The Nitty-Gritty of Ad Retargeting

The world of digital advertisement is strange and confusing. All those buzzwords: ad remarketing vs retargeting, data management platform, fraud detection, data segmentation and so on and so forth… Sometimes it seems like the Internet was made specifically for it.

On one hand, ads are simply a mean of promoting certain kinds of products and services — a reasonable solution for exposure. But on the other hand, if you think about the mechanics behind delivering this or that ad to the customer — it gets really-really complicated.

In a way, it is fair to say that over the years digital advertisements had evolved into a legitimate kind of fabric of The Internet. You just can’t imagine a web page without obligatory ad spaces.

The rise of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram started an ad gold rush of sorts — every advertiser wanted a piece of the cake. This caused ad tech arms race which contributed to the rapid evolution of ad tech industry.

Over the years certain advertising techniques had been developed. Some of them came and went, but some had proved to be a real deal. The thing is — advertisers go at incredible lengths to make the process of delivering ads as smooth and effective as possible.

That’s where one particular buzzword starts appearing frequently — ad retargeting. It is one of the most effective methods of delivering advertisements on the Internet.

Why is ad retargeting so awesome? Because it offers a completely different approach.

Why? The trick is simple — it offers completely different approach. Instead, trying to shove certain products down the users' throats by strategically littering various ads all over the place, retargeting applies contextual tracking methods and shows users something they are actually interested in and keen to purchase.

What is retargeting of ads?

Ad Retargeting (AKA Remarketing) is a method of delivering relevant advertising content to the users based on a digital footprint and collected user data such as preferences and on-site behavior.

Why is it important? It might sound a little bit clumsy, but here is an explanation to end all explanations on the mater — actual data taken from actual people (with values, behaviors, attitudes, and attributes) allows product delivery directed to target audience accordingly and not approximately. It is a long way of saying “giving people what they want”.

The biggest advantage of applying ad retargeting is a drastic increase in efficiency of delivering ad content. Here’s how:

  • Keeps the campaign costs streamlined and within reasonable scope;
  • Cuts the dead weight of disinterested users and leaves only those who have expressed (clicked, if being exact) some sort of interest on your website (whether it is product or service or something else.)

Retargeted ad content is based on actual interests of the users calculated out of their behavior on the source site. This makes ad content significantly more relevant to the users. That peculiar detail ups the chances of getting those sweet conversions i.e. purchases or downloads.

That's a big deal. Just think about it — according to the recent studies around 98% of users leave the website before converting. 98%, Karl! Retargeting done right is able to significantly down that number.

Overall, the purpose of Ad Retargeting can be summarized by the following so-called “prime directives”:

  • Increase brand awareness through multi-channel presence and personalized ad content;
  • Convert awareness into an interest that will result in sales/downloads and subsequent revenue;
  • Expand the market turnaround through a combination of awareness and sales conversion results (thus more marketing opportunities).

Every Ad Retargeting strategy revolves around these three directives in one or another.

Why ad retargeting matters?

Conceptually ad retargeting is based on one simple thing — users are not focused on one and only product, their attention span is limited and disjointed. In fact, they are in a constant process of journeying. Because of that, they need to be reminded of something in order to persuade them to proceed. Think about retargeted ads as subtle and reasonable nudges.

Based on the incoming information, ad retargeting performs a following of the user with the content relevant to him. This ad content follows a user on every site he visits and constantly reminds him of either “you might also like” kinds of content or some sort of “unfinished business” in case of some unfinalized actions such as purchases or registrations or anything else. Ultimately, the user can be convinced to perform certain actions (however, it depends on the message itself more than the technology).

For example, users don’t always purchase some product right away — they can be distracted or lose interest for some reason. That’s where retargeting flies in and makes the save.

Or here’s another example — user downloads a the certain application. In this case, retargeted ads can suggest some apps similar to that he already uses.

On a more basic level, ad retargeting can be applied internally on site as a means of customizing content according to user’s on-site behavior. For example, if he’s reading about Conan the Barbarian, he might be interested in checking out Ator The Iron Warrior.

But you might ask “But what about banner blindness?” Here is how ad retargeting counters banner blindness — the trick is in the playing on the existing engagement of the user to certain kind of content (product, service, texts, etc). Because of that added relevancy, users tend to notice otherwise ignored ads.

The current state of ad retargeting/remarketing industry

At the moment, Ad Retargeting is one of the premier methods of delivering relevant advertisements to the users. It is easy to see why — unlike straightforward ads that simply hang on the ad space and are promptly ignored retargeting provides relevant ad content that has more chances to click with an audience and generate conversion.

Aside from advertising itself, retargeting is closely associated with eCommerce. Just think about how many times you visited some online store and then had saw loads of related ads with some suggestions following you on every site — that’s remarketing in action.

Another significant industry where Retargeting is widely used is news media. But instead of purely pragmatic intentions of selling something, retargeting is used for means of content customization based on the topics and user preferences.

Retargeting stats 2018

Here are a few stats for you in terms of retargeted advertising:

Retargeting Statistics 2018

[Source: Wishpond]

How does retargeting work?

Ad Retargeting operation revolves around information. Just like The Prisoner’s Number Two — Ad Retargeting needs certain information in order to successfully proceed with its operation.

The main source of information for Ad Retargeting is the user himself. His contribution is technically very simple — it consists of merely hanging around on the website and leaving a digital footprint. This digital footprint feeds ad targeting mechanisms with some sweet data spice they construct user profile and calculate which kind of content might be relevant to him. That results in increased efficiency of delivered ad content.

