Retargeting: Here’s Why Products Seem to Follow You on Social

Retargeting might feel creepy, but it has lots to offer, unlike your typical online stalker.

Although consumers are increasingly savvy when it comes to shopping and surfing online, it can still be off-putting to see the pair of sneakers you were just checking out on Amazon pop up in your Facebook News Feed moments later. From the retailer’s point of view, however, retargeting is a crucial element for keeping consumers’ attention. And does it actually create a better experience for consumers online? Let’s find out!

Why are my dream sneakers following me?

There’s no doubt retargeting can be super creepy for consumers. Imagine this scenario playing out in real life: You walk out of a store (with or without purchasing), and in the midst of your next errand the salesperson from the last store appears, to show you again whatever you’d been thinking about buying…

By comparison, online retargeting isn’t so bad. It’s really just a bit of JavaScript that does the work—and whether consumers realize it or not, it does serve a purpose.

John Lemp, CEO and founder of Revcontent, explained:

I can’t tell you how many times, as a consumer, I’ve been interested in buying something and begun the process—then as a member of the ‘ADD generation’ gotten distracted and clicked off onto something else. Afterwards, I thank God for that retargeted ad driving me back to what I was interested in.

A retargeted ad in your email or social feed that puts you back on track after a case of article interruptus is a courtesy, really.

But ensuring consumers see it that way takes finesse, so it’s important that businesses offering retargeting get it right.

Balancing act

Content recommendation platforms and ad retargeting vendors need to be picky. Speaking to that, Revcontent chooses only 2 percent of sites that apply. And retargeting leader AdRoll offers assurances that its actually consumers that are in control. AdRoll president and CMO Adam Berke explained how retargeting works:

Retargeting doesn’t require personal information, but instead operates on anonymous IDs such as a cookie or an IDFA (Identifier for Advertising). Users also have control of these IDs and can delete or reset them. People often forget that advertisers are very much aligned with internet users in that we don’t want to serve ads that won’t be effective.

So what makes an ad effective—from the consumer’s perspective?

Christopher Ratcliff, deputy editor at Econsultancy, offers some perspective there:

  • Ads should be for the individual—putting segmentation to work to discern actual interest versus perceived interest
  • Ads should change on a frequent basis—nothing ensures a non-sale more swiftly than repetitive, in-your-face advertising
  • Ads should have an obvious call to action that leads right to the sales page—self-explanatory

Given that “on average only 2 percent of your website’s traffic buys a product or completes a desired action,” according to Meteora, it’s important that retargeting vendors—like ReTargeter, to name another—use audience retargeting to customize ads using “demographic, geographic, behavioral, contextual, interest, and intent-based data to target your ideal audience” insuring ads are effective.

Can you call it creepy if it’s working?

And it works, that’s for sure. Ratcliff shared a notable stat from SeeWhy (now part of SAP): “26 percent of customers will return to a site through retargeting. This is up from 8 percent of customers who return to a site without retargeting.” That’s quite a jump.

Retargeting on Facebook, specifically, does even better: In AdRoll’s Retargeting on Facebook by the Numbers 2015 report, when adding Facebook to an existing display retargeting campaign, advertisers saw a 92 percent increase in impression reach, 9 percent drop in cost per thousand impressions (CPM) and 27 percent decrease in cost per click (CPC). And globally, they observed a 31 percent year over year (YOY) average increase in spend per advertiser.

The real question isn’t “why are these creepy companies using retargeting” it’s “why aren’t they all using it and making my online experience better?”

Well, as Ratcliff notes, just because you click on something doesn’t mean you are interested enough to need reminding—so it can be a risky spend if you don’t offer a strong product. And if your retargeting vendor isn’t on top of changes to the frequency or length of time an ad will appear in consumers’ feeds, you can actually push people away. Bottom line: Retargeting done right is a definite value add all around. Done wrong? Adds to the noise.

So the next time you see a retargeted ad that really hits the mark, be grateful they exist. Because without them, you’d be inundated online with irrelevant ads, and likely paying for this privilege too—as advertising revenue is what helps keeps content you find online (like this post) free.

Readers: Do you understand retargeting better now?

@MaryCLong Mary C. Long is Chief Ghost at Digital Media Ghost. She writes about everything online and is published widely, with a focus on privacy concerns, specifically social sabotage.