Retargeting Best Practices – Part 2

INTRODUCTION – Retargeting Practices, Trends & Challenges

Our previous Blog entry talked about retargeting, what it is, and how it works.

Here in Part 2, we’ll delve a little deeper into how marketers are currently using it, and what the retargeting best practices, trends and challenges are.

Retargeting is proving to be one of the most effective performance marketing tools, and with all the hype surrounding the topic, we’re asking a few pointed questions to uncover the state of retargeting today:

  • How widely used is it?
  • Are marketers retargeting on a single channel or across multiple channels?
  • Amongst those who are actively cross-channel retargeting, what added benefits does it offer?
  • Has Google’s search retargeting product, Google Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) been effective, and if so, how effective has it actually been?
  • What are the major issues marketers are experiencing with retargeting?

    In search of answers to these questions, we look to the results from a survey of 233 enterprise marketers (conducted by Marin Software Inc.) who were asked about their retargeting practices and the challenges they have encountered along the way.

The report measured retargeting performance, investigating a set of Marin Software and Perfect Audience client data to determine an initial retargeting performance benchmark.


A number of Marketers were asked about their current retargeting practices, so that a picture could be formed about how prevalent retargeting is in the marketing mix, what challenges and concerns they are facing when implementing their retargeting, and how marketers view future opportunities for retargeting.

Outcome #1: If you haven’t started retargeting yet…it’s time to make it a priority.


Although we all expected that retargeting was a popular tactic, this result somewhat surprised us by how widely adopted it’s already become. Based on the survey results, 88% of marketers in business are already employing retargeting as a means to re-engage users when they haven’t converted, subscribed, or purchased on their initial website visits.

Of those that haven’t yet jumped on the retargeting bandwagon, poor past performance, poor fit with marketing goals, lack of budget, and privacy/regulatory constraints were cited as the major obstacles to including it in their current marketing mix. However, over 50% of this group reported that they had plans to start retargeting within the coming year, or next year.

retargeting results

Outcome #2: Google is the main driver of cross-channel retargeting

The most popular channel for retargeting was display, while search, somewhat surprisingly, ranked a close second.

retargeting graph

Google is making it easy to throw retargeting into the marketing mix. The high level of interest in retargeting on search and display aligns with Google’s AdWords retargeting offering through Google Display Network (GDN) and Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). 89% of marketers who were already retargeting reported using a combination of both of Google’s retargeting tools, search retargeting through RLSA, and display retargeting through GDN.

retargeting with digital fuel

Quite obviously, Google has been successful in using its market leadership to drive retargeting adoption across its display and search properties. However, considering some of the premium, high-engagement, cross-device inventory that’s become increasingly available on Facebook and Twitter, the social channel will likely see quick adoption amongst the retargeting crowd.

Outcome #3: Marketers are redefining what search retargeting is

While marketers used retargeting on display more so than any other channel, a higher percentage reported doing more “search retargeting” than any other type of retargeting. We felt this was food for thought, and led us to ask, “What does search marketing mean to marketers?”

retargeting guide

Previously, search retargeting has often been thought of as a prospecting tool. An advertiser could retarget users based on a search query, even if the user hadn’t visited the advertiser’s website. However, with Google, Bing, and other major search engines moving to secure their foothold in online search, the opportunities to retarget search queries have dwindled.

Add to this, the mechanics of Google RLSA, which requires a user to first show an interest and visit an advertiser’s website to be added to a retargeting list, and we believe this has likely contributed to the shift in how marketers think of “search retargeting.”

So what is search retargeting?

The most basic definition would be site-retargeting users on the search channel, a.k.a. the RLSA model. At a deeper level, marketers may also be leveraging search intent data to create more granular audience segments to improve retargeting efforts across social and display. For example, a user could categorize a set of search queries under a dimension like “luxury” and use that to further segment audience lists based on their first-party site-behavioral data. Outcome #4: Marketers may be retargeting across multiple channels, but their goals and strategies are not in sync

From the group that reported retargeting across multiple channels, over 50% of them admitted to having different goals for each channel they were retargeting on. This lack of synergy across channels is consistent with a recent e-consultancy/Oracle report which discovered that only 10% of marketers said their messaging, execution, and delivery were cohesive when performing cross-channel marketing.

