Your website doesn’t exist just to get views. But the vast majority of people who visit your website leave without doing anything more than looking at your page. On average, about 98% of website visitors leave without converting.

Some of them might come back on their own. But most of them are gone for good—unless you leave with them. Retargeting is an advertising technique that lets you advertise to past website visitors, after they’ve left your website.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Someone looks at a bestselling product on your website.
  2. They leave without buying anything.
  3. They visit other sites, where they see an ad for the product they saw on your site.

If a person physically followed you out of a store to tell you more about their products, it’d be super creepy. But retargeting is subtle enough that it feels more coincidental—like when you see a commercial for a car and then start noticing more of that particular model on the road.

People are constantly bombarded with ads they have no interest in. And nobody likes that. Retargeting allows you to create more relevant ads, which is better for you and the people who see them.

Even with an amazing website and an incredible product or service, most people aren’t ready to pull the trigger after their first encounter with your brand. Retargeting ensures that their first encounter won’t also be the last, allowing you to:

  • Grow an email list
  • Increase traffic to your website
  • Sell more of your product
  • Secure more free trials, demos, or sales calls
  • Get more users for your software or app

Savvy digital advertisers know that the biggest return on investment comes from the most relevant audience. Retargeting is one of the best ways for advertisers to focus their efforts on the right people. If your audience has already engaged with your website, it’s usually easier to invite them back than to win the interest of a brand new group of people.

What are the main retargeting platforms?

Obviously, for retargeting to work, your ads have to be where people actually are. The Google Display Network lets your ads retarget people across more than two million websites, reaching 90% of people on the Internet. It can also tap into mobile apps.

There are also over one billion people on Facebook, which makes Facebook’s retargeting pixel another potent tool.

These two companies are advertising giants, but other platforms offer a wealth of inventory as well. AdRoll boasts that the locations they advertise are the cream of the crop, so you get the most from your ad spend.

Each platform gives you different data points to work with and unique ways to segment your audiences. But the underlying principle is the same: people leave your website, and your ads leave with them.

So how does it work? Let’s look at some real examples of companies that used retargeting to pull off big wins. (Spoiler alert: One of them is us.)

1. Myfix Cycles: Earned $15 for every $1 spent

Industry: Bike retailer
Advertising platform: Facebook ads
What they did:

  • Generated a 1,529% ROI on their ad spend.
  • Achieved a 6.38% click through rate on ads.

How they did it:

  • Retargeted three groups:
    • People who visited the website in the last 14 days.
    • People who added a product to their cart in the last 14 days.
    • People who made a purchase in the last 180 days.

Where the study came from: Webrunner Media Group published this case study on their blog in 2017. Myfix Cycles was one of their clients.

Webrunner was using AdWords to drive new traffic to Myfix Cycles’ website. After 30 days, they were barely breaking even. Instead of using AdWords to retarget these same people, they decided to combine their efforts on Google with a retargeting campaign on Facebook.

So Google Display Ads sent new people to MyfixCycles.com, and then when people left the site without converting, they saw new ads on Facebook. Webrunner used three main ad sets to isolate people at different parts of the sales funnel:

  • People who recently visited the website.
  • People who recently added an item to their cart.
  • People who made a purchase a while ago.
creating a Facebook audience

Image source: Webrunner Media

Webrunner set the event source to “purchase,” which told Facebook to optimize the ads for transactions, as opposed to clicks, impressions, signups, or another metric. And since Myfix Cycles only ships to Canada, they excluded anyone outside of Canada.

Unless your website gets a ton of traffic, retargeting is going to leave you with a pretty small audience. Keep in mind though, you can show the same ad to the same people several times before you start seeing diminishing returns. In this case, Webrunner found that most people purchased after seeing the ad between five and seven times.

