Retargeting: What It Is, Why You Want It, and the Different Platforms You Can Use

Retargeting is one of those marketing words that pops up in almost every conversation you have with a marketer, or with someone trying to understand marketing. This is because it’s a basic principle of online marketing and brand awareness. As a basic principle, it’s easy for us all to think we know it. We get it. We could be tested on it frontwards and backwards and not even need to study.

That’s…probably not true. Sure, marketing experts are going to be very well versed in retargeting principles and strategies, but there’s always something to look at, some new angle to incorporate. Sometimes, we need to take a deeper look at these basic principles and remind ourselves of what they do, why they’re important, and how we can best work them into our growth strategies. 

So, if you’re an experienced marketer, this is for you. If you’re a beginner, this is for you.

Table of Contents

What is retargeting?

Retargeting campaigns are specifically for people who visited your website and didn’t buy anything. The purpose of these campaigns is to remind these visitors of how awesome and helpful you are so that they return and make at least one purchase (and hopefully many).

Retargeting ads can be for first-time visitors or returning customers. The thing to remember is that these targeted audiences have visited your website at least once and therefore have some amount of interest in your brand, services, and/or products. You might try to entice them back by creating retargeting ads that show the specific product they clicked through to initially, or you might share something else you think they’ll find rewarding and relevant.

Research shows that the average cart abandonment rate sits at 70.19%. This means that 7 out of 10 people who visit your site don’t complete a purchase. Keep in mind, this is only the people who made it as far as putting items in the cart. It doesn’t take into consideration all the users who left without even making a potential selection. This applies whether you sell clothes, lawn care, software, or need more donors for your nonprofit. People are visiting and not committing, and that’s a problem.

Don’t let these visitors slip through the cracks. They have dozens of options to choose from depending on your industry. Remind them of why you caught their attention in the first place and boost your sales and customer loyalty with retargeting ads.

How does retargeting work right now (with third-party cookies)?

Retargeting uses third-party cookies, aka small pieces of data stored on a web browser. When someone visits your site, this cookie is placed on their browser. When they leave, the cookie acts like a little, anonymous, unobtrusive beacon. It says, “Hello, this browser visited this page on this site.” Retargeting platforms (aka third-parties) take notice and serve specific ads based on that information.

Retargeting in the future (without third-party cookies)

Major browsers such as Safari, Firefox, and Chrome have either already placed restrictions on third-party cookies or have plans to do so in the near future. With that said, how can you prepare for a future without cross-site tracking?

First, you need to start using first-party and zero-party cookies. These cookies are data that you gather directly from your customers, site visitors, and social media followers. This data includes:

  • Purchase history
  • Purchase intentions and interests: what pages did people visit? What links did they click on? What social media posts did they like?
  • Contact information from subscriptions or purchase history
  • Loyalty status 
  • Feedback from reviews
  • Website and mobile app engagement: how long was someone on your site?

With that data, you have a few options. First, options with existing customers:

  1. Review your privacy policies and see what first-party data consent parameters you have. If someone has objected to being marketed to, make sure you don’t include them in any retargeting efforts.
  2. Create retargeting ads based on contact lists in your possession. In this case, you share email addresses with your retargeting platform of choice, such as a social network like Facebook. The platform compares the emails you provided with emails of its users and shows your ads whenever there’s a match. Keep in mind that this only works if someone shares the same email with both sites.
  3. Use purchase history to cross-sell and upsell other relevant products and services.

Now, options for potential and existing customers:

  1. Make it worthwhile for visitors to share first-party data with you. Have conversations and polls on social media, run competitions, have special deals for first-time customers, and create personalization options for accounts so people can tell you what they want and like and get better service in the process.
  2. Use contextual advertising – learn from customer behavior and think about the world your product lives in. Take that information and create focused ads for other sites, games, and social media that relate to your product and users. This can only loosely be considered retargeting since you don’t know exactly that a visitor to another site also visited your site, but it narrows down your advertising efforts. For example, if you rent vacation properties, advertise on travel sites.

Keep in mind that these are all strategies you can start using today. You don’t have to wait for third-party cookie restrictions to go into effect.

Why you want retargeting in your marketing strategy

Increase conversion rates

With retargeting, you’re talking to people who, at the very least, have an interest in you. They might even downright like you. This means you already have an open door to foster more conversation. 

