When an ad conveniently reminds you about a dress you’ve been meaning to buy, it can feel like you have your own digital personal assistant. But, when that same ad keeps reminding you about that dress weeks after you bought it, the personal assistant starts to feel like a digital stalker. It’s no wonder that retargeting can sometimes get a bad rap.

However, used responsibly, retargeting can be a force for good. In fact, with the right strategy and tracking methods, it’s one of the most efficient and effective tools for any direct response campaign. To prove it, True North conducted an exposure test for one of its nonprofit clients. Our agency retargeted the exposed group with branded display ads and the unexposed group with unrelated messaging. After six weeks of testing, the results showed an astounding difference as seen in the below table.image00

Compared to the unexposed group, the exposed group produced 62% more donations, 143% more revenue, and a conversion rate that was 41% higher. Retargeting even increased the likelihood of a larger gift, with the exposed group donating an average of $85 to the unexposed group’s $57.

It all goes to show that a little extra attention to your cookie pool, bids, frequency, and performance will go a long way. Here’s how to ensure that your retargeting tactics reach the right audience.


To create a positive user experience, make sure that every impression is relevant. Often, this means removing users from the cookie pool after they’ve completed a purchase. It’s not always easy to pinpoint these users, but tracking methods are becoming increasingly precise.

Sometimes, however, retargeting existing converters can be useful. For instance, it’s absolutely necessary when trying to make an upsell. And if you’re aiming to boost engagement with an email deployment, CRM retargeting is one of the smartest approaches you take.

Frequency is another key factor in maintaining relevance. Retarget users too frequently, and you’ll create an unpleasant experience. Too infrequently, and you’ll see minimal impact. To reach the optimal frequency, track every touch point in your digital campaign. Doing this will give you a holistic view of the path to conversion and allow you to determine the correct volume of impressions needed to drive users down that path. Overlay your frequency plan with a primary KPI so that, over time, you can identify which point on your path is performing strongest. Don’t forget to compare the converting group’s frequency to the overall campaign frequency either. Continuous measuring and fine-tuning will pay off soon enough.


Recency is another important parameter to keep in mind when considering which users to exclude from your campaign. If a prospect visited your site weeks ago and is taking no further actions that correlate with your campaign goal, don’t waste your impressions. Drop inactive users from your cookie pool and focus your efforts on those whose online behaviors suggest they are still on the path to conversion.

Keep an eye out for low-intent prospects too. These are users who have spent an insignificant amount of time on your site or demonstrated little interest in completing the action you desire them to take. Improve your efficiency by bidding on these users less aggressively, or sidelining them altogether. Most retargeting network algorithms will allow you to bid based on purchase intent, but manually segmenting these users can be more practical for granular reporting and customizable messaging.


Consider extending your campaign by renewing the brand relationship after conversion. Instead of eliminating converters from your cookie pool, retarget them with an updated message thanking them for their purchase or inviting them to join your mailing list. By reaching out to converters with an offer instead of an ask, you’ll build goodwill and keep your brand top-of-mind. Remember: driving users to your site is just the first step, and conversion is not always the last.

Retargeting the right way

With the right strategies in place, retargeting is an extremely effective tactic that keeps brands top-of-mind and moves users down the funnel. Managing your cookie pool, monitoring your bids and optimizing your frequency takes diligence, but will save you time, effort, and money in the long run.

Don’t get too bogged down in data either. Remember your users are people just like you. They’re careful researchers with a surplus of information at their disposal. They’re likely comparing several products or organizations and that’s often why they won’t convert on their first visit. Be patient. By creating a positive experience that will retarget them in helpful and rewarding ways, you’re building a brand relationship for the long run.