Ad Retargeting for Nonprofits: Complete Introduction

We’ve all encountered it—suddenly seeing the same pair of shoes, kitchen gadget, or other item appear in ads all over the internet after checking it out on Amazon or another online retailer. Even if you’re unsure about buying it or you’re just not ready to purchase the item, retargeting ads help keep that thing you were interested in top of mind.  

This type of advertising is called retargeting, and companies of all sizes rely on it as a foundational digital advertising tactic because it works. While the examples we’re most familiar with are driven by for-profit companies, there are several impactful ways that nonprofits can benefit from the power of retargeting.

If you’ve noticed those recurring ads and wondered how your nonprofit’s advertising efforts can reach the same level of precision to secure event registrations or new donors, you’ve likely got a few questions. This introductory guide will answer them. First, let’s start with the basics.

What is website retargeting?

Retargeting (also known as remarketing) is a form of digital advertising that allows you to target people with ads based on their interactions with your website.

Why does retargeting work?

Retargeting is effective because you can reach people you know are already interested in your organization, whenever and wherever they are online. Whether someone in your ad campaign’s audience is reading the news on their desktop computer or scrolling through social media on their phone, your ads will show up for them. Retargeting campaigns are also cost-effective, completely measurable, and outperform many other advertising channels.   

Consider these statistics:

  • The average click-through rate for retargeted ads is roughly 10 times higher than that of traditional display ads.
  • People who are retargeted are 43% more likely to convert (or take your target action) than those who aren’t. 
  • Over 90% of marketers report that retargeting works as well or better than other forms of advertising like emails and Google search ads. 

Clearly, retargeting works when backed by the right strategies and tools. But why?

Retargeting allows you to effortlessly focus on hyper-targeted audiences—those most likely to convert because they’ve already engaged with you online.

Here’s an analogous example. Imagine you’re planning a direct mail campaign and need to develop a mailing list of donors. Sending the same appeal to every donor in your CRM would yield poor results and likely end up costing more than it would raise. Many of those contacts are probably inactive or simply unlikely to respond. Instead, tailor your mailing list to focus on donors who’ve given via direct mail before and are interested in your campaign’s area of focus. This would result in a higher return and a bigger bang for your marketing buck.

Retargeting works on the same concept. Visitors who explore your website, learn more about your mission, and visit your event registration or donation page are much more likely to convert when retargeted with ads than broad messages to vast online audiences reached through traditional advertising. 

How do nonprofits use retargeting?

Nonprofit organizations can use retargeted advertising to accomplish a number of goals, including:

  • Increase online giving
  • Promote an upcoming event 
  • Acquiring new donors
  • Increasing general awareness of your mission

Essentially, any goal that involves users completing an action online can be supported by retargeting. You’ll just need to be able to clearly define that goal, figure out what motivates people to take that action, and set up an automated retargeting campaign through an advertising platform

How can retargeting fit into your existing marketing strategies?

As an additional tool in your advertising and marketing toolkit, retargeting can play a wide range of roles in your strategies in both the short- and long-term. Here are a few examples and tips:

Use it to drive qualified traffic to your campaign and event landing pages.

This is among the most immediately impactful uses for retargeting. Use it alongside other marketing ideas and tactics like email, direct mail, and social media to send more qualified traffic (i.e. users likely to convert) straight to your donation or event sign-up pages. 

The pages where users are directed to complete your target actions are called landing pages, and they require special attention. 

To maximize conversions, landing pages should be tailored to the target audience’s needs and motivations. In other words, greet returning visitors with the exact information and steps they’re looking for. You possibly already create campaign- and event-specific landing pages for the purposes of tracking where its visitors are coming from—good! If not, you’ll definitely want them for retargeting.

Plus, retargeting helps you go beyond drawing potential donors to your donation pages. It can also help you recapture the ones who got away—those who almost completed your target action but never hit the “donate” or “sign up” button. This is called shopping cart (or donation or registration form) abandonment. To reduce form abandons, retarget those page visitors and remind them to complete their donation or purchase tickets to your annual event. 

Retarget visitors to maximize the value of your SEO and social media strategies.

Search engine optimization (SEO) and social media are two essential digital marketing strategies for nonprofits that can attract more traffic to your website. For example, you might:

  • Create optimized blog content that appears at the top of Google search results relevant to your work, like, “New York education equity nonprofit” or “how to volunteer at an animal shelter.” Users searching these terms will encounter your website, click through, and (if you create engaging articles) stick around for a while.
  • Create interesting and shareable content for social media. By including calls to action and links to your website, social media users who encounter your content shared by their friends will be able to click through and learn more on your website.

To make the most of this increased traffic, your website needs to be optimized to engage and convert users (as with the landing pages described above). Web design elements like your site’s navigation bar, prominent call-to-action buttons, and more will help. However, there’s still a good chance that many of your new visitors won’t stay on your site for long.

Retargeting allows you to effortlessly invite them back. If someone enters your site to read an article about what it’s like to volunteer at an animal shelter, retarget them with ads that say, “We need volunteers like you! Sign Up Now,” and direct them straight to a sign-up registration page designed for first-time volunteers. Boost conversions and create an emotional attachment to your cause, it’s a win-win.

Retargeting helps you continually learn more about your supporters.

Interacting with visitors and supporters in any way online can generate valuable data that you can use to learn more about them and discover why they’re drawn to your work. Retargeting provides a new avenue for generating this data. 

Once you’re up and running with a solid retargeting strategy and have implemented campaigns for a variety of target actions, start asking questions like:

  • Which ads had the highest click-through rates? 
  • Which campaigns brought in the most conversions?
  • How can we further segment our audiences?
  • How many ads did individuals see before they made a donation?
  • How did they initially find your site before being retargeted?
  • Can we optimize this campaign by refreshing the ad creative or increasing our base bid? 
  • How do changes to our call to action impact click-through and conversion rates?

Answering and regularly revisiting these questions will help you continually improve your advertising and marketing tactics. Lean into what works well, adjust your approach to what hasn’t worked well, and keep fine-tuning your segmentation strategies for future marketing campaigns. 

Audience segments are subsets of your larger audience, sorted by any distinguishing marker, like donors’ locations or average donation amounts. 

For the purposes of retargeting, segments should be based on how users have engaged with your website. The example above of users who abandon a donation before completing it is a perfect segment for retargeting. As you work to recapture those users over time, take note of who successfully takes the target action and then dig deeper into who they are and how else they engage with your work. This will give you an even clearer picture of who your potential donors are and how you can best reach them.

How do you get started with retargeting?

The easiest way to get started with retargeted advertising is to use a comprehensive digital marketing platform that includes retargeting campaigns. 

Once you have the necessary tools, you’ll need to study up on a few retargeting best practices for events, fundraising campaigns, and other goals. Before any new retargeting campaign, you’ll then need to define your goals, identify an audience segment to target, develop an engaging call to action, and define the page you want people to land on.

From there, actively track your results and make adjustments over time! Keep learning about your audience and fine-tuning your campaigns and you’re sure to see some incredible results.

About the Author

Aidan Augustin, Co-founder & President, Feathr

Aidan Augustin is the co-founder and president of Feathr, an industry-leading software company making digital marketing more accessible to nonprofits and event organizers. Feathr has helped over 800 nonprofits and thousands of events know, grow, and engage their audiences. When he’s not steering the ship at Feathr, he’s playing strategy games, singing karaoke, or reading books about people who changed the world.

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