The 5 Rules of Retargeting: Personalization and Customization at Its Best

Alexandra Tachalova

Jul 15, 201610 min read
Rules of Retargeting

We’ve all come across retargeting – both as marketers and users. Retargeting is an online advertising strategy aimed at users who have already visited your site. You can also target those whose emails addresses you already have in your contacts list. Your retargeting audience is made up of people who already know about your company – and this is what fundamentally differentiates this technique from others.

In this blog post, you’ll learn why you should consider using retargeting as an effective channel to boost your sales, as well as how to enhance your retargeted ads with already proven methods and techniques. Also, I’ll discuss some outstanding examples of ads that may help you streamline your creative process.

Without further ado, let’s go deeper and contemplate all the nuances of remarketing so you can get the most out of this strategy. 

Why Should You Use Retargeting?

For those who are still hesitant about retargeting, the answer is simple: because it works! Retargeting has been proven to be effective: the click-through rate of retargeted emails is 10 times higher than average display ad. Also, a Comscore study has shown that retargeting generates the highest rise in search queries, compared to other display media placement strategies.

There are plenty of reasons to use retargeting. Here are my top three:

1. Retargeting significantly increases your conversions

Remarketing really increases you r site’s RO I, and it works, but you shouldn’t expect that it will bring new visitors. Remarketing is a channel for retaining your existing visitors, rather than acquiring new ones.

2. Retargeting increases your brand awareness

With the help of remarketing, your brand will become much stronger and much more recognizable for your current and potential clients. The reason behind this is simple – the more users are exposed to a certain brand’s ads, the more visible it becomes. However, knowing your limits is what’s important here. If your ad is too aggressive, it can hurt your reputation. I will discuss this in further detail later.

3. Retargeting improves user engagement

By creating multiple campaigns that are properly customized and targeted toward a specific group of users, you can easily improve your site’s engagement rate. This is definitely possible with well-designed banners that appeal to users’ interests. 

Now that you have enough reasons to give remarketing a closer look and consider it as an additional advertising channel, you should know about several nuances concerning its use before you begin your first campaign. Essentially, there are two types of retargeting: pixel-based and list-based.

Below you'll find a detailed comparison of both types that will help you make the right choice.

First of all, let's figure out what the core difference is between pixel-based and list-based retargeting.

What is Pixel-Based Retargeting?

Pixel-based retargeting is a way to represent your ads to any users who have already visited your website. A specific piece of code (pixel) is placed on your website, and when users browse them, this pixel automatically installs cookie on visitors’ browsers in order to be able to show ads on other sites.

To start reaching out to your website’s visitors via retargeting, first you need to select the right third-party platform. And there are plenty of them – you might need to do a little research to find the one that best suits your needs.

Retargeting platforms will handle all of the technical aspects of your campaign, namely cookies. Retargeting tools can help you create a more user-friendly environment, so you can run multiple experiments in order to identify whether a particular channel fits your business’s needs.

Furthermore, after you’ve become a more advanced user, you can decide whether you want to adjust your campaign manually, if you're not satisfied with your ads’ results results.

What is List-Based Retargeting?

List-based retargeting is only possible when you have a list of email addresses or cell phone numbers. This technique will allow you to display your ad banners to social network users on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. When launching a campaign, you just need to upload your list of email addresses, and the platform will automatically identify the users’ profiles that have been registered with these addresses and show them your ads. You can also launch your retargeting campaigns on Facebook and Twitter using your list of cellphone numbers.

Both list- and pixel-based retargeting options have a number of strong and weak points.

A pixel-based retargeting campaign guarantees that you will reach a wider audience (if you have a substantial amount of traffic coming to your site). At the same time, a pixel-based campaign is hard to personalize – there is a good chance that your visitors will see irrelevant ads.

List-based retargeting campaigns are, on the contrary, customizable. The manual settings of the list-based retargeting option is also a plus, because you can decide for yourself what the target for each banner should be.

