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You’re Doing Retargeting Wrong: Here’s How to Fix It

Authors: Johnathan Dane Johnathan Dane
Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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You’re Doing Retargeting Wrong Here’s How to Fix It

Did you know that of all the targeting options you have when it comes to PPC, retargeting can be the most effective one?

Retargeting effectiveness
Image via ComScore

The only downside is that many people do it so wrong. Grouping all your visitors into one audience and hitting them with the same message is the common practice. And while I applaud you for having done something, this kind of retargeting can have some serious consequences.

In a study by InSkin Media and RAPP, retargeting a redundant message across multiple PPC channels was found to frustrate visitors more than delight. In fact, all the bad emotions you’d expect from retargeting outweighed all the positive emotions by a landslide.

Reaction to retargeting ads
Image via InSkin

But don’t worry—we’re going to change the curve of those bars.

Over 53% of respondents in the study said that retargeting ads are initially useful and helpful, but after seeing the same message more than five times, the chance of conversion goes down drastically.

So instead of just using retargeting for the sake of retargeting, let’s look at some interesting ways to improve your performance with hardly any effort at all.

Time-Delayed Retargeting

Time delayed retargeting does just what the name implies. It works incredibly well when you want to change up the message of your retargeting ads, depending on how long a visitor has been part of your retargeting audience.

For one of our clients, we decided to run a test by splitting up our AdWords retargeting audiences in 1–30 day buckets and 31–360 day buckets (image and text ads in separate campaigns).

Retargeting test

Before running this test, we were finding that people didn’t engage at all after being on the retargeting list for more than 90 days. We changed up the offer in the 31–360 day retargeting campaigns to re-engage those visitors and saw a cheaper cost per conversion compared to the 1–30 day group.

You can do the same and even build out more segmented lists. Your segments should look like this:

  • Audience 1 = 1–14 days
  • Audience 2 = 15–30 days
  • Audience 3 = 31–60 days
  • Audience 4 = 61–120 days

To set this up, you’ll want to clone the same audiences with different cookie expirations.

Let’s say you want to retarget visitors who visited a certain landing page. Your audience would look like this:

You’d then create four different retargeting audiences for all visitors who hit that specific URL. Your campaigns would look like this:

  • Audience 1 = 1–14 days
  • Audience 2 = 15–30 days (exclude Audience 1)
  • Audience 3 = 31–60 days (exclude Audience 1 and 2)
  • Audience 4 = 61–120 days (exclude Audience 1, 2, and 3)


Since all the audiences are cookied on Day 1, you have to use the exclusion process above to make sure your retargeting ads are changing depending on how long a visitor has been cookied. Not only will this help you achieve more conversions, but it will help you learn which offers matter most to your visitors.

Invisible Email Retargeting

If you use email marketing to nurture your subscribers or alert your list of new promotions, then invisible email retargeting is something you need to take advantage of. With the use of a hidden HTML image tag, you can use a tool like SiteScout to set up an accompanying retargeting campaign that targets all people who’ve opened that specific email.

Image via SiteScout


What’s interesting about this tactic is that it isn’t your regular email retargeting that many people associate with eCommerce cart abandonment. In fact, this tactic will work with content promotion, too.

Let’s say you just released a new piece of content (a thorough new guide). You can use this retargeting pixel and create an image ad set to improve your chances of getting more guide downloads. And with the cost being $0.10 per click (depending on the sites your ads show up on), you can effectively bring subscribers back to life that’ve been shown decaying engagement.

ROAS and RLSA Retargeting

If those acronyms confused you, then don’t worry. They’re all part of a retargeting case study that almost made my jaw drop.

Google partnered up with eBags (a leading eCommerce store that sells—you guessed it—bags) to produce some pretty impressive retargeting results. Here’s a snapshot of what was accomplished:

  • Achieved a 10–15% rise in revenue
  • Increased efficiency by 25%


On the surface, those results might not seem that great. But consider that eBags has sold over 17 million bags to date and has 135 employees, so a rise in revenue of just 5% has a huge positive impact. And they did this with an ROI of over 700%.

Here’s how they did it. First, they put all their retargeting campaigns on a return on ad spend (ROAS) bidding formula that was set inside their AdWords account.

ROAS bidding

(You can set this up in your AdWords Shared Library, under Bidding Strategies.)

This means that for every dollar spent on retargeting, they wanted Google to get them $7 in revenue.

Second, they created a retargeting list for search ads (RLSAs) to add in positive bid modifiers on Shopping Campaign audiences that were cart abandoners or have purchased in the last seven days.

To do this yourself, you’ll first want to create a specific audience that fits your conversion goal criteria (could be all visitors who visited or people who have been in the cart, but didn’t convert yet). You can specify this in your AdWords shared library and set up the exact criteria you want.

After that, you want to apply the specific audience to a campaign, check off the “Bid only” option, and set the positive bid modifier (+20% for example).

Retargeting in AdWords

(Go to Audiences, then + Remarketing, and select the audience you want to add.)

This will then increase your bids by +20% when Google sees that the searcher is on your retargeting list, so you stand a better chance of getting the conversion compared to your competitors.

You might find other bidding strategies that make more sense or a different use of RLSA, and that’s okay. You can mix and match a lot of different combinations to find the best results.

So What’s Next?

To begin with, I would immediately urge you to reconsider your retargeting strategy based on the stats mentioned above. There are tons of ways to squeeze more ROI out of your retargeting campaigns, and in return, give more value to your visitors.

Remember, the goal of retargeting is to bring back lost conversions, not to leave a bad taste in your visitors’ mouths.

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