Publishing Finesse: The Art of Re-Targeting


Publishing Finesse: The Art of Re-Targeting

August 17, 2014

It’s happened to most of us: we do a search on Amazon for a book about how lemurs inspired the latest best-selling perfume and then decide that it’s too frivolous of a purchase, so we don’t buy it. But, all of a sudden, we’ve got ads for the book popping up any time we’re online. 

Okay, so maybe the whole lemur part isn’t true, but you get the point. You’ve definitively decided not to purchase something, yet you feel slightly harassed and partly annoyed by the ads for that product (or something too similar) that keep surfacing in front of you. It almost seems desperate doesn’t it? “Please, reconsider this fabulous book on lemurs, we only have 500,000 left in stock!” (Plus, if you bought the book, you'd know that this is a photo of meerkats, not lemurs).

Do you ever wonder how many people actually act on those ads? 


We run into this every day, this effort to hold onto a declining revenue model. The thing is, there’s a sound idea behind it: targeted ads (and other targeted content).  But, these responses to our online behavior aren’t targeted enough. They’ve likely gotten one part of the puzzle, but not the rest, or even a few more of the pieces.  

It’s important to keep this in mind when we think about targeting. We are seeing numbers that show which tactics work and focusing on those tactics can really help us to avoid coming across as a desperate, stalker type. We’d rather be of service and convey that to our audience and potential customers.

But the instance described above is likely an attempt at something that can work, if executed properly: re-targeting. 


Re-targeting is also called remarketing and it is basically the deliberate act of showing related ads to potential customers who have searched for or viewed a product, but not yet made a purchase. To be successful with re-targeting, you must have two critical components in place:

  1. You have to be able to track a person’s behavior, in relation to your product (the most common way of doing this is through cookies—we’re not talking chocolate chip, here).
  2. You must know what product they decided not to buy and avoid serving up an ad for the same thing. As we already talked about, that’s a total turn-off and a good way to push potential customers away.

What kind of information makes (or doesn’t make) for successful re-targeting?

  • Demographics. We might sound like a broken record, but if you know your audience—and what they want, need or have an interest in—your chances of re-targeting effectively expand exponentially. So, look at the trends in your whole audience to see where they go from one ad to the next or one piece of content to the next. It will help you give context to what you serve them the next time around.
  • The Buying Cycle. How much time do your customers spend researching a product before buying? Looking at this helps you to segment your audience and glean the likelihood of them following through with a purchase. The length of time they spend researching especially indicates how susceptible they are to re-targeting efforts. If they are operating in a short timeframe, it may not be worth your while.
  • Nothing Too Specific. Respect reader privacy. Yes, that’s a loaded statement. There is a fine-line, we know, in all of this: how much information is our audience comfortable with us knowing about them? If we get too specific about how we target them, the trust we’ve worked so hard to develop begins to erode. That’s why segmentation is important. We can categorize readers based on a set of behaviors and preferences and serve them content and ads that fit the category. That way we’re less likely to make them feel like they are watched a little too closely and more likely to provide them useful information.

So, if you are considering a re-targeting campaign, keep these basic rules in mind. Also, make it easy for readers to respond—give them a clear call to action and take them to a specific product page. They might just buy a video about lemurs instead . . .