Retargeting is Not as Great as You Think

We at AUSAM have been meaning to write a piece on remarketing (retargeting. same thing.) for a while. However we were recently spurred into action with this absolutely stupid article on the topic from our friends at Digiday.

Remarketing has been heralded as the most efficient tactic in digital marketing. Give a small sum of money to any Criteo, GDN or DSP and POW! Watch the adserver reporting rain money all over your campaign. However, we encourage you to answer the little voice in your head that says, "Am I just serving ads to people who were already going to buy my stuff anyway?". Or even the little voice that should be in your head that says, "Am I being annoying AF to all my site visitors by chasing them around with remarketing ads?"

On that second question, Harvard would suggest that you are. Retargeting ads (remarketing. same thing.) may even be to blame for the current ad blocking phenomenon. There are also more than a few examples we can point to of consumers complaining about retargeting ads being creepy, annoying, or the like. While remarketing is definitely an important part of a digital media plan, below are some pointers and things to think about to make sure you're valuing this tactic appropriately and executing well.

Stop Preaching to the Converted

The number one thing that you MUST do if you are remarketing is set up exclusion lists!!!! The easiest way to do this is to pixel your order confirmation page and make sure all remarketing partners are negatively targeting (AKA excluding) that audience from all remarketing. Go one step further and pair up with a cross-device partner to suppress advertising to this audience on all of their devices. This will ensure that users don't see ads after they've already made a purchase. It may also make sense to upload a list of your best customers (who, again, will probably make a purchase without a million reminder ads) to be excluded from remarketing and prevent wasting budget and annoying your most loyal base.

Treat Site Visitors as You Wish to be Treated

Many times people abandon your site or checkout page with the intention of returning at another time to complete the transaction. Maybe they don't want to go through a laborious checkout process on their phone, so they'll wait until they're near a computer. Maybe they don't have their credit card handy at the moment so they will come back to the cart later. Maybe they are checking with a friend on size, color, etc. before completing the purchase. We've all been there. Utilizing recency buckets can make your campaign more efficient by not bombarding people with ads who are already planning to buy. Separate your visitors into people who have been to the site in the past two hours, versus the past 24 hours, versus the past week, 10 days, etc. An easy starting point to figure out which recency groupings make sense for you can be found in your site analytics. How long does it normally take a user to complete a purchase after a visit? 1-2 hours? 1-2 days? Great. Then assume that people in that time frame are likely to convert on their own and don't stalk them with ads! Or at least bid lower on those users or restrict frequency for those users. Which brings us to our next point....

What's the Frequency

One easy way to cut down on costs and stop annoying your site visitors is as simple as having effective frequency caps in place. Here you could use ad server analytics to see how many ads it takes for the average user to convert, or you could mimic the frequency caps on other parts of your campaign. You could also just start with something that sounds reasonable (say 4 ads per hour) and play around with that number to see if your performance gets better or worse. High frequency caps (or, even worse, NO frequency caps) are a classic sign of vendors trying to boost remarketing performance by scamming your attribution system (a more detailed topic for another time).

Give the People What They Want

Another easy way to ensure that you're not being too intrusive or creepy with site visitors is to abide by the DAA's Ad Choices program. Giving users a way to tell you they don't want to be retargeted, and honoring those opt-outs, will go a long way.

Testing, testing

Lastly, a wonderful way to experiment with how much budget and attribution credit you should be giving remarketing is to run a test. This could be as basic as an A/B test where you split your remarketing pool into control and exposed only showing ads to the exposed group. You would then look at the conversion rates of both groups to decide how much incremental revenue the exposed group brought in, and therefore, how much weight or attribution you want to give to remarketing. This is one very simple way to estimate how much incremental revenue you're driving - but if you have an analytics or research team there are much more sophisticated ways to set up a proper test.

Overall remember that the more questions you ask of your agency, vendor, partners, publishers, DSPs, the better. Anyone running media should be able to help you out with the advice above. And most of all: if your agency or adserver is showing a 10x lift in revenue from remarketing you should definitely ask yourself, "Is my CFO seeing a lift in revenue?". Because if not, you may not be driving the incremental gains you think you are.

Good luck out there,