The Data Behind Remarketing

The Data Behind RemarketingDoes it ever feel like ads are following you? Whether its the pair of shoes you were looking at a week ago, or the television you thought about buying, they just seem to keep popping up on your social media and other webpages that seem unrelated. I’m sure you think to yourself that it must be a grand coincidence, but how do the ads seem to know what you want?


You are playing a game on your smart phone and at the bottom of the screen you see a small banner for a big-screen TV – the same one you were looking at online the week before.  “Wow!” you think, “what a coincidence.  Maybe I should get that TV.”

Coincidence?  Probably not.  Remarketing?  Probably.

In the ever-evolving world of advertising and commerce, more and more websites are employing the growing computer technology known as remarketing (or retargeting).  Simply put, remarketing occurs when a user’s search of a website or app for a product or service is tracked and the user is later shown an advertisement for that service on another site or app.  Or, after a purchase is made, the user receives an ad for a product that goes with the one just purchased.  The whole purpose, of course, is to remind the user of the product he was looking for with the goal of getting him to make the purchase and to make it from the particular vendor employing the remarketing strategy.  It is a modern-day, automated method of following up on a lead.

Among the providers of remarketing services is, of course, Google, with its AdWords product.  AdWords can be used by companies who advertise on Google.  ReTargeter is another provider of remarketing software, which can be used on all types of websites, whether they are advertising particular products, a wide variety of products, or services, including places such as hair salons, phone service providers, and schools.  Using a combination of advertising to drive potential customers to a website and remarketing to bring those potential customers back regardless of whether they make a purchase or not optimizes the opportunities to increase sales.

How Does It Work?

The process of remarketing generally involves the use of electronic cookies that collect users’ information and search patterns.  When a visitor searches a website that employs remarketing, the program installs a cookie in the user’s browser that stores information, such as the item that was searched for.   When the user searches the Internet at another time, the retargeting provider – for example, AdWords or ReTargeter – sends the user an ad for a product for which they previously searched with a link to the site that sent the cookie.

As an example, let’s say a potential student searches the pages of ABC College, which uses a remarketing strategy.  When the user clicks onto the ABC College website, a cookie is stored on the user’s computer, which is linked to the remarketing company.  Later, perhaps the next day or a few days later, the user is searching the web again.  While he is browsing, the remarketing company is able to – in a very fast, automated process – bid on space on the site the user is entering.  If it wins the bid, it can send to that page’s ad space an advertisement for ABC College.  This ad then shows up on the potential student’s screen.

Businesses can focus on and track certain products if they want using a service such as AdWords.  They do this by selecting keywords that, when searched for by a user on their site, places a cookie in the user’s browser that will pick up those keywords if the user searches for that same product again.  The cookies can help to keep track of the number of users who search again for that item and compare it to how many make purchases.  Such information can be useful when making plans for marketing because the ads cost money, and as with most marketing plans, businesses want to get the most out of the money put into advertising.

In addition, as with regular marketing campaigns, remarketing providers and those who use remarketing collect data on the effectiveness of the premarketing ads.  By determining which ads are clicked on and which lead to sales, the remarketers can modify or eliminate specific ads.  Depending on the available data, changes may be made based on certain demographics of users.  For example, an ad sent to people living in one geographic region may do better than when it is sent to people in another region.  The remarketer can then adjust the campaign to target people only in the specific region and use something else for other regions.

Is “Premarketing” the Future of Remarketing?

As with most technologies, companies who provide remarketing services are always trying to improve – to become more accurate in their retargeting efforts using the least amount of data.   However, remarketing uses data collected based on users’ past behavior.  The future, some say, lies in premarketing – predicting what consumers want and sending them advertisements for those products and services at the right time.  

Premarketing, an AdvertisingAge article describes, is the use of data that companies can use to predict what consumers may need and send them ads for those products and services before the people search for them.  These data include online purchases, “liking” posts on various social media sites, online address books, services contracted through apps, and even driving routes.  As an example, let’s say a consumer purchases airline tickets to New York City.  Based on this purchase, ads for hotels, theaters, restaurants, and various services, such as Uber, could be sent to the user using the cookie stored on her device when she searches online or uses certain apps.

The technology involved in remarketing and premarketing will continue to be advanced.  Companies that use remarketing and premarketing strategies will need to stay current as to these advances, and companies that do not use remarketing and premarketing may see themselves losing out to companies that do.  Consumer-protection laws and guidelines, such as the ability to opt-out of being targeted for remarketing and premarketing, will also be evolving, so consumers and businesses will have to pay close attention to this changing landscape.