What is Retargeting? (Ads That Get Visitors to Come Back)

What is retargeting

You may have had this happen. You visit a site, and then afterwards it seems like you see ads for that site everywhere you go.

Coincidence? Stalking?

No – it is called retargeting.

For businesses, retargeting has become a common practice in the world of advertising over the past few years.  Retargeting ads are designed to get visitors to come back to your site.

Consider this: according to Retargeter.com, only 2% of web visitors convert to a sale or other action on the first visit. That’s abysmally low considering the average volume of traffic an average website pulls in.

So, what’s a small business to do?

If you want to increase your conversions (e.g., sales) there are a number of things you can do. You could increase your traffic to get more visitors. You could make your offering more attractive. You could improve your website, such as making your calls to action more prominent.  You could do various activities to improve local conversion rates.

There’s another option. If you have the money to advertise, you may decide to use retargeting ads. Retargeting ads help remind your prior visitors about your site, and increase the chances they will return and buy.

The idea behind retargeting is to get a higher percentage of visitors to convert to a sale, because they are reminded of your site even after they leave.

Retargeting focuses on the 98% of visitors who left your website for reasons unknown. The act of serving them with reminder ads is an attempt to keep your brand in their cognitive zone and to allow your brand to sink in. And it beckons them back.

Retargeted ads focus on lost traffic. These ads are your last hope before the customers go beyond the point of no return.

None of the above techniques are mutually exclusive. You could do any and all of the above to increase your conversions — increase your traffic, improve your offering, improve your website and/or retarget ads.

How Retargeting Works

The way retargeting works is simple from the advertiser’s perspective. The advertiser’s website includes a piece of javascript code. That code sets a cookie in the visitor’s browser. When the visitor goes to other sites, the cookie ensures that the advertiser’s ads are displayed only to those who have previously visited the advertiser’s site.

Today, retargeted ads have become widespread.  You can deliver retargeted ads through Google AdWords (Google calls it remarketing). Even LinkedIn and Facebook now have retargeting as a part of their advertising platforms.

Retargeting is done anonymously. In other words, the fact that a site visitor is seeing an ad does not mean the advertiser is getting any personal data about the visitor. That advertiser simply wants the visitor who was there to see their ads and be reminded to come back and do something.

In fact, one of the best parts of retargeting is you don’t need to know who the “prospect” is. Unlike email marketing that depends on a customer’s email address to continue nurturing until they buy, retargeting is independent of any contact with your visitors.

What is Retargeting? (Ads That Get Visitors to Come Back)

Does Retargeting Really Work for Small Businesses?

The numbers are impressive.

Econsultancy.com reports that envelopes.com cut down its shopping cart abandonment rate by 40% thanks to retargeted emails.

ReTargeter.com has even more proof in numbers: Zen Desk – a web-based customer support software for businesses – used retargeting to achieve the following: a whopping 1317% ROI (return on investment) from all conversions combined, a 1160% ROI in view-through conversions, and a 57% ROI from click-through conversions.

The Numbers are Cool. So, is Retargeting Infallible?

Retargeting is complex. It works, but….

We used retargeting ads for two years to build up brand visibility for BizSugar.com, another site we purchased in 2009. We wanted to remind visitors to keep coming back and keep using the site. In our case we were trying to increase registrations and repeat visits. It worked well for those purposes.

But … retargeting may also be costly and perform poorly if not well executed. You could be flushing your advertising dollars down the drain.

Here are some best practices for retargeting:

(1) Start out with clear goals. Is your goal to raise brand awareness? Is it to increase sales? Is it to increase registrations or newsletter signup or some other call to action?  You goal(s) will dictate how you execute retargeting ad campaigns.

(2) Don’t overdo it.  Smart advertisers don’t overload that visitor with a gazillion ads for weeks on end, annoying the visitor. Instead, limit the number of ad impressions and number of days to display ads to previous visitors. Remember, you’re trying to positively impress that prior visitor, not creep them out.

