What if you had to remove remarketing from your PPC campaign mix?

If you only advertise to a US-based audience, you may not have considered this question.

If you’re advertising in the EU, you’ve been forced to consider your remarketing options a lot in 2018 as a result of GDPR. ( Check out What Is GDPR and How Will It Impact Online Advertising, if you’re not sure what the implications of GDPR were on digital advertising).

Many advertisers are still able to use PPC remarketing in a post-GDPR world, according to this article by Digiday.

“Data targeting and first-party retargeting were certainly affected [by GDPR], with audiences dropping by up to 50 percent, and spend proportionally,” said Dom Blacklock, Head of Strategy at media buyer the7stars. ‘But this is going back to normal sizes as users consent to the new terms and conditions.’”

In my experience, some advertisers are not “going back to normal.” The implications of GDPR on their site traffic and retargeting methods have inhibited them from using cookie-based remarketing tactics, and we have been forced to create a strategy without remarketing.

While this may not be the case for your brand, I now believe every advertiser should have a “Remarketing-Free PPC Strategy”. PPC marketers need to consider where they would invest their budgets if they could no longer use search and display remarketing, and how they would “follow-up” with site visitors and customers in a similar manner to PPC remarketing.

The Scenario

If you’re adhering to GDPR’s mandates, your brand’s remarketing audience is smaller because not all site visitors are accepting your cookie banner. Most PPC advertising platforms require a minimum number of site visitors before we can use cookie-based remarketing. If the number of site visitors accepting your cookie banner drops below those advertising platform minimums, you will not be able to use your remarketing audience for that platform. As a result, there are now brands that advertised to the EU that are left with no search or display remarketing campaigns that previously drove a significant amount of high-quality site traffic.

While this scenario mainly applies to EU advertisers with smaller audiences (likely B2B, niche products, or local professionals/services) we all need to prepare our “Remarketing-Free PPC Strategy” for the following reasons:

  1. We don’t know for sure what the future holds for similar U.S legislation. A U.S version of “GDPR” is not an impossibility.
  2. Tags break and site visitor tracking is lost; it happens all the time in our PPC world. If you diversify your PPC campaign tactics and become less reliant on remarketing, regardless of the law, you’re ensuring more stable PPC performance when one tag, platform, or audience breaks down.

The PPC Solution

To create a “Remarketing-Free PPC Strategy”, you should start by mapping out your current PPC funnel.

A PPC Funnel

Below is an example funnel that I see often with small to medium-sized businesses.

In this example funnel, the brand only uses Search and Display ads for their PPC strategy, and are using remarketing audiences for both. They’re not currently taking advantage of remarketing in social platforms or non-remarketing, audience-based targeting via social or display.

Marketing funnel with few top-of-funnel efforts

Below is what this PPC funnel looks like once Search and Display remarketing campaigns are eliminated.

Marketing funnel with only 2 campaign types

The loss of remarketing in the funnel above displays the vulnerabilities of the original strategy. If the brand loses remarketing due to tag or tracking failures, platform issues, or even legislation, this brand is left with an incomplete funnel.

The key to building a “Remarketing-Free PPC Strategy” is building out the non-cookie-based upper to mid-funnel with PPC campaigns. Launch display, video, and paid social campaigns. Which platforms and ad types you choose certainly depends on your content, budget, etc. Depending on the size of your audience and which platforms they use most, you may not need to launch display, video, and paid social; this is simply an example.

In addition, you can launch remarketing campaigns in social if you use the “remarketing based on engagement” options that you have on Facebook and Pinterest. These engagement remarketing options do not require you to collect user cookies from your website since Facebook and Pinterest simply target based on how users interacted with your brand on their platforms. Your brand is not responsible for getting approval to retarget from those users. That responsibility falls on the advertising platforms. For more help designing a full-funnel approach in Facebook, check out Kass Bott’s blog How to Build an In-Platform Facebook Ads Funnel.

If you diversify your ad spend, test remarketing based on social engagement, and ultimately fill more of that upper funnel, you are maximizing your remaining PPC options in a remarketing-free strategy (see the chart below). I would then recommend that you step back and look at your entire marketing mix, not just PPC, to help close the gaps in the bottom of the funnel.

Marketing funnel with cookie-based remarketing removed

The Non-PPC Solution

To help close gaps in the bottom of your customer funnel, I would assess the other aspects of your marketing mix, including email, content, organic social, and your blog and/or YouTube channel if you have one. Identify all of the ways you can check in with your existing customers, followers, subscribers, and readers. Pinpoint all of the ways that you can re-engage them, remind them of your brand, and lead them to your site where they can become a lead or customer. This strategy might include: organic posts on Facebook/Instagram, more YouTube content that describes your products, emailing more resources or blog post links to your lists to provide them with useful information, or engaging more with your LinkedIn followers.

By focusing on these other aspects of your marketing mix, you might actually increase the number of site visitors who accept your cookie banner, to the point where your remarketing audiences are usable again. Even if you don’t, you will still have a more complete digital funnel than you did prior to the changes in remarketing.

PPC Measurement Adjustments

If you diversify your PPC spend and rely less on remarketing or even cut remarketing out completely, you will see less direct return from PPC. This is not ideal for advertisers, but GDPR was not mandated for our benefit. I’m not a European citizen or a lawmaker, but as I understand it, the goal of GDPR was to protect user privacy and to give users more ownership of their data. It was not meant to benefit marketers. Whether we like it or not, we have to make adjustments in our targeting strategies.

To adjust for the lack of direct revenue from PPC remarketing campaigns, I would recommend keeping a pulse on total digital revenue or leads generated, via Google Analytics. This would include revenue or leads generated from your blog/channel, email, organic social, and PPC traffic. Try to keep your total YoY digital revenue steady at first and if you succeed, start aiming for YoY growth just as you would have prior to your move away from reliance on remarketing. Make sure your supervisors understand that your PPC efforts will not look as profitable, but that your PPC efforts are contributing to the larger marketing funnel.


Remarketing is the best source of direct revenue for PPC marketers, so you should not cut it out of your strategy if you do not have to. However, some advertisers have not had a choice and more of us could face the same issue in the future.

It’s not easy, but again, sometimes industry-wide changes are not convenient for the marketer.
In my opinion, it is not a bad thing to keep some of the largest, most influential corporations in the world from having all of our user data. Yes, it makes our digital marketing roles harder in the short-term, but in the long-term, it makes our roles more necessary and less replaceable. Brands need us to help navigate the gray area, where our tags no longer collect every snippet of user data. As a responsible, forward-thinking marketer, you should start planning for a future with less user data at your fingertips.