Feb 13 2023
Megan Reschke

How to Create Effective Retargeting Ads


Imagine this: You’re online shopping on your lunch break and see a pair of running shoes that catches your eye. On sale, in your size—and aren’t your old ones getting a bit worn-out?  “Noted,” you think as you click to another website.

Later that night, you grab your phone to pull up the recipe you’re making for dinner. And voilà! There’s an ad for those exact running shoes from earlier displayed alongside the recipe.

While some may be tempted to think it’s a coincidence (or even a sign that they’re meant to buy those new shoes), this is an example of ad retargeting at play.

Retargeting: What Is It?

Few website visitors convert on their first visit. But that doesn’t mean that advertisers should (or do) give up on them! Just think about the number of times you’ve visited a website, added items to your cart, and forgot about said cart, only to return later on to make a purchase. Rather than giving up on would-be customers who don’t complete a conversion the first time around (fill out a form, buy a product, etc.), marketers can re-engage them through retargeting advertising.  

Retargeting is a digital strategy in which advertisers serve targeted ads to consumers who have visited their website or who are contacts within their database. Retargeting ads allow marketers to reconnect with potential consumers who have not yet completed a conversion, thus building brand awareness, expanding product recognition, and increasing the likelihood that those people convert.   

When set up correctly, retargeting ads are a cost-effective way for advertisers to reach interested buyers who already have some familiarity with their brand and/or product.

How Do Retargeting Ads Work?

We provide an in-depth look at how retargeting ads work (and share a host of solutions for retargeting in privacy-friendly ways!) in this piece, so we’ll keep this part brief. Here are the basics:

In pixel-based retargeting, a small piece of code (aka a pixel or “cookie”) is attached to a consumer’s browser when they visit your website. Later, when they’re browsing online, the pixel allows your advertising team to serve them personalized, retargeted ads based on the interactions on your website.

Other types of retargeting allow marketers to leverage first-party data to serve personalized ads. This could mean retargeting them on a different device, aggregating first-party buyer intent data to create audience segments, or serving an ad for a specific product that was left sitting in their shopping cart.

How Can Marketers Use Retargeting Effectively?

So, how can marketers create effective retargeting ads? Though there’s no secret sauce or magic ingredient that guarantees retargeting success, there are some proven strategies that marketers can employ:

1. Craft Intentional Creative

Users want personalization: a recent study found that 56% of consumers expect all marketing offers to be personalized. So, once you’ve leveraged available data to create basic audience segments (i.e., groups of people who have taken the same actions online or who share a common demographic, interest, etc.), tailor your ads to those segments.

Keep in mind that those users have already demonstrated interest in your site and/or product, so serving the same messaging that you’d use for a more general, potentially unaware audience likely won’t have the same impact. Advertisers should leverage available data to incorporate customization and personalization into retargeting ads, as well as feature a strong call-to-action to prompt users to take the next step.

2. Leverage Tech to Automate Content Creation

If you shuddered at the thought of having to manually craft personalized variations of creative for individual audience segments, we get it. Advertisers today face an increasingly complex digital media environment, and adding another factor like ad personalization can feel overwhelming.

Fortunately, technologies like dynamic creative optimization (DCO) can eliminate some of that manual labor. DCO is a highly automated approach that uses customer data to create thousands of variations of personalized ads automatically, based on individual customers or groups of customers. It’s more efficient, less error-prone, and ensures your customers are getting the personalized ads they want without you having to create each one individually.

3. Embrace a Cross-Device Strategy

People spend a lot of time with digital media. In 2022, US adults dedicated a whopping 8 hours and 28 minutes to digital every single day (that’s more than the average US adult sleeps each night!)

Importantly, consumers don’t spend all that time in one place. From watching video on connected TV devices, to scrolling through TikTok or Instagram on mobile phones, to browsing the internet on a second computer screen while working from home, people are increasingly engaging with many different devices and channels throughout the day.

For marketers keen on creating an effective retargeting strategy, cross-device retargeting is a powerful tactic. It allows brands not only to re-engage potential customers, but also to do it across their devices. For example, a person might first encounter your brand as they browse on their phone while on-the-go, and, through the power of cross-device retargeting, could later be served a more personalized ad on their tablet or laptop to move them further down the purchase funnel.  

Next Steps: Ad Retargeting

Retargeting marketing offers the opportunity to provide a personalized experience to customers, increase brand awareness, and re-engage with consumers who already have some knowledge of their product or brand. And, by taking a cross-device approach, leveraging available automation tech, and leaning into ad personalization, advertisers can ensure they’re using retargeting ads effectively within their campaigns.


Interested in learning even more about retargeting? Take AdTech Academy’s retargeting course to learn even more about this digital marketing essential!  

Go to AdTech Academy