Retargeting: A Go-To Option?

In the world of online display advertising, retargeting is the hands-down winner for showing a fabulous return. Its ROI (define) and the resulting advertiser demand are the reasons so many networks offer this targeting option. But is it always the go-to option, and how much should you trust those numbers?

At the most basic level, retargeting allows advertisers to cookie visitors to their site or to particular site pages and to continue to serve them targeted ads on the Web where your publisher or network finds them. It is incredibly useful for e-commerce, where sales and revenue are the only real measurement that matters. Consider that once someone has been to your site or exhibited other desirable behaviors, they are, de facto, more likely to convert than the general public. That is what makes those behaviors desirable. But some networks have tremendous audience reach and so by virtue of their size alone are likely to have some exposure to the retargeted audience and often get credit for sales or leads that had nothing or little to do with the ad exposure or might have happened under any circumstance.

Taken With a Grain of Salt

To paint a more realistic picture of the retargeting contribution to your overall results, you can take a few steps. First, manage your cookies so that view-through conversions have a reasonable window. The goal is to capture those ad viewers who may have been influenced to act by the ad exposure, not just to grab credit for anyone your network happens to serve. The appropriate view-through window will vary by client, audience segment, sales consideration cycle, messaging, and a host of other factors.

Second, coordinate your analytics so you can get an integrated picture of the audience touch points and paths to conversion across tactics and channels. Third, test. There are many benefits to having a consistent behavioral program in place, but if you really believe it isn’t contributing the ROI that the reporting shows, then turn if off for a time and see if and where your overall program results suffer.

Why Not Retargeting?

It’s becoming harder to resist going to a display media model with a strong element of retargeting. It converts very well at lower costs, so it makes for great campaign reporting and it can scale quickly across a network or multiple networks. So why would you do anything else?

Many reasons. Below are a number of situations or scenarios where I typically would not recommend retargeting:

  • You don’t have the budget to fund feeder programs that drive traffic for retargeting payoff or can’t afford the pricey monthly minimums that networks sometimes charge.
  • The campaign goal is specifically looking for new customers (though you could use reverse retargeting).
  • The brand or company is sensitive to network placements and wants more control over sites or content adjacencies.
  • The branding campaign’s reach is more important than frequency, or a sponsorship or roadblock placement offers the desired cache.
  • The campaign is short term or the product is low consideration, so frequency isn’t that important.
  • The frequency caps are restrictive.
  • The program is currently in a retargeting burnout situation, where other feeder programs need to breathe life into the retargeting.
  • There’s the possibility of CPA (define) or other models that can return at a better rate.
  • Site tagging is an issue.
  • The specific creative or messaging doesn’t lend itself to repeated exposures (though you could sequence them).
  • Your niche products or services are best promoted through similarly niche publishers.

While retargeting is an incredibly useful tool for marketers, it serves no one if we put it on a pedestal. It should earn its place in your plan just like other campaign elements. Recognizing the halo effect these retargeting programs often have doesn’t diminish their efficacy. It just creates more appropriate accountability for providers, agencies, and marketers and more opportunities to realistically and suitably compare budget outlays and returns across the growing array of options in online marketing.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.