Online Advertising: The art of remarketing

A customer visits your website, looks around, puts some stuff in her cart and then exits for whatever reason. A few days later, she signs into her Yahoo mail account and sees your banner displayed at the top of her mailbox.

Then that afternoon, she sees your banner again on her favorite gossip site. You are “following” her around. (Usability shows us that this is what users often think.) Actually, you are retargeting her — using banner ads to put your message in front of users who leave your site and/or cart. Are these type of retargeting banners effective?

Yes — if you design your program correctly, they can be one of the strongest tools in your conversion arsenal. Here are 22 proven tips to help you develop a successful retargeting program without breaking the bank.

1. Creative is key

Banners are highly dependent on good copy and art. You need to have solid visuals, a quality branding element, a provocative line of copy and an aggressive action directive.

A lot of folks design banners that get attention, but then they don’t ask the user to click. If you want your program to work, you need to get the click. Period. How do you get people to click? See tip #2.

2. Use BIG action directives

Click here now, buy now, return to cart now — whatever it takes to get the user back to the cart (or lead form, if you’re not an ecommerce business). Don’t be afraid to make your buttons bold and IN-YOUR-FACE smacky.

3. Have lots of different ad sizes available

Many companies, especially traditional direct marketers and mail order businesses, tend to offer their partners one ad size. But this often limits some of the smaller plays (especially blogs or Google Content Network properties), which may be the best performers for you. Start your program with four to five various sizes.

4. Test lots of different creative and sizes

Most likely you’ll find that a banner that works great for one property bombs for the next. Does that mean you need to have a new banner for each property?

Absolutely not. With that said, you’ll probably want to design specific banners for your best performing properties in the same way you’d design special ads for your best performing magazines.

5. Don’t believe anything the networks tell you

The numbers are inflated. Period. End of story. What you need to know is the profitability of the program.

Does it work for you or not? How profitable is it? Are there better ways for you to spend this money?

The last question is important, because if you have a really aggressive abandoned cart/lead trigger email/telemarketing/pop-up program, you may not need the banners. Or, you may want to start them a little bit later — for example, after you’ve sent out your first five trigger emails.

6. Test putting the picture of the product the user abandoned in the banner

Yes, this is very Big Brother. Yes, this can work like gangbusters if you position it properly.

Should you put the entire cart contents in the banner? Probably not. Less than 5% (technically, it’s about 3%) of companies can make featuring all the abandoned items work.

If you can make one picture of an abandoned item work, why can’t you make lots of items work? Nobody really knows for sure, but it’s likely because, as we said earlier, banners are dependent on creative, and lots of various and sundry items looks uglier than a dog’s breakfast. If you want to test it, first be sure that you can make one abandoned item per banner work.

7. If you can’t put the abandoned items in the banner, at least choose your banner visuals wisely

Imagine you’re an apparel company that sells both men’s and women’s clothing. When a man abandons a tie on your site and then sees a banner for your company at his favorite news site with a bunch of women’s clothing, is he going to think of you? Yeah. Not. So. Much.

8. Test your offers

One of the best things about retargeting banners is that they’re super easy to test. Try different offers — free shipping vs. a percentage off vs. a discount vs. no offer at all.

9. Make sure your logo — or primary site visual if that’s more important to your user — is prominent

The connect from the banner to your site is important and not to be underestimated.

10. Work your landing pages

Most companies forget about this, and then they blame their lack of remarketing success on the networks.

When users click on your banner and land on your site, you need to show them immediately that they’re in the right place. How do you do that?

Take them right to the view page of the cart. Offer a perpetual basket. Show large “checkout now” buttons.

Place a “recently viewed items” box in the right-hand column of your site. Welcome them back with a personalized message. Bring them to the page of the product they abandoned. Do any or all of the items listed.

11. Try several different networks

Every network has different properties and relationships with their properties. Test three or four at once to see which work best for you. The companies that are most successful with their marketing often use severa different networks.

12. If you’re testing a remarketing program for the first time, make sure you test it at the best time of your year

A lot of companies test remarketing programs during their off-seasons, thinking that it’s a good time because they’re not busy or they won’t “possibly do worse” at any other time of the year.

