This post has been updated with new links and refreshed content.
Original Publication Date: November 7, 2018
The chances of running into an online remarketing campaign these days are absurdly high.
Whether you’re a PPC remarketer yourself or simply a digital consumer, remarketing has become a crucial tactic for SEM success.
Imagine you’re online, minding your own business, reading an article about some recent events, and a banner ad for Lululemon pops up. The ad reminds you of the running jacket that you chose not to buy last week while you were browsing online during your lunch break.
You’re being followed around by websites that you’ve previously visited.
This is the basic practice of remarketing — and while it constitutes one of the biggest potential wins in the PPC industry, more often than not it gives PPC managers quite a big headache.
What Is Remarketing?
But for all intents and purposes, the terms are pretty much interchangeable.
The more important thing to remember is that only 2% of shoppers will convert on their first visit to a website. (Yes, you read that right — just two percent!) So this means that the other 98% are bouncing, and leaves without converting/buying.
And that’s why remarketing, or whatever you decide to call it, is so important.
So now that we know what we’re dealing with, let’s take a look at why it may not be working for your campaigns.
Reason 1: It’s Not Setup Correctly
I think we’ve all been in a situation when something just won’t turn on, like a TV or computer. We’re scratching our head trying to figure out why the heck it isn’t working when someone suggests “Do you have it plugged in?”.
For some reason, the easiest solution can be the hardest to see in the moment. But this is the #1 reason why your remarketing campaign isn’t working — it’s not set up correctly!
Checking Your Remarketing Setup
There are a few things that you want to make sure are set up to ensure that your remarketing campaign is ready to go.
First, you have to create a remarketing campaign by setting up an audience source.
Second, you’ll set up the Google Ads tag:
Finally, follow these three steps to complete your setup:
- Create the data source
- Install the Global site tag on every page of your site
- Confirm that the tag has been placed
I can’t emphasize how important it is to make sure the tag is installed. Without the tag, you can’t do remarketing.
Remember, it’s like trying to turn on your TV without it being plugged in. You can try all the fixes and advanced tactics in the world, but nothing will work until you plug the damn thing in.
And don’t worry, you can turn to your dev team or Google Tag Manager to help with installing the tag.
Once you have this setup, it’s time to start creating audiences!
Reason 2: Your Campaign Structure Is Off
The structure of your remarketing campaign is important, especially if you’re running multiple offers to a large audience.
For example, you can create remarketing lists from Custom Audiences, Similar Audiences, and Sources, just to name a few. (I’ll cover these later on in this post, don’t worry.) Because these audiences can have different offers and different temperatures, you may also have different budget adjustments for each type of campaign.
Let’s use the account screenshot below as an example. I have three different campaigns for different remarketing audiences, each with different budgets. Our goal was to scale this specific account, so we put a majority of our budget into a Lookalike (or Similar) Audience.
If you’re wondering why they’re split up by campaign, it’s simple. If I have a specific budget for multiple audiences but only one campaign, I won’t be able to control the amount going to each audience in that campaign. The only way to control it is to split it up.
Reason 3: Your Ad Group Structure Is Off
When creating your ad groups, you’ll want to structure them by audience. What you don’t want to do, however, is combine too many audiences into one ad group. This makes it hard to understand which audience is performing better than the other.
Also, make sure to exclude your ad group audiences from each other when you’re creating and structuring your ad groups.
Side Note: these are the core principles behind our Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) technique, but applied to audiences instead of just keywords.
Reason 4: Your Audience Is Too Small
In Google Ads, you can remarket using the Display or Search Networks, YouTube, & Gmail Network. Also, to remarket in the Display Network, you need to have at least 100 active audience members within the last 30 days.
If you’re going to remarket to an audience in the Search Network, you’ll need to have a minimum of 1,000 active members in the last 30 days.
It’s a great idea to make as many audiences as possible when you start working on a PPC account and launching remarketing campaigns. If you “set it and forget it,” however, you could end up doing more harm than good. You’ll need to check in on your campaigns regularly to make adjustments and updates.
Also, it’s important to maintain perspective. You don’t want to over-prioritize remarketing at the cost of your actual demand generation and awareness campaigns.
Even if your users have a high conversion intent, it’s going to be hard to remarket if they never reach your service or features pages in the first place.
Reason 5: Using The Default 30-Day
When you create your first remarketing audience in Google Ads, the default option for membership duration is 30 days. Unless you change this setting, you’ll only retarget audience members for about one month at most.