From their results, I’m guessing Myfix Cycles had a pretty small advertising budget to work with. For just shy of $200, they generated a little over $3,000 in revenue. That’s a huge return on investment—$15 earned for every $1 spent. And it’s a good reminder that you don’t need a massive budget to make retargeted marketing worthwhile.

results of Webrunner's Facebook ad

Image source: Webrunner Media

It’s also worth noting that Myfix Cycles’ main products (bikes) cost over $300. The case study doesn’t show how large the retargeted audience was, but it’s possible that they had less than 10 transactions, which makes it hard to say if these results are scaleable.

2. Watchfinder: 1,300% ROI on ad spend

Industry: Luxury watches
Advertising platform: Google Display Ads
What they did:

  • Increased average order value by 13%.
  • Decreased cost per acquisition by 34%.
  • Saw a 1,300% ROI.

How they did it:

  • Retargeted 20 groups of people who “demonstrated intent to purchase.”

Where the study came from: This case study appeared on Think With Google in 2014.

Less than 1% of visitors to Watchfinder’s website make a purchase on their first visit. That’s terrible, but it also may not come as a surprise—the average online order is over £3,500. With such a steep price tag, people needed more time to decide to make a purchase.

Watchfinder enlisted their marketing agency, Periscopix, to bring back the 99% of people who didn’t purchase. Periscopix created 20 separate audiences based on “user context such as location, language and what stage of the purchase funnel they were in. On-site behavior helped identify groups that had spent a certain amount of time on the site or had viewed a certain number of pages. Other lists were based on users who had viewed a specific watch brand on the site.”

So depending on what someone viewed and where they viewed it from, someone might see an ad like this:

ads for watches

Image source: Think With Google

As Periscopix learned more about which ads in which locations were performing the best, they created new segments and even more targeted ads.

The closer someone was to making a purchase on their initial visit, the more effective retargeting efforts are going to be. Periscopix found that the highest converting audience was people who spent 10 minutes or more on Watchfinder’s site without making a purchase.

After six months, Watchfinder saw a 1,300% ROI, a 13% increase in the average order value, and a 34% decrease in cost per acquisition.

3. Lumension: Increased homepage views by 835%

Industry: Endpoint security software
Advertising platform: N/A
What they did:

  • Increased homepage views by 835%, despite a 30% cut to their marketing budget.
  • Increased total website traffic by 10%.
  • Increased unique visitor traffic by 8%.

How they did it:

  • Retargeted five main groups:
    • Existing customers.
    • People who were inactive or opted out of email campaigns.
    • People from the same organization as existing leads.
    • People who visited the Lumension booth at a conference.

Where the study came from: Marketing Sherpa interviewed Lumension’s senior vice president of marketing and published this case study in 2014.

Lumension wanted to be leaner, so they cut the marketing budget by 30%. Now under pressure, the marketing team set out to “maintain (or even increase) Lumension’s digital footprint while decreasing financial investment.”

To do that, they turned to a channel they’d been playing with for a couple years: retargeted display advertising.

Despite the cut to the marketing budget, Lumension continued pouring money into its awareness campaigns as well. They couldn’t definitively say that their awareness efforts were generating sales, but there appeared to be a strong relationship between the two.

“The team discovered its branded search heavily correlated with Lumension’s awareness investment,” Marketing Sherpa says. “They also realized Lumension’s website traffic increased during periods of increased awareness spending.”

So the plan was to combine their awareness efforts with retargeting. Retargeting would increase the benefit of the awareness campaign by converting more of those visitors, and the awareness campaign would increase the audience size for the retargeting campaign.

Lumension is a B2B SAAS product. They knew that not everyone who visited their page and was interested in their product had the power to pull the trigger and make a purchase by themselves. There were four or five decision makers who might all be researching endpoint security software.

