Retargeting Doesn’t Work?!?

I read a great post last week from Think SEM entitled “Are You Remarketing Or Merely Stalking” and it got me thinking. Remarketing or retargeting, whichever term you or your clients use, might just be getting an unfair bad rap due to these kinds of practices. Business is cyclical, as anyone who has been in any game long enough will attest. New fangled tools arise and the best of them survive and mature. Retargeting is a terrific example of one of these maturing tools or technologies.

Let’s Take A Step Back For A Second…

A lot of the arguments about whether or not retargeting works or not remind me an awful lot of the arguments PPC pros often hear when businesses talk about whether or not PPC works for business. Some of the familiar refrains we have heard uttered over time regarding PPC include:

  • It’s too complicated.
  • It’s too expensive.
  • We tried it and it didn’t produce any leads/sales.
  • We don’t need to include this in our marketing mix.
  • I don’t ever click on ads, so why should we spend money on them?
  • Our conversion/sales/lead figures from the web are all just fine.

Sound familiar? If you’ve been in PPC long enough to remember when it was more of an optional rather than critical advertising and marketing channel, I am sure you have had conversations with clients or potential clients that included some or all of the above comments. Part of it is a natural wariness or skepticism about new technologies, tools or outlets. Part of it can be a bias toward extrapolating one person’s own behavior or preferences and assuming they are representative of either ALL people and/or their prospective clients or customers. For example an executive once said to me that he “didn’t really use email all that much” so he didn’t think we should bother with any email marketing.

The Maturation Of Retargeting

Retargeting really is still a young technology. It probably doesn’t feel that way to PPC professionals because we have been hearing about it and/or implementing it for years now. But for businesses in general, it is still in the new category as far as ways to reach potential customers and places to spend marketing dollars. It is important to remember this when you’re talking to existing or potential clients about remarketing. If they have any idea what it is, that idea is probably incredibly vague. Probably along the lines of “oh yeah, after I was looking for ‘product/service X’ I did notice that I seemed to be seeing more ads for ‘product/service X'”. They have no idea how it works, how specifically targeted it can be, etc.

Which brings me back to the tongue-in-cheek title of this piece – Retargeting Doesn’t Work?!? Poorly executed retargeting, like any marketing initiative, won’t work. Like any avenue for marketing, it can be incredibly successful and produce fabulous returns on investment or it can be a colossal waste of money and resources. It is all in the execution.

And here is where so many are just getting it wrong right now – they are doing it like many still do PPC – with no definitive plan. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken over an account or performed an audit and seen PPC campaigns set up to capture every possible eyeball under the sun. I see and hear about this same behavior with remarketing, clients essentially saying things like:

  • Let’s absolutely do retargeting. We want to show our ads to anyone and everyone who hit our site!
  • Can we retarget to people who have not visited our site?
  • Let’s make sure we are also showing ads to them on Facebook whenever they log on there.

I could go on. I think retargeting is a really cool tool. As a marketer, I love to have another chance to possibly get the right message in front of the right person at the right time. But here’s the thing, when you are thinking about retargeting people, you have to try to develop some understanding about which piece(s) of that formula didn’t hit the first time. Did they not mean to click? Was your offer not compelling or interesting or competitive? Were they interested, but just got distracted? These things matter when it comes to setting up remarketing campaigns for success.

Learn What Is Happening The First Time

Here comes the unsexy part of all of this – the hard work and the data mining. I’m going to make a radical suggestion here regarding when to add retargeting into your mix – whenever you think you’re ready, wait another three to six months. Now, if you’re a conversion optimization pro and/or you are an Analytics whiz, you could disregard that statement, maybe. But for mere mortals, I would be willing to bet that you could craft an even better remarketing effort if you did some other conversion optimization testing, like ad copy offers, landing page A/B testing, etc. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure that your primary, or first line campaigns are capturing as many of the potential customers/leads as possible? In my mind, this just makes sense because…

Retargeting Is Gravy

This is simple math people. In order to retarget, you may have already paid for that person’s attention at least once. If you did not capture them the first time, how much are you willing to pay or spend for the opportunity to potentially capture them at a later time? The answer might be “a lot” or “some” or “hmmm, I hadn’t thought of it like that before” but regardless, this should be part of the calculations involved in deciding the level of resources to put into retargeting.

There are varying opinions out there regarding exactly the best way to set up retargeting campaigns, and this piece is not meant to dive deeply into that kind of strategy. But, I do want you to start really thinking about prioritizing your remarketing and talking to clients about prioritizing. Stop thinking, or allowing clients to think, of retargeting as monolithic. It is not something that is simply either on or off – at least it shouldn’t be! The best retargeting campaigns are designed to give people who might actually convert another shot at doing so. They are not just shotgun blasts of the same message again and again and again to infinity.

So what do you think? What are your criteria for developing retargeting initiatives? As always, sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon).


  1. ThinkSEM says:


    Agree 100%, Julie! Retargeting can be a VERY powerful PPC/marketing tool…

    …but it has to be done correctly. And, as you mentioned, analytics/data mining is a HUGE part of remarketing.

    Gotta know your stuff 🙂

  2. There are two things I try to do with remarketing. First, I like to create as many audiences as possible to layer them in my audiences tab. This will allow me to have a hyper-targeted remarketing approach and change my ad message to each of the audience groups. Yes, my traffic is much lower. My results, however, are much better because I’m not regurgitating the same message to every single person.

    If we’re talking about RLSA campaigns, I make sure my remarketing message and landing page is completely different for users encountering the second interaction. If your first ad and landing page didn’t work the first time, why show them the same thing again? I try to make the value messages more enticing (sometimes hard to do) to hit the message harder the second times.

    I can’t say this works for everyone. Just saying what has been working for me. Thanks for the post Julie!

    • Neptune Moon says:

      Great points and practices!

      I think retargeting is one of those things that seems simple on its face, but when you really start to think about how to do it effectively it gets a lot more complicated.

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