Retargeting: Cool or Creepy?

Author Nina Grewal 7 min read time

Are you ever scrolling through Instagram or browsing Google when an ad pops up – marketing the same or a similar product/service you were looking at on a site?

You’ve just been retargeted!

‘Listen I was talking about laser hair removal today…tell me why I now see ads for laser discounts all over my Instagram?!’

Contrary to popular belief – no, your Siri or digital assistant is not listening in on your conversations and attempting to stalk you all over the internet and on your apps.

Or, so they say.

Retargeting is when ads for a product or service are displayed to searchers who have browsed a site. It enables a business to increase visibility on their services or products and act as a reminder: you left the site before buying something or entering details!

Retargeting is utilized on a wide variety of advertising platforms, however I will be focusing on retargeting (or, remarketing as Google likes to call it) on Google Ads.


Google Ads has a variety of different ways to remarket, and here are a few examples:

Standard remarketing: these ads are displayed to searchers who have visited your site via the Google Display Network, i.e. your ads will show when users are browsing any Google Partner sites

Dynamic remarketing:  these ads are all about specificity and matching consumer interest – the dynamic remarketing ads shown to searchers across the Display Network will contain products or services that they have engaged with on your website

Remarketing lists for search ads: this method of remarketing is for search ads only and is often abbreviated to RLSA. Your ads will be shown to users who have left your website but are still typing in related search terms into Google search. For example, if you are advertising for a specific makeup brand, you can create a RLSA containing generic keywords such as ‘makeup’ or ‘blush’, so that your ads are displayed when a visitor has left the site and types these in – it is essentially a reminder

Customer list remarketing: Google has a feature called Customer Match, where you are able to enter in the contact details users have supplied to you through the forms they have filled on your site. This method is only achievable by meeting certain criteria, and can be seen as slightly more controversial than other methods, as you are directly utilising user data.

There is no right or wrong method, it depends on the product or service you are advertising for. When starting a remarketing campaign, it is expected that ads will start out as more generic, it is simpler to begin with targeting all users who have been on your website/used your mobile app/engaged with your YouTube channel etc.

This is where increasing audience specificity is key: with a RLSA for example, by creating and importing user audiences from Google Analytics, you can begin to refine your remarketing audiences into sub-categories such as all website user ‘converters’ and website user ‘non-converters’ – and then you have the option of controlling the ad content and adapting it to each audience, e.g. including ‘sale’ calls to action in the ad copy for a ‘converters’ audience.

If you add more specificity to your targeting, your audience sizes will decrease as a result, however ad relevancy and click-through rate will generally see an increase, as you are displaying ads for products and services which more in tune to the searcher’s need or interest.


Obviously, we’re here to discuss whether or not remarketing is cool or creepy. Being shown a bunch of ads based on purchase behavior and interests might seem helpful and enticing to some, however there are definitely a few cons to this method of advertising.


Saves money – remarketing is a very profitable way to drive conversions. Though the cost per click varies by industry, remarketing is targeting those who have either already visited your site or are interested in what you are advertising. You are much less likely to be wasting spend on those who have not expressed any interest in your product or service, and this can therefore result in a higher CPA (cost per acquisition).

Increased catchment – remarketing is there to act as a reminder to the consumer – humans are easily distracted, and it is easy for customers to exit your site without generating a conversion. But if your ad pops up while they are browsing different websites, it may encourage them to revisit your site, or even note down the brand name of the specific product or service you are advertising so that they are able to purchase it at a later date.

Increases trust – frequent sightings of a brand or service in ads across the Google Search & Display Network can increase consumer trust in them. It is human nature to associate the prevalence of a brand with trustworthiness and reliability. If a searcher continues to see your product or service advertised, this makes them more likely to browse your site and convert, because there is an element of familiarity there.


Using user data – when creating things like a Customer List for remarketing, some people might get the wrong idea: ‘Excuse me, what are you doing with my data? How do you know I’ve been on your site? Why are your ads following me around like this?!’ The data used for the majority of remarketing campaigns is anonymous, so this con only applies if you are employing a more specific method such as using customer contact information from filled forms

Negative user or customer engagement – high ad frequency can irritate searchers or users who haven’t converted. If they keep seeing ads from the same company popping up across their browsing sessions, this can then have the opposite effect of what you want to achieve – rather than being enticed to buy, they are put off.

An element of persistence – on the flip side, if you target people who ended up buying on your website, this can make the ads less enticing. Someone who has already generated a conversion or multiple conversions may not be inclined to do so again if they feel as though they are being harassed to buy from you again.


Listen – some people may still be convinced that being digitally tracked across the internet is creepy.

That’s fine.

But from an advertiser’s perspective, remarketing WORKS. Data from multiple sources state that only 2% of the people browsing your website will produce conversions – 98% of them make their exit and are still roaming free in the land of Google Search partners, perhaps needing a slight *nudge* in the right direction.

If you strike the balance between consumer needs and/or interests, ad frequency and also testing to see which audiences are most receptive to your ads, you can pave the way to creating a seamless and cost-effective formula to increase brand recognition, up that click-through rate and generate additional conversions!


Nina has spent over two years working on the PPC team, leading campaign and account plan creations and providing general account management for a number of clients, of which include Roche and The Royal Collection Trust. She also has expertise in paid social ads, having run both LinkedIn and Facebook campaigns alongside PPC.