AdRoll Blog

The Ultimate Guide to Retargeting

You’re trying to boost your marketing for your online business and generate more sales — but no matter how hard you try at social media, search engine optimization (SEO), and Google Ads, there seems to be a growth bump that’s impossible to get around. Sound familiar? Due to the highly competitive ecommerce landscape, it’s getting increasingly difficult for brands to stand out from the noise. That’s where retargeting comes in, the ultimate tool to help re-capture the attention of shoppers who already showed some interest in your store. Not only are they a fantastic way to boost sales, but they can also stretch your marketing budget like never before — thanks to click-through rates that are 10x higher than regular display ads!

While new marketers may see retargeting as a strategy, the truth is that it’s simply a set of skills and tactics to help better connect with shoppers. Use this guide to understand what retargeting is, the different types, ways to get started, and best practices to keep in mind. Quick, let’s get your shoppers back! 

In this article:
What Is Retargeting?
What Are the Different Types of Retargeting?
How Do I Get Started With Retargeting?
What Are Some Retargeting Best Practices?
3, 2, 1, Retarget!

What Is Retargeting?

Retargeting is a marketing tool or tactic that brands can use to show ads and messages tailored to a shopper’s behavior. For example, if a shopper visits your site and adds products to their cart but doesn’t check out, retargeting allows you to show them an ad directly in their Facebook feed with a friendly “Don’t forget these goodies!” reminder alongside the products they abandoned. 

A quick snapshot of how retargeting works. 

A quick snapshot of how retargeting works.

With tons of retargeting opportunities available within a host of channels — social media, mobile, email, and display, among others — it’s an awesome tactic if you:

  • Suffer from high cart abandonment rates
  • Want to encourage bottom-of-funnel shoppers to convert
  • Are looking to build brand loyalty within existing shoppers 
  • Experience large numbers of browsers and window shoppers who aren’t purchasing
  • Have an enormous opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell products
  • Want to personalize your marketing messages
  • Aren’t getting results from your CTAs, whether that’s asking for a review or sign-ups to your newsletter

Still curious about how retargeting works? Check out this post for more

What Are the Different Types of Retargeting?


If you’re browsing the internet — say, on a news site or blog — and are seeing ads for products you’ve just browsed on a different site, that’s retargeting in action. Often presenting itself in the form of a visual dynamic banner or text ad, it’s an excellent way to remind shoppers of what they’re missing out on by combining targeted messaging and tailored ad placement. 


Ever left some products in a cart without checking out, then received an email reminding you that those items are selling out fast? Say hello to email retargeting! Just like with display ads, you can use retargeting emails to bring shoppers back to your site, encourage them to leave a review, or remind them to check out. 

An abandoned cart retargeting email from Madewell. 

An abandoned cart retargeting email from Madewell.

Social media

Platforms like Instagram and Facebook provide brands with a direct link to customers, and social media retargeting ads are a fantastic way to do just that. In addition, native features, including shares, likes, and comments, help your ads stretch even further and expand your reach. 


Let’s be honest: Most of us spend too much time on our phones. While this may not have the best effects on our eyesight and thumbs, it’s great news for brands — mobile offers huge opportunities for retargeting. In fact, our data shows that brands who leverage mobile retargeting enjoy a click-through rate that’s increased by a whopping 120%. It works especially well if you’re looking to encourage branded app installs. 

How Do I Get Started With Retargeting?

Step 1: Identify your goals

Retargeting isn’t only for encouraging conversions and boosting sales. Your goals may include:

  • Improving brand awareness
  • Engaging with existing customers to keep your brand top of mind
  • Recovering abandoned carts
  • Encouraging email subscriptions 
  • Capturing more customer reviews

Make sure you clearly understand the objectives of your retargeting campaign, as well as what metrics you’re going to use to measure success. This will guide the structure of your campaign later on. 

Step 2: Choose your platform(s)

With a clear sense of your goals, it’s time to choose your platform(s), whether that’s email, social media, or more. 

Pro tip: When you use retargeting ads and emails together, you’ve got yourself a winning formula — our research has found that this can yield 2x conversions. Regardless of where shoppers hang out online, you’re bound to grab their attention. 

Step 3: Segment your audience

First, determine your target audience — who are you trying to reach? Existing or potential customers? Where do they spend their time? What makes them tick? 

Then, rather than use the same retargeting strategy and creative on all of your shoppers, you’ll want to segment them into different subsets. Trust us, your ads will be more effective this way. The last thing you want is for shoppers to see an ad and think, “This isn’t relevant to me.” Or, even worse, annoy customers who just completed a purchase with a barrage of ads encouraging them to buy. 

You can segment by:

  • New vs. repeat customers
  • Behaviors, e.g., which pages of your website they’ve clicked on, whether they’ve engaged with you on social media
  • Estimated customer lifetime value
  • Location in the marketing funnel
  • Cart status (empty vs. abandoned carts)
  • Products they’ve shown an interest in
  • Products they’ve purchased previously
  • Demographics
  • Location

Step 4: Plan your ad and email sequences

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing the same ad or receiving the same email over and over again. Here’s where sequences come in: You’ll want to create different versions of retargeting ads with unique content, which you can then rotate. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Provide a free shipping coupon
  • Offer a 15% discount or other small incentives
  • Show a testimonial praising your brand
  • Promote a 5-star review for a product they had abandoned in their carts
  • Use a countdown timer to drive urgency
  • Have the ad consist of a recommended best-sellers list
  • Feature urgency and FOMO-inducing copy
  • Remind shoppers of the items they had previously browsed or purchased
  • Cross-sell or upsell shoppers who have just checked out
  • Share your brand story, complete with values and promises
  • Thank existing customers for their support and loyalty
Forever 21 cart abandonment email

Forever 21 starting their cart abandonment email sequence with some FOMO…

Forever 21 cart abandonment email

… that’s soon followed by free shipping as an incentive to purchase.

