The chances of running into a remarketing campaign these days online are almost too high. Whether you’re a PPC remarketer yourself or simply a digital consumer, remarketing is a tactic that has established itself as a crucial practice 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, reminding you about 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%, yeah 2%, of shoppers will convert on their first visit to a website. So this means that the other 98% are bouncing, and leaves without converting/buying.
And that’s why remarketing is so important. Whatever you decide to call it.
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?”.
The easiest solution to the problem and we couldn’t see it. This is the #1 reason why your remarketing campaign isn’t working — it’s not set up correctly!
There’s 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.
Next, you’ll set up the Google Ads tag:
Now, you can go through the steps by creating the data source, installing the Global site tag on every page of your site, and finally confirming that the tag has indeed been placed.
I can’t emphasize how important it is to make sure that the tag is installed.
Without the tag, there’s no remarketing you can do. Remember, it’s like trying to turn on your TV without it being plugged in. You may try all the fixes and advanced tactics in the world but nothing is going to work till you plug the damn thing in.
And don’t worry, you can turn to your dev team or Google Tag Manager to help with the installation of the tag.
Once you have this all set up, it’s time to start creating audiences!
Reason 2: Your Campaign Structure Is Off
Campaign structure for remarketing is important, especially if you have multiple offers and a large remarketing audience to deal with.
For example, you can create remarketing lists off of Custom Audiences, Similar Audiences, Sources, and more (I’ll cover this later on in this post, don’t worry). Because these audiences might have different offers and different temperatures, you may also have different budget adjustments for each type of campaign.
Take this account as an example, I’ve created three different campaigns for the different remarketing audiences. I’ve also put in different budgets for each of the three. For the purpose of this specific account, we wanted to put a majority of our budget into a Lookalike (or Similar) Audience.
Our goal was to scale the account, and Lookalikes are great for that.
The reason they’re split up by campaign is simple. If I have a specific budget for the audiences and I keep them all in one campaign, then I’ll never 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 is combine too many audiences into one ad group. This makes it hard to understand which audience is performing better than the other.
Another good practice when you’re creating your ad group structure is to make sure that you’re excluding the other ad group audiences from each other. These are both core principles behind our Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) technique but applied to audiences instead of just keywords.
Don’t worry, I’ll talk a bit more about audience exclusions a bit later to clear things up.
Reason 4: Your Audience Is Too Small
In Google Ads, you can remarket using the Display Network or the Search, YouTube, & Gmail Network. In order to remarket to an audience in the Display Network, you need to have at least 100 active 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 1000 active members in the last 30 days.
It’s a great idea to make as many audiences as possible when getting into an account and actually launching your remarketing campaign. However, a big mistake is to set it and forget it.
Make sure you don’t over-prioritize your remarketing campaigns at the cost of your actual demand generation and awareness campaigns.
It’s going to be hard to remarket to users (even if they have a high conversion intent) if you aren’t generating traffic to your service or features page to begin with.
Reason 5: Using The Default 30-Day
When you create your first remarketing audience in Google Ads, you’ll get the option of quickly creating it with a 30-day membership duration default. This means that the max amount of time someone stays in that list is for 30 days.
This duration simply doesn’t make sense for everyone. If you have a long sales process (as is the case with many digital marketing industries) the duration might need to be longer.
In Google Ads, you can make this change to your membership duration to max out the length of your campaigns.
Expanding your member duration can help to make sure that you’re not missing out on an audience that can convert better and at a lower cost over a longer time. Don’t be afraid to play the long game.
Reason 6: Overlapping Durations
I’m going to be talking about all sorts of really cool audiences you can make, and maybe you’re excited to start making them yourself.
But be careful! Another mistake marketers make as they’re creating all their audiences is not paying attention to their durations (notice the plural “s” there).
Like I mentioned in the 30-day default section above, you can make 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 that you’re negating the other.
This is to avoid siphoning traffic from one audience into another (think of it as avoiding keyword cannibalization for your remarketing audiences).
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 funnel. But these people have voluntarily given you their email addresses so you can use email to remarket to them with a more middle-of-the-funnel offer.
Content Download Lists
This audience is a more mid-funnel audience comprised of users who’ve downloaded a piece of content you’re offering like an ebook, a case study, etc. Remarket towards these users to keep nurturing them down the funnel to get that ultimate conversion.
This is a list of people who’ve already converted/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
If you have an audience who’ve previously signed up for a free trial or were even customers of yours before but have since discontinued using your services, you can still remarket to them. Yes, that’s right: you literally do have a second chance here.
You already have their contact info, and you can remarket to this specific audience with updates to your product or new features with the intent to get them to return.
Reason 8: Not Using Similar Or Lookalike Audiences
The next closest thing to a custom audience is one that looks like it.
In Google Ads, they’re called Similar Audiences and in Facebook, they’re called Lookalike Audiences. In Google Ads, as you start to create your audiences for your remarketing lists, Google will actually automatically create those Similar Audiences for you to test. In Facebook, once you have your custom audience created, then you can create the Lookalike Audience from there.
