Will Facebook or Google Remarketing (Retargeting) Ads Work for My Startup?

retargeting advertising google and facebook
Latest posts by Mark Spera (see all)

Remarketing ads — also called retargeting ads — are advertisements that target people who previously visited your website or app. They’re the creepy ads that follow you around the internet after you’ve visited a site.

Creepy as they may be, remarketing ads work. After all, remarketing audiences are people who have come to your website and have seen your product offering already! They’re primed for purchase.

Those potential customers — ones who have clicked but haven’t bought —are in the very crucial “consideration” phase of their buying journey.

During the consideration phase, customers want to see what it’s like to work with you or purchase your products. Remarketing ads are one of the tools we have at our disposal to convert the considerers into sales for our businesses.

Remarketing ads are display ads.

But they’re display ads targeting people who have previously visited your site.

Why do remarketing ads work?

So why do they work?

  1. According to the age old marketing “rule of 7,” the average consumer needs to see an ad 7 times before purchasing. Again, that’s because purchasers usually spend a while in the consideration phase. You’ve probably shopped around for a mortgage, furniture, a doctor or even a pair of shoes. In most cases, you don’t decide right away!
  2. Have you ever heard of the illusory truth factor? It’s the tendency to believe something after repeated exposure to it. Remarketing builds trust with an audience. The more times someone sees your brand, the more they are likely to purchase. In fact, remarketing ads not only work, they work better the more a user sees them. The WordStream graph below shows this phenomenon.

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The two types of remarketing: Google and Facebook

There are two major types of remarketing ad units: ones that appear on Google’s display network and ones that appear on Facebook. Both are effective and basically operate the same.

Other platforms, like native ads engines Outbrain and Taboola offer retargeting services, but they’re not the first place anyone should spend their remarketing ad dollars.

Google remarketing ads

Google Ads’ support page describes remarketing ads like this:

Remarketing ads allow you to strategically position your ads in front of these audiences as they browse Google or its partner websites, thus helping you increase your brand awareness or remind those audiences to make a purchase.

Google’s display network is massive. You’ve probably seen ads like these on the internet.

As you can see from the above image, Google display ads can be of many shapes and sizes. These are the most popular sizes (I’ve bolded the three most effective ones).

  • 250 x 250 – Square.
  • 200 x 200 – Small Square.
  • 468 x 60 – Banner.
  • 728 x 90 – Leaderboard.
  • 300 x 250 – Inline Rectangle.
  • 336 x 280 – Large Rectangle.
  • 120 x 600 – Skyscraper.
  • 160 x 600 – Wide Skyscraper.

Most display ads are static images. But I’m beginning to see many more simple GIF ads out in the wild too. Google also allows you to remarket with video on YouTube.

Finally, Google allows you to choose which publishers your ads appear on. Sophisticated advertisers usually find that their ads work better on some web properties than others. After all, your men’s health product may not sell so well on a mommy blog or a food website, right?

How to set up Google remarketing ads

Google remarketing ads are not terribly difficult to start running. A budget of about $1,000 should be enough to test efficacy. There are also easy platforms like Retargeter and AdRoll that make it even easier. But note, you will pay an upcharge to use these platforms.

Here’s how to set up a campaign so you can start targeting your potential customers:

  1. Create a Google Ads account.
  2. Add the Google Ads pixel to your website. The Google Ads pixel automatically collects cookie pools of your website visitors to retarget should you want to (of course, Google is very incentivized to make it easy for you to start retargeting whenever you like). You will create your retargeting audience in the Google Ads editor by creating an “Audience List.”
  3. Create the campaign.
    1. Retargeting ads run on Google Ads’ display network.
    2. Choose “Display Network” as your campaign type when you create a campaign.
    3. Select the goal of “Drive action”
    4. After you’ve provided the remaining campaign details, create an ad group.
    5. Under “People: who you want to reach”, click to expand the “Audiences” section and select the remarketing lists you’d like your campaign to target under the “Remarketing” audience picker. In the beginning, it is sufficient to target “All Visitors.”
  4. Run ad creative in 4-6 of the sizes specified here.

Spend about $20/day on these remarketing ads and continually monitor them to see which ad creative is working the best. Try different audiences by running ads to users who visited your site within the last 90 days, last 30 days and last 3 days.

Facebook/Instagram remarketing ads

Facebook remarketing ads operate basically the same as Google display remarketing ads. Facebook calls remarketing ads “custom audience” ads.

See a few examples below.

Facebook remarketing ads run on the Facebook and Instagram platforms in various sizes and placements.

The major difference I’ve found between Facebook and Google retargeting ads is in the creative. Video ads tend to do very well on Facebook, while Google doesn’t have a true video display ad (you have to advertise on YouTube for that).

How to set up Facebook remarketing ads

A small budget of about $1,000 should be enough to determine whether Facebook remarketing (custom audience) ads will work.