This timespan isn’t right for every business. If you have a long sales process, like many digital marketing industries, the duration might need to be longer.
In Google Ads, you can change your audience membership duration to extend the length of your remarketing campaigns.
Extending your the member duration of your remarketing campaigns can keep you connected to users that may convert at a higher rate, or a lower cost, over a longer time. Don’t be afraid to play the long game.
Reason 6: Overlapping Durations
Okay, here comes the good stuff.
I’m going to dive into all sorts of really cool audiences you can make. Hopefully, you’re getting excited to start making them yourself.
But be careful! Another common mistake marketers make is not paying attention to their durations (notice the plural “s” there) as they create audiences.
As I mentioned above, you can choose from many different durations. It’s common to make 7-day, 14-day, 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, etc. However, regardless of the duration, you need to make sure that if you’re using one audience, you should negate the others.
Siphoning traffic from one audience into another is a big no-no. (Think of it as keyword cannibalization.)
Reason 7: Not Using Customer Lists
What? Why?? Why are you not using customer lists? These are literally the emails of your existing clients. Why would you not remarket to these high value upsell opportunities?
Here are a few good ways to use these audiences:
Newsletter Signup Lists
This audience is a bit higher up in the conversion funnel. Still, these people have voluntarily given you their email addresses, so you can use email to reach them with a more middle-of-the-funnel remarketing offer.
Content Download Lists
This mid-funnel audience is comprised of users who’ve downloaded a piece of your content like an eBook, a case study, etc. Nurture these users further down the funnel with remarketing to get that ultimate conversion.
This is a list of people who’ve already converted or purchased on your page. Remarket to them with other products that you offer so you can continue to grow that customer base and lifetime value while also developing a strong following of brand advocates.
Churned Remarketing Campaigns
Users who opted into a free trial or were even past customers are another opportunity for remarketing. Yes, that’s right — you literally do have a second chance here!
You already have their contact info and a general idea of their interests, so you can remarket to this specific audience with product updates or new features to entice them back.
Reason 8: Not Using Similar Or Lookalike Audiences
The closest thing to a true custom audience is one that looks a lot like it.
In Google Ads, these are called Similar Audiences. In Facebook, they’re called Lookalike Audiences.
When you create remarketing audiences in Google Ads, Google automatically creates Similar Audiences for you to test. In Facebook, once you have a Custom Audience created, you can create the Lookalike Audience from there.
The screenshot below shows two remarketing audiences for our Postcard visitors. We created one ourselves, and the other is based on a Lookalike of that audience.
In this test, with roughly the same amount of ad spend, the Lookalike audience is performing even better than the remarketing audience.
One of the best Similar Audiences to create is one based on your existing customers. If you have a list of emails for people who have purchased or using your product, create that Similar Audience and watch your account grow.
Reason 9: Not Targeting Shopping Cart Abandoners
It’s hard for me to think of a better audience than someone who reached your Shopping Cart page but didn’t convert.
True, they may not have followed through with their purchases. But just because they abandoned their carts doesn’t mean they’re all lost causes.
According to Hubspot, reasons visitors leave items in their digital cart include price shock, leaving their computer unexpectedly without finishing their transaction, and researching with an intent to purchase later.
As advertisers, remarketing is our digital follow-up call. And these visitors have taken the time the shop around, compare your products and features, and instigate a transaction by adding something to their digital shopping carts.
Ra Yoga does a great job recognizing that I’ve made it to the shopping cart, and they’re remarketing to me by explaining what I get for the price.
Reason 10: Not Targeting Repeat Shoppers
It’s a best practice to exclude previous converters from your remarketing audience… usually.
But what if your product or service draws loyal, incentivized, repeat customers?
What if your product is something like the Spartan Race, which encourages repeat participation and appeals to obstacle course racing (OCR) addicts like me?
So Spartan knows that even though I purchased a race entry 3 weeks ago, I might be ready for another race in the next month. So instead of excluding me from their remarketing list because I converted recently, they’re actively remarketing to me to get me running again.
And, believe it or not, this strategy doesn’t only apply to obstacle course race sign-ups.
Let’s say you’re selling products from a makeup line. You don’t want to exclude someone who bought eyeliner from purchasing mascara, right? Instead, you can actively remarket to these users since you know they’ve purchased from you before.
Reason 11: Excluding Converted Audiences
When you start getting conversions in Google Ads, Google will automatically create an audience called “All Converters.”
