For Tech’s Sake: Retargeting Done Right


stalker smallADOTAS – There’s been a lot of talk lately around ads that “stalk” users around the internet. Retargeting, a service that focuses on letting a brand stay in front of its audience regardless of their unique browsing habits, is the technology in question. It’s a great technology on its own, and when done correctly, is nothing but beneficial to a brand.

However, the use of personalized creatives and certain pricing strategies has started a chain of bad buzz and consumer backlash that is anything but beneficial to a brand.

Let’s get one thing straight — retargeting involves no transfer of personally identifiable data, and that’s the simple truth. With that said, the issue remains that many consumers still feel disturbed when they see these personalized retargeted ads.

For one, the personalization of the ad makes consumers feel like they are being stalked and followed around the internet. Secondly, some retargeting companies continue to show ads to the consumer even if he/she has already made a purchase. Let’s break these two issues down to find a solution.

The Privacy Issue

You’re browsing around the internet for that perfect pair of sneakers, when all of a sudden you get an ad on your favorite blog for those Vans that you were just looking at five minutes ago. You feel stalked. You don’t want anyone, or any thing, to know your browsing habits, yet you feel like your favorite online sneaker store knows exactly where you’ve been, where you’re going, and what you’re looking at on the web.

It’s a frightening picture, and it’s as if the advertiser knows what you were looking at on their site, and continues to follow you around on other websites… It’s as if the advertiser knows you. But the advertiser doesn’t really know you.

Again, there is no transfer of personally identifiable data. However, due to the nature of personalized retargeting, it may seem that way to the consumer. The solution? Don’t be so personal.

Retargeting is still very effective without personalized banners. A well branded banner ad, as opposed to a personalized product ad, aims to gently encourage consumers to go back to your website by highlighting your brand, and not by highlighting the consumer’s browsing history from the advertiser’s website. In fact, this actually adds a brand scaling attribute to an advertiser, in that their brand becomes more apparent to their audience, making the brand seem bigger than it actually is, which is especially important for small to medium sized businesses.
The Pricing Issue
You gave up, you give in, and you end up purchasing those Vans that stalked you on the internet for the past few days. What happens next is sure to bother any consumer – you continue to see ads for those sneakers on all of your favorite blogs. This is an issue with the pricing model.
When a retargeting company charges on a PPC basis, they’re getting paid for every click that’s made. Because of this, the company wants to serve as many cheap impressions as they can to maximize the amount of clicks that they receive. This can be very annoying to customers! If a customer ends up purchasing a product, a good retargeting campaign would make sure that the customer gets removed from any further retargeted advertising. A good retargeting campaign would also makes sure that no single customer sees more than 2-3 ads a day, unless specifically stated otherwise by the advertiser. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each of the different pricing models out there:
CPC (cost-per-click)
Pros – There is an added branding value as the retargeting companies show as many impressions as they can in an attempt to maximize the amount of clicks.
Cons – Customers can feel inundated by the amount of impressions. If the creatives are not optimized, the advertiser may not get enough volume from the provider.
CPA (cost-per-action)
Pros – Advertisers only have to pay whenever a conversion is made
Cons – Retargeting companies charge for view through conversions, which may even occur 30 days after the last impressions was shown. Companies that don’t charge for view-through conversions have a very high startup cost. If the conversion funnel is not optimized there may be very little volume.
CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions)
Pros – Advertisers get exactly what they’re paying for
Cons – If not managed carefully this can result in a terrible effective CPA.
CPUV (cost-per-unique visitor)
Pros – Serve the optimal number of ads to each of your unique visitors
Cons – If not managed carefully you will get no conversions.
While some retargeting companies insist on using the PPC model to maximize clicks, other retargeting companies like give advertisers great guidance on impression/frequency caps, burn-cookies, and overall creative guidance to ensure that their advertisers sit comfortably on the fine line between effective and brand-safe retargeting.
When it comes down to it, if advertisers aren’t receiving a positive ROI from their retargeting campaigns, then retargeting wouldn’t still exist today. Retargeting has proven to be a very effective tool that works well with many online marketing strategies, but at the expense of customer happiness, it may not be a strategy that many brands are willing to use. When done correctly, however, retargeting campaigns can still produce a positive ROI and add a brand scaling bonus, without ever being a bother to the customer.… In the end, your customer’s happiness is what matters the most.


  1. Hi Samir, Kathryn here- marketing associate from I’m so glad to hear your thoughts on retargeting. I totally agree that it can be a wonderful opportunity if implemented properly! Before I came to work at, I never even considered that when I saw ads about products and services I was interested in, it was any more than a happy coincidence. The technology behind the process is truly amazing. I know in my personal life, I never want to feel creeped out about my time spent online, but I also know that I am totally unconcerned with my shopping habits being recorded. Maybe that stems from growing up with the internet or maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t a thing to hide. Either way, I know I really like being served ads they may actually be useful to me! In my professional life, I know that everyone here at AdRoll feels the same- freaking consumers out is NEVER the intention. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Our only goal for both advertisers and consumers alike is to serve ads that are actually helpful! Using re-targeting, small to medium-sized businesses get more reach for their marketing dollars. In regards to being served ads for products that you’ve already purchased, that is certainly NOT best practice. By segmenting out portions of the advertisers’ websites, we certainly do tons to avoid that. We also work with advertisers to choose online inventory that will be most valuable to them (instead of serving all the cheapest impressions that may be a waste of resources!). I’d encourage to you check out our blog if you’re interested, and I’d certainly love to hear your thoughts!

  2. Hey Kathryn,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that one of the goals for retargeting aims to show more relevant ads to the user.

    One point that I didn’t touch on was that non-personalized creatives also aims to increase relevancy to the consumer because the ad is an exercise in branding. Personalized creatives, while being aggressive, also often highlight products that the consumer may not even be interested in. A well branded, non-personalized ad can fix this sort of relevancy issue.


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