However, to make your ads messages laser-targeted enough, you need to add additional data to your list of email addresses, such as users’ interests etc. Sometimes this requires a lot of time, but it’s a reasonable price to pay for a finely tuned campaign!

However, such personalization has its downside. For instance, users who have previously bought your products or services and have shown a negative attitude towards your products or services must be excluded from your retargeting campaigns. Otherwise, you'll face another problem that will affect your brand’s reputation: user irritation. 

There is one more pitfall for this type of campaign. If a contact from your list has a different email address than the one he or she is used to register with, the platform won’t be able to identify it, so there is always a certain percentage of your leads that will go to waste. 

How to Promote Your Retargeting Campaign

Now we know the basic principles of list- and pixel-based retargeting. But what should you do to promote your retargeting campaign? Here is some wisdom I’ve acquired first-hand (and sometimes from the school of hard knocks!).

Rule 1: The more you can personalize your ads, the better you can convert them.

As we already know, list-based retargeting is more customizable, because as you create lists for your retargeting campaigns using your subscribers’ email addresses or phone numbers, you’ll more or less have a clear understanding of who they are, what their occupations and interests are, etc.

On top of this, Google Analytics can show you what a particular user has browsed on your site, and what pages they’ve visited. Buy having this data on hand, you can significantly improve your future ad messaging, so you can avoid showing non-relevant banners to a particular group of users. For instance, if a user has visited a page about a particular kind of product or service you offer, you can exclusively show that user offers related to it. 

Yes, this type of laser-targeted segmentation requires more time and effort, but only with the help of these techniques will you get the best response and conversion rates. As a general rule, the more you personalize your user experience, the higher conversion rates you can expect. 

With pixel-based retargeting, you have the ability to generate ad segments based on users’ onsite behavior as well, but they are still anonymous to you. For example, if you release a new product, you can’t be sure that it’s relevant to a particular user or not.

However, when you have a user’s email address, you can easily gather additional data about this lead. For doing so, I highly recommend that you take a look at FullContact, which allows you to discover more about your prospects, like their social profiles, their companies’ names and more. 

Rule 2: Use Google Customer Match

Compared to Twitter’s Tailored Audiences and Facebook’s Custom Audiences, this tool demonstrates the highest rate of an email's match:

Email match rate of major ad platformsEmail match rate of major ad platforms


The Google Customer Match tool allows you to show your ads to searchers who use their email address to log in to Google, YouTube and Gmail. With Customer Match you can find those users who have previously searched for a product similar to what you are selling. What’s exciting is that Google Customer Match shows a good conversion rate (1.5 percent and higher).

Rule 3: Don’t be aggressive; control your ads! 

Retargeting quite often irritates users, and we cannot ignore this fact.

Here’s a story from my personal experience, and I’m sure you have your own, too.

Last summer, I decided to take a vacation, and I was looking for a convenient apartment to rent for a week. While I was doing my research, retargeting ads were also appearing on Facebook and reminding me that I had to finish my booking. Those banners weren’t really that irritating and I was quite happy to see them.

Finally, I chose the right apartment, but afterwards, ad banners still aggressively followed me everywhere – on Facebook, on digital marketing websites and even on Twitter, and that was slightly annoying!

After some time passed, my plans changed. I was forced to cancel my holidays due to business reasons, and, as a result, I cancelled my booking. And as you might have guessed, I was upset, but these stupid banners kept chasing me, showing me super-attractive pictures of beachside hotels that I would never have the chance to stay in.

Hopefully, my story illustrates perfectly how you can easily turn a loyal customer into a hater with the help of (improper?) retargeting!

Also, we’ve all faced this situation when researching a particular product on the Internet – for example, when we want to compare prices or read a couple of references before buying something. Often, after this, we end up going to a physical shop and buying it there. Ultimately, after we’ve made a purchase, we are no longer interested in this product, but, unfortunately, our browser is still “cookied” and we are subjected to further retargeting.

