Taking a Close Look at One Brand’s Retargeting Ads

by Elisa Silverman December 22, 2015
December 22, 2015

Display ad click-through-rates (CTR) are notoriously low, overall showing just a 0.06 percent CTR. Yet display ads remain great opportunities for both consumer ecommerce and B2B discovery and lead generation. Particularly when used as part of a retargeting campaign.

Retargeting is a campaign designed exclusively for visitors to your landing page or website who didn’t convert. The premise behind a retargeting campaign is that the person expressed some interest, so let’s try to nudge them back. That first visit may not have converted, but with a retargeting campaign you have additional chances to present the right offer at the right time.

Retargeting copyIf they haven’t converted – better retarget before they’re gone forever

According to one comScore study, retargeted ads have increased brand searches by 1046 percent and return site visits within four weeks of seeing a retargeted ad by 726 percent. That’s improving your odds.


Done properly, retargeting optimizes your ad spend by focusing on people who’ve already shown some familiarity with your offer. Done badly, you’ll annoy them and drive them away forever! (Maybe not forever, but it’s not good.)

Sequential Retargeting

Retargeting is a broad term that describes many different types of campaigns. First, retargeting can focus on prospects or be an effort to re-engage someone who already has a relationship with your company, either by providing an email or having made a purchase. Another permutation is using behavioral triggers; these could be searches conducted, social media interactions, or specific page visits on your site.

My focus here is on using sequential retargeting to convert prospects who left your landing page or website. Sequential retargeting is the process of showing different ads to the same visitor over time with the goal of getting the right offer in front of them since the earlier offers haven’t done the trick.

Here’s the general flow:

  1. You place a teeny-tiny bit of code on your website to enable the retargeting. There are a ton of tools out there that make implementing retargeting easy, so don’t worry about the “coding” bit.
  2. Someone visits your site or landing page, but leaves without converting.
  3. The retargeting code on your site drops a little browser cookie on the visitor.
  4. Your visitor starts seeing Retargeting Ad #1 elsewhere on the Internet.
  5. Now, either this ad does the trick and the visitor returns to your landing page, or it doesn’t.
  6. If there’s no conversion after a set period of time, the visitor gets pushed to list a new retargeting list and Retargeting Ad #2 starts displaying. This next ad may make a different offer, highlight a different benefit, or in some way use a different tactic to induce a conversion.
  7. You can continue on with more sequential ads as long as the previous ads aren’t converting. (List duration, which is how long you keep a prospect on a retargeting list, matters – but more on that later.)

Thus the variations in the copy used in each subsequent ad are critically important to the retargeting campaign’s success. The more you know about why the visitor isn’t converting, the better you can target your ads. However, where you don’t know that much about the still-anonymous visitor’s reasons for not converting, there may be a lot of options to try. One important note: Sequential retargeting isn’t the same as using rotating creative in the same campaign. It’s the approach of presenting a visitor with a deliberate sequence of changing ads over time.


This whole post was inspired by a pretty aggressive retargeting campaign pushed to me recently, so let’s take a closer look at that to see sequential retargeting in action.

One Company’s Approach

With winter coming, my fragile skin needs a strong moisturizer, so I was checking out some new choices. One site I visited (and left) was Perricone MD. Immediately, I started getting this ad:

Retargeting Ad: Discount Offer

A time sensitive discount – a reasonable first offer. It’s a pricey line, so not a bad tactic to think a newcomer may be reluctant to spend a lot on an untried product. They ran this ad to me for two days. Then they moved on to Retargeting Ad #2:

Retargeting Ad: Customer Service Benefit

Alright, if a discount doesn’t move me – perhaps I’m more motivated by customer service in the form of freebies and convenience.

Notice the conscious switch to test out my priorities. They didn’t show me new creative pushing the 20 percent off. The next ad in the sequence switched sales tactics entirely.

Their third approach made the assumption that perhaps I hadn’t seen the previous ad. Ad blindness is a real thing, and is especially a risk with a retargeting campaign if you push out too many ads over too short a time period. So their third approach had the same benefits copy, but used an animated ad.

