product or service.

This sort of tactic is particularly effective when you combine it with a sense of urgency (“Good Through August 31st”) or exclusivity (“For Liking Our Page, You Get 15% Off”).

For example, if you’re running ads for Cabela’s, you might run an ad like this:

Cabela's Retargeting Discount Ad

Not only does this ad offer a discount, it also creates an expiration date for that discount. As a result, this ad encourages people to act sooner rather than later to ensure that they get the best deal possible.

Offer Complimentary Products

These days, very few decisions happen in isolation.

You don’t just buy a new phone; you also need a cover. You don’t just get your oil changed; you get your brakes checked, too (and your lights, and your tires, and so forth). You don’t just sign up for cable; you need someone to come out to your house and set it up.

Of course, figuring out all the extra odds and ends that you need in addition to your main purchase is a headache, so if you can save your customers that headache by helping them to buy all those extra things, you can often make your business the easy, obvious choice.

Why else do you think Amazon includes a “Frequently Bought Together” section on their product pages?

This tactic is a particularly good fit for eCommerce businesses, but it can work well for a variety of products and offers—especially if you can combine it with a discount.

For example, Maurices shows various accessories that work well with a particular product:


If a user hasn’t purchased a product, this both renews interest in that product and showcases additional purchasing options. On the other hand, if the user has purchased the product, it gives Maurices an opportunity to up-sell additional accessories.

Use Your Buying Cycle

Finally, remember that your buying cycle doesn’t stop with conversions or sales. Retargeting your customers can be a fantastic way to get extra value out of every successful purchase.

This approach works best if you understand the timeline of your overall buying cycle. Most people aren’t ready to buy something new from your business right away. However, after a while, new needs and demands often arise that your business can help meet.

If your ads are there when new needs appear, you’ve got a much better chance of up-selling or cross-selling your customers.

For example, if you know that your accounting software customers often upgrade their subscription after three months, you may want to start running ads talking about the advantages of upgrading around two months after new customers sign up.


Since DoubleClick first launched Boomerang, retargeting has become a central part of online advertising.

However, with the wealth of retargeting options available to advertisers, it’s not enough to simply drop a conversion pixel onto your website and start pushing ads. If you want your retargeting efforts to succeed, you need to design your advertising strategy around the goals and expectations of your customer.

It takes extra effort to craft retargeting campaigns that guide visitors from click-to-close, but with a little extra time and effort, you can produce incredible results from your retargeting.


Image Credits

Featured Image: belchonok/ Modified by Aden Andrus of Disruptive Advertising. Used with permission.
Screen captures (including GIFs) taken August 2016.

Category PPC

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Jacob Baadsgaard

CEO, Founder at Disruptive Advertising

Jacob is passionate entrepreneur on a mission to help businesses achieve online marketing success. As the Founder & CEO of ... [Read full bio]

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