Like I mentioned in the previous section, it’s a best practice to exclude a converted audience from a remarketing campaign to maximize your advertising budget. But what if you have different types of conversions?
One of my SaaS clients, for example, converts audiences through ebook downloads, webinar signups, and free trial signups. The free trial is the ultimate goal, so it would be silly to stop remarketing to users who just downloaded the ebook.
Rather than exclude that audience, I’m going to actively remarket to them. I’ll guide them further down the funnel toward signing up for the free trial.
Reason 12: Excluding TOFU Audiences
Personally, I love a good tofu dish, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
There’s a place in remarketing for low-intent, top of the funnel (TOFU) audiences. Forgetting to nurture these users is a big mistake that I’ve seen a lot of advertisers make.
Sure, we all want those easy wins with the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) audiences. But what happens when those have been exhausted and no one else is coming through?
Some examples of TOFU remarketing audiences would be:
- Visitors to your page in the last 30, 60, 90 days
- Visitors who spent more than 10 seconds on your site. Sure, staying and looking around shows some intent, but I’d still consider them TOFU
- Number of pages visited on the site. Again, shows some intent because they’re browsing, but still considered a bit TOFU
Reason 13: Too Many Exclusions
Exclusions are important. We want to be sure that we’re getting our ads in front of the right audience. By refining our audience we can potentially save money and increase the quality of leads.
However, by excluding too many audience segments, placements, demographics, and keywords, you can effectively narrow your audience down to practically nothing. In this scenario, your ads aren’t showing to anyone. So be mindful when you’re adding exclusions, and look for opportunities to open them up a bit if your audience is too narrow.
Reason 14: Not Using Google Analytics To Build Audiences
Building audiences with Google Analytics is like creating your own secret sauce. You can build audiences easily in Google Ads based on page visitors to specific URLs, but you can get even more granular with Google Analytics.
Here are a few types of audiences I’ve found useful in Google Analytics:
This audience is made up of visitors who spent a certain amount of time on your website.
In Google Analytics, under Goal Conversions, look at the average time people who convert spend on your site. Use that as a starting point and remarket to people who were on your site that long or longer without converting.
Pages Visited On The Site
Again, take a look at your Goal Conversions in Google Analytics.
What is the average number of pages people visit before converting?
Use that as a starting point for another remarketing audience.
This is a fun one. I like to remarket to visitors who’ve come from other sources.
For example, if I can see that someone came to my SaaS site from Facebook or Capterra, I can take a guess as to their intent. If they’ve come from Capterra, they’ve done some research looking at platforms and might have a higher intent to convert. A visitor from Facebook, in contrast, might not be in the same research phase.
The great thing about Google Analytics is it’s virtually limitless. You can create a variety of audiences and get as granular as you like. My only warning would be to make sure you have the traffic levels to support your experiments.
Reason 15: Frequency Is Way Off
It’s finally the end of the day and you have time to do your online shopping, catch up on some news, or just chat with your friends online. What can ruin that?
Being constantly bombarded by the same display ad over and over again, that’s what.
Remarketing ads are based on the assumption that you’re interested in the ad’s offer, but there’s a limit. If you see an ad too often, it might annoy you and negatively affect your interest in that product.
You don’t have to annoy your potential customers like this. In your remarketing campaign, navigate to Settings. Open Additional Settings and click on Frequency Capping.
The default setting lets Google show your ads as many times as they see fit. But you can set limits on the number of individual and group ad impressions, as well as how often the entire campaign appears per day, week, or month.
Reason 16: Your Creative Is Booooooring
This is pretty self-explanatory. You should be using images and copy that grab your audience’s attention. Avoid creative that is dark, hard to read, and doesn’t offer a clear explanation of what the ad is for.
A great example is this image ad from Nest below. (I’ve been perusing their site, so I’m definitely in their remarketing lists.)
This image is beautiful — great shot of the product, clear view of the brand, on point with their colors, and the CTA is bold and orange, which makes me want to click on it.
Reason 17: There’s No A/B Ad Variants To Test
If you’re not A/B testing your remarketing ads, it’s time to start. Simple as that.
There’s a couple of different approaches to split testing your remarketing ads. But, regardless of which of the below strategies you choose to go with, make sure you keep your tests independent and isolated to a single variable at a time.
Test Different Offers
Here’s an example from a SaaS client that offered free trial signups and the option to book a demo.
Because the audience intent is very similar for both offers, we decided to use the same creative assets and similar landing pages to test the offers themselves. From this test, we were able to determine that booking a demo had a better conversion rate than a free trial with this specific remarketing audience.
