Online merchants employing ad retargeting tools no longer have to say goodbye to those who leave their websites. Instead, by showing ads to visitors as they trek across the Web, companies can say “hello again” and so much more.
In recent months Twitter and Facebook have moved to provide tools to enhance marketers’ efforts to send their tailored messages to chosen customers, sweetening a strategy known as retargeting. Twitter launched a product called tailored audiences that enables marketers to retarget ads to Twitter accounts. Marketers can even use the tool to target visitors of their websites who are accessing Twitter on a mobile device. Facebook, meanwhile, has added a feature to its existing Custom Audiences tool that gives marketers similar retargeting capabilities on the Facebook platform.
The new products extend the value proposition of retargeting to social media, which is where many people are spending time, says David Shapiro, vice president of corporate and business development at the programmatic marketing firm DataXu. “Retargeting works, so this is another channel through which you can do one of your more effective tactics,” he says. “And because of Facebook’s and Twitter’s ability to know who you are, they can serve the ads to you regardless of the device.”
Facebook ended 2013 with 1.23 billion monthly active users, about 77 percent of whom access the platform on mobile devices. Twitter had 241 million monthly active users, about 76 percent of whom access it on mobile devices.
Targeting Tailored Audiences on Twitter
Twitter launched tailored audiences in December. It enables advertisers to send Promoted Tweets or Promoted Accounts to users who have visited a company’s website and fit within a defined target audience.
Here’s how it works: An advertiser hires one of ten ad partners designated by Twitter. That third party puts a piece of code on an advertiser’s website that assigns a browser cookie ID and captures behavioral data like how long a user stays on a page. The ads partner transfers a group of browser IDs to Twitter that do not contain personally identifiable information. Twitter then looks for matches with Twitter accounts and shows a specific Promoted Tweet or Promoted Account to the anonymous users it finds. In addition to targeting by device, advertisers can also layer on targeting by location and gender.
Advertisers can tailor tweets based on the website activity of different segments. For instance, a car dealer can tweet one message to those who looked at hybrids on their site and another to those who looked at sedans, says Shapiro of DataXu, which is one of the ad partners for tailored audiences.
Early results have been promising. The retargeting platform AdRoll, another ads partner, participated in an alpha test of the product and saw what president Adam Berke describes as “fantastic” results for his five participating clients. Berke says the engagement rates – measured by Twitter user actions such as a follow, retweet, favorite and click on a link – were 50 percent to 100 percent higher than the clients’ best Twitter campaigns previously. Those improved results, he says, are similar to other campaigns in which advertisers retarget based on their own data versus campaigns that target using third-party data.
“It’s a big deal because Twitter is a massive media channel with a very engaged, influential audience and an audience that skews very heavily toward mobile. That’s a combination of things that are very interesting to a marketer,” Berke says. “When they think about, ‘O.K., I have this customer data that’s really valuable. I want to be able to reach them in places that are very engaging, and I want to do that increasingly on mobile devices because that’s where my customers are,’ Twitter checks all those boxes.”
Berke says AdRoll now has about 100 customers syncing data with Twitter through its platform and almost 1,000 in the process of getting on board.
A Twitter spokesperson directed Data Informed to published company blog posts and declined further comment.
Reaching Custom Audiences via Facebook
In January, Facebook also began allowing advertisers to retarget messages to visitors based on their website activity. This feature is an enhancement to its existing Custom Audiences tool. Similar to Twitter’s tactic, Facebook invites marketers to place a code on their websites. Facebook can match browser cookie IDs with user IDs, and those users remain anonymous. Marketers can overlay Facebook’s standard targeting data – including age, gender and location – to refine their segments.
However, unlike with Twitter’s tailored audiences, advertisers do not need to go through a third-party ad partner to access Custom Audiences. And, Facebook also lets advertisers retarget to people who visited a mobile app, an option not available in Twitter’s tool.
In the post announcing the general availability of its new tool, Facebook said businesses that have tested the product have seen great results. Zaggora, a women’s activewear company, garnered three to six times the return on ad spend using Custom Audiences from its website, for instance.
