What Is Retargeting?

Retargeting is a digital marketing tactic that allows brands to serve ads tailored to potential customers based on the user’s prior engagement with the brand. It is often used to target shoppers who have visited a website but left without completing a purchase, aiming to re-engage the sale. 

Retargeting involves creating touchpoints to remind prospects of products and services they were interested in after leaving your website. This method uses cookies to display relevant ads to visitors as they continue browsing, increasing the likelihood of conversion.      

Retargeting ensures your products stay top of mind while customers browse the internet, whether on social media, news outlets, or researching competitors. Today, serious marketers rely on retargeting to engage customers and increase sales. With abandoned carts costing ecommerce stores $18 billion in lost revenue, now is the perfect time to start implementing retargeting to recapture those sales.

How Does Retargeting Work?

Retargeting is enabled by retargeting pixel, a JavaScript snippet embedded on the website. The retargeting pixel uses cookies, which are small pieces of data stored by a web browser to remember users who visited an ad or webpage. Marketing teams leverage this cookie data to serve ads to users again, reminding them of what they wanted to buy. Retargeting increases brand awareness and total conversions by displaying relevant, targeted ads to interested customers. Retargeting comes in various shapes and sizes, including email, short message service (SMS), display ads, and social ads.

What’s the Difference Between Remarketing and Retargeting?

The terms remarketing and retargeting are sometimes used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Remarketing is often used when collecting contact information from prospects to deliver email campaigns. Retargeting refers to displaying ads to prospects on other sites within an ad network after they leave your site. Retargeting usually involves cookies, while remarketing doesn’t.

What’s the Difference Between Behavioral Targeting and Retargeting?

Behavioral targeting allows advertisers to define their target audience based on consumer actions. Retargeting is a common type of behavioral targeting because it focuses on people who visited a webpage. For instance, if someone visits a particular product page, they may later encounter a display ad for that same product on another website.

What’s the Difference Between Contextual Targeting and Retargeting?

With contextual targeting, advertisers define their target audience based on the relevance of content on the other sites. Although advertisers can use contextual targeting for retargeting efforts, they often use it to reach prospects who visit sites with related content. 

For example, imagine you’re browsing an article about adopting a healthier lifestyle and exploring topics like balanced diets, workout routines, and the importance of fresh, organic foods. As you research the benefits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet, you might start to notice ads subtly positioned alongside the content. These ads aren’t random; they’re carefully selected to resonate with your interests at that moment. There may be an ad promoting a local farmer’s market offering organic produce delivery services, perfectly aligning with your newfound enthusiasm for nutritious eating. Additionally, you might come across ads for gym memberships, fitness apparel, or dietary supplements, all tailored to complement your journey toward wellness. 

This seamless integration of relevant advertisements into your browsing experience is made possible through contextual targeting, ensuring the ads you encounter are both timely and genuinely helpful. Contextual targeting enhances your online experience while allowing advertisers to reach their target audience effectively.

What Are the Different Types of Retargeting Campaigns?

Display ads

If you’re browsing the internet and see ads for products you’ve just viewed on a different site, that’s retargeting in action. Often presented as a visual dynamic banner or text ad, retargeting display ads are an innovative way to remind shoppers of what they’re missing out on by combining targeted messaging and tailored placement.


Have you ever left items in your online shopping cart without checking out, only to receive an email reminding you that those items are selling out fast? Say hello to email retargeting! Just like with display ads, advertisers use retargeting emails to bring shoppers back to a site, encourage them to leave a review, or remind them to complete their purchase.

Picture this scenario: You’re the proud owner of a French bulldog named Piper. Piper has specific dietary needs and requires hypoallergenic pet supplies. As you search Google for suitable products, you see an ad for grain-free kibble at the top or bottom of the search results page. This tailored ad is made possible by Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs), a powerful search retargeting feature within Google Ads that leverages the user’s previous activity across the web.

Social media

Platforms like Instagram and Facebook offer brands a direct link to customers —and social media retargeting ads capitalize on this connection. Native features such as shares, likes, and comments further extend the reach of your ads, maximizing exposure and engagement with your audience.