Step 5: Determine your ad and email timing and frequency

Ever feel creeped out by ads that follow you everywhere? Without frequency caps, retargeting ads can quickly feel intrusive and stalker-ish. We recommend limiting the same ad creative no more than twice. More than that, and it can feel stale or annoying. Instead, mix up your retargeting ad roster with different combinations of images, copy, and messaging to keep things novel. 

If you’re using retargeting emails to recover abandoned carts, we recommend sending them out relatively soon after a shopper exits your site — ideally within the hour. One survey from BI Intelligence concluded that retargeting emails sent within three hours after cart abandonment have a 40% open rate and a 20% click-through rate. However, you’ll want to conduct your own analysis to find the perfect timing for your needs — ultimately, it’ll depend on why people are abandoning their carts in the first place. 

Pro tip: If you’re already using AdRoll, use this Marketing Recipe to turn cart abandoners into happy shoppers. Yum! 

Using AdRoll means serving the right ads to the right people in all the right places. Easy! 

Using AdRoll means serving the right ads to the right people in all the right places. Easy!

Step 6: Develop creative 

Crafting the right message and developing the perfect visual assets for your retargeting ads is no joke, especially for marketers with more of an “analytical” rather than “creative” brain. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with these pro tips to get your creative juices flowing:


  • Feature your value proposition
  • Make it clear what you want shoppers to do next, whether that’s leaving a review, checking out, or visiting your website
  • Use power verbs
  • Keep things short, simple, and straightforward, rather than lengthy storytelling
  • Transparency is crucial — don’t include any false promises 
  • Craft CTAs that set clear “next steps” for shoppers 
  • Consider speaking to shoppers’ common pain points 
Anthropologie’s retargeting message has a strong (and prominent) CTA: “Keep Shopping.”

Anthropologie’s retargeting message has a strong (and prominent) CTA: “Keep Shopping.”


  • Limit the number of fonts, colors, and graphical elements
  • Make sure your images are high-res (not blurry nor overly crisp)
  • Feature your CTAs prominently — put them in a box and turn them into buttons!
  • Banish large chunks of text by mixing it up with images or graphics
  • Choose lifestyle shots whenever possible over product shots with white backgrounds
  • Review the guidelines of your chosen platforms for image specs
  • Resize your visuals and A/B test different placements (e.g., Instagram Stories ads vs. in-feed ads) 
  • Check that any text that overlaps with images is readable
  • Ensure that visuals scale correctly for mobile

Step 7: Launch your retargeting campaign

The big day has come! Give yourself a pat on the back, but remember — it’s not over yet. 

Step 8: Monitor and optimize

Retargeting is not a set-and-forget tactic. For maximum success, you need to review your data continuously, A/B test your offerings, messaging, and delivery, and optimize based on trends and insights. The key is not getting too attached with any element in your campaign — yes, even if that snazzy headline you’ve spent ages writing — and continue experimenting as you go along. If it’s not working, don’t be afraid to ax it! 

What Are Some Retargeting Best Practices? 

Just like with any type of marketing, there are best practices to keep in mind if you’re looking to master the art of retargeting. After all, a poorly executed campaign could very well annoy shoppers, destroy brand loyalty, and drain your budget — and nobody wants that. 

Be patient (while still being persistent!)

Retargeting is not a get results fast tactic. In fact, it’s far from it. If you’re not seeing results roll in as quickly as you’re hoping, don’t worry. Give it some time before you start changing things up. 

Thoughtfulness is key

With all the different types of retargeting you can play around with, thoughtfully planning your campaigns is crucial. You don’t want to overwhelm shoppers by inundating them across different channels — personalized content can quickly feel like spam if not treated carefully. 

Personalize all the way

To take your retargeting campaigns to the next level, consider personalization — surveys have found that nearly 45% of consumers are likely to come back for more after receiving a personalized shopping experience. Similarly, thanks to personalization, 40% of shoppers will purchase something pricier than they had initially planned. 

When it comes to personalizing your retargeting efforts, this may involve featuring products shoppers have recently clicked on or shown an interest in or using relevant messaging that speaks to their previous purchases. 

For more tips on how to get started with personalization, check out this post

Use AdRoll

There’s a leader in the retargeting space, and that’s AdRoll. Our platform makes retargeting easy — so easy that we’ve even developed ready-to-use templates (with proven results!) so you can quickly turbocharge your ads and emails. Even better, our dashboard makes analytics and optimization simple — in just a few clicks, you can see everything that’s working and fine-tune your strategy. 

The AdRoll dashboard is clean, clear, and easily customizable.

The AdRoll dashboard is clean, clear, and easily customizable.

Already using AdRoll? Check out how easy it is to launch your retargeting campaign with this Marketing Recipe — all ingredients provided, just follow the steps! 

3, 2, 1, Retarget!

Now that you’ve got the details on how retargeting can transform your brand and sales, what are you still waiting for? It’s time to capture attention, increase conversions, and watch your brand grow. Get started by checking out AdRoll’s retargeting tool now. 

Angie Tran

Angie Tran

Angie is the Content Marketing Manager at AdRoll. Prior to AdRoll, she was a Content Writer at various digital marketing agencies. A writer by day and a reader by night, Angie’s other hobbies include cooking and learning useless movie trivia.