what is retargeting

What is Retargeting and How to Integrate it in your Marketing Strategy

Nothing is more frustrating than investing in advertising and seeing in your analytics how more than 96% of your possible customers just leave your website. But retargeting comes to solve this issue.

Advertisers always wanted to attract more customers to their shops to increase sales. And the internet has made that possible. 

You can have tens of thousands of visitors a day. But despite that, sometimes less than 4% become customers. 

Why does this happen?

There are a few possible answers to this question:

  1. They are first-time visitors, and they are concerned about your credibility;
  2. They get distracted and forget about you;
  3. They can’t find what they are looking for;
  4. They are still in the research phase or just postpone the acquisition.

Unless they had a memorable experience or found exactly what they were looking for, once a visitor leaves your website, they will most likely not come back. At least not on their own. 

Why is that? It’s because the customer’s typical behavior has only 3 steps: 

  • Awareness – the customer realizes they have a need and is looking for information;
  • Consideration – the customer evaluates the methods they can use to satisfy their need;
  • Decision – The customer is set on a solution.

Most of the time, first-time visitors are in the awareness stage. And if you don’t keep them aware of your brand, the conversion is unlikely to happen.

One of the most efficient solutions to bring back your prospects is introducing retargeting ads in your marketing strategy.

What is retargeting?

What is retargeting

Retargeting is a marketing tactic that allows you to show highly-targeted ads to users who left your conversion funnel after completing a relevant action. Be it interacting with your ad, visiting your product page, or performing other actions, retargeting allows you to appear in front of your customers with ads after they leave your website.

Doing so can re-engage with people who already showed interest in your business.

For example, let’s say you have a prospect that signed up on your website but didn’t download your app. Because you want them to come back and download it, you will show them an ad that encourages them to do so. This means you will ‘retarget’ them. 

If you’re wondering where you can follow that ‘lost’ user, the answer is, well, anywhere.

You can display retargeting ads on:

  • Websites;
  • Apps;
  • Search engine results pages (SERP);
  • Social media.

Site retargeting

You can retarget your audience through ad networks that support retargeting and show your ad on any website within the network.

Retargeting can be used for search ads as well, but most of the time, it’s used in display ads. You can also retarget your audience with video ads as long as the webpage supports them.

Apps retargeting

Showing ads within apps is exclusively available to display advertising. And if your ad network includes apps in its portfolio, you can also use retargeting there.

Your retargeted ad will be displayed on their screen whenever your prospect visits an app within the ad network you use.

Search retargeting

Showing ads on a search engine results page is a capability that is owned only by the ad networks associated with a search engine. For example, Google Ads and Google or Microsoft Advertising and Bing.

Search retargeting helps you show your search ad with priority to the prospects that have been added to your retargeting list.

Social media retargeting

With people spending (on average) 137 minutes a day on social media, it’s most likely that your prospect left your website and started/continued scrolling on Facebook or Twitter.

Retargeting on social media can be a winning strategy, and fortunately, social networks have started providing retargeting capabilities. Therefore you can show your ads on social media specifically to people that have interacted with an ad or visited a certain page.

How does retargeting work?

The most common ways retargeting works is through pixels and lists.

Pixel-Based Retargeting

A pixel is a code snippet that you add to your website to track activity and place cookies in a visitor’s browser. Through cookies, ad networks, social media platforms, and tracking programs can understand which users made relevant actions for your business and show ads accordingly.

Pixel-based retargeting is based on specific user activities that can lead to conversion. And while the data is extracted, you can show programmatic ads to visitors that left your conversion funnel. 

SIDENOTE. Programmatic ads represent the ads bought and sold automatically online.

List-Based Retargeting

List-based retargeting implies uploading an existing list to show highly targeted ads to the users of that list. You can either upload an email list or lists with user info from a third-party platform.

Retargeting vs. remarketing

Retargeting vs. remarketing

Nowadays, the two terms are used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between retargeting vs. remarketing.

Retargeting is a remarketing approach targeting users that visited your website or triggered a specific event. As the definition implies, retargeting refers to the digital sector only and, in a way, can be considered synonymous with digital remarketing.

However, remarketing is an umbrella term that includes retargeting. In some contexts, it means approaching previous customers with new proposals or stimulating inactive customers with an offer. Yet, remarketing is understood mainly as marketing the same prospect multiple times. Also, remarketing would suppose sending your advertisement through email and more.

The confusion appeared when Google launched its remarketing services within Google Ads. From that moment on, remarketing was looped in with retargeting, and now, most people accept them as synonyms.

Retargeting platforms

Google Ads

Google is a giant, and Google Ads is the behemoth of digital advertising. So it’s only natural for it to be the top retargeting platform, considering the wide network of publishers and partners it holds.

Google is able to deliver retargeting ads through both its search engine and its partner websites (Google Display Network) and the apps on Google Store.


As the top social media platform, Facebook offers extensive retargeting capabilities, but only on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram.

By installing the Facebook pixel inside your website, you can set up retargeting ads that will follow your website users on the platform. Facebook will not only take into consideration website visitors for retargeting but also people that have interacted with your ad or watched a video.

