The Basics of Remarketing: What it is, How it Works, and How to do it
Posted by drew on May 10, 2015, 6 p.m.
Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of confusion about ad remarketing. I really just wanted to set the record straight as to what this term means, what it can do for your business, and what you’ll need to get started.
First off, let’s cover some issues around terminology. The two main terms floating around are “remarketing” and “retargeting.” For some entities (namely, Google) these two terms refer to the same thing, and Google more often uses “remarketing.” Others, however, draw a distinction between the two. Some claim that retargeting includes things like cart abandonment emails, whereas remarketing encompasses display advertising targeted to users who have visited your site before.
For the purposes of this article, I will follow Joanna Lord’s lead here and consider “remarketing” a Google-specific term for retargeting. Further, I’ll really only be discussing remarketing through Google Adwords.
So What is Remarketing?
Remarketing works by using cookies to follow users who have visited your site before (you can choose only to target visitors to a section of your site or to the entire site). These users are placed on a separate marketing list. Marketers can choose to serve this audience list specific search ads and display ads, send them to unique landing pages, and/or adjust ad bids for them.
Remarketing can be done with both search and display ads, but only display ads can be targeted using only remarketing. Search ads still require users to search for keywords that will trigger your ads. In this case remarketing would simply allow you to serve these users different ads and/or adjust bids for them.
When used with display advertising, remarketing allows you to serve your ads across the web. You can choose only to target users who have visited your site, or you can target based on keywords, placements, demographics, or any combination of these. Once again, bid adjustments are possible here.
What Can’t Remarketing Do?
While remarketing puts your previous visitors into a list called an “audience” to be targeted, marketers don’t have specific control over the members of the audience. For example, you can’t upload a list of users to be targeted with specific advertisements. Some advertisers want to target their email newsletter contacts with specific ads, but that isn’t something you can control so definitely.
How do I Get Started with Remarketing?
Remarketing audiences are targeted at the ad group level, but some marketers prefer to create individual campaigns for their remarketing efforts. This can help you segment your overall budget, if that is important to you.
The first step would be to set up an audience list. Navigate to the Audiences section (under Shared Library in the left column). Click the red button to create a remarketing list, then set the settings. This is the space where you will decide which sections of your site users will have to visit to be added to the list. You may choose to target users who viewed certain products or those who visited a conversion page without actually converting.
You are going to have to add a Google remarketing tag to your site. This is similar to a Google Analytics tracking code, but instead of being in the <head> of each page, the remarketing tag should be near the bottom of the <body> section. If you are working with a developer, you can have them add the tag just before the </body> tag. If you are working in WordPress, you can even add this tag yourself in the footer.php file in the editor.
Once you’ve created your list and added the Google remarketing tag, your lists will start to accumulate users. The size of your list is important, because at least 100 users (in the last 30 days) are required start showing ads on the display network, and 1000 users are required before you can start using your audience list on your search ads.
Back in your campaigns, navigate to the ad group you’d like to apply this list to. For display ads, you can apply your remarketing lists in the Display Network tab, and for search campaigns, you can apply them in the Audiences tab.
THIS IS IMPORTANT
As you choose to add a remarketing list to your ad group’s targeting, you will have the option to make this “Target and Bid” or “Bid Only,” and the difference between the two can mean big things for how your ads are shown. Selecting Target and Bid means that your ads will only show to people who are on this remarketing list. Using this setting on a search ads would mean that this ads would only be served to users who both search your keywords AND have been added to your audience list. This can be useful when your ads are very targeted toward returning visitors, and you only want to adjust bids for them.
Selecting the Bid Only setting will allow other targeting methods to trigger your ads. This can be useful if you don’t want remarketing to be your primary targeting method, but you’d still like to add a bid adjustment. For example, let’s say you’re putting together a display campaign that will mostly be relying on placement and keyword targeting, but you’d like to spend a little bit more to make sure you also show up for users who have visited your site before. In this case, the display keywords will be your primary targeting method. In order not to limit your impressions too much, it would be wise to make your placement targeting and remarketing Bid Only, and simply adjust bids for users that fall into these categories.
In practice, this would mean any users on relevant sites (with the right keywords) could see your ads, but they would be more likely to see your ads on the sites where you’ve set placements or if they have been to your site before.
Google Adwords remarketing is a relatively simple targeting method, once you have a little experience with it, but it can certainly be intimidating at first. This is especially true when terminology leaves you confused as to what you’re actually getting into.
Remarketing can also get much more complicated than what I’ve written here. Whole new articles could be written on things like dynamic remarketing, which shows custom ads to users based on the specific products or services they viewed on your sites.