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Datapocalypse: The GDPR & Retargeting

Written by Parker Brown

What You Should Know About the Internet’s Ad Targeting Regulations

Let’s break it down.

  • What is it? (A pain in the ass)
  • How did it get here? (Millennials)
  • Where do we go from here? (Only up)

What Does it Mean for Advertisers? 

Thanks to Facebook’s debacle, cookie/pixel-based retargeting now requires affirmative consent from users, which has a good chance of rendering retargeting strategies to be less effective and/or harder to execute.

But this didn’t start with Facebook. Back in 2015, Google provoked the European Union by leveraging cookie-based data. This resulted in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which caused major tech companies to alter their platforms in a way that complied with this legislation. And with the latest developments from Facebook, these platforms will be implementing those changes in the states as well.

Let’s work under the assumption that retargeting is not the same anymore… because it’s not. We have budgets set aside for retargeting that won’t yield the same returns as before.

What do we have left for targeting and where do we expect it to go?

In the Algorithm We Trust

AI and automation capabilities of advertising platforms have significantly advanced over the past couple years. Google SMART Display Campaigns are a great example of an automated process that handles all of your targeting and settings for you. They have shown great results and can be used to hit a valuable part of your funnel.

Dynamic ads are extremely effective in both search and display ads. While we may not have RLSA to pair with it anymore, there is still the use of standard audience targeting. It should be noted that this is now reserved to buy journeys with very generic or predictable search patterns.

Finally, Google offers SMART goals as a way to track conversions when there is no other way. However, there is more to this tool than using it as a substitute. Google algorithm learns how to identify quality traffic for your site and using this as a reference point can help you identify the specifics of your initial targeting.


Appearing next to your competition can be a key opportunity to steal their users. Let them take care of the targeting, just make sure your ad and offer look better in comparison. Commonly thought of as bidding on competitor keywords, there is more to this tactic than just paid search.

Display keywords can be good when thinking of aspirational brands that your target audience frequently interacts with. Take skincare, for example. I’d want to target keywords like Kiehl’s or Jack Black.

Gmail ads are also a great way to conquest. You can show up on the top of their inbox in Gmail by targeting competitor domains. Finding an email drip your audience would read can give you that extra visibility.


Yeah, I know, it sounds really lame. But the concept holds true. In the same way we see strategically placed billboards on the highway in areas with mass amounts of traffic, digital billboarding is a potential approach to your funnel.

A lot of us are used to targeting mass amounts of traffic at the top of our funnel and then using retargeting that groups throughout the rest of our funnel. There was an art to it. Valuing the ROI of one stage of the funnel in correlation to the return it yields for each section was programmatic gold.

And now, thanks to some Ivy League, that is all gone. It leaves a lot of us without a clear vision for our strategies. It’s too early to understand where this is going to go, but I’m going to give this my initial #HotTake.

  • When starting out a PPC client, there is now a more stable return from driving mass amounts of traffic to every stage of the funnel with segmented targeting, ads, and landing pages tailored to the touchpoints.
  • From there, we can analyze the ROI of each segment and then adjust investments accordingly.

It’s Not Game Over for Retargeting

Retargeting will continue to be a heavily utilized tactic, but it is going to be approached differently. As always, people will adapt to the new system, and with that, so will the advertisers. UX/UI has a larger part to play than ever; easing visitors to opt-in to your retargeting list is key to retargeting now.

But let’s touch on that last part for a second. People have to opt-in to be retargeted now, as in they agree to let you “cookie” them so they’ll expect to see you again. Weird, right? It’s almost like there is a higher intent behind retargeting than before. Retargeting might become less about influencing customers and more about giving them what they want, when they are ready.

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