You can do this by using different formats, like text ads versus display ads. You can also test different images, font styles, and colors in display-oriented split tests.
I’ll talk a bit more about testing and failing later on.
Reason 18: You’re Experiencing Ad Fatigue
When the same audience is exposed to the same ad repeatedly, it can become annoying to the viewer. (I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth… repeating.) This is especially dangerous because it increases the chances of your users ignoring them.
This can happen more often in social platforms where the intent is much lower and ads are constantly flooding users’ news feeds. But as more and more ads intrude on your social feeds, it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with your audience.
Before you start a remarketing campaign, create a “war chest” of ads. Make ads that speak about the benefits of your product, product features, client testimonials, etc.
With this war chest, you can be prepared to switch out your creatives if your campaign performance starts to dip.
Reason 19: Not Testing All Types Of Formats
Some audiences will respond better to different types of ad formats. It’s as simple as that.
In Facebook, there’s a number of ad formats to choose from. They include photos, videos, carousel ads, slideshow ads, collection ads, and Messenger ads.
Below are some examples that have appeared on my own Facebook feed. Spoiler alert: I’m really interested in modern furniture, OCR, and over-priced kitchenware.
There are a number of different formats to choose from in Google Ads too. For display remarketing specifically, you can use text ads, responsive ads, image ads, and video ads.
My advice is to test all different formats. Some work better than others, but not in every situation. Some formats work better with specific audiences and offers, so be sure to give them a fair chance to perform. Then you can allocate your budget to the winning formats.
Reason 20: Not Including An Offer
This mistake literally has me doing a facepalm.
If you don’t have a clear offer in your remarketing campaign — either in the ad, on the landing page, or both — then you’re missing out BIG TIME. How else is your user supposed to know what the heck you want them to convert on?
Make sure you’re including an offer such as “Get Started”, “Learn More”, “Start Your Free Trial”, “Book a Demo”, “Download Now”, etc. Offers like these will drive your audience to take action.
Reason 21: Offer Doesn’t Match The Audience Temperature
Your goal as a software provider is to get a paying customer, and your visitor has just signed up for a demo walkthrough. So naturally, you remarket to them with an offer to download your latest ebook.
Huh? What? You just took a step back.
A visitor who has booked a demo is a much warmer audience than someone who simply wants to download a piece of content. You’re primed to offer the paid version of your software, or a free trial if you need to nurture that lead further.
If you want to read a bit more about audience temperatures and what offers are the best for them, here’s a great article we wrote on PPC traffic temperature.
Reason 22: You’re Not Using A Landing Page
If you’re sending your remarketing traffic straight to your homepage, you may as well be throwing your money down the drain.
Here’s a great blog about the importance of landing pages to read more about why that is. But for the most part, all you need to is that using dedicated landing pages nearly always works better than relying on a home page.
You’ve already established that these audiences already have some sort of interest in your business. They’ve been to your site, and depending on the specific audience, you can reach them with a specific offer.
Here’s how Aulani, the Disney resort in Hawaii, does it and does it well.
The above picture shows a great ad. Just last week I was on their site browsing for vacation packages to take our family on. I didn’t make the purchase, so they remarketed to me and with a very compelling discount. Here’s where the page took me:
There’s a clear message match between the ad and the landing page. Now imagine if the ad took me to their homepage:
While the homepage is great to look at and engaging, it doesn’t match the message that led me to click, which was to get 30% off my vacation. Landing pages are necessary and proven to help convert traffic, and specifically warmer traffic like remarketing audiences.
Reason 23: Showing On The Wrong Placements
If you don’t regularly check on your placements reports, I’d suggest getting familiar with them. These can help keep your ads from showing up on sites that you don’t want to waste money advertising on.
One of the arguments I hear regarding this is that if you’re seeing remarketing ads on a site you’re visiting, it’s only because you want to go to that site. My response is that, as a brand, you may not want your ads showing up on certain types of websites. Some websites are offensive, go against your values as a brand, or simply aren’t converting.
To check this out, open Google Ads. At the campaign level, click on Placements. And keep in mind that if you’re not actively targeting placements (because it’s a remarketing campaign), it may look like you don’t have any. Click on “Where Ads Showed”, however, and that will give you a list of everywhere your ads are showing up.
With this report, you can sort by cost and CPA and start excluding placements that cost too much without converting, thus giving you more control over where your ads are showing.