This is how to set them up:

  1. Put the custom Facebook pixel on your website. The pixel can be found in the Facebook Ads Manager after you make a business Facebook account.
  2. Once the custom pixel is dropped, you will need to create “conversion goals” in the Facebook Ads Manager. The goals I normally suggest are 1) a successful email/lead capture 2) a paid account or purchase. Goals should reflect your real business objectives — growing the email list and turning users into paid users.
  3. A week or so after the pixel is dropped, Facebook will have some cookied users to begin remarketing to. You will be able to retarget with Facebook/Instagram Custom Audiences. I suggest a Custom Audience of users who have interacted with any page of of your site in the last 90 days. Making a Custom Audience can be done simply by creating a Campaign in Facebook’s Ad Manager. Once you reach the Ad Set stage, you will be prompted to choose an audience. You will create a Custom Audience then.
  4. You should have ~three images at 1,200 x 628 pixel dimensions (the optimal size for Facebook images). Eventually, video and even GIF ads can and should be used, but images are just fine for this minimum viable test. When you are ready to test video ads, a tool like Lumen5 is quick, easy and cheap tool to use for video creation.
  5. I like to create a campaigns like this:
    1. Three Ad Sets — one for Facebook mobile, one for Facebook desktop and one for Instagram
    2. Each Ad Set ad variant should have five images, two copies and two landing page variants. Facebook allows you to duplicate Ad Sets, so this procedure takes less time than it may seem. Make sure that your destination URLs are properly UTM’d. Example: https://www.growthmarketingpro.com/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=CPM&utm_campaign=remarketing&utm_content=ad1. You can use Google’s URL builder to quickly and easily add UTMs to any link. This proper convention will allow you founders to read results of campaigns in Google Analytics.

Ech Ad Set should be given a budget of ~$20/day. In the beginning, your Custom Audience will be small (because your web traffic may be relatively small) and you should not hit this budget anyway.

Once live, ads will need to be optimized every few days for performance for 3 weeks. Try playing with different remarketing audiences by targeting only visitors to your site in the last 10 days, 30 days, 90 days or 180 days. You’ll find some combination of all the above will work best for your specific offering.

Will retargeting work for my startup?

Great question. Just because remarketing ads are available to you, doesn’t mean you should necessarily spend your time testing them.

There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether to try remarketing ads or not.

1. What type of business are you?

What are you selling? All industries are different and performance varies widely.

Case in point:

Click-through rates are one way of measuring remarketing ad performance. It’s a percentage of how many people click on an ad versus how many see the ad.

For Google, the standard click-through rate on a display ad is .35%, so for every 1,000 people who see an advertisement, 3.5 users click. But some companies see much higher!

Industry averages courtesy of HubSpot

Consumer businesses, particularly fashion and accessories perform well as do car, legal and dating product offerings. Usually, offerings that are visually stimulating perform well via remarketing.

B2b technology businesses like Saas platforms perform very well with retargeting ads, surprisingly.

So if you’re in one of those industries, you should consider testing them.

2. Your average order value, margins and budget

Is your average order value high? If so, your business may be a great candidate for remarketing.

That’s because the cost of acquiring a user with remarketing ads can be a bit higher than some other channels. Remarketing has incredible scale, but to make it operate efficient, you need to be prepared to spend some money.

Go to Ampex’s site and browse some of their gold bars and gold coins. Guaranteed you’ll see their ads in the days following.

The average order value is probably a few thousand dollars, so they have plenty of money to advertise with to you!

Remarketing almost never works right away. You need to optimize by ad unit, placement, time of day, geography, etc. Plus, you need to pay for ad creative (unless you use one of the free tools I listed above). It doesn’t make sense to spend $100 acquiring a customer, if you’re only making $50 per sale.

If you’re selling very cheap products or ones with relatively low margins, you might do much better with an SEO or Google Search Ads strategy

Also read: How to Market Your Business with Little to No Money

3. Do you have the time?

Getting remarketing ads off the ground takes some time, both in terms of creating the ads and running and optimizing the campaigns.

As an entrepreneur, your time is valuable. Be prepared to spend at least 10 hours to get set up and then a few hours per week optimizing your campaigns.

In an ideal world, you would likely get into more specific retargeting with dynamic ads. Both Facebook and Google offer dynamic ads so that you can retarget users with ads specific to the content or product pages they saw on your site.

4. How optimized is your website?

Remarketing ads are decidedly tricky to make work and they’ll be twice as hard if you have a suboptimal website.

If you’re not seeing conversion rates of at least 2% on your site, you likely will not be able to get remarketing ads to work. Simply, conversions will be too expensive to generate profit.

Consider using a landing page software tool to make more optimized landing pages and convert more users.


Remarketing campaigns aren’t right for every business, but if you’re an entrepreneur with some time and some budget, it would be smart to give them a try.

Remember, campaigns take testing and optimization to make them effective.

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