Does ad retargeting really work?


What is retargeting? Brief explanation

Retargeting, often also referred to as remarketing, is an online marketing tool. Internet users who have visited a certain website or clicked on a certain product are addressed with targeted advertisements on their way through the web. With this reminder function, advertisers want to increase the conversions of a website. Retargeting is mainly used in the e-commerce sector and can be used both on the stationary Internet and on mobile devices.

Retargeting: detailed explanation

Anyone who has ever looked for new shoes at Zalando, for example, knows retargeting. With this form of personalized online advertising, users who have already expressed an interest in a product or a company through their surfing behavior are specifically addressed on other pages with appropriate advertisements. This is to avoid wastage in online marketing. Retargeting can take place at the website or at the product level and is used by companies in a wide variety of industries.

For online marketers, retargeting offers the advantage that display advertising can be tailored precisely to the interests of the user. For example, shopping cart abandoners can be addressed with suitable advertisements. This is to ensure that you return to the respective website in order to ideally complete the transaction there.

This type of targeting is based on the knowledge that targeted advertising works better and leads to higher conversions. After all, users who have already visited a particular website tend to be more likely to buy. In addition to conversion-driven campaigns, many advertisers believe that retargeting is also suitable for branding.

As with behavioral targeting, precise tracking of user activities is also essential for setting up retargeting campaigns. Technically, retargeting works by marking the users on the advertiser's website. To do this, an ad server sets a cookie. Using the cookie, other pages from the respective publisher network can recognize the user and present him with targeted advertisements such as display advertising.


The advertisements (ad impressions) for users who have already visited the advertiser's website are usually bought via Real Time Bidding (RTB). In this type of real-time auction, the advertisement of the advertiser who places the highest bid for a specific user profile is displayed.

There are several providers available for companies and agencies that want to use retargeting as part of their marketing. Retargeting platforms such as AdRoll offer, in addition to the server for the delivery of the advertisements, real-time bidding algorithms for suitable placement. In this way, users can be reached specifically via various end devices such as PC and mobile as well as via social media and mobile apps. Google AdWords customers can also set up their own retargeting campaigns. Facebook also offers retargeting campaigns for large companies.

Retargeting can also be used the other way around. With GoogleAdWords, for example, users marked with remarketing can be saved in segments. These segments can be both included and excluded in campaigns. In campaigns aimed at gaining new customers or signing up for a service, you can exclude existing customers. This saves advertisers unnecessary costs for leads or customers that have already been won and reduces wastage.

Criticism of retargeting

The use of retargeting is controversial from the point of view of users and data protectionists. In this way, users can feel followed when they see advertisements for exactly the products that they have previously looked at on all possible web pages.

Data protectionists criticize the fact that with retargeting the activities of the user for advertising purposes are tracked without consent and that users have no overview of which of their activities are exactly.

So that retargeting does not lead to reactance among users, advertisers should be very sensitive to the instrument. By means of so-called frequency capping, online marketers can prevent users from being shown a certain ad too often.

In addition, users can use ad blockers to prevent advertisements from being displayed to them on websites. According to a current study by the Online Vermarkter Kreis (OVK), the average ad blocker rate is already 23.4 percent.


Retargeting is about addressing users on the web and on mobile devices with targeted advertisements that match their activities and are therefore relevant to them. The aim is to get lost users of a website back and get them to do another transaction. By aligning the advertising material with the interests of the user, higher conversions should be achieved. Advertisers should, however, be careful with retargeting and ensure, for example, that advertisements for a specific user are only shown a limited frequency.

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