So they started using retargeting to show ads to other people at the same organizations as leads they’d already captured. Specifically, other people who were doing similar research. If someone started a free trial of Lumension or downloaded a free resource, their colleagues who were also checking out endpoint security related topics would start seeing ads like this:

a really bad ad for Lumension

Image source: Marketing Sherpa

That’s a terrible ad. But the fascinating thing about retargeting is even terrible ads can perform well if the audience is relevant enough. And this was some pretty advanced stuff. Marketing Sherpa didn’t specify how Lumension pulled off this level of targeting, but it probably involved leveraging some pretty advanced data.

Lumension also took advantage of offline events to create a conference-oriented retargeting audience. They had a booth at an IT conference, and they used roadblock ads on sites that were promoting the conference. At the Lumension booth, they collected contact information. People who visited the booth and showed up at the roadblock pages saw a unique set of ads.

That’s another pretty elaborate retargeting strategy, but Lumension utilized a more basic method as well. When people visited their trial page without starting a trial, they saw an ad like this later:

another bad ad for Lumension

Image source: Marketing Sherpa

Again, it’s a pretty awful ad. It looks like it’s from the 90s, not 2012. Still, it worked. Marketing Sherpa doesn’t share how Lumension’s retargeted advertising impacted trials or sales, but they saw an 865% increase in total website traffic. Clearly, people were both clicking these ads and remembering the brand that made them.

4. Bebê Store: Increased ad conversions by 89%

Industry: children’s products
Advertising platform: Google Display Ads
What they did:

  • Increased ad conversions by 89% over a two month period.
  • Had more than 500 million impressions in six months.

How they did it:

  • Used Google’s dynamic remarketing and target CPA bidding (formerly known as conversion optimizer).
  • Segmented audience based on average order price.

Where the study came from: Think With Google published this case study in 2014.

You’ve probably never heard of Bebê Store before, but in Brazil, they’re a big deal. They have more than 30,000 baby-related products. And in six months, they had more than 500 million impressions through the Google Display Network.

With so many products, it’d be impossible to manually create relevant ads for every person. So Bebê Store employed Google’s dynamic remarketing, which showed website visitors custom ads based on which of the 30,000+ products they visited.

They coupled these custom ads with Google’s target CPA bidding to optimize the ads for conversions. Think With Google says this optimization tool “uses sophisticated machine learning to predict the estimated value of every impression—for every campaign, creative and advertiser—and sets smart bids in real time. It efficiently invests Bebê Store’s spend when and where users are likely to respond. This real-time bidding helps Bebê Store increase conversions by reaching potential customers at the right moment—when they’re primed to buy.”

The results? Showing custom ads to people who had already visited the website increased conversions by 89% over a two month period. Not too shabby.

5. Jesus Film Project: 24 cent cost per lead with 12K leads

Industry: Christian media
Advertising platform: Facebook
What they did:

  • Acquired 12,000+ email addresses through Facebook ads.
  • Achieved an average CPL of $0.24.

How they did it:

  • Targeted five separate audiences.
  • Created a broadly appealing offer that directly related to the email list.
  • Switched from static ads to carousel ads.
  • Optimized the landing page.

Where the study came from: This one comes from right here at Overthink Group. JFP is one of our clients, and Tyrel Tjoelker helped them secure a ridiculously low CPL, then published this case study at the end of 2017.

Jesus Film Project enlisted our help to grow an email list and build a more diverse audience. They wanted more people, and they wanted younger people. The email list is focused around their mission—Christian discipleship—so to make our offer as effective as possible, we created a new resource with broad appeal to people who would be interested in discipleship (you can see the landing page here).

Tyrel created five separate audiences in Facebook, and here’s where things get interesting. Only one of these audiences retargeted people from the website—and it performed the worst:

table showing how each Facebook audience performed

Image source: Overthink Group

Don’t get me wrong: 40 cents per lead is still amazing. Those 12,000 email addresses would cost you less than $5K.