In the screenshot below you can see that we have two audiences created. One is a remarketing audience for our Postcard visitors, and the other is based on a Lookalike of that audience. Both are functioning on around the same amount of spend, and with the Lookalike audience 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 has been in a shopping cart and hasn’t yet converted. This visitor has taken the time the shop around, view your different products and details, and add something to their shopping cart.
True, they may not have followed through with their purchase — for whatever reason they left their cart abandoned — but that doesn’t mean they are a lost cause.
According to Hubspot, there are a number of reasons why visitors will leave items in their digital cart, including price shock, visitors leaving their computer unexpectedly and not finishing their transaction, and visitors researching with the intent on purchasing at a later time.
As advertisers, remarketing is our weaponry to combat these potential bounces.
Here’s a good example from Ra Yoga. I’ve been on their site recently visiting their membership page. I’ve been wanting to get into some yoga but doing some comparison shopping. When browsing on Facebook here’s what I see. 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 add a previous converter as an exclusion from a remarketing audience. Not every product or service will offer repeat customers. However, what if your product is something that Spartan Race is offering, and that’s something for the addicted OCR freaks, like me!
So Spartan knows that even though I just converted on a race 3 weeks ago and made that purchase, that I might be ready for another race in the next month. So instead of excluding me from their remarketing list because I’ve previously converted, they’re actively remarketing to me to get me running again.
The same can apply for additional products.
If you’re selling products from a makeup line, you don’t want to exclude the converter on an eyeliner purchase from buying some mascara. Instead, I would actively go after those people since you know they’ve already purchased from you before.,/p>
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 best practice to add a converted audience as an exclusion to a remarketing campaign in order to not go after people who’ve already converted, but what if you have different types of conversions?
In the case of one of my SaaS clients: they’ve converted audiences for ebook downloads, webinar signups, and free trial signups with the free trial being the ultimate goal. It would be silly of me to exclude someone who converted with an ebook download because now that visitor is being pushed down the funnel and nurtured to possibly want that free trial as well.
Instead of excluding that audience, I’m going to actively remarket to them, pushing them down the funnel in order to sign 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 the top of the funnel (TOFU) type of low-intent audiences. A big mistake that I’ve seen with a lot of advertisers is forgetting to nurture these users.
Sure we want those easy wins with the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) audiences, but what happens when those have been exhausted and there’s no one else 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 it shows some intent by them staying and looking around, 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 and by narrowing down our audience we can potentially save money and increase the quality of leads.
However, by excluding audiences, placements, demographics, and keywords you may have effectively narrowed down your audience to practically nothing, thus your ads aren’t showing. So be mindful when you’re adding in these exclusions, and look for the opportunity to open them up a bit if your audience is too narrow.
Reason 14: Not Using Google Analytics To Build Audiences
Using Google Analytics to build audiences is kinda like a secret sauce to me. You can easily build audiences in Google Ads based on page visitors to specific URLs, but you can get even more granular with Google Analytics.
There’s a few types of audiences I like to create with Google Analytics. Here are some:
This audience is meant for visitors who’ve spent a certain amount of time on the website. Take a look in Google Analytics at your Goal Conversions and look at the average time people spend on site. Choose that as a starting point for remarketing to people who’ve spent that amount of time or longer.
Pages Visited On The Site
Again, take a look at your Goal Conversions in Google Analytics and see what the average number of pages people are visiting before they’re converting. Use that as a starting point to remarket to them.
Sources (Traffic Sources)
Now, 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 at the intent of that audience. If they’ve come from Capterra, they’ve done their research looking at platforms and might have a higher intent to convert versus a visitor from Facebook who 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 warning would be that you only want to do so if you have the traffic numbers to make it worth it.
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.
Because it’s a remarketing ad, you’re interested in what the ad is offering because you’ve been to the site. But if you’re seeing it too much, it might just annoy you and no longer pique your interest in the product.
Here’s a way around annoying your potential customers like this. When you’re in your remarketing campaign, navigate to Settings. Make sure you open up Additional Settings, there you can find Frequency Capping.
Its default setting is to let Google show the ads as many times as they see fit. Instead, you can set a limit for the number of impressions for each ad, each ad group, or the entire campaign per day, week, or month.
Reason 16: Your Creative Is Boooring
This is pretty self-explanatory. You should be using images and copy that are going to 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 the image ad from Nest below. I’ve been perusing their site, so I’m definitely in their remarketing lists. And this image is beautiful — great shot of the product, clear view of the brand, on point with their colors, and with the CTA being bold and orange making 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 one of my SaaS clients:
They offered both free trial signups as well as the option to book a demo. Because the audience is very similar for the intent of either offer we simply used the same creatives and similar landing pages, just with the action being different. From this test, we were able to determine that booking a demo had a better conversion rate than a free trial with the specific audience we were remarketing towards.
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 these 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 repeatedly exposed to the same ad over and over again, it can become annoying to the viewer (remember what I mentioned earlier). This is dangerous because it risks making it easy for your users to simply glance over the ad and ignore them.
This can happen more often in social platforms where the intent is much lower and ads are constantly flooding users’ news feeds. But with more and more ads intruding in on your social time, it’s important to not annoy your audience.