Retargeting also allows you to create more personalized, relevant ads. People love personalization. It makes them feel valued, noticed, and wanted. It shows that you care about them and their problems and wants. It makes you not just a name but someone to trust. 

Engage abandoned visitors

98% of website visitors will not make a purchase during their initial visit. Couple that with this statistic from above – research shows that the average cart abandonment rate sits at 70.19% – and no one can afford to sit back and trust that their website will sell products all on its own. All brands need to work hard to pull visitors back in and make them a purchaser. Retargeting does that by keeping your name front-and-center so that people think of you when they are ready to purchase.

To truly increase engagement, make sure you follow these best practices:

  • Don’t wait too long to show ads or you run the risk of someone forgetting you and making a purchase through a competitor
  • Don’t show retargeting ads too often or people will find you annoying, pushy, and even creepy
  • Take the time to personalize all ad messages so that they are engaging, relevant, and in-line with your brand mission

Maximize Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

CLV is the value a customer provides to your brand throughout their entire relationship with you. This goes beyond individual purchases and looks at what a lifetime of buying and selling to a specific customer can mean for your organization.

It can mean a lot. According to this stat, returning customers spend 67% more than new customers, and acquiring new customers costs 5 to 10 times more than selling to current fans. Additionally, loyal customers refer as many as 50% more people than one-time buyers.

Build brand awareness and trust

The more someone sees you, the more your name, services, and products stick in their head. If they are seeing you in contexts that inspire trust, the more likely they are to make a purchase. This means that your retargeting ads should be relevant to customer needs, honest, and relatable.

The different platforms for retargeting

Now that you know how retargeting works and why it matters, let’s look at some of the retargeting agencies that are out there.

Facebook Pixel Retargeting

This is how retargeting on Facebook works:

  1. Prepare a list of the people you want to retarget using collected first-and-zero party data. If you don’t already have a list you can
    1. Install the Facebook pixel on your website to track website visitors
    2. Install the Facebook SDK to get more insights about app visitors
  2. Create a Custom audience specifying the people you want to retarget.
  3. Create ads and/or sponsored messages.

Google Ads Remarketing

Google offers both standard remarketing and dynamic remarketing.

With the standard option, you retarget visitors who have visited your website or app. With dynamic, Google lets you get more specific and create retargeting ads based on the exact products or services visitors viewed.

SharpSpring Ads (previously Perfect Audience)

With SharpSpring Ads, you can display ads:

  • Across the web
  • On Facebook
  • On Shopify
  • On Twitter
  • On mobile devices and tablets

SharpSpring also has a partnership with Hubspot, a CRM platform.


With LinkedIn Retargeting, you can retarget by website, video ads, Lead Gen Forms, or  LinkedIn Event (coming soon).


Criteo offers video and display ad options for retargeting. It uses a custom piece of code placed on your site and the Criteo AI Engine to build ads and connect with your audience.


With this platform, you can choose between site retargeting, CRM retargeting, and search retargeting. Retargeter says, “…most display advertising solutions drive advertisers to execute one-size-fits-all campaign strategies. We think that’s lame and don’t subscribe to that mindset. You shouldn’t either.”


Adroll shares retargeting ads on many networks, including Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Instagram, AppNexus, and OpenX. The platform uses AI and offers help tracking conversions and visitor interactions.


MailChimp’s retargeting ads use the Google Display Network. The platform recommends retargeting as part of an integrated campaign strategy and offers other tools to help build those campaigns.

Email Retargeting

Email retargeting only works with website or app visitors who join your email subscriber lists. Just as with ad retargeting, email retargeting requires you to create relevant, personalized content to remind visitors why they came to you in the first place. One platform option here is MailChimp, however, it only offers product retargeting emails for users who connect a supported e-commerce store or custom API 3.0 integration.

Achieve your retargeting goals

With many options and a need for fixed strategies built with room to adapt to audience behaviors, retargeting isn’t simple. Important, yes, but creating the right campaigns takes expertise, style, and creativity. If you want to talk about options, we’re happy to help at any time.

We help you:

  • Create a full paid media strategy
  • Develop a keyword and bid strategy
  • Create a customized customer journey for your paid media efforts
  • Research audience targeting
  • Write compelling ad copy
  • Review ads, spending, keywords, and bids regularly to optimize your campaigns

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