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Mar 6, 2012 | 7 minute read

How to Choose a Retargeting Vendor

written by Linda Bustos

Hello from San Francisco! I’m checking in from the Conversion Conference, where I'm presenting on retargeting. (If you are unfamiliar with retargeting, please read this guide to remarketing strategy.

One of the takeaways from my presentation is the importance of exploring your ecommerce strategybefore selecting a vendor to ensure, like an ecommerce platform or site search tool, the product you select is able to accomplish what you want your retargeting campaign to do.

Today’s post is a quick overview of the retargeting landscape. Companies interviewed for this post include Chango, Adroll, Retargeter, FetchBack and Mediaforge for this post. (A big thank you to these companies for their participation).

Site Retargeting vs. Search Retargeting

It’s important to decide whether your strategy will include site retargeting, search retargeting or both.

Site Retargeting

Site retargeting involves showing text and display ads on popular websites to web users who have previously visited your site. Tracking pixels are placed on users’ browsers based on the actions they take on your site, and remarketed to accordingly. For example, a visitor who views your home page and abandons may be targeted with branded creative, while someone who views a specific product may be retargeted with that product or other items from its category.

Search retargeting is similar to pay-per-click advertising, except your ads are displayed on websites, rather than search pages. (You can certainly use PPC networks and search retargeting at the same time). Users are pixeled from the search engine, and text or display ads are shown around the web, as with site retargeting. You can determine which search terms you want to target. Rather than “remarketing” per se, it’s an alternative form of prospecting (though targeted searchers may have also visited your site previously).

Search Retargeting

Search retargeting is not to be confused with contextual display targeting, which matches ads on websites that contain keywords you select in your campaign to target. Because search retargeting is based on what people have actually searched for, relevant ads can be shown on any website in the publisher network. Contextual display shows ads only on topically relevant sites, regardless of any expressed interest in the keyword by the user.

Its generally advised not to use multiple retargeting vendors at once (more complex reporting, inability to mix “burn pixels” that remove visitors from certain segments once they convert, etc), so make sure you fully explore the implications of using site and search retargeting concurrently.

Site Retargeting Vendors


Search Retargeting Vendors


Self-Serve vs. Full-Serve Retargeting Vendors

Self-serve tools like Google Remarketing work similarly to Google Adwords – you can set up your campaign, select a budget, view reports and make changes yourself.

Complementary value-add services like creative assistance, campaign set up and support are typically offered by the non-Google vendors, but may only be available with premium service plans. Some, like Criteo, even offer an API that you can use to integrate seamless reporting with your existing analytics.

Full-serve agencies usually handle everything on their end, including campaign optimization, though some are hands-off on ad creative.

A big difference between self-serve and full-serve is transparency of reporting. If you require tight control or want to glean learnings from your campaign testing, make sure you understand exactly what you want to measure on your end. Full-serve agencies often will provide data upon request, but may not be able to provide domain-level and keyword-level reporting.

Naturally, Google Remarketing integrates seamlessly with Google Analytics, but some retargeting companies have partnered with analytics companies, such as Retargeter and KISSmetrics.

Business Models

The standard models for online advertising apply to retargeting: CPM (pay for all impressions), CPC (pay per click) and CPA (pay per conversion). Some vendors offer you a choice, for example Google Remarketing offers both CPC and CPM, and Retargeter’s fixed monthly fee covers CPM, but clients can choose CPC or CPA if they prefer.


Unfortunately, it’s difficult to access CPM and CPC data from vendors for various keywords, so don’t expect to do price comparison – there are too many variables.

CPM and CPC are more common with self-serve tools that provide analytics. Adroll, for example, works on a CPM basis but has chosen to remove all exchange arbitrage, offering a transparent “flat margin” on its inventory. Its value proposition is its claim to be the only service with site-level transparency on click costs.


Advertisers that choose CPA are generally more interested in ROI than data analysis and control. “Clients know what they can pay, and dictate what (revenue share) rates should be,” says Mediaforge’s Don Robinson. “Rev share works itself out. They’ll quickly realize if a commission is too little or too much (too few impressions/reach or a loss of profitability.)”

The risk with the CPA model is paying for “view through” conversions, taking credit for sales that may have happened anyway. Attribution is a challenge with online marketing in general, but retargeting carries its own attribution challenges within itself. Make sure you fully understand what you’re paying for in addition to conversions.

Keep in mind the higher priced offerings often include value add services like 24/7 support, creative services and advanced features. Knowing what your target ROI is is helpful when exploring CPA vendors, as you can evaluate other features apart from spend, all things equal.

Features and Functionality

The most important part of choosing a vendor is ensuring it can deliver on what you need the solution to do. Consider:

Reach / Inventory

The biggest downside to Google Remarketing is its limited to its own publisher inventory. If you want your ads to appear on Facebook, for example, look to another vendor, they all have access to a much wider network of sites and app publishers.

Dynamic personalization

It’s no mystery that the more tightly targeted an ad is to consumer intent, the better it converts. The ability to dynamically insert actual products the visitor viewed on your site, (or searched for, in the case of search retargeting) is extremely powerful, but is not possible with Google Remarketing. Most other vendors have some form of personalization capability.

Chango has the exclusive feature of dynamic keyword insertion into your display ad. So the same unit for yoga pants could include the keywords “yoga pants,” “pants for yoga” or “Lululemon pants.”

Creative / Branding

Display ads can feel “template-y,” as they need to accommodate a wide range of products. Consider how important branding is to your company, and how you want to merchandise your ad units. Adroll’s LiquidAds, for example, uses a green-screen that can detect product colors and blend them into the ad unit to avoid the “shopping widget” look.

Also consider the IT requirements of sending your product feed to your vendor. Adroll’s Rollcrawl is an IT-free feature that crawls your site and pulls data into its own feed, rather than from your submitted XML file.


Know exactly who and how you want to target, with your full segmentation “wish list” and ask vendors how they could handle your scenarios. You may not find a fit-all solution, but you won’t find yourself with your hands tied down the road if you’ve explored all possibilities up front. Consider demographics, geography, purchase patterns, etc.

For example, Karmaloop (with Mediaforge) used gender-specific messaging based on which product categories were viewed on-site. Overall click through rate increased by 24% and revenue by 35% for gender-specific ads compared to gender-neutral.

Some vendors have access to demographic and behavioral information gathered on various websites that is sold to networks (evil, I know). This can help you further target visitors beyond information you can collect on your own site.


Make sure your vendor supports A/B testing and analytics if that’s part of your strategy. Adroll also offers “incrementality testing” which, like the Karmaloop case above, measures the effectiveness of a targeted ad against non-targeted ads.


Understand how your vendor handles the attribution nightmare. Some have partnered with services like TagMan that track pixel/cookies across your marketing channels to provide visibility into multi-touch conversions, which is helpful.

Unlike analytics and optimization testing, there’s no free tool to kick the tires on when it comes to remarketing / retargeting. Having a solid understanding of what you want retargeting to do for you makes vendor selection a lot easier.