I love the Facebook feature that lets users get rid of ads that are not relevant to them by simply clicking on them and choosing "Hide ad. See fewer ads like this." And on top of that, Facebook asks you exactly why you're not interested in it, so advertisers can better target their campaigns in future. However, this feature doesn't include the “I’ve already bought it” option!

Sometimes retargeting campaigns are hard to fine tune. This may seem like a simple, straightforward task, but, in reality, you always have a huge number of users that you need to exclude. To implement retargeting, you need to restructure your current database or start better tracking how users interact with your site. So you should anticipate all possible negative reactions.

Anne Hunter, comScore’s Vice President of Advertising Effectiveness, who used to coordinate Coms core’s research on the effectiveness of different strategies for digital display ads, says: “If marketers want to continue to enjoy the benefits of this highly effective strategy [retargeting], they must also deploy it responsibly and in a manner with which consumers are comfortable.”

Rule 4. Using Email Retargeting

Email is thought to be the number three source of customer acquisition:

Email AcquisitionEmail Acquisition


What’s more, email retargeting appears to be especially effective when ad banners are displayed to customers who have already purchased a product, encouraging them to make repeat a purchase.

To start using email retargeting, you need to have a list of subscribers. In your email template, you'll add a special code that enables cookies when a user opens an email. This type of retargeting is also popular among companies that are generating a good number of registered, but currently unpaid users.

Rule 5. Think outside the box!

To launch effective retargeting campaigns, you can simply follow all these tips and rules. But they’re not enough if you want to launch great campaigns with outstanding results. If you expect your campaign to be a breakthrough one, you need to be creative and willing to explore brand new ideas.

Retargeting (and online advertising in general) allows a lot room for creativity. To see where you are missing out on opportunities, start asking yourself (or your colleagues) a few simple questions.

For example: 

  • On which sites are your choosing to show your banner ads?
  • How often should you revise this list?
  • Have you ever thought about extending it?
  • Have you ever thought about displaying your banners on porn sites?
  • Do you consider this to be a crazy idea? 

Well, it is! But the guys from Eat24 tried it, and it brought them great results. Here is the full story on their strategy of placing their banners advertising food delivery services on adult sites. The traffic coming to porn sites is huge – in fact, it constitutes up to 30 percent of all web traffic.

Also, the cost of ad placement on porn sites is surprisingly low. It is much cheaper than placing ads on Google, Facebook and Twitter. Here’s what the Eat24 team discovered: porn sites are a gold mine for advertising. Statistics show that 99 percent of what is advertised on porn sites is more porn. So, if you want to advertise something different (and perhaps not as exciting), you have to create catchy banners. Here’s how Eat24 team accomplished this.

This case is not new, but it is one of the most interesting I’ve ever come across. It encourages us to think outside the box, and to not be afraid to test our ideas, even if they seem too crazy.

Unexpected Opportunities

So as you can see, retargeting creates a lot of unexpected opportunities for your business. It is quite an effective channel, if you know how to avoid common pitfalls and set up your campaign properly. Even novice users can take advantage of these types of ads with the help of the right tools!

My top practical hints based on my experience are as follows:

  1. Personalize your ad campaigns, and don’t just stick to the beaten path. Create personalized banners, look for new channels to explore, be brave, and try something new.
  2. Use email retargeting. Customer acquisition via email has quadrupled over the past four years. This technique can lead to really impressive results and help you increase your conversion rate. There is simply no reason why your business cannot take advantage of this fruitful channel. 
  3. Use Google Customer Match. A large percentage of emails matches plus the ability to extend your coverage by reaching out to users that have been searching for products or services that are similar to yours.

I hope that I was able to convince you to give retargeting a try. Do you have any questions, comments or ideas? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment.

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Alexandra Tachalova has worked in digital marketing for over six years. She is a digital marketing consultant, helping digital businesses to open new markets and boost sales. Alexandra is a frequent speaker, and Founder of online digital marketing event