Besides that, the platform allows you to upload contact lists on Facebook and start retargeting that audience.

Integrating retargeting into your marketing strategy

Integrating retargeting into your marketing strategy

Now that you know what is actually going on with retargeting, let’s talk about how you can use retargeting in your marketing strategy to get real results.

Retargeting in 3 steps

The most basic retargeting strategy is a 3-step funnel.

  1. Ad;
  2. Landing page (product/form);
  3. Thank you page.

This funnel allows you to integrate retargeting ads easily. You can add all the users that reached the landing page but didn’t reach the thank you page to your retargeting list. 

While creating the retargeting list for your ad, insert an exclusion rule for the thank you page, and you should be good to go with the audience.

Retargeting works really well with an additional motivator. You can achieve more conversions with the users that left if you give them a discount or some form of incentive only available through the ad.

Retargeting in 6+ steps

You have seen at least once a personal development course, a do-it-yourself web dev platform, or a new technology service that is promoted like this:

  1. Ad;
  2. Landing page (Short presentation video that invites you to subscribe/sign up for a webinar);
  3. Thank you page;
  4. Webinar page;
  5. Sales page;
  6. Thank you page.

This strategy goes according to the very old but effective ‘Foot in the Door’ method. You ask a prospect to perform a small action; then, you ask them to perform a bigger, more important action.

Those advertisers want to transmit as much value as possible before naming a price. But asking someone to spend 30-40 minutes on a sales pitch is just unreasonable.

Therefore, you can just give them a little introduction on the first landing page, then tell the entire story, and after enough value is delivered, here comes the sales pitch.

In theory, this strategy sounds fantastic. However, the more steps your sales process has, the more abandoners you will get.

There are at least four places where you should stitch up the marketing funnel in the case above:

2-3 – Retarget the users that reached the landing page and exclude those who reached the thank you page. Also, if your initial landing page has an introduction video, you can target only the people that watched 75% of it and didn’t reach the thank you page.

You can use at least 2 variations:

  • Use an additional motivator – “Learn how to double your conversions”;
  • Use the fear of missing out – “Last chance for registration.”

3-4 – Retarget the users that reached the thank you page and exclude those who reached the webinar page. It’s possible that some of the subscribers just forgot or had something else going on at the time your webinar was playing.

A possible ad version could be: “If you missed the session, come watch the playback version.”

4-5 – Retarget the viewers that reached the webinar page and didn’t reach the sales page

Here we have three or more possibilities. The users didn’t watch your webinar, left shortly after it began, or watched most of it and didn’t go forward to the sales page.

Invite those who didn’t watch the webinar or watched only some of it to watch the playback version. They may not have had the time to watch it at that moment.

If your viewers watched most of the video, especially to the point where you name the price, but didn’t get to the sales page, retarget them with an ad that gives an ‘exclusive discount.’

5-6 – Retarget the viewers that got on the sales page but didn’t reach the final Thank you page. At this point, your audience should be convinced, but if you have people exiting the sales page after knowing all the details, target them with an ad that just reminds them to finish the purchase. 

Goals and metrics

When deciding to use retargeting, you need to set your goals clearly.

Most commonly, retargeting works best for the following two goals: Awareness and Conversions.

An awareness-focused goal requires a soft-sell approach. You will be looking forward to appearing as much as you can in front of your audience and strengthening your brand. The most important metric you need to monitor is impressions

conversion-focused goal asks for a hard-sell approach. You will be looking forward to getting visitors back into your sales funnel and encouraging their purchases. The most important metric you need to monitor is the click-through rate.

Possible issues in your strategy

If you set up your retargeting strategy but don’t see any results at all, you may have one or more of the following problems:

  • Initial ads have issues – The message or offer is not attractive enough.
  • Not enough traffic – The platform you use may have a minimum number of users in a retargeting list for ads to start running.
  • Immediate bounce – Most of the time, there is a landing page issue. It loads too slowly, looks confusing, or differs from the ad’s. For example, if you promise 10% off in your retargeting ad, make sure that it is visible on the landing page as well.
  • No actions toward conversion – When you get clicks but nobody converts, you may either have to work more on giving a reason for people to want to take action or improve the conversion process. For that, check out our conversion optimization guide.

Key takeaways

  • Less than 4% of a website’s visitors convert on the first visit, and the most common reasons are a weak brand, distractions, not finding what they are looking for, or postponing.
  • Retargeting uses cookies to spot the users that left your marketing funnel and target them with highly-specific ads to make them come back.
  • Retargeting ads can be displayed on websites, apps, SERP, and social media, depending on the ad service you use.
  • Google Ads and Facebook are the most used retargeting platforms.
  • When using retargeting, the most common goals are Awareness and Conversions. An awareness-focused goal needs a soft-sales approach, and ‘impressions’ is the most important metric. A conversion-focused goal goes along with a hard-sales approach, and ‘Click-Through Rate’ is the metric to keep an eye on.
  • Your retargeting campaign may not bring results because the initial ads have issues, you don’t get enough traffic, immediate bounce, or the conversion funnel doesn’t work.