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Retargeting: Brief Summary

Retargeting, sometimes known as behavioural retargeting or remarketing, is an online marketing technique, where online advertisements are targeted towards specific users, based on their previous online behaviour, such as visiting a particular website, opening a particular email, or viewing a particular online product page. Alternatively, the user may be an existing business contact, such as a customer or a sales lead.

The technique works by placing a retargeting cookie in a user’s web browser through JavaScript. The advertiser is then able to show retargeted advertisements to that user as they browse the rest of the internet and visit other websites. Retargeting is most frequently used by Ecommerce companies because it allows them to ‘remind’ users of products, services or brands they have previously demonstrated at least some degree of interest in.

Retargeting: Detailed Summary

Over recent years, retargeting has emerged as an increasingly popular advertising strategy, largely due to its ability to increase site and brand conversion rates. The basic principle behind retargeting is that website visitors who fail to convert may still be open to doing so at a later date. It also allows advertisers to target their ads towards people who have already engaged with a business or brand in some way.

As such, this means retargeting is a more personalised form of marketing, which displays ads that are more likely to be relevant to the user, based on their previous browsing habits. For Ecommerce businesses, in particular, this means an increased chance of making sales, which means the money spent on paid ads is more likely to be money well spent. Targeting users more than once can also be highly effective for increasing brand awareness.

The actual advertisements shown to users are generally purchased through a process called Real Time Bidding (RTB), where marketers essentially bid on user profiles, with the highest bidder getting their ads displayed. Adverts may be purchased using a Pay Per Click (PPC), Cost Per Action (CPA), or Cost Per Mille (CPM) model. Various platforms support some form of retargeting, including Google AdWords, AdRoll, Retargeter and Perfect Audience

In addition, retargeting options are also provided by the main social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook, in particular, has become a very popular option for behavioural retargeting, thanks to its comprehensive Audience Manager feature. Social media is especially useful for businesses and marketing experts who are attempting to target existing contacts, rather than more random, anonymous users.

The adverts that are actually shown to those who are retargeted can vary quite considerably, from basic text ads to banner ads and even video ads on social media.

While the personalised nature of retargeting has benefits for both advertisers and consumers, it has also been subject to some criticism too. For example, some have raised ethical issues about the practice, because users are often unaware that their online activity is being tracked in such a way. Moreover, the increased prevalence of ad-blocking software has raised questions about the strategy’s long-term effectiveness moving forward.

Retargeting Types and Methods

Under the broader ‘Retargeting’ umbrella, there are several different retargeting types and methods. With that being said, all retargeting efforts are united by the same basic principle – targeting digital adverts to people who have already engaged in some way with a business, brand, product or service, with the intention of ‘reminding’ them about it. It is generally accepted that there are two main types of retargeting, which are as follows:

  • Pixel-Based Retargeting – The most common type, pixel-based retargeting involves placing a JavaScript cookie, or ‘pixel’, on a user’s browser after they visit a page, or view an email or social media post. It then notifies retargeting platforms, marking the user for advertisements to be displayed while they browse the web. This allows marketers to target any and all anonymous visitors to a site, but may require specialist help to set up.
  • List-Based Retargeting – A lesser-known type, list-based retargeting works by using an existing database of contacts – such as customers and/or leads – and adding the individual email addresses to a campaign. The primary advantage of this type is that it allows marketers to be much more deliberate about who they are retargeting and what they are retargeting them with. However, it is a more manual, time-consuming process.

In addition to these two basic types of retargeting, there are a number of different retargeting methods. Some of the most common retargeting methods are outlined in more detail below:

  • Website Retargeting – Perhaps the most basic retargeting method, website retargeting places a cookie on a user’s web browser when they visit a particular site, allowing them to subsequently be targeted by advertising elsewhere on the world wide web.
  • Search Engine Retargeting – Search engine retargeting is a slightly different method, where an audience is targeted based on searches they conduct on sites like Google. Benefits of this method are its ability to be paired with SEO, as well as the fact that users do not need to have visited the marketer’s website to be targeted.
  • Email Retargeting – Closely related to website retargeting, email retargeting follows the same basic principle. However, rather than a cookie being placed on a user’s web browser after a website visit, the cookie or pixel is instead triggered after they have read an email sent out by the marketer or business.


Retargeting is a popular advertising strategy, where an audience is targeted based on their online behaviour and previous interactions with the marketing business or brand in question. The technique usually works by placing a cookie on the user’s web browser after they visit a website or open an email so that they can then be targeted for advertisements elsewhere on the world wide web.

Key benefits of retargeting include improved conversion rates because ads are targeted at those who have already had some interaction with the brand, and a more personalised online advertising experience for users. However, some ethical concerns have been raised, because most users are unaware of the fact that their online activity is being tracked in such a way. As a result, marketers need to be careful not to push the strategy too hard.

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