Retargeting – Ads That Follow You Around

Retargeting – Are You Being Followed?

retargetingIf you’re like most people, you probably make a lot of purchases online.  For some things, you’ll buy right away.  I regularly buy coffee beans from Amazon, and when I go there, I click and make the purchase.  For other items, however, I might search, ponder, and decide to come back later if I’m not ready to make a purchase right away.  Often, when I do that, I’ll find myself seeing ads on nearly every site I visit for the very item I was looking at, or at least something very similar to that.  Retargeting is the name that describes the process that makes that happen.

If you haven’t experienced retargeting yet, you just need to pay a bit more attention to the ads that appear in your browser.  I even see it on eBay; when I look at an eBay listing but don’t buy, I’ll often see sponsored ads for something similar on subsequent pages that I visit on the site.  How does  work?  What does it do, exactly?  Read on for more about retargeting.

How Does Retargeting Work?

Retargeting is generally used as a method of advertising to people who did not buy something or trigger a conversion on a Website.  Statistically, some 98% of people do not buy something the first time they look at it, which leads to fairly low initial conversion rates.  People do, however, tend to buy things once they’ve seen them a few times, so advertisers rightly realize that if they can show their product to consumers multiple times within a short timeframe, such as a few days, they’re more likely to get a conversion.


Retargeting, also known as behavioral retargeting or retargeting marketing, requires cooperation between several entities in order to work; the initial site where you visit and see the product, subsequent sites that you visit, and an advertising network that works with all of the Websites involved.  You need to have a cookie placed on your computer at the site where you first see a product offered for sale.  This cookie will contain some information about your visit – what pages you were visiting, the time and date of the visit, and your geographic location.  This information is stored on your computer.

retargeting - being followedIf you leave the Website where the product was offered for sale and visit another Website that has ads from the same ad network as that of the initial site, the site’s ad server will recognize the cookie on your system.  From the information contained in the cookie, the ad server will then choose an ad to show to you that promotes the same (or a similar) product.  While you might be seeing an ad for an electric razor on a particular site that’s served by a particular ad network, someone else visiting the site at the same time might be seeing an ad for a blender or a flat screen TV.  The beauty of retargeting is that it can tailor the ads to individual site visitors based on known previous activity and interests.  Because you’re going to be shown ads that are tailored to things they know you’re interested in, you are much more likely to respond to the ad by clicking on it.

This is similar to the sort of thing you might see when you visit Amazon and you look at something today but don’t buy it.  Later, they might show you some “recommended” products from the same or similar product line.  Of course, sometimes retargeting can fail, and fail spectacularly.  If you’re middle aged, but are shopping for a gift for your five year old nephew, you might find yourself seeing ads for Spongebob Squarepants everywhere you go.  While retargeting can determine what you were searching for and thinking about buying, it cannot yet determine why you were shopping for it, nor can such systems determine a level of interest…yet.

Retargeting is becoming more sophisticated, however.  Various companies are aware that level of interest in some items will linger longer than others, and over time, they’ve been able to determine how long retargeting will be effective for a visitor who leaves a Website.  While browsers generally keep cookies for 30 days, most retargeting campaigns run their course in less than ten days, though the number of days where you’ll see an ad for a particular type of product is likely to depend on the company’s own data regarding how long is the “optimum” time to show people their ads.  As an advertiser, you want to show ads often enough to attract the interest of the site visitor, but not so often or for so long that your ads begin to annoy them.  Sometimes, that’s a fine line.

retargeting marketingWhile it might be somewhat annoying for some Web surfers to see these ads “following them around”, most people would rather see an ad for something that interests them than ads for things that have no interest at all.  From the advertiser’s point of view, ads that are relevant to the visitors’ interests are far more likely to convert than random ads.

Most of the larger ad networks are now offering retargeting services for products of all kinds, and you’re likely to have the option available to you even if you’re only spending modest amounts of money on display advertising.  Retargeting seems to work well with products of all kinds, including those in the affiliate marketing or make money online niches.  Retargeting advertising is generally affordable, as well and tends to convert well.

Retargeting Conclusion

As consumers spend more time online, they rapidly begin to suffer from what has been called “banner blindness” which means that ordinary ads for random products often go completely unnoticed by visitors who have simply become conditioned to ignoring ads.  Retargeting, on the other hand, can combat banner blindness by showing visitors ads that are of interest to them, for products that they are known to have been shopping for.  That makes it easier to turn what has been, up to now, a non-sale into a conversion, making the transaction a win for both the advertiser as well as the company that serves the ads.

Next time you see an ad for something you were thinking about buying, you’ll think, “Look -it’s retargeting.”



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