Sequential Retargeting - Animated Ad

Movement is always at the top of the design hierarchy. Whatever is moving will capture a visitor’s attention, which makes it a clever choice as a later stage option in a retargeting sequence.


Now they’ve kept me on the list showing me this animated ad with the customer service focus. However, they simultaneously put me on the next retargeting ad list so I started getting a pair of alternating ads, one is a new customer ad and the second touts a segment of products showcasing brand values.

Retargeting Ads: New Customer & Brand Promise

At this point, I feel like they’re throwing everything they have at me. I don’t mind, but that may be because at this point I’ve decided to write a post on retargeting.

The key takeaway here is that they’re adding a twist to one tactic already tried (price), while also adding a third version of the copy with a totally new emphasis.

First, they’ve taken a more nuanced tact on price. Not a special discount (perhaps by this time the 20 percent sale was over), but a bundled, starter pack. Since they can’t identify me as someone who’s already bought from them, this newest copy confirms my suspicion that they know they lose visitors because people are reluctant to spend so much on an untried line. If the ad copy doesn’t convince you this is an ad targeting new customers, the CTA copy of the button (“Learn More”) certainly should.

Second, this is the first ad I’ve gotten that addresses the quality and benefits of the product line itself. The assumption here (I speculate) is that since price and customer service haven’t worked yet, perhaps I need more convincing the line delivers on its promises. Perhaps they just haven’t sold me on their product.

So this whole sequential retargeting process began at the end of October. I write this in the end of November and I’ve been in what must be their final phase for over a week. They’re aggressively pushing the animated customer service ad, but have pushed to me one last batch of creative. Now concurrent with the customer service ad, I’m also getting specific product ads like this:

Retargeting Ad: Product BenefitA specific product ad I got

I should note here that I’m only showing one ad per stage. In truth, I’ve been getting the same ads in every format (banner, hightower, etc), both image and text only. Yet this is the first time I’ve gotten this black & white creative. It’s like they’ve lost a little patience with me. They’ve moved on to advertising a specific product I looked at, sharing a benefit credibility builder, and not mincing words. The black & white with the bright red “BUY NOW” says to me “fish or cut bait already!!”

So have I? No, but it’s 50/50 that I’ll go back to the site for a second look before Christmas.

What the Copy Did

I’ve needled them a bit, but I think this isn’t a bad retargeting campaign. The important point to takeaway is that there was a logical progression to their various ads. They didn’t just rotate creative, but used different creative at each stage with a specific purpose:

Ad #1: special discount offer

Ad #2: touting customer service benefits

Ad #3: using major new design element to reinforce the customer service benefits copy

Ad #4: new customer offer

Ad #5: brand benefits

Ad #6: specific product benefits

Sequential Retargeting Ad Copy Sequence

For sequential retargeting to work, you need a plan of what you’re trying to do. What benefits and offers give you success in other campaigns? What new offers or ad copy do you want to test out? What do you know, or might reasonably assume, about this visitor’s motivations that would make certain copy more compelling to them?


While I’ve been spotlighting the creative here, there are some logistical aspects you need to consider when designing a retargeting campaign as well.

  • List duration: This is how many days you’ll keep someone on a specific retargeting ad list. When they move to a new phase, their duration drops back down to zero. Google permits a list duration of up to 540 days, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it. This campaign moved me pretty quickly through the first few phases, but I remain in what I’m guessing is their last phase.

  • Frequency caps: This manages how many times the same person will see an ad in one day. Restricting frequency is a great way to not annoy people or become ad flotsam they no longer notice. This is my greatest criticism of this particular retargeting campaign. There was virtually no website I visited that I didn’t also see their ads. I don’t mind seeing their ads when I’m reading hockey blogs, it’s just too much to see multiple ads each and every time. Too much.

  • Burn action: This is the action that takes the person off that retargeting list. It could be they’ve clicked on it; it could be a certain amount of time has passed and they’re not clicking on it. Either way, you don’t want to keep pushing out the same ad.

I can put the A/B test boilerplate here: A/B test this too. What you learn will help improve your retargeting campaigns as well as other PPC ad campaigns. Sequential retargeting is certainly a great opportunity to breath life into an under-performing landing page.

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