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What are Retargeting Campaigns in Digital Marketing?

June 7th, 2022 | 6 min. read

By Eric Gerber

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What are Retargeting Campaigns in Digital Marketing?

Right now, someone on the web is searching for something you sell. It could be a product, a service, or an event or experience. What are the odds they’ll snap up your version of that thing the second they see it?

That’s right — basically zero. 99% of people don’t buy on that “first pass.” So you’ve got to get back in front of them. That’s the idea behind retargeting campaigns.

Whatever your business, retargeting campaigns are key to keeping top-of-mind with potential customers who have recently interacted with you online by showing them your ads on other websites they visit.

Zoe Marketing & Communications has created thousands of successful retargeting campaigns for clients over the past years. Using this experience, we’re going to walk you through the basics of retargeting — and how to jumpstart the process if it’s right for you.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What retargeting is (and why it’s essential)

  • How to “tag” people who visit your website

  • Basic retargeting tools and costs

  • Whether retargeting is a good fit for you


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What’s retargeting, and why does it matter?

Retargeting serves paid digital ads to people who visited your website but didn’t take action. For example, maybe they didn’t buy a camp package for their kid or register for your school’s open house.

So you’re targeting them again — multiple times a day, even — with ads that pop up when they’re browsing elsewhere online. That includes Google and specific websites, along with social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

You’ve probably seen this for yourself. One minute, you’re checking out a pair of shoes on Amazon. Then next, maybe you’re browsing and — surprise! — there’s an ad for those very shoes. That’s a simple example of retargeting in action.

Why does this work? There’s a “Rule of Seven” in marketing. Traditionally, folks need to see or hear your message seven times before taking action. Though these days, it can take seven messages in seven different places before folks even remember you. Or more.

That means being “seen” is pretty important. Essentially, retargeting helps bring more people back to your website and remember your brand. It’s a numbers game: “The more people that end up on my website over time, the better chance I’ll have to make a sale.”

Remember, people are constantly weighing their options as they browse. Retargeting is a simple, effective tactic to keep them aware of you — especially for businesses with a following.

As MailChimp puts it, “If your website gets at least 100 monthly visitors,” retargeting ads are “definitely for you.”

Retargeting audience 101: Tag, you’re it

So let’s say someone visits your site but doesn’t take any action. The most common way to “retarget” them is by “tagging” them. You’re simply placing them in a bucket of people that came but didn’t buy.

This happens with a little piece of javascript code called a “pixel.” You get the pixel from an ad platform, such as Google Ads or Meta for Business (i.e., Facebook and Instagram). Then, you place it in the behind-the-scenes coding of your website for the specific “action” page you’re focused on.

Then, whenever a visitor lands on that page, their browser gets tagged with a “cookie.” These are tiny strings of text with some basic info about visitors’ browsing history.

That creates a bucket. And now, in that bucket, you can tell the advertising platform that serves your ads, “I only want to serve this ad to people who are in this bucket. Everybody else, leave alone.”

You might have picked up on a subtle but important fact. With retargeting, the user isn’t giving up any information. It’s browser based. The game changes a bit when you get users’ email addresses. You can then create lists, which you can also feed to advertising platforms to target specific people. Your list-based customers, you’re remarketing to.

The difference is subtle, and there’s a bit of a blurred line. Bottom line: Retargeting is browser-based, and you don’t get personal information from any of the users.

What are some retargeting tools (and what’ll they cost?)

That depends on where your business is in the marketing process. Some are “self-service,” while others require fees. Here’s a look at some of the common names you’ll encounter.

Google Ads

Google Ads is one of the most accessible “self-service” style platforms. You can launch simple text-based ads campaigns or “display ads,” which refers to designed visual ads. Setting up an account is free. Bonus: You also have access to ads on YouTube, which Google owns. 

Google Ads syncs up seamlessly with Google Analytics, too. Also free to set up, Google Analytics is where the retargeting magic happens. You can create up to 20 audience “buckets,” from a very general “all users” to specific pages. You can even hone in on smaller factors like age, gender, the type of device they’re using or how they got to your site.

