Remarketing typically includes display remarketing, dynamic banner remarketing, video remarketing, and social media remarketing. It’s a go-to approach in the paid media digital marketing world. But doing remarketing correctly requires thought, strategy and execution diligence – let’s take a tour of the world of remarketing.

What is Remarketing?

Remarketing is the action of re-engaging previous site visitors with ads in order to bring them back into your ecosystem to convert. It’s why those fancy shoes you saw on Zappos three months ago keep following you around the web. It might be annoying and it might seem intrusive depending on your browsing habits but it works.

Remarketing vs Retargeting

One quick point to clear up before we start. Some marketers try to give different definitions to “remarketing” and “retargeting.” Don’t get distracted – these terms have been used interchangeably since the dawn of adtech. Here’s a 2013 blog post saying as much: “Short answer…there is no difference between these two terms. Retargeting refers to the overall cookie based method of following a user with your ad. Remarketing is simply Google’s version within AdWords.”

Understand Remarketing Campaign Performance

As a marketer, you define a goal for every campaign and judge performance relative to it – number of sign-ups, cost per sign up, total revenue, number of registrations. There’s a long journey to get there and every step has impact.

Consider the tools a marketer works with to reach and convert an audience: Targeting parameters > Budget > Ad engine settings & performance > Creative & messaging > User behavior > Conversion rate optimization (CRO).

To determine if your remarketing program is working, it’s imperative to define a specific remarketing goal first and use it as the north star in all following actions and analysis. Also important is understanding how to analyze campaign performance.

The puzzle has three performance elements: ad engine, user behavior (on site) and business goal (efficiency). All are linked but each has specific levers and metrics.

The following table highlights a few metrics and elements to adjust:

Source Metric
Ad Engine Impressions, clicks, CTR, CPC, CPM, bid type, bid strategy, geographic exclusions, time of day settings, audience
User Behavior # unique users, bounce rate, time on site, goal completions, pageviews
Business (Efficiency) Cost per lead, number of leads, lead quality, revenue, ROAS/ROI

Next, diagnosing the problem makes it possible to take the necessary action. There’s quite a bit of nuance here and experience is required. Examples of potential problems and causes include:

Issue Potential Cause
Poor lead quality Wrong audience targeting

Misaligned messaging to medium or audience

Geographic settings that are too broad

Incorrect targeting settings

Too few conversions Wrong audience targeting

Misaligned messaging to medium or audience

Geographic settings that are too broad

Poor site experience

Missing CTAs

Incorrect targeting settings

Budget allocation

Poor campaign timing settings

Low conversion rates Poor landing page experience

Missing CTAs

Wrong audience targeting

Misaligned messaging to medium or audience

Incorrect targeting settings

Low efficiency (high cost per lead/CPL) Poor landing page experience

Missing CTAs

Wrong or overly broad audience targeting

Misaligned messaging to medium or audience

Incorrect targeting settings

Wrong bid type

There are limitless permutations that impact performance, positively and negatively, which is the reason an experienced team is essential since they can shortcut troubleshooting.

Common Remarketing Mistakes

Armed with a basic framework and understanding, let’s look at some common mistakes with remarketing programs:

  • Defining the wrong goal: Did your team set a goal first? Is it right for the business? Are you trying to drive revenue or new customers as a B2B healthcare service (goals better aligned with e-commerce)? Or, do leads make more sense?


  • The wrong metric: ROAS/ROI and revenue are the ultimate goal of any business. And, for B2C e-commerce marketers, this is a great remarketing metric. However, as a B2B marketer, revenue is so far down the funnel it doesn’t make a lot of sense to link any revenue in this way (think of the steps: lead-MQL, MQL-SQL, SQL-Opportunity, Opportunity-Won). A much better metric for B2B marketers is CPL, where the target number is derived from customer lifetime value.


  • Misalignment to business goal: Are you a hypergrowth startup with significant venture capital investment? Here, growth supplants cost efficiency and the goal is lead numbers in absolute terms. Conversely, are you a hypergrowth startup with significant venture capital investment AND looking to enter the public market? Here, efficiency trumps growth. Both are important in each situation but context determines importance.


  • Not reaching the right audience: Remarketing brings previous site visitors back to convert. All visitors or only specific ones? Can your system capture and target specific visitors? Do you have data to indicate which should be retargeted? For example, if on-site user behavior shows LinkedIn visitors convert at 3x vs. direct, can you build a focused program? What if people who visit a specific product platform page convert at 2x those who visit only the homepage, can you build and target that audience?


  • Misaligned messaging: One promise of digital marketing generally, and remarketing specifically, is sharing the right message to the right person at the right time. What if your remarketing program isn’t doing that? Is your program showing a general message where a tailored one is better? Is the message misaligned to the content they’ve engaged with (ex. a user visited a webinar signup page via LinkedIn and remarketed with a product solution value proposition)?


  • Incorrect settings: If your business is e-commerce retailing in North America, did you exclude other countries from remarketing? Or, are visitors from Croatia and Angola being served ads though they can’t purchase? As an enterprise B2B technology solution, does it make sense to remarket to people on mobile over the weekend or at 2:30am?


  • Too Intrusive: When you have enough data and scale, you’ll find a sweet spot to the number of messages (interactions) a user sees (has) and conversion rate. Too few and the probability of conversion is low, too many and your message becomes annoying and conversion probability drops. If you have the scale, you probably also have a team sophisticated enough to build and manage this across channels. Without scale, think like a customer and limit the volume of messages any one person will see per day and in their cookie-based lifetime.


Remarketing Campaign Optimization Strategies

Optimization is a continuous process of improvement and adjustment, a daily action of granular activity and strategic thinking. There is no magic bullet to optimizing a campaign. It requires management, analysis and course corrections.

The best optimization strategies begin with the end in mind (the goal) and from the customer perspective. What content have they seen, what messages have they engaged with, what is the next logical step in their journey to conversion? Then, mechanically, what levers are available to do this.

Done well, remarketing can be the foundational paid media program, driving high-quality conversions. Done badly, it’s that pair of shoes following you around. Hopefully these tips are a step in the right direction.