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What Websites or Apps Do My Retargeting Ads Show Up On?

June 16th, 2022 | 5 min. read

By Eric Gerber

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What Websites or Apps Do My Retargeting Ads Show Up On?

Here's a digital spin on the old "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" question:

"If my retargeting ads show up on other websites/apps and I'm not around to see them, where are they?"

One of the hottest questions about retargeting we get at Zoe Marketing & Communications is just this: "Where are my ads showing up, exactly?" So, if you're feeling frustrated or even just mildly anxious about where your ads wind up, you are not alone.

Clients want a deeper sense of where their messages are going. And no wonder! You're making an investment, and you want to ensure it's popping up in the proper context. Luckily, since Zoe works on hundreds of these campaigns per year, we can lift the veil. We'll show you:

  • How this retargeting stuff works, in a nutshell

  • Which websites or apps your retargeting ads display on

  • Which websites or apps your ads won't display on

  • Whether you can see where your ads ultimately showed up (spoiler: yes!)

  • How to move forward on a successful retargeting campaign with confidence

Ready to alleviate some of that worry and concern? Let’s demystify this corner of the digital marketing universe.


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How does retargeting work?

We’ll clear this point up first. Retargeted ad campaigns work like this: Someone visits your website. Here, they get tagged with a piece of code called a "pixel." After they leave, if that pixel is in place, they'll start to see your ads while they visit other websites.

That means your ads show up on websites or apps that your recent website visitors visit next. So it all depends on what those visitors do. 

OK, but where will my retargeting ads display specifically — on which websites and apps? 

Often, clients worry, "I don't want my ad to appear on a site or app that's completely irrelevant to my business." But that's not what it's about. It is about:

  1. They were on your webpage

  2. You started targeting them (thanks to the power of pixel coding)

  3. They go to other sites/apps and see you (thanks to those sites selling ad inventory to make money)

  4. You stay top of mind (and some eventually buy from you)

See, it's less important what sites your retargeting ads show up on. It's much more important they're showing up — and that you're investing enough to show up often enough so people eventually take action.

All that said, there are highly trafficked websites and apps that crop up commonly. Examples can include popular news sites (like CNN, MSNBC, Wall Street Journal), celebrity gossip/trending sites (hello, TMZ, Daily Mail and People) and weather sites.

As far as apps, take your pick — anything from Crosswords or Color by Number to Yahtzee and Hearts, along with cooking apps, magazine apps, weather apps, shopping apps ... you name it.

So the short answer is, it depends. However, to make sure you're showing up on sites/apps that are highly trafficked and top quality, you can use an audience-insight company. At Zoe, for example, we tap into Quantcast — a company that gathers data from millions of websites. We then optimize our campaigns to target only the top 5,000 most visited websites, according to this company's data. This ensures a few things:

  • Your ads wind up on top websites based on hard data

  • "Bought" traffic gets filtered out (in other words, real people are seeing your ads — not bots that show up to "ping" a website and inflate traffic)

  • All this happens in a way that's streamlined, efficient and cost-effective

Remember, people's digital behavior and trends change at lightning speed. That means even those top 5,000 sites aren't the same day-to-day or even minute-to-minute.

Also, bear in mind that roughly 20% of the sites and apps out there get about 80% of the traffic. And by using a high level of quality control, you ensure your ads show up in the best possible places — drawing the most qualified eyeballs.

Where won't my retargeting ads display? Can I avoid certain websites or apps?

If we had to guess, you probably don't want your ads displaying in, shall we say, unsavory places. Rest assured that there are safeguards to prevent that — and, to an extent, you can even avoid specific sites and apps.

What are the basic built-in safeguards?

Whether you're working with a marketing firm or retargeting yourself (e.g., with Google Ads), you don't need to worry about your ads showing up on adult sites, for example. In fact, explicit websites have entirely different ad servers. The same goes for cannabis — even if it happens to be legal in the state where you're based.

To run this risk, you'd have to be on a separate ad network that serves ages 21-plus. Otherwise, your ads won't appear on these "red flag" sites. Simply put, there's a lot of filtering going on.

Can I block out other sites and apps?

The good news is, yes, you can also decide to omit certain websites or apps you don't want your ads to appear on. The bad news is it might not be as comprehensive as you're hoping.

The best method is to gather a list of sites or apps you'd like to avoid. You can load those to your ad server as a "do not serve list." 

It's tougher if you want to block, say, all politically right- or left-leaning websites. That sort of filtering isn't an option due to the volume of sites out there.

If you want to target a certain genre, though — parenting/family, for example — it can be done. But you're facing a lot of competition at a niche level, which will cost you more.

Plus, remember the point of retargeting: The focus isn't what sites your ads are showing up on. The focus is on how many times your ads display to a user — on any site — that brings them back to your site.

So casting a bigger net is always better (and more affordable).

Can I see where my ads ultimately showed up in a  retargeting campaign?

You absolutely can! When a campaign concludes, you can see every site your ad showed up on by volume. So, which had the most impressions, clicks, etc.

Keep in mind, this also depends on how many impressions you bought in the first place (through your marketing firm, Google Ads, etc.). At Zoe, our campaigns run in 30-day cycles, and results can range from hundreds to thousands.

End-of-campaign reports also show your visitors' geographic location and top-performing websites and apps.

How can I move forward with a successful retargeting campaign of my own?

You've now peeked behind the "velvet curtain" of retargeting ads. We've detailed how the process works: Your ads follow people who've visited your site. That means your ads pop up on a wide variety of websites and apps — which is the entire goal.

You've also learned that these sites are filtered by popularity and quality, and the "types" range from news and shopping to games and weather. Not only do you appear on highly trafficked sites, but you're also not appearing on sites with inappropriate or questionable content. And you do have some power to weed out specific sites or apps you'd rather not appear on.

So — what next? Do a deeper dive into retargeting to see if it's right for you. Our blog on this topic will get you grounded and give you a better sense of the work involved.

Are you raring to launch your retargeting campaign — but feel like you need help? At Zoe Marketing & Communications, we have access to top-quality data and can optimize your campaign as it progresses. All this ensures top results and less stress for you.

Whichever path you choose, remember that your retargeting ads are showing up right where they need to. And by the time your campaign is over, you'll know exactly where that was!


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Learn how digital ads can help your business, including the tools, techniques and strategies to create successful campaigns.

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.