Retargeting - A Starter Guide For Small Businesses And Startups

A Quick Definition Of Terms

Before we start, it might be useful to quickly clear up the two definitions. The terms 'Remarketing' and 'Retargeting' have become somewhat interchangeable - you'll notice that I use both in this post. However, in the strict sense, they are actually defined as follows:

  • 'Retargeting' is the overall industry term, or process
  • 'Remarketing' is the term Google uses for it's platform

However, most people use the terms interchangeably - I'm one of them so the post below will use both to refer to the overall process. 

What Is Retargeting?

Retargeting (also known as Remarketing) is most commonly understood as the process of re-engaging website visitors that have previously left your site without taking any action.

For example, it's said that only 1-2% of your web visitors complete a desirable action. Such a desirable action could be:

  • Making a purchase
  • Filling out a contact form
  • Downloading an e-book
  • Etc

That leaves the other 98-99% of visitors who - for whatever reason - leave your site without doing anything. That's an awful lot of lost opportunity - think about all of the work you have done to attract people to your site, only to see the vast majority of them disappear without a trace.

However, there is something you can do to reduce this costly waste. And it's pretty simple to get started with. 

Remarketing works by showing ads to previous site visitors as they use the web. You've probably noticed this yourself at some point. For example, let say you visit this site:



You then leave without doing anything.

Then, as you search for a video on YouTube later in the day, you see this ad:



That's Retargeting working - it's showing a relevant ad to a previous website visitor in an attempt to draw them back onto the website to complete a desired action

In an  ideal world (for the advertiser anyway) you'd click the ad and then take some form of action after re-visiting the website in question.

Great stuff and very, very effective if it's done properly. Let's talk about this in a bit more detail now.

How Can You Use It?

There are a few very useful ways in which you can get started with Retargeting in your small business. Here are a few ideas to help you along the way:

  • Re-engaging users who have abandoned shopping carts
  • Re-engaging people who visited a download page without converting (leaving their details)
  • Re-engaging users who visited a product or service page and then bounced off without doing anything meaningful
  • Showing ads about updated products or services to users who had previously visited the old products page
  • Building up your newsletter list

There are a lot of different ways in which you can use Remarketing, although focusing on the above to start with will definitely get you off to a good start.

What Makes A Great Remarketing Campaign?

As with any other part of your marketing strategy, there are a few things that you can keep in mind for your Remarketing campaigns that will help deliver the best bang for your buck.

Here are a few tips:

1) Set A Frequency Cap

To conserve budget and to make sure you don't annoy your prospective customers too much, it's a good idea to set a frequency cap so that your ads are not shown too often to the same people throughout the day.

2) Include A Burn Script

You'll notice below that one of the biggest complaints from consumers when it comes to remarketing is that they get annoyed being shown ads for products that they have already purchased. You can avoid this by including a burn script, which essentially removes the person from your campaigns after they have made a purchase.

Note, this feature isn't available on all Retargeting platforms.

3) Use A Single Platform

I think it's also a good idea to make sure that you use only one platform, especially if if you're new to it. By doing so, you simply make it much easier to manage and control - for example, it's impossible to effectively manage frequency caps if you are using more than one platform.

4) Split (A/B) Test

Just as you would do with landing pages and other PPC campaigns, it's good practice to split test your remarketing campaigns. All this means is that you'd set up a couple of campaigns designed to achieve the same goal, run them and then see which one performs the best. You then leave the best one running (regular testing is advisable though)

5) Ads For Specific Pages/Products

Rather than having one generic ad that leads people to your website homepage for example, it's much better to have specific ads for individual products and pages (exactly the same as you would do in a PPC campaign). This will make sure that your ads and landing pages are relevant and that you'll achieve the best conversion rate possible for your campaign.

For other tips on setting up performance campaigns such as these, please see this post.

What Do Users Think Of It?

Here is some data taken from a survey conducted by HubShout early in 2014, which comprised 300 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65. It's well worth reading the full report yourself (you can get to it here), although here a few key findings relevant to this post:

The Good
  • 64% of people said they had clicked an ad for a product the had recently viewed
  • 30.7% of people said they find such ads useful, just over 40% said they didn't care either way
Here are a few reasons as to why people found such ads useful:
It reminds me about the item, making it more likely that I purchase the item."
I don't mind being targeted for advertising when it's suited to products and services that might be of interest to me. 

The Not So Good

  • 28.8% of people said they didn't find the ads useful

And here's a couple of reasons why:
It makes me worry about my privacy
Usually the product being displayed in the ads is the one I already purchased 
You can get the report mentioned above here.

Where To Start With Retargeting

I'd say that the easiest and most straightforward way of starting with retargeting is to go through the remarketing platform offered by Google Adwords. It's pretty easy to set up and manage and it will take care of the needs of most small business users.

You can get to that here.

If you have different needs or you just don't want to use Adwords, here are a few alternatives for you to consider:


All of the services above will allow you to build and manage an effective remarketing campaign. Starting with the Google option is probably the best option for the average small business, although you might find that another solution is a better fit for you. Have a play around and see what works best.


Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall

Got a nagging marketing question? Ask me here.

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Revenue Builder is a small business marketing strategy advice blog, written to help small business owners and startups maximise sales revenue.