Pop a Cap on that Ad: Retargeting 2012

If you spend as much time online as I do, you’ve probably experienced “retargeted advertising”.

There are two types of retargeting advertising: site retargeting and search retargeting. Both are great concepts, but you need to be cautious as they can easily infuriate prospective and existing customers if done wrong.

Site retargeting is meant to increase brand awareness, retain website visitors and drive users through your conversion channel. It’s conversion-based and it works when someone comes to your website. A string of code drops a cookie on the visitor’s computer. When the guest navigates away from your site to other popular sites, your banner ads will pop up as they surf, driving them back to your site to encourage a purchase.

Search retargeting is all about finding new customers. It is acquisition-based and will target folks who have not yet visited your site but who perform a related Google, Yahoo or Bing search for a product or service similar to yours. Search retargeting will “extend the interaction with the same searchers when they move away from the search query results page to other online activities.” In other words, when a customer does a Google search for something like “mattresses”, then goes to check the latest celeb gossip, there’s a good chance an ad for Sleep Country or something similar will be waiting for them. (Don’t confuse this with search advertising, which is a method of placing ads in the results of search engine queries.)

How can it go wrong?

FREQUENCY CAPPING: Put a cap on the number of impressions you serve to any one prospect in a given time. This should be a mandatory part of a retargeting campaign. Without a cap, you’re basically just stalking your customers and could be hurting your ROI. The number of impressions that are right for a company will vary, some say 2-3 times a week, others say 3-9 a day. It depends on your product, brand, objectives and your other marketing efforts.

EXPIRY DATES: People will usually make up their mind about making a purchase within a certain amount of time. Don’t waste your hard-earned advertising dollars on running retargeting campaigns for last season’s shoes. Keep your advertising fresh and current.

EXCLUSION OF PAST PURCHASERS: Many online complaints point to advertisers who are stalking people with ads for products of which they have already purchased. How do you fix this? There was some talk about creating exclusion pixels which would detag people who have already purchased. On the other hand, if you detag past purchasers, you are no longer nurturing your already-engaged audience. You could be retargeting past purchasers with complimentary products. If you are basing your retargeting campaign on CPA, these are the low-hanging fruit. Again, you need to decide what’s best for your product and brand

YOUR WEBSITE: Make sure your site is worth a retargeting campaign. The goals are conversion or acquisition. If you can neither convert or acquire through your current website, there is no reason why you should be spending money trying to drive people back to your site.


So to recap, here is a list of things that you should keep in mind when building a retargeting campaign:

  1. Don’t retarget customers who have already purchased. But if you must, be sure not to serve ads for products that they already bought.
  2. Serve unique relevant, targeted ads based on your visitor’s surfing habits or searches.
  3. Build in some time between when you retarget and when someone has been to your website (In other words, don’t be an obvious stalker). And scatter your impressions.
  4. Be selective on which pages of your site will retarget. Don’t retarget pages like “press releases” or “about us” or “careers”.
  5. If you’re a hosted app like “Go To Meeting”, don’t cookie people your customers invited to your domain.
  6. High volume advertiser? Pop frequency a cap on your ads and add an expiry date.
  7. Search retargeting keywords should be clear and concise and optimized. For example, “ladies shoes” versus “girls shoes” will provide totally different results

Fun fact: when you do a Google search for “Retargeting + stalking”, you get 280,000 results.



Filed under Just General Ad Stuff

3 responses to “Pop a Cap on that Ad: Retargeting 2012

  1. kdot

    This is definitely a timely and important discussion to be having. Advertisers are rushing to take advantage of each and every new way to drill down and capture niche [pronounced without a T*] audiences effectively. However, few are considering the longevity or future of online advertising as a whole. And, one might ask, why would they? Shouldn’t best practices and audience annoyance be policed by the publishers since annoyed customers could erode their audience/traffic numbers?

    Of course not. When analogue television was king, the mute button, VHS recordings of shows (and thus the fast forward button) and channel flipping were all effective ways to avoid annoying advertising. However, one could easily flip back as soon as the advertising was completed. And since ratings were initially recorded on a diary system (based on what you were watching, not on the ads you saw) and then via a cable box (based on viewing per quarter hour), there was no number erosion as their viewers were indeed still watching the program. When digital and recording boxes became standard in the household, the ability to skip ads was a cost of doing business. Again, the numbers are measuring people who are watching the PROGRAM not the ads. As long as the numbers are there, the publishers have no reason to police bad ad buys…as long as their numbers stay steady & people keep buying weight. Do you see the parallels between traditional TV and online? As long as publishers are not seeing a dip in overall site traffic (or streaming), why would they police your bloated and persistent ad campaigns?

    To make matters worse, by abusing the system, advertisers are perpetuating the consumer belief that advertising is bad and that it is an invasion of privacy. If you stalk your customers and cause them to believe that you not only have the ability to drill into their minds and browsing history, but also the ability to follow them from website to website, you will cause paranoia and encourage customers to speak out against cookies and tracking. Bye bye behavioural targeting. So long retargeting. Hello mass media buys with huge wastage purchased on an A25-54 basis. The health of the industry is important to your business. You are not in a freaking silo.

    So, this blog post is another call to agencies, media buyers and clients to stop auto-buying and start thinking. Start thinking of your customers. Start thinking about the ad experience. Start thinking about how you would react if you were forced to watch your own god damn ad every 5 minutes per hour (sometimes twice).

    *This annoys me almost more than frequency capping. :p

  2. Pingback: Somebody’s Watching Me | Dame Wallis

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