Here’s what Tyrel had to say about his findings:

“People are really excited about retargeting, and for good reason: it’s one of the most powerful targeting mechanisms you have at your disposal. But as our results showed in this campaign, it’s not a magic bullet. Just because you can (and should) include retargeting in your advertising plan, doesn’t mean it’ll be the top performer. It’s still worth it to continually test other targeting methods.”

So what made this campaign so successful? Tyrel gets into the data, but it comes down to two main factors:

  1. We offered a relevant, broadly-appealing resource.
  2. We offered it to the right people.

At the moment, this ad campaign is still running and bringing in new leads.

6. American Patriot Getaways: Reduced CPA by 33%

Industry: Hospitality
Advertising platform: AdRoll
What they did:

  • Reduced CPA by 33%.
  • Achieved an ROI over 100%.

How they did it:

  • Switched from retargeting with Google Adwords to using AdRoll.

Where the study came from: AdRoll published this case study on their website.

American Patriot Giveaways lets people book cabins in the mountains. They’d tried using Google’s retargeting platform, but it wasn’t producing the results they needed, so they switched to AdRoll.

“Before AdRoll we were using Google retargeting, and while we definitely got impressions, we didn’t get many conversions,” says IT director Adam Montgomery.

AdRoll blended “prospective advertising” with retargeted ads to simultaneously build brand awareness and increase conversions. Like we saw with Lumension, the two-pronged approach produced the results they were looking for.

American Patriot Giveaways reduced their cost per acquisition from $15 to under $10, and they achieved an ROI of more than 100X.

7. WordStream: 300% increase in average visit duration

Industry: digital advertising software
Advertising platform: Google Display Ads
What they did:

  • Increased conversions on forms by 51%.
  • Increased returning visitors by 65%.
  • Increased average visit duration by 300%.
  • Significantly increased direct traffic.

How they did it:

  • Retargeted three groups of people who visited:
    • The homepage.
    • The blog.
    • A free resource.

Where the study came from: WordStream founder Larry Kim published this case study on Moz’s blog in 2013.

In 2012, WordStream had an interesting problem: hundreds of thousands of people visited their site every month, but almost no one knew who they were. WordStream was seeing massive growth in organic traffic, but almost 80% of their visitors were brand new every month.

pie chart showing new vs. returning audience

Image source: Moz

And with a signup conversion rate under 2%, most of those people were never coming back. A 2% conversion rate is perfectly ordinary, but WordStream founder Larry King was far from satisfied.

“I don’t care how great you are at getting eyes on your content,” King says. “If you’re not converting, it’s worthless.”

In his mind, all the effort they’d put into SEO was being wasted. Beyond the distribution of new and returning visitors, branded search was another clear signal to King.

“I wouldn’t want to see all branded search; it means your SEO sucks if you’re only appearing in front of people who are already looking for your business by name,” he says. “My site was the exact opposite. We were driving hundreds of thousands of visits per month via SEO and only 3% of that came from branded search. What does that mean? It meant our SEO had gotten too far ahead of the brand.”

People weren’t staying on the site, converting so they could come back, or searching for the brand again later. So WordStream decided to use retargeting to increase conversions and brand recognition.

They targeted three main groups of people:

  1. People who visited the WordStream blog.
  2. People who visited the homepage.
  3. People who visited a free tool.

They determined that blog visitors had the lowest intent, and people who visited the free tool but didn’t convert were the most valuable targets—so they bid accordingly. They continued showing ads to these people for 30-60 days, but King advises against following his model there (that’s a long time to keep showing someone an ad—it makes ad fatigue a real danger). The longer it’s been since someone visited your page, the less likely they are to convert. And after a point, continuing to show people ads becomes expensive and ineffective.

So did retargeting people with ads lead to greater brand recognition and conversions? Here’s what WordStream’s direct traffic looked like:

graph showing sharp increase in direct traffic

Image source: Moz

Whether they bookmarked the site or simply entered in the URL, far more people started going to the website directly. And as for their returning visitors? The percentage of people who came back every month increased from about 20% to about 33%. That’s a 65% increase in returning visitors.