Reason 24: Not Adjusting Bids On Demographics
While men and women of all ages can buy any product or get any service, oftentimes you’ll see that a specific demographic converts better than others.
Here’s an example from a client’s account where the product we’re offering is the same for men and women of all ages. The screenshot below shows that the cost per acquisition is less for men, so we want to spend more money showing our remarketing ads to men than women.
In remarketing campaigns, we can also make bid adjustments based on age, parental status, and household income. You may not realize until you start testing and analyzing your data that certain demographics perform better than others.
Reason 25: Not Using RLSA
Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) are for remarketing to people who have previously visited a website. RSLAs help you show up higher in search rankings and for specific keywords.
Here’s an example. Say you’re interested in running a race, but you aren’t sure if you want to do a triathlon, marathon, or OCR. You browse a few websites but don’t sign up for a race.
And as you browse those sites, their remarketing systems add a cookie to your browser.
Now, let’s say that the OCR company has created an RLSA campaign and is bidding high on the keyword “find an obstacle race.” The OCR company is more likely to appear higher than other race advertisers that aren’t using an RLSA or are bidding less for that keyword.
That’s a basic explanation of how RLSA works. Here’s a really useful article if you want to dig deeper into this topic.
Reason 26: Incorrect Settings (Observations vs Targeting)
Known in the old AdWords interface as “Bid only” and “Target and bid”, Observations and Targeting are different targeting methods that help you reach new visitors. While both methods will help you target audiences, Targeting will restrict your reach.
In other words, Targeting is best when you want to narrow your audience. And Observations are useful when you don’t want to limit your reach, but you’d like to see how specific audiences or criteria perform.
Here’s an example of how this can go wrong in your account. Let’s say you have a strong search campaign running and would like to see how it can improve. You layer on RLSA and keep the keywords running.
If you use Targeting, you’ll show ads to the audiences you defined, but you’ll have completely cut off those well-performing keywords. This can hinder your campaign and lead to fewer conversions (speaking from experience here), so be careful when applying those two targeting methods.
Google dives into Observations and Targeting more here if you want to read more.
Reason 27: Not Reaching Your Audience On Multiple Channels
Your audience isn’t only on Google. They’re on Facebook, Bing, LinkedIn, Instagram, Capterra, Twitter, and more.
You get the idea.
By failing to reach out to your audience on other channels, you’re going to miss out on valuable traffic and the opportunity to get your message across in more ways than one.
Reason 28: Being Afraid To Fail
The sad truth of remarketing — of all marketing, really — is that you won’t get a win every time.
Our goal as a PPC agency is to make our clients more money. To do that, we have to take risks to see if our tests pan out. It can sometimes take multiple variations, but once you hit that right test, it’s worth it!
Reason 29: Not Knowing When Your Customers Are Online
This is an easy, low-hanging fruit that you can grab right now.
In your campaign settings, you can see the times and days when your remarketing is converting people. Based on the data coming through, you can bid up or down, or completely exclude from showing ads at specific times.
This eliminates any wasted spend when your customers aren’t online or converting. (For example, it wouldn’t make much sense for a shoe brand to remarket to high school teens at 5 am on Saturday mornings…)
Reason 30: Your Industry Might Not Be A Remarketing Fit
Are your products medical- or legal-related? Are they for adults only?
For some industries, remarketing through Google Ads isn’t a possibility. Each PPC channel has its own policies regarding what they’ll show, so be sure to review what you can put on the platform before launching a remarketing campaign.
Here’s some links to remarketing policies from Google Ads, Facebook, and Bing as references:
Reason 31 (Last, But Not Least): You Have No Strategy
It’s pretty easy to create a remarketing campaign and get it running. If you know what you’re doing, you can create audiences, campaigns, and ads within a matter of minutes, and start collecting data shortly after that.
But without a clear strategy of who you’re targeting, what offer you’re giving to what audience, and how the landing page will convert after they click on the ad, you’re basically throwing a dart in the dark hoping it’s going to stick.
Sure, we talk about testing and letting things fail to see if you can win, but why start from behind when you can have a running start with an effective strategy?
Final Thoughts: Don’t Sleep On Remarketing, But Don’t Screw It Up Either
Remarketing is a strategy that shouldn’t be taken on lightly. Your remarketing audiences are your potential customers. These are people who’ve already visited your site and are familiar with your product/brand. Take advantage of their interest.
Dig deep into the data to see how to can understand your audience since not all audiences act the same. Don’t be afraid to test and fail.
In the wise words of Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”