Most of us spend a significant amount of time on our phones. And while this habit may not be ideal for our eyesight and thumbs, it presents excellent opportunities for brands, particularly in mobile retargeting. AdRoll’s data indicates that brands leveraging mobile retargeting experience a notable 120% increase in click-through rates (CTRs). This method is particularly effective for encouraging branded app installs.

8 Steps to Create Effective Retargeting Campaigns

Step 1: Identify your goals

Retargeting serves various purposes beyond boosting conversions and sales. Your goals might include:

  • Improving brand awareness

  • Engaging existing customers to ensure brand affinity 

  • Recovering abandoned carts

  • Encouraging email subscriptions

  • Soliciting additional customer reviews

Make sure you have a thorough understanding of your retargeting campaign's objectives and the metrics you’ll utilize to measure success. This clarity will guide the structure and implementation of your campaign.

Depending on whether you want to enhance brand awareness, recover abandoned carts, or increase email subscriptions, the success metric of your campaign could be quite different. While it’s more straightforward to define “making a purchase” as the goal for your abandoned cart recovery campaign, retargeting campaigns aiming at, for example, improving brand awareness or brand loyalty should include more specific success metrics. In short, marketers should avoid using a one-size-fits-all approach to campaign goal setting.

Pro Tip: If you have access to managed services from your advertising technology provider, consult them on the appropriate campaign success metric based on your business objectives, as your campaign will be automatically optimized toward that metric.   

Step 2: Segment your audience

Next, determine your target audience. Who are you trying to reach? Existing or potential customers? Where do they spend their time? What motivates them?

Instead of applying a uniform retargeting strategy to all shoppers, segmenting them into different subsets is beneficial. The last thing you want is for shoppers to see irrelevant ads or to annoy those who have already made a purchase with repetitive ads.

You can segment your audience based on various criteria:

  • New vs. repeat customers

  • Behaviors (which pages of your website they’ve clicked on or whether they’ve engaged with your brand on social media)

  • Estimated customer lifetime value

  • Placement in the marketing funnel

  • Cart status (empty vs. abandoned carts)

  • Products of interest 

  • Previous purchases

  • Demographics

  • Geographic location

Pro Tip: Leverage the AI functionality in your advertising platform to automatically define high-intent audience segments for your campaigns.

Step 3: Choose your marketing channel(s)

Now, it’s time to choose where to run ads, whether via email, social media, or other channels. Your decision will depend on your budget, available resources for creating ads, and your campaign goals.

Pro Tip: To save time and money, consider using a marketing platform, which can manage all aspects of your campaigns across multiple channels.

Step 4: Plan your communication sequences

Nothing is more frustrating than repeatedly viewing the same ad or receiving identical emails. To address this, use sequences. They can help you create multiple versions of retargeting ads with unique content and then rotate them.

Here are several ideas to help get started:

  • Provide a free shipping coupon

  • Offer a 15% discount or other incentives

  • Showcase a testimonial supporting your brand

  • Promote a five-star review for an abandoned product

  • Use a countdown timer for urgency

  • Display a recommended best-sellers list

  • Use compelling copy to create urgency and FOMO

  • Remind shoppers of their browsed or purchased items

  • Cross-sell or upsell shoppers who just checked out

  • Share your brand story with values and promises

  • Express gratitude to existing customers for their support and loyalty

Step 5: Determine your communication timing and frequency

Ever feel creeped out by ads that follow you everywhere? Without frequency caps, retargeting ads can quickly feel intrusive. We recommend limiting the same ad creative to no more than twice. Beyond that, your ad may feel stale or annoying. Instead, mix up your retargeting ad roster with different combinations of images, copy, and messaging to keep things engaging.

If you’re using retargeting emails to recover abandoned carts, we recommend sending them out shortly after a shopper leaves your site (ideally within the hour). According to a survey from BI Intelligence, retargeting emails sent within three hours after cart abandonment have a 40% open rate and a 20% CTR. However, you’ll want to conduct your own analysis to find the perfect timing for your needs. It will likely depend on why people are abandoning their carts in the first place.

Pro Tip: If you’re already using AdRoll, our marketing automation builder makes it easy to create multi-channel retargeting campaigns. 

Step 6: Design and develop your creative

Crafting the right message and developing the perfect visual assets for your retargeting ads can be challenging, especially for marketers who lean more toward analytical thinking than creativity. We’ve got you covered with these expert tips to get the ball rolling.

