Why Are These Ads Following Me? Retargeting Ads

by Celeste Bishop

in Online Advertising

Perhaps you’ve had this experience – you visit a website, say a furniture store or a business supplier and leave. Yet all of a sudden, everywhere you go online (or at least so it seems) those guy’s ads are just showing up like crazy. Even worse… they’re showing you ads for specific items that you viewed on their site.

Sooner or later it dawns on you that you’re being followed. You might then start getting either ticked off or just curious.  Or both. Ticked off – as in “where’s my privacy?” Curious – as in “how’d they do that?”

Retargeting Ad Process

Courtesy: The Atlanta Journal Constitution Media Kit

Then, if you’re a business owner and/or marketer you may find yourself wondering: “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)?”

Online Advertising Update – Personalized Retargeting Ads

In the past few years a new form of online advertising has shown up called Retargeting. Retargeting ads are becoming fairly commonplace. Wikipedia refers to this as Personalized Advertising and offers this definition:

Personalized Advertising is a display advertising technique used by online advertisers to recapture consumers who visit a site and leave without making a purchase. It functions as a complement to search, SEO and other marketing campaign tactics. The products that appear in each user’s display ad are unique to each user and reflect products that the user previously viewed.

Author Note: This is not unique to online retail; it’s an advertising technique that is increasingly being used for prospecting, offsite sales and branding campaigns among other goals.

What’s the Customer’s Experience?

  • The customer visits a website and after browsing a bit, they leave and go on to other websites or web properties such as YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, industry portals, etc.
  • The customer then starts noticing that they keep seeing ads for the site they previously visited in different places online, even in places that are totally unrelated (like Fandango). At first it seems like a coincidence.
  • It becomes increasingly clear that this is no longer just a coincidence. Retargeted customers start formulating opinions about their experience ranging from being ticked off about privacy violations to thinking how clever it is. Some of those customers then re-engage. Some become actual customers and buy.

What’s Happening?

  • Behind the scenes, the customer has arrived at a site that has been prepped to track & monitor where visitors go on that site.
  • This behind-the-scenes technical preparation (involving pixels, cookies, filters and parameters) allow ads for that business or their products/services to follow the customer as they go to other online sites that are participants in a retargeting advertising network and repeatedly display targeted ads to the customer. 
  • The ads they see may be highly personalized to display ads for the type of products/services that they abandoned in their shopping cart or viewed on the initiating website/web property. They can also be generic branding ads that everyone sees.
  • Retargeting ads are generally session-independent. Once tagged for retargeting, the ads can display to an individual for weeks or longer depending on the campaign parameters.
  • This is how someone “coincidentally” sees ads for sites they previously visited wherever they go online.

What’s the Business Perspective?

Since retargeting really hugs the line when it comes to privacy and is sometimes just plain creepy, it better provide significant value. Is it? In a word… It Depends. OK that wasn’t one word yet it’s also accurate. Here’s some food for thought:

  • Retargeting can significantly increase brand reach and brand awareness at fairly low costs.
  • Companies that participate in retargeting advertising can set up filters to be as narrow or broad as they want in terms of what customers/behaviors then get shown their display ads when they visit other sites and online web properties (like Facebook, YouTube, industry portals, etc.) in the retargeting display network.  For instance, you could target only people who have abandoned a shopping cart or people who have lingered on a product demo page or you could retarget everyone who visits your site.
  • So the ads people see in retargeting can be tailored to be highly specialized to them (such as the particular type of clothing or software they viewed on the site that initialed the retargeting ads) or high-level brand messaging that everyone sees.
  • Retargeting can lower your overall customer-acquisition and/or lead gen costs.
  • Most people visit your site once and then are “out of there” never to return. (Statistically that number is as high at 98% of all visitors to a site, according to research from Click Value.) This technique can significantly change the dynamic of how many visitors you can re-engage with your brand or products.
  • Frankly, the WIIFM is pretty strong — otherwise you wouldn’t see so much of this. Still… not for everyone.

My Observations

  • We’ve seen it work with our clients. It drives leads & sales at low price points.
  • While it does work, the available impression inventory in the retargeting display networks is not large; you should use it as an adjunct to other online display ad channels.
  • You would never want to use it with sensitive topics. Several of our clients are in the healthcare sector where privacy is paramount; you’d never use it with those organizations. Err on the side of discretion or prepare for it to blow-up.
  • This also works with other online marketing assets you control, such as Facebook. Also, consider cross-channel remarketing.

Final Thoughts

There is much more to this topic than can be covered here and I’ll cover more of it in the future. Suffice it to say there are layers of sophistication and control that are pretty impressive. Retargeting vendors are coming up with some pretty interesting approaches and there are even DIY retargeting networks that you can use to get some first-hand experience.

I had my own first-hand experience with this while researching the topic “retargeting” for this article only to find that E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E I went I was besieged by ads from… you guessed it – retargeters!

Do I personally like this form of advertising? No. But I have to say that it works to keep me focused on places that have previously caught my attention and it probably makes me far more likely to buy from them. And I have to report that I have parted with $$ to buy items that just kept showing up. Will we (Bishop Market Resources) use it again for our businesses and clients? You bet.

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