Marketing & Branding Advice

What is Retargeting and How Can Professional Service Firms Utilize It?


Although you may not recognize the term “retargeting,” chances are high you know what it is. If you’ve ever checked out a product on a website, then noticed you keep seeing ads for that very same product as you surf the web, you’ve experienced retargeting.

Creepy or Helpful?

There’s a lot of mixed feelings about retargeting. Some find it very stalker-like, while others find it helpful or are simply indifferent. More people are installing ad blocking technology, which implies that users don’t want to see ads, at all. But according to a survey by HubSpot, 77% of participants state they would prefer to filter ads rather than completely block ads. Like all forms of marketing, people generally are receptive as long as they find the marketing relevant to them. “Junk mail” and “spam” have been accurately defined as good advertising sent to the wrong person.

In a study commissioned by AdRoll, over 90% of marketers surveyed said retargeting is as effective or more effective than email, search, and other display campaigns. In fact, in HubSpot’s analysis of AdWords accounts, while the median conversion rate was 2.35%, the top 10% of best-performers had an average conversion rate of 11.45% or higher, which they attribute to retargeting.

So How Can Professional Service Firms Retarget?

Although retargeting has proven highly successful among product companies, it’s still underutilized in general. And among professional service firms, I have not personally seen it used at all, to date. That said, I can envision several ways that professional service firms might implement retargeting:

Recruiting Efforts

Job hunting can be confusing. Job seekers get overwhelmed with dozens of ads that often sound similar. Plus, searches are often conducted sporadically, while waiting for a train or the microwave to ding. So, we forget what we’ve clicked on… unless we’re reminded later. A perfect opportunity for retargeting.

Event Marketing

If your firm hosts events or offers classes or training, encouraging attendance is crucial. Retargeting could be an effective way to remind those who browsed an event to take the next step and register.

Other Uses

Professional service firms can also promote content (blogs, whitepapers, video, etc.) to people who have already visited their website in order to move them through the buying cycle. Since you can retarget people by the section of the website they have visited, you can serve them a specific ad. For example, an A/E/C firm could suggest a whitepaper or video about “Designing for STEM Education” to someone only when they’ve visited the Academic section of your website. Or a law firm could suggest a whitepaper on “How to know when your Trademark has been violated” to someone only when they’ve visited the IP section of your website.

I’m sure there are many other ways that retargeting can be applied to benefit professional service marketing. Are you already using retargeting? Do you have ideas for future applications? Please send me an email at and I will update this post regularly.

Retargeting versus Remarketing

As a final note, the words “retargeting” and “remarketing” are often used interchangeably. Technically, “retargeting” describes online ad placements, served based on a user’s activity on the web. “Remarketing” is defined as re-engaging customers with email. For example, if you place an item in a shopping cart but do not hit “purchase,” and later receive an email following up, that’s “remarketing.” However, the word “remarketing” is often used to describe “retargeting” campaigns, so the meanings are getting blurry.


Why People Block Ads (And What It Means for Marketers and Advertisers)
Rethinking CRO: How Remarketing Can Unlock Higher Conversion Rates
State of the Industry: The past, present and future of retargeting according to 1,000 marketers
Remarketing vs. Retargeting: What’s the difference?

Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, November 16th, 2018

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