For Google Ads to be effective, costs can vary. Small businesses might pay $1,000-$3,000 per month, notes WordStream, which specializes in small business advertising — while mid-sized companies average around $9,000. Again, it all depends on your goals and budget.

Social media 

Social media sites offer similar self-service options. Which sites you choose will depend on where your audience is (and who you’d like to reach!). According to WebFX, campaigns average $1,000-$2,000 per month. Let’s look at some top options.

1. Meta for Business (aka Facebook and Instagram)

Facebook remains a social juggernaut with about 2.9 million users, making it a sound starting place to retarget (its sibling company, Instagram, checks in around 1.5 million users). It has a broad reach for business-to-customer, or B2C, marketing.

In Meta for Business, you’ll create a pixel and place it on your website to serve up dynamic ads. Meta’s retargeting reach has decreased due to Apple’s iOS 14.5+ privacy updates, which makes users opt-in to such tracking. However, Meta has crafted some new retargeting tactics that still make it a helpful tool.

Bonus: You can easily reach users on Facebook and Instagram, since they’re part of the same company.

2. LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be powerful if you’re looking to connect with other businesses — also known as business-to-business or B2B. By placing a “LinkedIn Insight Tag” on your website, you can retarget and get “real-time insights on the professional traits and content preferences of your website visitors.”  

3. Twitter

Twitter touts being the #1 platform for brand interaction, according to a study it carried out with Publicis Media — with an audience hungry for new products and brands. Its “Universal Website Tag” offers the broadest retargeting reach. 

4. Pinterest

This “visual discovery engine” can grab eyeballs, especially if your ads have strong visual appeal. You’ll set up the “Pinterest tag” to track visitors across your key web pages.

Paid retargeting platforms

These options require an investment — and might be better if you have more sophisticated client-management software, such as HubSpot.

A word of caution: While powerful, these platforms can take time to master. Marketing companies like Zoe have the access and expertise to maximize programs like this for your brand. Also, note that you’ll still pay for individual campaigns to run in addition to the base fees.

1. AdRoll

This tool lets you run and manage display ads, social ads and email ads — effectively “rolling” them all into one place. Rates vary based on how many unique website visitors you get each month (for example, 1,000 visitors would cost $36/month).

2. ReTargter

A “full-service display advertising company” specializing in retargeting and remarketing. Its rates are a minimum of $500/month.

3. SharpSpring Ad

This option focuses on web and Facebook retargeting for top ROI. Small Business plan prices start at $449/month for 1,000 contacts and increase.

4. The Trade Desk

TTD focuses on reaching a wide range of websites, apps, podcasts and streaming TV platforms. It counts many ad agencies among its clients. Its rates aren’t listed online; you’ll need to connect directly.

Finally, keep in mind that some retargeting platforms require a minimum number of unique page visitors in the past 30 days. Google, for example, requires at least 100 active visitors for its display ads and 1,000 for its text-based ads and YouTube ads.

What are the next steps for retargeting?

In this article, you’ve learned what retargeting is so you can effectively start your first retargeting campaign. After all, very few people will buy your product or service after seeing your ads just once!

We showed you the basics of retargeting people who visit your website. Plus, we toured the most common “self-service” and paid platforms. And we gave you a flavor of how much it’ll cost.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, you’re not alone! There are many nuanced pieces, from placing code to tracking metrics. That’s where digital marketing experts can help.

Zoe Marketing & Communications has thousands of profitable retargeting campaigns under our belt. We know what works and what doesn’t, and we can help you save time and get results faster. With that, we know that retargeting campaigns aren’t for everyone, so make sure to understand if these campaigns are a good fit for you.

Connect with us to discover more about your options. Plus, if you’re curious where all those retargeting ads show up, be sure to read this blog (it’s one of our FAQs!).

Whether you work with us or not, continue to educate yourself to see if retargeting is right for your business.


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Eric Gerber

Eric Gerber delivers a deep understanding of data, performance and marketing tactics as an analyst and consultant for Zoe Marketing & Communications. A driven learner, his marketing experience spans from real estate to women's hair extensions.