Stop it with the aggressive remarketing campaigns!

Remarketing is that annoying thing everyone experiences on the web, where the products and services they browse start haunting them around the internet. This stalking happens through related adverts suddenly being offered upon most distraction-economy based websites, which is pretty much all of them.

Remarketing works by letting advertisers track which pages customers go to on online merchant or service provider websites. If the customer doesn’t buy anything, the advertiser can pay a hefty premium to “retarget” that lost a customer with advertisements for the service or even the exact product(s) that the customer browsed on the merchant’s website.

Online shoppers know these advertisements best from that somewhat uneasy feeling you get as if someone is looking over your shoulder and suddenly ad banners for the websites you just visited start popping up all over the web.

It’s sometimes fairly obvious when it’s going on and people don’t quite know what to make of it. I believe that these moments where people realize that this is happening are responsible for creating much of the resentment — in parts of the internet inhabitants — towards the advertisement industry in recent years.

I don’t know the success rate of these remarketing campaigns, but as everyone seems to be using the technique it must have a very high return on investment! I do believe I’m correct in asserting that far too many advertisers are overly aggressive with how soon they start their remarketing campaigns after a customer leaves the website. I also believe they keep running them for far too long!

I switched web hosting provider from DigitalOcean to Linode some two months ago. Linode is still ‘targeting’ me with advertisement banners today, enticing me into buying their hosting services. It’s been two months! They should either have realized that I’ve bought their services already and I’m now a paying customer, or at least have given up on the remarketing campaign as its been almost ten weeks!

I also keep running into aggressive advertisers who are so eager to “get me back” that I haven’t even left their site before they start the remarketing campaign. Say you’ve placed one or two items in your virtual shopping basket, and then quickly take a detour to a news article in a secondary tab. Damned near every time you’ll see those very two products from your basket parading and dancing around in half the advertisement spots around the article.

This type of remarketing is often done entirely indiscriminately of the value of the products you’re about to buy. If the customer is considering buying two 40 cent egg cups and a paper clip, it can’t possibly be worth it to run a remarketing campaign. Yet, large vendors ranging from Amazon to Deal Extreme all seem to be running remarketing campaigns indiscriminately of the potential revenue from closing the sale.

I believe advertisers are making fairly consistent mistakes with their remarketing campaigns in these three areas:

  1. Remarketing campaigns are too aggressive. Advertisers should wait at least an hour or maybe more before starting the campaign. Running ads while your store is still open in a background tab can’t possibly be profitable, and it stresses out customers.

  2. Remarketing campaigns last too long – Take a break! If I haven’t bought the product yet, then please give me a break from your remarketing attempts. Surprise me again in a few hours or maybe even a week! Seeing your product everywhere all the time for months at a time is exhausting and frankly a bit creepy.

  3. Only run remarketing campaigns for products of a certain value. “Yes, I did look at that paper clip. No, I’m not going to buy it and you’re losing all respect as a business for burning through your advertisement budget trying to convince me to buy a mostly worthless paper clip.” There’s no way you can recuperate your advertising expense even if I bought ten of these.

If your advertising network doesn’t provide you with the tools required to control your campaign to this degree, you should probably start looking for a different network for future marketing campaigns.

From my admittedly limited exploration of remarketing, all the controls required to take action on my three points above are already in the hands of advertisers. They just haven’t implemented them correctly.

For example, by implementing remarketing tracking correctly, advertisers might omit products with a very low-value from appearing in remarketing campaigns, and can choose to give up sooner for low value items than for high-value items.

Let me bring up my first example with Linode. Linode currently runs remarketing based on visits to their websites as tracked through Google Analytics and Tag Manager. The journeys of potential customers are tracked through the website and until the completion of the sign-up and payment forms.

At the end of a new customer registration, Tag Manager gets a signal saying the customer has successfully purchased the service. Now at this point, any remarketing campaign could be called off as the visitor has now already bought the product. If a visitor leaves before signing up and paying, a remarketing campaign might be initiated to try to get them back.

Nice in theory, but difficult in practice. Say I visited Linode’s website from more than one browser. There would be more signals to target me for remarketing than signals to call off the marketing stampede.

As a customer, I now regularly visit Linode’s website and click the ‘Login‘ link to get to the customer portal and manage my servers. There’s a problem with that? Well, the login page is considered sacred grounds and doesn’t contain any analytics or advertisement tracking. This is an attempt to limit any potential security risks from including third-party scripting on the page.

This results in a reinforcement loop where I keep coming back to the Linode website from different PCs. Howeever, I’ never seen to purchase any products! I choose to believe that my logging into my customer account can be counted as a sure sign that I’m already a paying customer.

They could technically even go through my account after I’ve logged in, verifying that I’ve indeed got paid services there, and then signaled to stop their remarketing efforts. Alas, I’m forever cursed to see advertisements for $10 virtual private servers.

Discovering every place that should be allowed to signal that the campaign can be stopped is difficult. Because I’m crazy and find this stuff interesting, I’ve found at least two local web stores that don’t signal to stop product remarketing campaigns — if you pay with PayPal instead of directly on their website as you end up on a slightly different landing page.

Likewise, I’ve found a store that doesn’t call off remarketing campaigns when you choose to pick up goods in one of their retail locations instead of having it delivered. Effective remarketing requires a lot more attention to details, than most advertisers seem willing to invest in the process.

From my safe view of remarketing from the customer perspective, the web at large seems to allow far more remarketing campaigns than is called for.

I hope this article may help inspire advertisers to have their web staff look over their remarketing implementations more carefully, at least to try to stop bleeding their advertisement budget unnecessarily. This should in turn help their customers stay sane as they journey across the modern advertisement-funded web-landscape.