Oh, and now when people go to WordStream, they spend way more time on the site. Before they started retargeting people, the average time on page was 1:33. Look what happened:

graph showing increase in conversion rate over time

Image source: Moz

Since WordStream gets hundreds of thousands of organic visits every month, they spend a lot more advertising dollars on remarketing to those visitors than they do on getting visitors. Every month, they pay for almost 44 million retargeting impressions. Let that sink in.

screenshot from Facebook showing almost 44 million impressions

Image source: Moz

I really, really wish Larry King didn’t blur out all those other data points. But clearly, remarketing is helping WordStream adjust the ratio of new and returning visitors, which helps them keep reaching more of the right people.

Honorable mention: 200% increase in signups

Company: Yatango
Industry: Telecommunications
Advertising platform: AdRoll
What they did:

  • ROI was 590% higher in one month.
  • Achieved a 33% lower CPA than their goal.
  • Saw a 200% increase in signups.

How they did it:

  • Segmented audience based on product/category pages they viewed.
  • Executed campaigns across multiple display networks.

Where the study came from: AdNews published this AdRoll case study in 2014.

Yatango had a limited advertising budget, but they teamed up with AdRoll to deliver dynamic retargeted ads to website visitors. They segmented based on the product and category pages people viewed.

“Individuals who have already been to your website are showing fairly high intent to buy,” says Mark Taylor, Yatango’s head of marketing. “By retargeting them with ads specific to their interests, you are more likely to gain them as a customer and are even able to nurture your ongoing relationship with them after they purchase.”

As an example, “By specifically targeting audience segments ready to buy pre-paid data-only mobile packages, Yatango saw a 200% uplift in sign-ups.”

In a single month, they also saw their overall ROI increase 590% and achieved a 33% lower CPA on Facebook than their goal.

Honorable mention: 2,000 conversions per month

Company: The 5TH
Industry: Luxury watches
Advertising platform: AdRoll
What they did:

  • Achieved $1.66 CPA.
  • Saw a 1050% ROI.
  • Gets 2,000 conversions per month.

How they did it:

  • Retargeted people who had already made a purchase and people who spent time viewing a product.

Where the study came from: AdNews published this AdRoll case study in 2015.

Imagine that your product is only available for five days every month. On one hand, it could create anticipation and drastically increase demand on those five days. On the other, people may just forget about you altogether or turn to a competitor so they don’t have to wait.

This is the exact scenario The 5TH Watches built their brand around. On the fifth of every month, they run a five day sale of luxury watches. It’s a bizarre model, but it’s their thing. And it means that it’s really important for them to cultivate and maintain an audience.

Director and founder Alex McBride says, “Keeping front of mind with customers is essential to our business.The 5TH’s unique model means that customers have up to 26 days of the month without any engagement. We partnered with AdRoll to ensure that The 5TH is kept in mind all month long.”

They started sending specific ads to people who:

  • Spent time looking at a particular product on The5TH.co.
  • Previously converted.

That’s about all the details they provide as far as what they did, but the results are pretty good:

“We’ve seen an ROI of 10.5X and see roughly over 2000 conversions per month,” Alex McBride says. “You can’t argue with that.”

Retargeting strengthens your marketing funnel

Whatever it is you ultimately want people to do—buy your product, sign up for your email list, download your app—remarketing helps them take the next step. Lots of people are exposed to the top of your funnel, but that’s also where you see the biggest drop off.

If you don’t have other touch points with people in the top of your funnel, you’re tossing visits in a wishing well. Maybe they’ll come back, maybe they won’t. Retargeting doesn’t work everytime, but it’s worth exploring how it might turn more of these visits into leads, or reinforce other holes in your marketing funnel.

Want to keep learning from the wins of other organizations? We’ve put together more case study roundups like this, so you can see how successful companies and individuals are: