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Getting Creative with Remarketing


Under the hood, remarketing works like this… a visitor lands on your website and Google places a cookie on their browser. Later, as this person visits other websites, Google recognises the cookie and will serve your specific remarketing ads.


Unfortunately, that’s precisely what many advertisers do. They simply run their ads again to people who have previously visited their site - but there is so much more that can be done to improve the performance of remarketing campaigns. With a little configuration you can squeeze much more juice out of your remarketing audience. Let’s start….


1. You can segment your visitors.


Imagine you sell red widgets and blue widgets on your site. By segmenting your visitors into those who looked at the red widget pages and those who looked at blue widgets, you can then serve remarketing ads to each audience - blue widget ads to those people who were interested in blue widgets, red to the red camp.


2. Segment your converting visitors.


Your website should have a goal (or goals). This might be a sale. A sign up. A form completion. A telephone call. If your website doesn’t track goals, stop reading now and go fix that!


Create another segment - I tend to call these the “completes” since everyone else is clearly “incomplete,” having not bought into what I offer on my site! 


Now - when I look at the original segments - my red and blue widget lovers - I can combine them with the “completes” list - but using the “exclude” function so that my audiences do not contain anyone who has already converted on my site. Frankly, in most cases (and there are some great exceptions we will consider later), I don’t want to advertise to people who have already converted. I probably have better, more direct, ways to advertise to them.


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The more you segment the more you can write your ads and your landing pages to really resonate with your visitors. The more you can resonate the more likely they are to convert - that’s not rocket science.


3. Setting the duration of the remarketing audiences.


By default Google sets the cookie duration to 30 days. Thus a visitor lands on your website and will be in your remarketing audience for 30 days. Unless they revisit the site during this time and effectively reset the clock, they are gone. But you can change the cookie duration to a maximum of 540 days - that’s a year and a half!


For some businesses, the visitor has a relatively urgent need. Someone thinking of buying a car, for example, will probably spend a good deal of time looking at their options. This is a big ticket item and one which may take a few months of research and soul searching. However, once the car is bought a search for insurance will be short and urgent. You cannot wait a few months before buying your insurance - you need it now to be able to take the car on the road. If you sell auto insurance and a visitor doesn’t buy from you on the first visit then there is a good chance that within the next few days they will have bought from a competitor. Rats!


So your remarketing in each of these cases could be different. If you sell new cars you might consider running remarketing to a site visitor for up to, say, 3 months. If you sell auto insurance you might cap this at 5 days. You would test with audiences of different durations, but there will be a point at which the return drops off and your ROI doesn’t justify stretching beyond that point.


4. Creating “time windows”.


Now we are beginning to stretch the envelope.


Consider this scenario… a hairdresser runs an ad campaign offering a special deal on dyes and highlights. Someone searching for a hairdresser who does highlights is probably going to want to have this done within the next few days. Remarketing to them the following week would likely be pointless.


But hairdressers know that most customers will visit let’s say every 4-5 weeks. If we create two audiences, one with a 4 week duration and one with a 5 week duration, each new visitor will be in both audiences. But only until week 4, at which point they drop out of the 4 week audience and they will stay in the 5 week audience for another week.


Combine these two audiences using “include” for the 5 week audience and “exclude” for the 4 week audience and you create a window in time which covers all those visitors who originally visited your site between 4 and 5 weeks ago… these visitors are most likely looking to get their hair done again. If you hit them with a great ad offering a special on dyes and tints do you think you might convert a few? Again, this makes sense, right?


Creating remarketing time windowsCreating remarketing time windows


These time windows will vary depending on the industry. It might not work for every business, but it is surprising for how many it can work.


Earlier we mentioned auto insurance. Someone who didn’t buy from you will probably have bought their insurance from a competitor. But a time window opened up a year later will catch them when they are about to renew, and they might be prepared to consider your offer.


The more you think about this, the more of these windows open… offices buying coffee supplies, parents buying children new shoes (hold that thought for later, too) - even golfers who were looking to buy a box of 24 golf balls will lose them and need to buy more - this might be a harder window to figure out, but the optimum will exist.


What do you think would happen if you had a page on your website dedicated to wedding anniversary gifts? If you were to serve an ad to someone who had visited that page a year earlier, and you can bring them back to your page today, do you think they would be a good prospect?


In fact, almost anything that is a repeat behaviour lends itself to this approach, especially where the repetition is dictated more by the nature of the business itself (as in the case of insurance and anniversary gift stores) than the customer.