Custom Audiences isn’t the first retargeting option from Facebook, however. In 2012, the company launched Facebook Exchange (FBX), a real-time bidding exchange that enables advertisers to use cookie-based targeting to show relevant ads to Facebook visitors. FBX can only be accessed through advertising partners called demand-side platforms (DSPs) and can’t be used to buy ads that will appear on mobile devices.
In addition, advertisers can use FBX to show users product-specific ads, like those pertaining to items they browsed on a website, rather than showing them more generic ads. Custom Audiences does not currently offer that capability. “That’s the main difference we talk about in market,” says Tim Rathschmidt, a Facebook spokesman.
Being able to reach targets across devices represents a new opportunity for advertisers who have seen technical barriers thwart their desires to engage with users regardless of how they’re accessing the Web.
“It’s one of the key elements that is exciting,” Shapiro says of the new retargeting products of Twitter and Facebook. “The ability to retarget on a mobile platform is hard to do generally because there aren’t cookies typically in the mobile world and that creates an inherent challenge to reach the same user across device[s].”
AdRoll’s Berke says Twitter may offer the most effective mobile ad unit available today. “Combine that cross-device identity with a highly engaging ad unit in a prominent location like a Twitter timeline, and you have an extremely powerful combination,” he says.
Still, just because advertisers can retarget through mobile ads doesn’t mean it’s something everyone should employ yet. It’s important for companies to consider what lies ahead for visitors who click on an ad’s link, for instance.
A company’s experience in this field also matters, says Molly McCarty, social account manager at the digital marketing agency 3Q Digital. “We take an advisory role and say, ‘You have a great mobile experience so it makes sense’ or ‘We haven’t been able to have that great of results with your website on mobile devices, so maybe we should wait until you have a smoother mobile experience,’” McCarty says.
Likewise, though the mobile versions of Facebook and Twitter both have a lot of traffic and enjoy high engagement rates, users don’t generally convert as much on mobile as they do on desktops, says McCarty’s colleague
Alicia Antoniolli. “I’ve seen far better success on desktop campaigns even though the volume is a little bit lower,” says Antoniolli, also a social account manager at 3Q Digital. “[On desktops] there’s a little bit lower engagement but much higher conversion rates, which results in a lower cost per acquisition.”
Advertisers’ Playbooks Get Thicker
Though the two social networks compete for ad dollars, it’s possible many advertisers will turn to both platforms to reach targets. “Twitter can’t compete with the scale of Facebook right now, but it won’t be one or the other for most advertisers,” Berke says. “It will be more of a question of, ‘What are your campaign objectives?’ and therefore, ‘What’s the right place to reach people?’ It’s most likely appropriate to reach them in both places, maybe with slightly different messaging depending on the environment.”
Advertisers may be getting other options, too. “I think we’re going to see a version of this [retargeting] from Yahoo, a version from AOL, and companies with sufficient audience will start to create products like this if they haven’t done that already,” says Bruce Biegel, a senior managing director at the strategic consulting firm Winterberry Group. “But you need a pretty big audience to make the segmentation worthwhile.”
A Look at Twitter and Facebook Retargeting Tools
|Monthly active users of platform as of Dec. 31, 2013||How to access||Can target website visitors?||Can target by email addresses?||Can reach users accessing platform via mobile device?|
|Twitter’s Tailored Audiences||241 million||Through ads partner||Yes (product launched December 2013)||Yes (product launched January 2014)||Yes|
|Facebook’s Custom Audiences||1.23 billion||Does not require an ads partner||Yes (product launched January 2014)||Yes (product became available to every advertiser October 2013)||Yes|
|Facebook Exchange (FBX)||1.23 billion||Through ads partner (demand-side platforms, or DSPs)||Yes(Product launched March 2012)||Not the traditional use, but is possible in some forms*||No|
* Customers of the retargeting platform Perfect Audience, for instance, can add an image pixel to an HTML email template to place a cookie in the Web browser of those who open the email in HTML format. Senders can then retarget to those recipients through Facebook Exchange.
Mindy Charski (email@example.com), a contributing editor for Data Informed, is a Dallas-based freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @mindycharski.