There’s a real opportunity here for marketers to make their cross-channel strategy and messaging more unified by taking what they learn from one channel and applying them to their marketing efforts in other channels.

Outcome #5: Attribution, sufficient list volume, and lack of transparency are ongoing challenges

Not surprisingly, attributing performance across different channels is a constant problem. Algorithmic attribution providers can assist marketers in providing some clarification to the “credit” each channel should receive in a conversion. However, even without the latest attribution models, marketers can still get a better idea of how to attribute performance by setting up “lift tests” to determine how much conversion or increase in sales is attributable to the retargeting campaigns, and what, if any, cannibalization there is from other marketing efforts.

Generating sufficient list volume is another ongoing challenge many marketers identified, particularly when retargeting through Google RLSAs, even for large brands and advertisers. However, list volume tends to be less of an issue on the social and display channels.

The pervasive “lack of transparency” into costs and placement rounded out the top three challenges marketers cited when it comes to retargeting. Lack of transparency, is quite a broad term, so it seemed like it required more investigation.

retargeting tutorial

Outcome #6: Misaligned incentives can exacerbate the ‘lack of transparency’

retargeting guide

It’s clear that transparency can mean completely different things to different marketers. However, the common issues seem to involve a mix of media transparency, performance transparency, and pricing transparency. Thankfully, most of these concerns can be easily addressed. It’s possible that many of these issues may be attributed to the misaligned incentives that can exist when a brand works with a retargeting company who charges on a Cost Per Click or Cost Per Acquisition basis, while purchasing inventory on a Cost Per Mille basis. While it’s true that in this case, the retargeting provider assumes some risk in the event that the inventory they purchase performs poorly in driving conversions cost-efficiently, but it also increases the potential for abuse.

For example, if a retargeting company buys inventory on a CPM basis, but sells it on a CPC basis, its incentive is to buy the highest performing, lowest cost inventory possible. In theory, this sounds wonderful – cheap inventory that leads to tons of conversions…what’s not to love about that?

But in reality, this can lead to ads running on low-quality inventory such as parked domains, or web sites that align poorly and have no relevance with a brand’s image. Also, in this scenario the retargeting company profits when relative CPCs are higher than the CPM, the incentive to weed out click fraud and suspicious activity is substantially undermined.

However, in most cases, problems with lack of transparency can be bypassed by working with a reputable retargeting partner who buys and sells inventory on a CPM basis, and who also makes campaign data and reporting accessible for the advertiser to view at any time.

Outcome #7: Retargeting represents a small, but growing portion of budgets

If you’re only considering one metric, with nearly 90% adoption, you might consider retargeting has already reached mainstream tactic status. Yet, when we looked at how budgets were being allocated, it became clear that marketers are still treating retargeting as a trial tactic that needs to prove its performance.

Retargeting budgets are often eked out of an existing marketing budget, with about 50% of marketers admitting that they did not have a dedicated retargeting budget. At this stage, retargeting spend commands a small slice of the budget, with 51% of marketers reportedly spending 10% or less of their marketing budget on the tactic.

retargeting for beginners RTB

Despite these results, retargeting’s proven ability to drive positive ROI successfully seems to be duly noted by marketing execs, who in turn are increasing its presence in their marketing budgets. Over half of marketers expect to increase their retargeting budgets across search, social, and display over the next 12 months. Even the less explored retargeting channels, such as mobile and video retargeting look to be promising avenues for growth in the coming year.

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This concludes Part 2 in our Retargeting Blog series. Check back for Part 3, which will deal with the benchmarks in Search, Social and Display Retargeting.

Digital Fuel can help you with your retargeting strategy, and capturing your audience in real time. Read more here:

Author: Digital Fuel

Words by the Digital Fuel team members