Retargeting: Beyond the Basics

Behavioral retargeting can be an advertiser’s dream, offering the ability to reconnect with your audience wherever they are on the web and drive them back to your website. While many advertisers are seeing fruitful results with basic retargeting campaigns, there’s much more opportunity to grow and optimize retargeting to maximize results. Many of these tips can be applied across networks, but my tips today will focus on the Google AdWords remarketing product. Using more advanced techniques in setup, list management, and optimization can help to take your retargeting efforts to new levels.

The Setup

Campaign setup is especially important as it supports the strategic vision and can control performance. Several considerations should be taken into account when setting up your retargeting campaigns.

  • Since your ads appear on the Google Display network, create both image and text ad creative versions to maximize reach.
  • Adjust the membership duration (number of days the cookie stays in the user’s browser). Be sure this correlates with the sales cycle of the product. Hotter prospects may be more recent visitors, but a longer sales cycle will require you to target your audience for a longer period of time. You will find this setting in the “Audience” tab.
  • De-dupe view-through conversions to ensure click conversions and view-through conversion reporting does not overlap and you can clearly break out conversions. “View-through conversion search de-duplication” can be found in the conversion section of the “reporting and tools” tab.
  • Frequency capping can be an interesting setting to experiment with. The default is no cap on impressions. For CPC campaigns, you should not employ a frequency cap. For CPM, you may wish to test a certain number of impressions per prospect per day, based on your overall strategy. This setting can be managed in the “campaign settings” tab.

List Strategies and Management

Simple lists work well at first, but as your pay-per-click program grows, so too will your retargeting strategies. You’ll begin to want to expand what works well and venture into new areas to test. Consider using the tips that follow.

  • Have an impressive list to retarget? What if you are not reaching the full list? To find out, calculate the share of users you are reaching. If the percentage of users you are reaching is low, optimization may help to increase reach. In the formula below, “5” represents the average number of impressions per one user.
  • Custom combinations allow you to target your audience by mixing and matching your lists with an and/or/not relationship. You can create these in the “Audiences” tab. For example, select “all of these audiences” to include your standard site visitor list and then “none of these audiences” to exclude the purchaser list to target all non-buyers who visit your site. Combinations are endless!
  • Look to the sales funnel to help create lists that target your prospects based on where they are in the sales funnel: awareness, research, purchase. For example, someone who is in the research phase may be influenced to purchase by a discount or special promotion featured in your creative.


It may surprise you how many ways your retargeting can be optimized to improve performance. The principles are similar to a typical pay-per-click campaign, but differ in that our audience is pre-qualified.

  • Revisit your ad formats and sizes to ensure you’ve included every size of image ad available to get the most reach across the ad network.
  • Consider raising your bids to appear in the Display Network more frequently and thus reach more users to drive better performance.
  • Your prospect is already qualified, so for retargeting, there is no need to restrict your campaign geographically. Remember, you want to reach your users wherever they are, which can include all countries and languages.
  • Segment out specific sites (then exclude them from the master list) based on performance. If a few sites are yielding the top results, segment them out and customize messaging, bidding, etc. to optimize results.

Each client and account will be different and present unique challenges. As you begin to take on more advanced tactics, step back to review your strategies and setup. You’ll quickly get a feel for the best way to design and develop your audience lists and checkpoints for your optimizations.

Related reading

Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.