Retargeting: a blessing or a curse?

A few days ago Google released a piece of research celebrating the success of AdWords Remarketing, the retargeting functionality of the Google AdWords advertising program. They included some success numbers from different advertisers, showing increases in conversions, cuts in costs-per-conversion and higher click-through-rates at lower costs per click. Other impressive numbers Google released include the reach of 84% of the people on remarketing lists accounting for advertising impressions to over 500 million Internet users worldwide. It’s fair to say retargeting is a blessing according to Google.

However where Google is happy about Remarketing some users are not. A search in Google Realtime for “google ads following me” shows a lot of users complaining about being chased around the web by Adwords ads. It’s a sound a hear a lot around the web.

So what is retargeting? A blessing for advertisers and users? Or a curse? In this article I would like to give some of my views on this form of advertising. And I would also like to know your experiences, responses and ideas for improving this form of advertising.

Remarketing for advertisers

As Google communicates on their Ad Innovation page about Remarketing, as an advertisers you’re able to show ads to users who’ve previously visited your website. Therefore as an advertiser you have the possibility to target users you might have lost during their orientation for a product or service. It a very effective way of retaining your visitors after they’ve left and therefore increases the chance for conversions.

The danger of retargeting is overdoing it: showing too much of the same ad to the same user. Luckily there are a few ways to make sure that doesn’t happen. First of all as an advertiser you have to make sure you use frequency caps. Frequency caps offer you the possibility of limiting the display of your ads to the same user. Here you can specify a maximum number of views per users, per day/week/month, per ad group/campaign.

An effective way to reduce the ‘stalking factor’ of your retargeting ads is to use multiple ads within the same ad group. This way the user doesn’t see the same ad over and over. By rotating ads users probably will be able to ‘resist’ more views of your ads.

Another way to get more accepted by users could be by being more relevant. By targeting users who’ve visited specific key pages on your website but haven’t converted, you can show them a specific ad related to the key page’s topic. By showing them a more relevant ad you probably need less views to make users revisit your site and the path to conversion will also be shorter.

Although the Google Remarketing offers you a few possibilities to reduce the intrusiveness of retagrgeting, it’s fairly impossible to know when you are overdoing it. Some users might consider a few ads of your company in a row annoying, some might accept a lot more. How would you know when you’re bugging them out? You‘d need some kind of user feedback or other feedback data.

User feedback

When users don’t appreciate the retargeting banners by Google they are offered only one solution: opt-out of all ads based on interests and demographics. That means one persistent Remarketing advertiser could screw it up for all advertisers using interest and demographic based advertising. That doesn’t sound like a proper solution to me.

Personally, I’d go for a feedback system like Criteo does. When you click on the information button from one of their retargeting banners, you enter a personal information page. Here they show a list of items you’ve watched on the advertiser’s site that might appear in their retargeting banners. Next they tell you something about the privacy issues considering this form of advertising. After informing you they offer you two opt-out possibilities: temporarily disable banners from the specific advertiser (temporarily means until you revisit their website) or opt-out of all personalized banners from Criteo.

Offering the first possibility makes the system much better. Not all the advertisers are punished by the misuse of one advertiser. And even better: it opens up a few spots for other advertisers. It’s even plausible to say these ads probably have a higher click-through because the user was tired of the previous banner. The data can furthermore be used to give feedback to advertisers (and the advertising platform) about when users choose to block specific banners. Data that can (and should) be used to refine advertising campaigns.

What could Google do?

Besides this feedback system there’s a few more things I think Google should do to improve the user-friendliness of the system. First of all, I would choose for a mandatory maximum frequency cap for all advertisers. There probably will be a amount of views of the same ad that no user will accept. Make sure no ad can be displayed more often than this number.

Secondly it should be possible for advertisers to limit their views per hour, day, week ánd month. Now you can only choose a frequency cap for either a day, a week or a month. When I think the biggest annoyance originates from either a large amount of views in a short time or the persistence of a specific ad for a very long time. So, for example let me limit the views to 3 per hour and 20 per week. And preferably with some intervals between the views.

Lastly they could use CTR expectations to decide the number of views an ad should receive. My guess is the CTR for an ad after visiting a website might look something like this:

It would be logical to show an ad more to user when the expected CTR is highest. So this data could be taken in account for deciding how often to show an ad based on the time since the last visit to the site.

Basically, there’s a lot of improvement possible for retargeting advertising by Google. I’ve tried to give some of my views in this article, but I’m also very interested in opinions from other (search) marketers.

About Jeroen van Eck

Jeroen van Eck is a consultant search engine marketing at the online marketing company E-Focus in the Netherlands.