Remarketing (also called retargeting) is a core strategy in PPC, where you take a group of people determined by previous action or behavior (audiences) and target their ads towards or away from that group of people. And there’s no shortage of statistics that show us why it’s such a core strategy.
Retargeting can increase ad engagement by 400% and sales by 50%—if you do it right. So in this post, I’m going to help you to do just that by covering 10 costly retargeting mistakes to avoid so you can get the most out of this ad type..
The rules of engagement for PPC are always in flux, and it’s important to adapt structures and strategies with the times. Make sure you’re not making any of these mistakes so that your retargeting campaigns are as effective as possible.
Retargeting people who have visited your website has been a common practice for years, but this strategy relies on third-party cookies which, as you know, are being phased out. This is leading to incomplete data on our website visitors which can lead us to send the wrong messages to the wrong users.
It’s better to use customer lists or other lists based on first-party data. First-party data is any information you own that a user has consented to allow you to track/hold. This can include contact info (email, phone number, etc.), on-page behavior, and other data that you secured through user consent. Buying a contact list does not count as first-party data, and should not be used in remarketing (this can actually result in an ad account suspension).
Almost all ad platforms (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) allow advertisers to target uploaded/synced lists of customer emails/phone numbers. This style of remarketing (be it targeting or excluding) uses first-party data to help advertisers more effectively match their message to prospects.
These lists can be used remarketing audiences or used to seed Similar/Lookalike Audiences.
That being said, it’s important to have a strategy in place to earn customer trust so they will give you their contact info—such as with high-quality lead magnets.
Similar Audiences (used in Google remarketing) and Lookalike Audiences (used in Facebook remarketing) are powerful prospecting tools. They take people who show desirable traits and use them as models for finding new audiences.
When Similar Audiences first hit the scene, there was fear that they’d be wasteful. Advertisers like control, and giving the algorithm “free reign” can seem scary. Yet Similar Audiences and Lookalike Audiences often outperform direct remarketing and absolutely trounce not using any audiences.
It’s important to note Similar Audiences and Lookalike Audiences will only be as good as the lists you use to seed them.
Similar Audiences will automatically generate where Lookalikes require you to actively make them in the respective ad manager.
Note: Ad networks will allow you to set a percentage of certainty that a user is similar to the seed audience. Be sure you only opt into 1% certainty as the larger amounts tend to pull in more waste.
Audience exclusions are an underutilized tactic to save budget and be more targeted with messaging. Setting audience exclusions follows the same logic as negative keywords and excluding placements: anyone in the excluded audience won’t be eligible to see your ad.
By excluding a remarketing list that was the seed for a Similar Audience, you can ensure only net new folks see your ad. You can also exclude close but not quite traffic.
For example, if you’re in real estate, searches for commercial and residential can be close if not identical (even though their value is drastically different). By excluding the in-market audience for the sub-vertical the advertiser isn’t interested in, they can protect their budget and ensure they get enough useful volume.
Note: When using automated or Smart Bidding, excluding or outright targeting audiences is the only way to help ad platforms direct your budget. If you’re using manual bidding or enhanced CPC, you can use positive and negative bid adjustments to direct budget towards or away from particular audiences.
One of the biggest benefits of connecting Google Analytics to your ad account is being able to sync audiences. Advertisers can identify and combat the reasons organic traffic didn’t convert, budget for segments that historically perform better/worse than others, and leverage other analytics segments in audience targeting and creative.
Work with your SEO team to understand which segments they’d find useful to be specifically targeted, as well as which ones would make sense to exclude. Paid campaigns are usually able to get volume quickly, so if the content team wants to run a test, or if there’s interest in seeing the response to a specific layout, Analytics segments can help those collaborative efforts.
Note: It’s important to note that Analytics segments are sometimes too small to run on their own so be realistic and upfront with your team on what you can and can’t run.
Ad creative should always be engaging and inspire profitable action. Good ads become great when they’re targeted to specific groups predisposed to engage.
By using audiences to target budget towards specific groups of people, you also control the messaging. Taking the time to analyze whether a group of people uses one variant of a word or another (e.g., “marketing tools” vs “marketing software”) can help ensure the message lands.
Make sure you’re as specific as possible (whether using a native audience or remarketing). Targeting pet owners (without specifying the type of pet), will expose otherwise great creative to waste.
If you’re using a remarketing list, use ad copy and creative that honors the conversation prospects have begun with you, ideally overcoming common objections to conversion.
Ad algorithms need data to function, and if a target is too small, your budget will struggle to serve. Regardless of platform, if an audience is less than 1000 people, it will not be able to serve.
If you’re using a customer list as a seed for a Lookalike or Similar Audience, be mindful it can take up to 48 hours to process and you’ll get a “too small to serve” until it fully renders.
This is not say you shouldn’t build an audience to target later. You just might need to keep it on target and observe for a while.
Audiences can be applied on either target and observe, or just observe. This choice dictates whether the audience you select will actually influence whether the budget is directed towards or away from the audience.
If you choose target and observe, the audience must have enough people to serve so it can make sense to begin with a new audience on observe. Additionally, if you use Smart Bidding, the algorithm will ignore your observation audiences and just direct budget to those who seem to meet the Smart Bidding objective.
Using audiences in your branded and competitor targeting campaigns can be an effective way to focus budget and ensure correct messaging. Setting up these campaigns requires you to opt into one of two strategies:
Both paths can be profitable. It’s important to understand why you choose one path or another. If your team has attribution issues, you likely want to go with the first path. If you trust your tracking and all teams are using a single source of truth for reporting, the second tends to be best.
For competitor campaigns, consider adding your current customer lists on target and observe so you can overcome the reasons they might be thinking about leaving you.
One of the best ways to capitalize on remarketing lists is to apply lists from one channel to another as a Lookalike/Similar Audience. This cross-channel marketing strategy will allow you to find ideal customers on different ad platforms you wouldn’t otherwise capture. Additionally, you can feel good about testing budgets on new channels (which is one of our paid media strategy essentials) because you’re protecting your budget with audience guardrails.
A common mistake advertisers make is lumping remarketing budgets in with general service and expecting great results quickly.
Just because a campaign is focused on a more concentrated audience, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a budget to run. Be sure you’re allocating enough per day for the new campaign to ramp up and achieve its goals.
A good rule of thumb is to allocate 15-20% of your paid campaign budgets to remarketing (at least in the beginning). Some brands will end up allocating more to the remarketing campaigns due to the auction prices of their industry.
Remarketing is a powerful tool in digital marketing and will yield the best results when grounded in first-party data and collaborative campaigns. Here’s a recap of the mistakes I covered above in the form of tips:
Navah Hopkins is a Top 25 PPC Expert and international speaker who has been in the digital marketing industry since 2008. She specializes in paid media strategy and helping brands build relationships with profitable partners and customers.
She’s a cofounding member of the Paid Search Association, a group dedicated to empowering the next generation of PPC practitioners, and she continues to give back by sharing lessons learned at conferences and local universities, and in blogs and webinars for SEJ, SEL, Semrush, and WordStream.
See other posts by Navah Hopkins
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