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Retargeting should be every advertiser’s favorite digital tactic. 

If you’re not familiar with retargeting, or only vaguely familiar with it and want to know more, this article is meant to explain some of the basic principles of how retargeting works – with a specific focus on how it works for local advertisers.

To begin, it’s actually fairly simple and can be explained in three steps (as shown in the above graphic):

A person visits your website; A piece of code on your website called a ‘retargeting pixel’ identifies that user’s cookie as having visited your website, and then based on matching that user’s cookie – when that user visits other websites – you can deliver an ad just to that user.

That’s it! Simple right? But there’s a bit more to know, and there is some confusion around the terms. Our intention is to help to try and demystify some of this and clarify some of the basics.


Google calls it ‘remarketing’; nearly everyone else calls it ‘retargeting’, Facebook calls it “custom audiences” but it’s all the same thing.  There are other versions of it as well, for example Facebook calls their offering “Audiences” or “Custom Audiences”.  Essentially, it’s all the same thing, and we will use the generic and industry common term ‘retargeting’ to refer generically to all of these features.


In order for you to start retargeting someone who visited your website, you need some way of isolating that individual visitor from the other billions of internet users.  This is accomplished by the placement of a small piece of code on your website that will 'mark' this visitor as someone who visited your website. The only way this visitor can get this 'mark' - which is called a 'cookie' - is if they visited your website.  So this unique cookie - which can only be found by someone  who visited your website, is how we can separate your website visitors from the billions of other internet users.

Unfortunately, like the term ‘retargeting itself’ there are several different terms for this code, although they all assign a  which all basically provide the same benefit: Retargeting code, remarketing tag, retargeting pixel, etc….


The creation of this code is easy in an Adwords, Facebook or other ad management platform – assuming you have an account set up with one of these providers.  Once the code is created, it then needs to be placed in your website code. The code is typically placed at the bottom of your website code (or in the footer).  Once placed, you are almost ready to go! Note that there are many ways to configure and set up the retargeting code to be more precise, and limit “who gets shown what”. However for the purpose of this article, we can save that ‘detailed topic’ for another day.


Inform your visitors: Every advertising platform (e.g. Adwords, Facebook, SiteScout, AdRoll, Yashi, etc…) must require that you disclose to your users that your website uses third-party vendors and cookies to enable retargeting of them with ads while they are on the Internet.  Google’s recommendation is here, while Facebook provides a detailed explanation in their terms here.  Failure to provide this notice could lead to termination of your ability to retarget, track conversions, etc… So be forewarned!

Be Patient: Since retargeting is based off of the visitors to the website that the above retargeting code can ‘see’ on the internet. That means that if your website gets only a dozen or so visits a day, and you just installed your first retargeting code on your website, you may not be able to start running any retargeting campaigns just yet. The reason is that you don’t have enough visitors for an ad targeted to those previous visitors to start working just yet


Now that you have your retargeting set up and you can show your amazing ad to your previous site visitors, what else do you need to know about retargeting?  As with all things digital media, it works differently than your traditional media.  The best way of thinking of how ad buys work for most retargeting buys is to think about bidding on eBay – you are competing against other ‘bidders’ to show your ad. But it's not just that simple – for example, the seller may limit some buyers, or may not deliver to your area.  These are some of the potential variables that can affect your retargeting campaign.


As mentioned above, retargeting volume is based on the cumulative collection of site visitors to your websites pages with the retargeting tag.  So if you only have a few visitors, you won’t have a lot of people to retarget to. Be patient, considering increasing or adding SEO, or run a paid search or display campaign to get more visitors.


"Window" refers to the length of time and the "cookie" refers to when it was first created.  So basically how long after someone visits a site (and gets a cookie) should retargeting continue. This will be determined by various factors (for example, you may want to retarget persons who looked up your location for a longer period of time compared to visitors who only visited your homepage-or vice versa!) but ultimately it determines how many users (or cookies) your ads will be able to target over time.  Obviously, short windows (10 days) will have fewer users than longer ones (six months).  A longer cookie window – and a larger audience of users who visited your site – necessitates thinking about a larger budget too.


Do you want to put a limit on how often someone can see your ads? Or do you want them see them as often as possible? The frequency capping choice limits, or allows, for this.  Again, a higher frequency cap means more opportunities to show your ads – which could mean you’ll need to allocate more budget.


This is where you lose some of the control and other factors play a greater role. One of the most important is your geography and other exclusions or targeting you are placing on your retargeting. If you just want to retarget visitors in a single city versus the entire DMA or state, you have a smaller group of people who will see your ad.    Opportunities are also limited based on the next factor…


How much you are willing to pay? Like eBay, the highest bidder usually wins – all things being equal.  But they seldom are: Your budget, and how much you are will to pay for each click or ad view will have a lot to do with whether or not your ad is even considered to ‘bid’ – even if you would have paid more than others!  Additionally, some of the hundreds or thousands of websites and apps your ad could appear on may not allow ads from your business category.

A small book could be written about all the different variables, but the main thing is to know as much as you need to address the biggest variables. Having an adequate budget and a competitive ‘bid’ is a good starting point.

Hopefully this short article answered a few questions for you.  Still confused? Want help setting things up or understanding more about retargeting and how it fits in with all of your other marketing activities? Feel free to contact us! We’re happy to help and get you on your way!  And, yes, while you were on our website, we likely got your cookie information and you may expect to see a banner or two from us!

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