Compelling copy is key to driving action and engagement when crafting retargeting ads. To enhance your ad messaging…

  • Highlight your value proposition

  • Clearly state the desired action (leaving a review, checking out, or visiting your website)

  • Use strong verbs to prompt action

  • Keep messaging direct, avoid lengthy storytelling

  • Transparency is crucial (avoid false promises)

  • Craft clear calls-to-action (CTAs) that guide shoppers on their “next steps” For example, Anthropologie’s retargeting message features a strong and prominent CTA: “Keep Shopping.”

  • Address common pain points that resonate with your audience

Keep these messaging guidelines in mind to produce visually appealing and successful ads:

  • Limit the number of fonts, colors, and graphical elements to maintain a cohesive look

  • Make sure your images are high quality

  • Feature your CTAs prominently (place them in a box and transform them into buttons)

  • Remove large chunks of text and incorporate images or graphics to increase engagement

  • Opt for lifestyle shots over product shots against white backgrounds whenever possible, creating a more relatable feel

  • Review and adhere to platform-specific image specifications to optimize visual quality and performance

  • Resize visuals as needed and conduct A/B tests to compare different placements, such as Instagram Stories ads vs. in-feed ads

  • Ensure that any text overlaid on images remains impactful

  • Confirm that visuals scale correctly for mobile devices to increase impact

Pro Tip: Don’t let creative block or resource constraints hinder your campaign success. If you’re already an AdRoll customer, leverage AdRoll’s free ad creative service to help bring your campaigns to the next level.

Step 7: Launch your retargeting campaign

The big day has come! Now that everything has been prepared and set up, it's time to launch your retargeting campaign and start interacting with your audience. 

Give yourself a pat on the back, but remember—it’s not over yet. 

Step 8: Monitor and optimize

Retargeting is not a set-and-forget tactic. For maximum success, you must continuously review your data, A/B test your delivery, and optimize based on trends and insights. The key is not getting too attached to any element in your campaign (yes, even that snazzy headline you’ve spent ages writing) and continuing to experiment as you progress. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to get rid of it.

Download our helpful guide

Looking for more guidance when it comes to your successful retargeting campaigns? Learn more in our Beginner’s Guide to Retargeting ebook.

How to Choose the Right Retargeting Platform

Selecting the right retargeting platform is crucial to successfully achieving your marketing objectives. Here are several tips to help you choose the right retargeting platform for your organization:

1. Give the highest priority to a retargeting platform that works with and not against your current ecommerce site, CRM system, or website. 

2. Choose a platform with tools that allow users to practice effective audience targeting. This involves the capacity to segment audiences according to their actions, interests, and more. 

3. Your retargeting efforts work better when you target specific demographics. Select a platform that offers performance tracking and campaign optimization features. 

4. Examine various platforms’ costs to make sure they complement your marketing objectives and stay within your budget. Some platforms include customizable price choices, including subscription-based models, cost-per-impression, and pay-per-click. 

5. Read available user reviews and testimonials to determine the platform’s credibility and dependability. Solid reviews and a positive track record prove the platform can produce positive results.

The Future of Retargeting: Cookieless Retargeting Ads

In January 2020, Google announced its plan to deprecate the use of third-party cookies in digital advertising to further protect Google Chrome users' privacy. For many years, cookies have been necessary for marketers to target and monitor consumers’ online activity. However, marketers are still determining what changes to expect and how to respond to Google’s changes.

In a third–party-cookie-less world, marketers will need to adapt their retargeting strategies to new methodologies. While retargeting as a practice isn’t going away, the reliance on third-party cookies for these efforts is diminishing. Cookieless retargeting may sound unfamiliar or daunting, but in reality, it’s just a more privacy-friendly approach to connecting with your target audience. 

Retarget with AdRoll

Retargeting is a highly effective strategy that delivers personalized ads based on user behavior. By categorizing visitors into segments, you can customize retargeting ads to resonate with their preferences. This method helps reinforce brand recognition and encourages conversions over time, gaining traction with each exposure until “window shoppers” are ready to make a purchase.

With AdRoll, you get the retargeting platform, performance, and services you need to achieve your goals while streamlining operations.

Learn how we can empower your retargeting strategy and boost ROAS. Learn more about the AdRoll retargeting platform.