(3) Don’t waste money with poor targeting. As a site visitor, has this ever happened to you? You visit a site, you buy something, and then you are bombarded with ads for the very thing you bought for the next four days. Does that site really expect you to go back four days later and buy MORE of the exact same thing? Not going to happen.

Dax Hamman on Search Engine Land suggests segmenting your site, so that you can retarget more intelligently depending on the stage in the buying process that the visitor reached before leaving your site. And instead of serving a one-size-fits-all banner ad, serve ads targeting actual shopper preferences or based on their last activity on your website (such as apparel ads to those who were browsing apparel, not hardware ads or generic brand ads).

Retargeting Best PracticesDescription
Start with Clear GoalsDefine specific objectives for your retargeting campaigns, such as raising brand awareness, increasing sales, or driving specific actions like registrations or newsletter signups.
Avoid OverloadingLimit the number of ad impressions and the duration of ad displays to previous visitors to prevent overwhelming them with excessive ads.
Target WiselySegment your audience based on their stage in the buying process and tailor retargeting ads to their preferences or last activity on your website.
Avoid RedundancyEnsure retargeting ads are relevant by not showing ads for products or services visitors have already purchased.
Mobile OptimizationMake sure your retargeting ads and landing pages are mobile-friendly to reach users across various devices effectively.
Monitor and AdjustContinuously analyze retargeting campaign performance using analytics and adjust strategies based on data insights.
A/B TestingExperiment with different ad variations and strategies through A/B testing to refine your retargeting efforts.
Maintain Brand ConsistencyKeep your brand message and visual identity consistent across all retargeting ads and landing pages.
Diversify Ad PlacementsExplore various ad placements, including social media, display networks, and email retargeting, to broaden your reach.

What is Retargeting? (Ads That Get Visitors to Come Back)

How Can You Make Retargeting Work?

Retargeting is a good opportunity for small businesses but it doesn’t override other digital marketing best practices. All the best practices for optimization of landing pages, ads, blog posts, product pages (for ecommerce sites), and shopping carts still apply. Analytics and using data also are critical components, as are understanding visitor behavior.

When done right, retargeting is an incredibly powerful opportunity for businesses and marketers to increase their exposure, boost their conversions, and pump up sales. When done wrong, it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Is it a double-edged sword? It certainly is.

But done well, as part of an overall marketing strategy, retargeting can be powerful for small businesses.

What is Retargeting? (Ads That Get Visitors to Come Back)

Maximizing the Benefits of Retargeting

As we delve further into the realm of retargeting, it’s important to highlight some additional strategies and considerations that can help you make the most out of this powerful digital marketing tool. Here are some key ways to maximize the benefits of retargeting:

