What Is Retargeting in Google Ads and How Does It Work?

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You’ve probably experienced the eerie feeling of a product following you across the internet. Maybe you once browsed for new hiking boots for a summer camping trip, put your favorite pair in the cart, but got distracted and exited the browser.

The next time you opened your Gmail or read an article on your local paper’s website, there were those same boots, staring back at you. If this reminder prompted you to go back and make the purchase, the retargeting campaign worked.

As a small business owner, Google ads can help keep your offerings top of mind for undecided customers. Here’s more on retargeting and how to set up an effective campaign.

What is retargeting?

Google Ads retargeting, or Google Ads remarketing, is when you specifically target potential customers who’ve visited your website but didn’t make a purchase. Remarketing campaigns can be an effective way for online advertisers to re-engage qualified leads or people who have taken an interest in your company or products.

3 advantages of Google Ads retargeting

Running remarketing campaigns with Google Ads can be an effective way to draw in qualified leads and save on ad spend. Here are three of the main advantages of Google Ads retargeting:

1. Re-engage people who’ve shown interest in your business

Previous site visitors make better-qualified leads than those who’ve never heard of your brand, because they’ve already shown interest in offerings by visiting your website. These past visitors are possibly considering making a purchase and seeing a remarketing ad might be the motivation they need.

2. Reach remarketing audiences across the internet

One of the benefits of running retargeting campaigns with Google Ads is the company’s broad reach. While a Facebook retargeting campaign may be visible to potential customers on social media, Google Ads appear across Google properties—including Google search, Gmail, and YouTube—and the Google Display Network, which reaches more than 90% of internet users worldwide.

3. Spend less on Google Ads

Google Ads retargeting is a cost-effective online marketing strategy. Because remarketing narrows your target audience to potential customers who’ve already shown interest in your offerings, remarketing ads tend to cost less per click than other Google Ads. Retargeting Google search averages $1.23 per click, while a typical Google search ad costs $2.69 per click.

How to set up a Google remarketing campaign

  1. Create a Google Ads account
  2. Add the Google Ads tag to your website
  3. Create a remarketing list
  4. Set up a retargeting campaign

Creating your first remarketing campaign with Google Ads requires a couple of extra steps on the front end. Follow these steps to quickly reach your remarketing audience:

1. Create a Google Ads account

Before you can start creating remarketing lists of previous site visitors—or even running standard Google ads—you need to create a Google Ads account. You can sign up on the Google Ads site by clicking “Start now.” Then, enter your business name, website, and Gmail address.

2. Add the Google Ads tag to your website

To begin collecting audience data, you need to add Google’s remarketing tag to your site. The Google Ads tag is the code that lets you track website visitors. Add it to every page for which you wish to collect data. Optionally, you can also include an event snippet, allowing you to further monitor user actions, such as when they add a product to their cart.

Set up your tag and event snippet in your Google Ads account by navigating through Tools to Audience Manager, located under Shared Library. Next, click Audience Sources. Find the Google Ads Tag card, hit Detail, then “Set up tag.”

Once you’ve created your Google Ads tag, access the Google tag manager and copy the code. Paste it between the header tags on your web pages.

3. Create a remarketing list

Next, create a remarketing list with your Google Ads account. Go to your Audience Manager and view the remarketing lists tab in the audience lists section. Then create a list based on website users, mobile app users, customer emails, and YouTube users. For the purpose of this article, the focus is on the most common type of remarketing list: website users.

After selecting website users, name your list and choose parameters for which past visitors are included. You can choose only people who’ve visited a particular page(s) or taken a particular action(s). Then, choose a membership duration—the number of days a potential customer remains on your retargeting list after taking the specified action.

4. Set up a retargeting campaign

Once you’ve added Google Ads tags to your site and created a remarketing list, setting up remarketing campaigns and remarketing ads is no different from creating standard Google ads, whether they’re Google Search ads or display ads on the Google Display Network.

In your Google Ads account, navigate through campaigns to click “New campaign” and choose your desired ad type. You’re then prompted to define your target audience. This is where you select your remarketing list. From there, finish setting up retargeting ads just as you would for any other Google ad.

How to integrate Shopify and Google tag for Google Ads

  1. Get Google Ads tag
  2. Open code in Shopify
  3. Check for existing Google tracking
  4. Paste code in the header
  5. Save your work

To add your Google Ads tag  to your Shopify site, follow these step-by-step instructions (or, if you’re uncomfortable editing code, you can always hire a Shopify expert):

  1. Get Google Ads tag. Go to the Google tag manager in your Google Ads account and copy your code.
  2. Open code in Shopify. In a new browser, open your Shopify account. In Shopify, navigate to “online store.” Then, click “edit code” under “actions.” From there, open your {/}theme.liquid file under “layout.”
  3. Check for existing Google tracking. If you’re using the Google & YouTube app for Shopify, you may already have Google tracking in your website code. If you see any ga.js, gtag.js analytics.js files, replace them with your new code, as duplicated tracking events can create inaccurate reporting.
  4. Paste the code in the header. Find your <head> and </head> tags and place your copied Google Ads tag code between them.
  5. Save your work. Once your code is in place, hit Save to finish.

Retargeting strategies for ecommerce businesses

While targeting previous site visitors using a Google Ads tag is the most commonly used remarketing strategy, you can also provide Google Ads with an email list to target a custom audience. Here are a couple of different approaches for each method:

Targeting past website visitors

Retargeting campaigns almost always involve reaching out to past visitors, but your campaign’s focus can get much more specific based on user actions. Here are a few strategies worth considering:

  • Target past visitors who abandoned their shopping carts.
  • Target past visitors who viewed specific products or pages on your website.
  • Target customers who didn’t view specific pages on your website that you think may convince them to make a purchase.

Targeting a custom audience list

A lesser-used remarketing strategy requires your business to already have email addresses for the potential customers you’d like to reach. Here are a few strategies for creating an effective custom audience list:

  • Use Shopify Audiences to find your best customers based on demographics, interests, or behaviors.
  • Target potential customers who’ve entered their email to receive a first-time discount code but haven’t yet made a purchase.
  • Target past customers who haven’t made a purchase in a while.

How to measure the success of your retargeting campaign

Google Analytics makes it easy to measure the success of your retargeting campaigns. You can use event snippets to track conversions, which let you measure the ROI (return on investment) of your remarketing ads. As you collect this data, adjust your targeting and ad creatives to gauge what improves performance. Use this knowledge to optimize your ads.

Google Ads retargeting FAQ

How much does retargeting cost?

Remarketing ad costs tend to be a little lower than Google’s typical targeted ads. Retargeting display ads go for an average of 66¢ per click, and retargeting search ads cost about $1.23 per click.

What is a common challenge businesses face with Google Ads retargeting?

One of the most challenging aspects of running retargeting ads is figuring out the best way to convince previous site visitors to make a purchase.

How can I target specific audiences with Google Ads retargeting?

Google Ads retargeting is about reaching a specific audience—previous site visitors. You can achieve more granular targeting by only including past visitors who’ve taken specific actions on your site. You can also filter your remarketing list based on demographic information, such as age, gender, and location.

Are there any limitations to Google Ads retargeting?

One notable limit of Google Ads retargeting is that you only reach people who’ve already visited your site. While this narrowing can effectively draw past visitors in, it can overlook potential customers who’ve never heard of your business.