5 Lessons Learned in Site Retargeting

At Software Advice, we’ve spent the last two years experimenting with site retargeting. When we decided to go into retargeting, we decided that we would do research on vendors and strategies ourselves and learn along the way. While we already had some experience with pay per click advertising, which was useful, we had to learn the quirks of managing retargeting campaigns through trial and error.

Like most online marketing, it’s been an iterative process and one that we’ve slowly refined along the way. I’d like to share five tips that we learned first-hand by managing our retargeting campaigns ourselves.


1. Decide Which Vendor Fits Your Needs
There are a lot of retargeting vendors on the market–and as site retargeting continues to grow in popularity so too does the number of vendors to choose from. In our view, selecting the right vendor for your business largely boils down to the level of control that you desire.

There are two broad classifications that site retargeting vendors fall into:

  1. Managed platform. A managed platform is exactly what it sounds like… you select the vendor, tell them what you want to do with your campaign and then you let them optimize your campaigns for you. These vendors provide you with dedicated account managers that are responsible for making your campaign a success and offer automated optimization tools to get maximize campaign performance.
  2. Self-service platform. In contrast to the managed platform approach, these platforms allow you to tweak most campaign parameters on your own. A few parameters you can adjust are campaign ad spend, audience segmentation, cookie duration and number of impressions per visitor per day. While these vendors give you considerable control over your campaigns, there is a trade off in that it’s much more difficult to get these working properly if you don’t know what you’re doing.

While we can’t offer an exhaustive vendor break down, I’d like to share our experience of working with five of the leading retargeting vendors on the market.

Google AdWords
Pro: Google AdWords site retargeting (which they refer to as site remarketing) was the first platform we worked with. We liked the fact that Google allows you to segment your visitor audience based on the page they viewed so you get more granular with your retargeting and serve unique ad offers. You can also prevent your ads from appearing on certain websites that you think will have a low ROI so you don’t spend money placing ads on sites where you think visitors are unlikely to convert.

Con: When you use Google AdWords, you can only bid on ads using the DoubleClick ad network. Although this is an extensive network, you can miss out on opportunities to bid on ad placements for sites that don’t use DoubleClick, such as Facebook.

Pro: After using AdWords, we tested out ReTargeter, which is a managed platform. It was nice to get a dedicated account manager on our side to help with things and teach us some of the ins and outs of site retargeting. ReTargeter is also good because they have access to most of the ad networks.

Con: We had a tough time getting an ROI out of the program because we weren’t able to get very granular with our targeting. We were also still new to the discipline so our offers, ad copy and landing pages still needed some work.

Pro: One of the best things about AdRoll is that they work on most of the major ad networks, and that includes Facebook Exchange and DoubleClick. What we liked most about them is the user interface which puts your key performance indicators (e.g. click-through rate, number of impressions and daily budget) front and center of the dashboard view.

Con: We still use AdRoll for retargeting and don’t have many complaints. Our only point here is that you should expect to see a higher cost per click (CPC) than some of the other networks because they have to bid into other ad networks. You’ll have lower CPC’s, for instance, with Google.

Pro: With FetchBack, you get the benefit of guaranteed above the fold ad placement. However, you do have a slightly higher cost per impression (CPM) because of the ad placement. We also like FetchBack’s ability to dynamically create banner ads based on which page a visitor viewed while on our site.

Con: Our major issue with FetchBack is that the process for setting up your campaigns is a bit inefficient. Since they’re a managed platform, you have to send information to setup your campaign settings by emailing back and forth with reps. However, we found FetchBack’s rep to be very accommodating and polite during the setup process.

Perfect Audience
Pro: Perfect Audience is one of the newer retargeting vendors on the market and is one of the few vendors that has access to the Facebook ad network. We’re just starting to test them out but we’ve found the platform fairly easy to use so far. Since they are new to the scene, they offer a relatively low CPC and CPM.

Con: As mentioned above, our feedback is limited right now. If you don’t have ads designed for social media retargeting, you’ll have to redesign your ads to fit with these networks. However, one nice thing about using them is that it’s forced us to create unique social media friendly ads, which we can use for other networks, such as LinkedIn.

2. Check Your Campaign Settings
While it’s a logical step to focus on your campaign settings, there are several defaults that most retargeting vendors use in their system which can lead you to incorrectly target visitors. Here are a few tips on dialing in campaign settings.

Audience geography. Most vendors will default to displaying your ads internationally. If you don’t operate internationally, you’ll want to set some country-specific parameters.

Cookie duration. It’s important to align your buying cycle with the cookie duration for each user. Most vendors will set your cookie duration somewhere between 30-90 days. If you have a buying cycle of 5 days, this will cause you to pay for ads that are no longer effective.

Offer rotation. You should also tune your settings to rotate which ad you show a particular user over the course of the cookie duration. While they may not have clicked on your whitepaper download, they may be interested in getting a free price quote.

3. Divide Your Site into Areas of Interest
Of course, if you want to truly get targeted with your display ads, you’ll want to show different visitors unique ads based on the pages they viewed on your site.

To segment your audience, you first need to divide your website into areas of interest. One logical segmentation would be to organize your website by industry (vertical market). Another might be to segment based on the products you offer. In either case, you’ll build a profile of your visitors by tracking which URLs they visited (e.g. www.acme.com/industries/financial-services).

This will allow you to show a different ad to someone that works for a small construction firm than you would to a large financial services provider.

4. Test Your Ads in a Disciplined Way
Once you’ve developed audience segmentation framework, it’s time to start tweaking and testing your ads. There are many aspects of an ad that you can change, but a few of them are:

  • Ad headline
  • Ad copy
  • Background color
  • Images
  • Ad Size
  • Calls to action

Most of our focus has been on adjusting the ad copy, ad headline and image in our ads. Below, you can see how dramatic of an impact making small adjustments to your ads can have on your click through rate (CTR) and conversion rates.

Price Quote

In order to know which ads are working, however, it’s important to allow your ads to run long enough to achieve statistical significance. To do this, test the ad in your most active market and get at least 500-1000 clicks before you decide to pull and analyze your data. As you’re conducting these tests, be sure to also utilize your ad rotation as you don’t want to oversaturate visitors.

5. Understand that Attribution Can be Difficult
While you’re testing, you need to keep in mind that attribution can be difficult with site retargeting. For instance, how do you attribute a conversion from a visitor who originally found your website via a PPC campaign, bounced, and then later converted from a retargeting ad?

We give 100 percent attribution to our retargeting campaign if the conversion resulted from a click on our retargeting pixel. You will have to set your own rules for how you attribute campaign effectiveness, but we’ve found that this is the simplest way to get around the issue.

There you have our best tips that we’ve come up with after two years of working with site retargeting. What tips can you share? Leave a comment below to help other Webmasters and Internet advertisers.

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