5. Cross and Upsell.


Earlier I mentioned developing audiences of “completes” - i.e. people who had already converted on your site. In many cases you will have more direct ways of reaching them such as email - or a snail mail letter - do you remember those?!


Well, reaching out through remarketing ads to previous customers can be a great way of re-engaging with a difference.


People like to feel that they are in control. We all do. And if you send me an email offering me some add on or complement to the product I bought from you a month ago it simply looks like a marketing ploy. A clear upsell attempt - and not very elegant.


But if I bought from you last month and now see an ad for something that could enhance my experience with your product, the feeling I get is that this is a happy coincidence and my decision to revisit your site to explore this complement is mine - not yours.


However, when I get to the site, the pending page offers this great add-on at a special price to existing customers. Now, not only do I feel that I have been in control of the decision to visit the site, but I am also getting an advantage because I do, in fact, already own one of your products.


Now - I know this sounds cynical when it’s written like this, but this is smart marketing… actually, smart remarketing, because only our existing clients will ever see these ads. Anyone else visiting our site would never see the “special” pages. This kind of structure adds a whole bunch of the marketing buzzwords to the mix - exclusivity, scarcity, etc.


6. Seasonal Offers.


Until now we have concentrated on the user as the trigger for the remarketing campaigns. They visited the site and then at some point in their future we serve the remarketing ads. But we can turn the tables on this.


Remember the parents that were buying children shoes? Well, most parents will be buying shoes at the beginning of the school year, maybe twice a year for the winter and summer semesters. Just about everyone that visited the children’s shoes pages of your website at any time is probably going to be thinking of new school shoes in the weeks before the start of a new school year. And if you serve an ad to them with a “back to school” range of kids shoes, how powerful could that be?


Because your website offers a particular range of products or services, then you know that your previous visitors use those products or services. They are a great place to start when you have a new product, a seasonal promotion or simply want to trigger some pre-qualified traffic to your website during a slow period.


7. Ad rotation.


Let’s imagine you are selling a new model car. There are going to be a number of features that customers might like. The car might be super eco-friendly. And it might have a great finance package. And it has a 7 year warranty. You can’t get all of these features, as well as the price, the sexy photo and your contact details into a single ad without it looking so busy it scares people away. So what to do?


How about running 4 or 5 ads? Make the ads similar enough so that they are clearly for the same company (main image, colours, logo and contact detail positions) but each with a specific sales message.


Now put these ads in separate ad groups. Set the frequency to one ad per person per ad group per day, and the person in your remarketing audience might see five ads each day - but each ad will present a different aspect of the new model. This approach can reinforce the branding whilst at the same time amplifying the messages.


Remarketing is a powerful tool. But most advertisers run the same ads to all their previous visitors and bring them all back to their site’s home page. Hopefully, the ideas outlined in this article will encourage you to harness the power of remarketing and stretch the possibilities.


about Steve Cameron

I have worked in Sales & Marketing since before the internet... and am a Certified Google Partner. I bring solid business acumen and a data driven approach to online marketing, understanding that every penny needs to pull its weight. I am available for both Consulting and Management and can be reached at info@advent.es

stickleback Top Contributor
March 2016

Thanks, @Adam G

Ally L
June 2016

Great remarketing article, Iearnt much from it. Thanks!

Mian A

These are the absolute fantastic techniques. I think it should be must when we are going for remarketing. thanks @stickleback for the insightful article.


Thanks for the article. It's given me some new ideas. I am, however, confused. Exactly where in AdWord's audience section do you create the time windows?

stickleback Top Contributor
Hi @DavidCulbertson - the time windows are the result of combining two (or more) lists. Let's suppose I have one list with a duration of 3 weeks and one of 4... when someone lands on my page they are automatically added to both lists and will be on the first for 3 weeks and on the second for 4... I can then create a custom combination list - under "who to add to my list" - and I can choose to include everyone on my 4 week list and EXCLUDE everyone on my 3 week list. so... you visit my page, get added to both lists and tomorrow the 4 week list says - OK - this guy's on my 4 week list let's show him the ad - but the 3 week list says - wait - he's on my list and has to be excluded - so the ad doesn't get shown. This goes on for 3 weeks, then the next day the 4 week list says - Hey - this guy's on my list let's show him the ad.... everyone in the Google offices waits... and, nothing - there's no protest - so the ad gets run. This goes on for another week and then you fall off the 4 week list and don't get to see any ads... Hope that helps.

Thanks for the extra details. I've got a client that's got the ideal business for a targeting window.

stickleback Top Contributor
Lets us know how you get on!