When starting a remarketing campaign, come into it with a war chest of ads. Have ads prepared 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 as you start to see performance dip in your campaigns.
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 of what’s been showing up on my own personal Facebook. You can see I’m really interested in modern furniture, OCR, and over-priced kitchenware.
In Google Ads, there’s also a number of different formats to choose from. Specifically, for display remarketing 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 and then allocate your budget to the winning formats.
Reason 20: Not Including An Offer
This mistake literally has me doing a facepalm.
If you’re not including an offer in your remarketing campaign, on the ad or landing page, then you’re missing out big time. How else is your user supposed to know what the heck you even 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. These offers are what’ll drive the action of your audience to do what you’re asking of them.
Reason 21: Offer Doesn’t Match The Audience Temp
Your visitor has just signed up for a demo walk thru, and your goal as a software provider is to get a paying customer. So, you remarket to them with an offer to download the latest ebook.
Huh? What? You just took a step back.
After the visitor has booked the demo, they’re considered a much warmer audience than someone who simply wants to download a piece of content. You now have the opportunity to offer the paid version of your software, or if you need to nurture that lead a bit more, a free trial can do the trick.
If you want to read a bit more about audience temperatures and what offers are the best for them, here’s a great article on PPC traffic temperature.>
Reason 22: You’re Not Using A Landing Page
If you’re sending your remarketing traffic straight to your homepage then 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 know and have faith in is that using dedicated landing pages nearly always works better than relying on a home page.
In regards to remarketing, you’ve established that these audiences already have some sort of interest. They’ve been to your site, and depending on the specific audience you can go at 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 still great to look at and engaging, it’s now distracted me from my initial 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’re not familiar with a placements report, I’d suggest getting familiar as it 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. However, my retort back is that, as a brand, you may not want your ads showing up on certain types of websites. Some websites are offensive, they go against your values as a brand, or simply those placements simply aren’t converting.
To check this out go into Google Ads, when you’re at the campaign level, and click on Placements. The tricky thing here is that if you’re not actively targeting placements (because it’s a remarketing campaign), it may look like you don’t have any placements. Click on “Where Ads Showed”, and that will give you a list of all the placements your ads are showing up on.
With this report, you can now start to sort by cost and CPA and start excluding placements that are costing too much without converting, thus controlling more 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, often times you’ll see that specific demographics convert 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. You can see in the screenshot below that the cost per acquisition is less for men, so we want to spend more money showing our remarketing ads to this group 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 collecting/analyzing the data that certain demographics perform better than others.
Reason 25: Not Using RLSA
Remarketing List for Search Ads, or RLSA, is a strategy that is used to remarket to people who have previously visited a website by showing up higher in search ranking and for specific keywords.
Here’s an example. Say you’re interested in running a race, but just not sure if you want to do a triathlon, marathon, or OCR. You browse around some different websites, but you don’t sign up for your next race at that time. As you browse those sites, if they have remarketing set up, your browser ends up with that cookie.
Now, let’s say that the OCR company has created an RLSA campaign and is bidding high on the keyword “find an obstacle race”, that company is more likely to show up in a higher position than the other races if they’re not using RLSA or with a lower bid on that keyword.
Thus, making it more likely that you’ll click on that ad and convert.
That’s a quick explanation of how RLSA work, and here’s a really cool article getting in a bit deeper with it.
Reason 26: Incorrect Settings (Observations vs Targeting)
Known in the old Google Ads interface as “Bid only” and “Target and bid”, Observations and Targeting are different targeting methods design to help you reach new visitors, respectively. While both methods will help you target audiences, Targeting will restrict your reach.
When to use Targeting: use when you want to narrow your audience.
When to use Observations: use 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: You have a strong search campaign running, and would like to see how it can improve by layering on RLSA, and keep the keywords running.
If you use Targeting, you’ll show to those audiences you defined, but have completely cut off those well-performing keywords. This will greatly slow down your campaign and most likely your conversions (speaking from experience here), so be careful when applying those two targeting methods.
Google dives into it a bit more if you want to read more about Observations and Targeting.
Reason 27: Not Going Across Other Channels
Your audience isn’t only on Google. They’re also on Facebook, Bing, LinkedIn, Instagram, Capterra, Twitter, etc.
You get the idea.
By not recognizing that your audience is spending time 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
You’re not going to get a win every time.
Our goal as an agency is to make our clients more money, and with that comes taking 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 grasp right now.
In your campaign settings, you can see the times and days when people are converting in your remarketing campaigns. 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 be remarketing to high school teens at 5 am on Saturday mornings…)
Reason 30: Your Industry Might Not Be A Remarketing Fit
Is your product medical or legal related? Are they adult products? For some industries remarketing through Google Ads isn’t a possibility. Each platform has their own policies regarding what they’ll show, so be sure to understand 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, the campaign, and the ads all within a matter of minutes, and start collecting data.
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?
Don’t Sleep On Remarketing, But Don’t Screw It Up Either
Remarketing is a strategy that shouldn’t be glanced over. 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.”