Top 3 Retargeting Problems

POSTED BY Ian Cruickshank

The Good, The Bad & The Fugly.

Even as a digital marketer I find myself (at times) yelling at the browser window because I’m flooded with retargeted ads. I do one batch of searches for our family vacation, and suddenly I’m retargeted by every destination site that I had visited. You’d think I was the best visitor they had ever seen!  

In the marketing world, there is no hard and fast rules for what is and isn’t good retargeting practice. What works for some, may not be the best for others. It seems the game changes from one locale to another, so inevitably there is a lot of trial and error on our parts to get the formula just right. If you look to the old days of radio and TV advertising, it seemed the ratio of 3:7 was the golden mean, 3 times per day and 7 days a week was the standard for buying ad time. In the digital world, this ratio would likely mean you were missing a large percentage of your potential customers, and you probably wouldn’t keep your job for long.

So let’s talk about your retargeting and see if we can help you get the most out of your online ad spends.

Who doesn't love pie? Especially a nice big segment.

There was a time when retargeting meant getting your message in front of everyone that even remotely showed some interest in your product. Keep serving tens of thousands of ads every day and the hope was a few viewers would click through and become buyers.

Sure, you can get your ads in front of thousands daily - for pennies. Impressions are cheap to buy, and you can generate some incredible numbers to wow the non-savvy listener. Tell me, of those 1.5M unique impressions, how many people were interested in these ads? It’s well known today that people eventually develop banner blindness for ads they don’t care about, and this is causing many to use ad blockers to block the noise out.

If you want to maximize your ad budget and get your banner ads in front of interested buyers, what can you do? Well, it may seem a little labor intensive to some but let’s look at segmentation and inventory based retargeting as a solution. By doing this, you are serving ads to consumers that have already expressed an interest in your inventory beyond just going to your website.

Your dealership has different departments, and your customers aren’t always looking to purchase a vehicle. They may have been looking at booking a service appointment, purchasing upgrades and add-ons for their car or even just looking for the phone extension for their buddy Bill in sales. These different consumers will not engage with the same advertisements. What your digital marketing team needs to do now is establish a system where each of these customers are segmented differently, with a unique tracker for their shopping experience.

It’s a foregone conclusion that taking the time today to set up a retargeting system based on usage will inevitably close more sales be it in service, autos, and aftermarket. Easy as pie, isn’t it?

Are we there yet? How about now? Now? Now?!

What’s worse with retargeting, seeing your ads everywhere or seeing nothing at all?

Two major issues in ad serving are: 1) Seeing your ad so much that a viewer tunes you out or worse, they add your business to their blocked ads list.  2) Retargeting with the last vehicle (or product) seen?

Retargeting isn’t like typical banner ads. Having your ads follow a person incessantly throughout their day is not only annoying but leads to terminal cases of banner-blindness. Yes, you don’t want the prospective buyer to forget your product, however, you don’t want to serve your ads so much that you annoy them either. Here’s the big question, how much is too much? Do you retarget a user for 15 days or 30? What about 45 days? How about a buyer that went through the entire process and just abandoned everything on the last step, how long do you follow them on their web journey? It’s really not that tough to figure out. Ask yourself: How long is a typical user in-market for? How long does it take a typical buyer to purchase once they have been on your site? If an average consumer is on your site for the first time 10 days before they transact, then a 10 to 15 day retargeting window with a high frequency is likely a good idea. But if your average is more like 30 days from the first visit to purchase, then a 30 to 45 day window with a lower frequency may be better. You can find your averages in Google Analytics - feel free to ask me how.

What about the “last vehicle seen” retargeting conundrum? We totally understand, after 2 hours of looking at minivan and SUV specs, that badass muscle car catches your eye and next thing you know, that’s all you see for ad targeting. Like segmentation, there needs to be a system in place that prioritizes what ads are sent to people once they leave your site. If a consumer spends an hour looking at hybrid electric CUVs and on a whim clicks on the Challenger SRT® 392 before leaving the site, you should be sending the ads for the hybrid electric CUV rather than the Challenger. If you’re really skillful - show a bunch of crossovers and one Challenger to catch their eye.

Just like with segmentation, a marketer has to focus on what a consumer wants based on their usage/behavior. If 95% of a customer’s time is spent looking at one particular type of vehicle, then that is likely the product they want to see future ads for. Assigning a grading system to Time-on-VDP or VDP-Focus and translating that into ads they're fed, will inevitably boost the interest of the viewer. Better yet, this will keep the right vehicles in mind when making the final purchasing decisions.

What do you mean our ads are on!?!

No press is bad press, right? I mean it could be worse, at least your ads are being seen!

If you haven’t already, you should filter on which types of websites your ads are shown. Now I’m sure there are websites that your dealership just does not want to be associated with, be it for political, moral or personal reasons. In this case, you have two choices: embrace the publicity on a potentially high traffic site even though their content is something you may find objectionable or take the time to filter specific sites so your ads don’t display there.

Some things to consider before you filter:

  • How much could this ad placement be affecting the impression your customers have of your brand as a whole?
  • Are you prepared to go through every site online that may offend a customer or two and manually blacklist them? Also, are you prepared to continually maintain that list?
  • Are you reacting to a single complaint or a multitude of objections from a wide variety of potential consumers?
  • Lastly, look through your analytics and see just how much VDP traffic is being generated by the offending website. If it’s substantial, you may want to turn a blind eye and keep the potential revenue coming to your doorstep.

Realistically, if your customers see the ad on this site in the first place, it means they are a user of the site. Also, this can present your team with a humorous way to inject a laugh into a sales conversation, “Oh, you saw our ads on So you’re looking for a car to impress your date this weekend?”

Obviously, if the material on the site displaying your advertisements is morally objectionable or promotes a message that is just not in line with your business, then you can and should filter that site. But I think that the most important thing to consider is what frame of mind users are in when they are on particular sites and are they more or less likely to want to leave the site they are currently on. We find that dating and gaming sites don’t perform as well as news and information sites.

Retargeting rules in under a minute!

Here is the quick recap:

  • DO segment your targeting according to historical usage.
  • DO invest in both dynamic inventory and demographic advertising so as not to rely too heavily on just impressions.
  • DO limit the time your retargeting follows people; no one likes a stalker.
  • DO NOT retarget without considering what sites are in your mix.
  • DO NOT run your ads so frequently that your targets get banner blindness.

Lastly, stay on top of what your customers are interested in. You just never know where they may be on their journey and if your advertisements happen to be there, all the better for you. Also, think of the creativity you can have when you know exactly where your buyers spend their free time when they’re not researching their new vehicle.



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