User data used in ad retargeting can be broken down to these elements:

  • Referring sites — from where the user came from;
  • Overall journey (user experience) on site;
  • Events (scrolling, clicks, highlights, media views, other stuff);
  • Search queries;
  • Time of session;
  • Behavior on site:
    • Contextual and thematic preferences to certain topics and pages;
    • Various interactions with the page’s content (downloads, etc);
    • Transitions to another place through links and ads;
  • Demographics (if not blocked or obscured);
  • Consumer’s gear (browser, language, location, use of AdBlock, etc.);
  • Interaction with ad content;

Basic ad retargeting operation can be described like this:

You visit a site, look at some product. In the meantime — specialized cookie makes the cut. Then you go to another site, cookie connects the dots and because of that, you can see a reminder or suggestion connected to your previous stop in the ad spaces.

The trick is in connecting the link between the source site and subsequent sites. In order to increase effectiveness and efficiency of delivered ad content, the technology of cookie syncing is applied.

What is it? It is a method of identifying users over the initial point of entry and subsequent visits on the other websites. How does it work? There is a cookie assigned to a certain user. It is stored on retargeting service domain. When a user visits another site, the ad request is made with the assigned cookie included. That is how the same user is identified and relevant ads are delivered.

Challenges of retargeting

However, no matter how good ad retargeting might be in theory, there is more than one bump on the way to effective use of the technology for the benefit of your company.

The thing is — ad retargeting is not as much dependent on the technology itself as to how it is used. Marketing strategy takes front and center when it comes to making the process of retargeting effective. Without it in place — there is no point in the whole affair. You might as well go and crash into a burning table while covered in gasoline.

Here are some major challenges that often occur with ad retargeting.

Improper ad frequency

One of the reasons why regular users have such disdain towards ads is their overbearing nature. Ads stick out like a sore thumb, annoy, distract and irritate. And when users see an ad for some product or service over and over and over again his associations with it are increasingly negative, which is the opposite of what an ad is trying to do.

Because of that, it is reasonable to keep ad frequency limited to somewhere around “once in a while but not too much”, i.e. it must be definitely visible, but not everpresent.

Lacking variety of ad content

Another big problem that often happens with retargeting is lack of variety in ad content. The thing — even if you have the most beautiful, tailor-made ad in the world, the user will get weary of it after a while. And you just can’t allow that to happen. If an ad is rolling over and over again — it starts being annoying to the user. And that means it will be ignored.

How to avoid that? In order to retain user attention, you need to develop an ad content pool for the campaign. Every piece of the content must have some variation or progression of the message.

For example, you can’t send the same ads for users who just viewed some products and users who are half-way through the purchase. The same goes for users who are looking for something in the specific category and users who just stumbled upon a link. In every case, you need a different message in order to hook the user and get him back on site.

Variety will keep user’s interest throbbing and hopefully at some point will perform a conversion.

Vague data segmentation

Here’s an obvious thing to boot: in order to be precise in ad retargeting operation you need to know who are you targeting at. Right? Otherwise, ads will miss the point and all your efforts will go for a long walk over the Cursed Earth.

The reason why that might happen is in the way the target audience is defined. User data segmentation needs clearly defined parameters in order to set the ground for ad retargeting. The information itself comes from the tracking tools but it is how it is processed that is critical. And there might be some problems.

One of the most common mistakes is assuming that every user is alike. No, it is not. You need to take into consideration a variety of factors that differentiate the users in order to make ad relevant to them. On-site behavior is the key element. It gives you the direction.

For example, if it is an online store and you have users who viewed the products of the different types — you can send an ad with a showcase of recent products of relevant types. Or if the user just stumbled upon a site you can send an ad with a call to action and convincing argument — some discount or else.

Multi-faceted segmentation of an audience is the key to precise and effective ad retargeting.

The trouble with cookies (can retargeting pixel help?)

Cookies are one of the primary weapons of retargeting. But here’s the thing — sometimes you just can’t use them. For example, if the session is happening from a browser in anonymous mode, cookies will be deleted by the end of the session. Which is unfortunate since you will be unable to retarget that particular user.

Also, third-party cookies can be easily blocked in browser settings. Sadly, that is almost always the case. What does it mean? Lack of third-party cookies disables an option of gathering personalized user information. Which is a catastrophe if you are going for relevant ad content.

That means you need to have another option up the sleeve. Tracking pixel can solve the problem. It is possible to construct profiles for retargeting with its help.

Pixel (definition): A pixel is the smallest digital image or graphics unit, which can be shown on a digital display. Basically, a tiny dot on your screen. (That’s what screen resolution is measured in, for example, 1920 by 1080). But, in the industry of retargeting ads, a pixel can help identify if there was an action performed. For example, you might’ve heard of the Facebook retargeting pixel that helps the Facebook retargeting ads work.

Conclusion

At the current moment, Ad Retargeting is the most potent form of online marketing. It is the most balanced and flexible method of delivering ad content available out there.

Its primary advantage over the other methods is in avoiding biggest user concerns about ads - privacy and inappropriateness.

On one hand, Ad Retargeting is capable of operating without harnessing too much personal data thus it keeps intact the ethical side of things (think of GDPR). On the other hand, Ad Retargeting is able to deliver users what they are actually interested instead of shoving product of choice down their throats by overbearing ads. Win-win!

All this makes Ad Retargeting - whether you go for email retargeting, Facebook retargeting, or Google retargeting - a perfect solution for building an effective Marketing Strategy.

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Volodymyr Bilyk

Content Manager