  • Segment Your Audience: Divide your audience into segments based on their behavior on your website. Create tailored retargeting campaigns for each segment, addressing their specific interests and needs.
  • Create Compelling Ad Creative: Design visually appealing and engaging ad creatives that resonate with your audience. Use persuasive copy and eye-catching visuals to capture their attention.
  • Leverage Dynamic Retargeting: If you have an e-commerce website, consider dynamic retargeting. This approach automatically displays ads featuring the specific products or services that visitors viewed on your site.
  • Optimize Landing Pages: Ensure that the landing pages you direct retargeted visitors to are optimized for conversions. Make it easy for them to take the desired action, whether it’s making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter.
  • Monitor and Adjust: Continuously monitor the performance of your retargeting campaigns. Use analytics to track key metrics like click-through rates and conversion rates. Adjust your strategies based on data insights to improve campaign effectiveness.
  • A/B Testing: Experiment with different ad variations and strategies through A/B testing. This allows you to refine your retargeting efforts by identifying which approaches yield the best results.
  • Consider Frequency Caps: Implement frequency caps to limit the number of times a user sees your retargeting ads within a specific timeframe. This prevents ad fatigue and annoyance.
  • Mobile Optimization: Given the prevalence of mobile browsing, ensure that your retargeting ads and landing pages are mobile-friendly to capture a broader audience.
  • Combine with Content Marketing: Integrate retargeting with your content marketing efforts. For example, you can retarget visitors who engaged with a specific blog post or resource with related offers or content.
  • Test Ad Placements: Explore different ad placements, including social media, display networks, and email retargeting, to diversify your reach and engagement.
  • Maintain Brand Consistency: Keep your brand message and visual identity consistent across all retargeting ads and landing pages to reinforce brand recognition and trust.
Strategies for Maximizing Retargeting BenefitsDescription
Segment Your AudienceDivide your audience into segments based on their website behavior for tailored retargeting campaigns.
Create Compelling Ad CreativeDesign visually appealing and persuasive ad creatives that capture your audience's attention.
Leverage Dynamic RetargetingUtilize dynamic retargeting to display specific products or services based on visitor interactions.
Optimize Landing PagesEnsure landing pages directed at retargeted visitors are optimized for easy conversions.
Monitor and AdjustContinuously track campaign performance, analyze key metrics, and make adjustments based on data insights.
A/B TestingExperiment with different ad variations and strategies through A/B testing for refined retargeting efforts.
Consider Frequency CapsImplement frequency caps to prevent ad fatigue by limiting the number of ad displays to users in a set timeframe.
Mobile OptimizationMake retargeting ads and landing pages mobile-friendly to reach a broader audience effectively.
Combine with Content MarketingIntegrate retargeting with content marketing efforts, targeting engaged visitors with related offers or content.
Test Ad PlacementsExplore various ad placements, including social media, display networks, and email retargeting, to diversify your reach.
Maintain Brand ConsistencyKeep brand message and visual identity consistent across all retargeting ads and landing pages to reinforce brand recognition.

What is Retargeting? (Ads That Get Visitors to Come Back)


In the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, the concept of retargeting stands out as a powerful tool that small businesses can leverage to their advantage. As we conclude our exploration of retargeting, it becomes clear that this strategy holds immense potential but also demands careful consideration and strategic implementation.

Retargeting, also known as remarketing, addresses a fundamental challenge faced by businesses in the digital realm: the low conversion rate of first-time website visitors. With statistics showing that only a meager 2% of these visitors take immediate action, retargeting steps in as a crucial mechanism to bring back the remaining 98%. It does so by subtly reminding them of your brand, enticing them to return, and ultimately nudging them towards conversion.

The mechanism behind retargeting is elegantly simple: a piece of code placed on your website tracks visitor behavior and sets the stage for the display of targeted ads to these visitors when they browse other sites. This technology has found its way into popular advertising platforms like Google AdWords, LinkedIn, and Facebook, making it accessible to businesses of all sizes.

However, like any powerful tool, retargeting requires a thoughtful approach. Clear objectives must be set, whether it’s raising brand awareness, driving sales, increasing registrations, or other specific goals. It’s crucial to strike a balance in ad frequency and duration, avoiding overwhelming potential customers with excessive ads. Segmentation and tailored messaging based on visitor behavior are also essential to ensure that retargeting efforts are relevant and effective.

While retargeting holds remarkable promise, it is not a standalone solution. It works best when integrated into a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that includes optimizing landing pages, ads, content, and leveraging analytics. Furthermore, retargeting should be viewed as an opportunity to enhance exposure, conversions, and sales, but it is not infallible. Poorly executed retargeting can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities.

In conclusion, retargeting is a double-edged sword—an invaluable asset when wielded with care and strategy but a potential pitfall when mismanaged. Small businesses can harness its potential to re-engage their audience, increase brand visibility, and drive conversions. However, it’s imperative to approach retargeting with clear goals, judicious targeting, and an understanding of visitor behavior. When thoughtfully integrated into a broader digital marketing ecosystem, retargeting can be a potent force for small businesses seeking to make a lasting impact in the digital realm.

Come back image via Shutterstock

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.