Neil Patel

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The Retargeting Myth – How Remarketing Could be Sabotaging Your Sales and Conversion Rates

Retargeting. To hear some marketers tell it, it’s the ultimate boomerang promotional effect: You leave my site without buying. I display ads on the sites you do visit, to encourage you to come back.

These ads could be anything from special coupons to the item you left in your cart (or the last product you viewed), along with a gentle “Hey! You forgot this!” note.

From a marketer’s point of view, this is a great method of capturing what would ordinarily be chalked up as “lost sales.”

But what about from the customer’s point of view? Do they see remarketing ads as a gentle prod or a clingy nuisance? 

One company wanted to learn more.

InSkin Media and RAPP Media conducted a study to determine just how pervasive customers find retargeted ads.

Do they even notice them? And if they do, at what point does it become annoying?

Reaction to frequency of retargeted online ads

In the study, seeing a retargeted ad five times or more is viewed as “annoying” and “intrusive”, while ten or more times of seeing an ad make visitors “angry”.

More than half of the visitors polled said that they may be interested in the ad the first time they see it, even though only 10% report making a purchase as a result of seeing a remarketed ad. And even then, when the ad is displayed is far more important than the frequency.

seen ads

Retargeting: When is MORE Important than HOW

Four times as many users reported that they felt encouraged to buy during the research phase as opposed to after doing the research. That number increases to over a third of users who were discouraged when seeing the ad after purchase, and nearly 50% who were discouraged by seeing the ad on an unrelated site. Because, let’s face it, the last thing you want to see when buying baby clothes is a lawnmower.

Case in point, the study showed a Land Rover ad on The Independent’s website. This garnered a 71% approval rating. A Land Rover ad then appeared on Catster. The results were much less positive. For women, viewing a Clinique ad on Marie Claire achieved a nearly 90% positive rating, compared to much lower on Instructables.



Essentially, when customers are in the product frame of mind and doing their research, seeing a relevant ad on a relevant site just makes sense.

A Fine Line Between Trust and Privacy

Trust is another big factor, with 37% of users saying they were more likely to click on an ad if it’s on a site they trust. The last thing they want is an ad following them around tirelessly.

69% of customers felt uncomfortable with advertisers knowing which sites they’d visited – a slightly lower percentage than those who felt uncomfortable with advertisers knowing their home address (72%) and their current location (71%).

Yet, customers also say that they want things like personalized offers, relevant deals and other carrots that require ordinarily private information. It’s a fine line that advertisers have to walk, between building a two-way relationship with their customers and respecting the customer’s desire (and expectation of) privacy.

Is The Platform Really the Problem?

If you were asked to optimize a floundering retargeting campaign, you’d naturally look at all the points that make up the campaign itself:

  • The creative – Is the ad relevant to what the customer was viewing? Does it encourage them to come back?
  • The context – Does the ad display in places the user trusts? Or does it just blanket each and every site they visit?
  • The timeframe – Has the user already purchased this or a similar item? Or are they still in the early stages of researching or comparing products?
  • The target – It’s a common mistake to simply throw your ad at the wall and hope some of it sticks. After all, isn’t it better to cover everyone who might have an interest in buying, rather than cherry-picking a select few? Not exactly. Targeting matters – and it’s better to spend your time working with a customer that’s very interested than one that’s tepid about ordering.

But think about going a little deeper. What was it that made the customer leave your site in the first place, to even spring the retargeting plan into action? Common issues are:

  • Lack of mobile responsiveness or mobile-friendly technology
  • Surprise charges sprung on the user at the last minute
  • Lack of free shipping (even after a certain order amount)
  • Product unavailable in the size/color/style the customer wants
  • Product on backorder with no clear re-order or re-stock date

Maximizing Retargeting Success

Even if you’re careful about where and when you place your retargeting triggers, there are still a few points to help make your campaign shine. For example:

  • Watch your windows: It can be very tempting to give your ad a large retargeting window. You don’t want to display ads too frequently or run the same one for too long. Nobody wants to see the winter coat they looked at last fall chasing them down over the summer.
  • Be selective about what you target: The last thing you want to do is ruin a holiday surprise by retargeting an ad for a children’s bike on a popular gaming site or having a remarketed ad show something embarrassing in your browser during that big family get-together!
  • Automation doesn’t mean you get to be lazy: Just because it can be automated, doesn’t mean it should. Analytics, tracking and remarketing are getting smarter all the time, but they still require that human factor to be successful.
  • Learn from the survey, but do your own homework: What surveyed customers say they do in a survey, and what they actually do when faced with a remarketed opportunity, can sometimes be two very different things. Take this advice in stride, but always run your own tests and analyze your own data to see how these results play out in your market.

What are your thoughts on retargeting? Have you been hit with remarketing ads that seemingly follow you everywhere? Or have you purchased something as a result of a well-planned retargeting campaign?

Share your stories and successes with us in the comments below.

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!

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