Although that may sound like a good idea, it doesn’t give you a good idea of your maximum potential or what you should budget annually.

13. Choose your properties carefully

There is a big difference between running your technology banner on HotMail and putting it on a tech news site.

What’s more, a lot of times the networks “fill” their different packages with less desirable (read: garbage) properties. You’ll want to know exactly what you’re getting and, more important, what is and isn’t working for your brand.

You may be surprised by what will work for you, so try not to put a lot of names on your holdback list just because you personally don’t like them. Remember, your network partners want this program to work for you.

14. Make sure you know which properties are in the group

If your remarketing partner won’t tell you, make sure you are clear about what’s acceptable to you.

If you don’t want your banner on sites with adult content, you need to be specific about it. The truth is that it’s not usually the adult content that marketers find offensive, it’s often some of the niche properties.

For example, a plus-size clothing company was “shocked and appalled” to find out that its best performing site was for “fat chicks only.” Funny thing is that when the merchant surveyed its customers, the users weren’t at all offended and actually thought it was “cool” that the apparel site was supporting one of their “favorites.”

15. Try for CPA deals

All the networks yap about cost per action (CPA) deals, but most offer them anyway. Decide what you can pay per order, lead, email sign-up, etc., and offer them a set fee for each action delivered.

Warning: Most networks make their CPC (cost per click) deals sound very sexy. That’s because they are comparing them to their pathetic CPM (cost per thousand) deals. Setting your price via CPO (cost per order) or CPL (cost per lead) will be far easier (and more profitable) for you to manage if you know your numbers.

16. Determine how low you can go

The thing about remarketing programs is that you have a lot of choices. You can market to everyone from plain site exits to cart abandoners.

Best practice: Test cart abandoners first, and then work backwards. As long as it’s profitable, it’s probably worth doing. But again, it’s critical that you know your numbers. (Emphasis on YOUR numbers — not those provided to you by the partners.)

17. Make sure you have an exclusions program

chances are, not all your transactions will take place in the first visit. To maximize the success of your remarketing program, you’ll want to suppress people who’ve ordered.

A lot of companies forget this important step. Don’t be one of them. It’s a waste of your money, and it confuses the heck out of your users.

18. Set aside a control group that you do not send to your remarketing partners

Most partners will try to talk you out of this, citing all sorts of conspiracy theories about aliens and Mayan calendars. Ignore them.

Keep a small sample out of their remarketing efforts. (Yes, you should do this on an ongoing basis.) Doing so has lots of benefits, but the biggest advantage is that you’ll be able to see at a glance how you’re doing without the remarketing banners. This is especially important if you have active trigger email programs or internal remarketing programs (catfishes, for example.)

19. Test cookie lengths

How long do you want users to see your ads? One day? Seven days? 15 days? 30 days? Indefinitely?

A lot of partners — even the good ones — won’t talk to you about this because they want to be able to run your ads forever. But it’s vital for you to test different intervals to determine where your ads stop working — or often more important, when you need to swap out your creative.

20. Remember that advertising within the Google Display Network is often different from using other remarketing companies (Fetchback, for example)

If you’ve tried one type and it hasn’t worked for you, don’t be afraid to try the other. In the end, this is nothing but a numbers game.

21. Don’t benchmark your results vs. overall industry results to gauge the success of your program

Every day there’s a new blog post (usually ghost-written by one of the partners) about some random company that has increased its results 1,200% using so-and-so’s unique retargeting methods.

There’s no doubt that this sounds provocative, but the reality is that your business may not compare with the kids niche clothing company that is offering 50% off all its apparel this week only.

Too many successful campaigns are cut because they don’t meet industry standards. The only standard you should care about is yours. You can either make this work or you can’t.

22. Update your privacy policy

No, this tip won’t make you money, but it may help keep you from losing it. You need to tell your users what you’re doing, and you should include a link for them to opt out of it.

Amy Africa ( is chief imagination officer of ecommerce consultancy Eight by Eight.

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