I’ve been using AdRoll for around six months now. By my reckoning, it’s time to write a review about this retargeting platform. As with all of my reviews, it’s based on my own first hand experience of using the platform on a [near] daily basis. You won’t find any fluff in this AdRoll review, just my informed opinion.
What is AdRoll?
AdRoll is a retargeting platform. Retargeting (also referred to as remarketing) involves dropping a cookie on the machine of everyone who logs onto your website. When they leave your website, you can target display network ads at them on third party websites, in the hope they click them and come back to your website in order to complete a transaction.
There are lots of different retargeting networks out there – you can retarget on websites enrolled on the Google AdWords network, as well as sites like Facebook and Twitter. In times gone by, you had to signup to each network individually in order to retarget to their users. AdRoll, however, is like a retargeting hub – they buy ad space across lots of different retargeting networks. You only have to signup to the one service in order to retarget your potential customers across hundreds of thousand of websites worldwide. AdRoll is a timesaver, it’s super convenient (and of course a fantastic idea).
Before I started retargeting users myself, I heard lots of great things about it from other ecommerce business owners. When I launched my first Shopify website, I explored my retargeting options. At the time, I read a few AdRoll reviews from other Shopify store owners and they were, on the whole, complimentary. On this basis I decided to use AdRoll. The AdRoll app for Shopify was easy to install, and it came with a promo code for $100 of free advertising.
When I first signed up for AdRoll, I found the backend to be very attractive, but it did strike me as being a little primitive. In comparison to the backend of Bing Ads or Google AdWords, AdRoll looks extremely “fun” – which I wasn’t convinced was a good thing.
As I hadn’t used retargeting before, I was a bit confused by terms like “pixel” – but after reading through some of the support documentation, it all became clear.
The only issue I had during the initial setup of my AdRoll campaigns was conversion tracking. Because Shopify uses a dynamic checkout success URL, it can be quite tricky to setup the conversion tracking properly. That said, a quick conversation via the live chat feature was enough to clear up the confusion on my part – the person on the other end set it all up for me, leaving just a few lines of code for me to paste in the Shopify backend.
If you’re not using the Shopify CMS, the implementation of the pixel and the tracking script should be fairly straightforward. You can find a comprehensive list of ecommerce CMS and implementation instructions in the AdRoll Knowledge Base.
Once I had my pixel “firing”, and my conversion tracking setup, it was time to have some banners created. I hired a designer via Elance to create about 100 different banners, for all of the different banner dimensions supported. You can find information about all of the different resolutions in the AdRoll admin panel. You can also find out about the different campaign types (ie, general retargeting, Facebook Newsfeed retargeting, and the Facebook RHS ad retargeting).
Uploading my creatives was really easy – as was adding some advertising copy to the Facebook campaigns. It was then just a case of hitting submit and waiting for the campaigns to be approved – which took about 24 hours or so.
What I like about AdRoll
- AdRoll buy advertising space across lots of different networks. Instead of having to signup to them all separately and configure settings separately, AdRoll acts as one central platform. It has saved me lots of time. With a few clicks of a button my banners were live on various display advertising networks and thousands of different websites – including Facebook.
- The backend isn’t overwhelmingly technical. I know people who have been reduced to tears by the AdWords backend – AdRoll on the other hand looks friendly and warm. Everything is super simple and intuitive.
- You can tweak most important settings in a matter of seconds, including: CPM, countries targeted, weekly budget and so on.
- Testing different creatives is a piece of cake – then pausing creatives that don’t perform is possible with the push of a button. Finding a winning formula for your banners is made simple.
- Overall campaign metrics are available at a glance as soon as you login to the backend. You can see: Impressions, clicks, CTR, CPM, CPC, CPA, VTC, CTC, total conversions and spend. This can be manipulated to show the metrics across a custom timeframe – just select your desired start and end date on the calendar.
- Support, although impersonal, is generally very comprehensive. I’ve always been impressed with the speed and expertise my inquiries have been met with.
Overall, the backend is easy to get along with. You’ve got access to all the options and settings you need in order to craft a successful campaign. AdRoll does what it says on the tin really. It’s good for every marketer – from complete novices, to professionals in charge of vast marketing budgets at big companies.
What I’m not so keen on
- To edit the frequency cap you have to go through customer support. If I’m being honest, their support is great – but it’s somewhat annoying you can’t edit the cap yourself.
- When you enter your desired weekly budget while creating a new campaign, your credit/debit card is debited if/when your campaign is approved. So, if you set a $100 per week budget, your card will be debited for $100 right away. It’s not a huge problem, but it can kill your business’ cash flow if funds are tight. The lowest weekly budget you can configure is $25 – something to bear in mind if you don’t have a bottomless marketing budget to play with.
- When I signed up, I was under the impression I could make use of liquid ads. It transpired I couldn’t – I don’t recall the exact reason why – I believe it was because I had a fairly low projected spend. I was slightly disappointed, but as it happens, traditional static ads have performed strongly anyway.
- Unless you’re spending big bucks, you don’t get any kind of account manager or dedicated support. Sometimes you just want to call or email someone you’re familiar with if you have a quick question or a minor issue. If you’re on a standard account, you’ll have to contact the general support team.
- CPMs tend to be marginally higher on AdRoll because they act as a middleman between you, the advertiser – and the network itself. For the convenience AdRoll offers, however, you can’t really begrudge them that!
If I’m being honest, I’ve struggled a bit here with the downsides to AdRoll – mainly because there aren’t that many, and they aren’t particularly serious. I want to offer a balanced review, however, so I’ve included all of these disadvantages, even if they are a little petty.
Other observations (and a few top tips)
The creative guidelines for AdRoll are not the same as those laid out by popular networks like Bing Ads and Google AdWords. Initially my designer created banner ads that conformed to the requirements of AdWords, unfortunately all 100+ creatives were rejected for an array of reasons (including the file size). This isn’t a dig at AdRoll in any way – I’m just warning you, so you can ensure your designer works to AdRoll’s specific creative standards – not standards of any specific network.
I became a little frustrated after around a month of running AdRoll campaigns – I found my CPA (cost per action/conversion) was ridiculously high. In the end, I spoke to a helpful member of staff via live chat. We decided to tone down the frequency my ads were shown each day, which cut off around 40% of my daily impressions (and consequently about 40% of my spend). A couple of weeks later my CPA was looking a lot healthier. Today it sits at around $1, which is more than satisfactory from my point of view. With an on-going commitment to optimising my campaigns, my CPA is gradually decreasing.
One of the ways in which I managed to reduce the overall CPA was to make my campaigns a little more granular. Instead of targeting all of my visitors with the same banner ads, I segmented my visitors according to the brands and products they browsed on my website. For example, someone looking at Adidas trainers would be shown retargeting banner ads featuring Adidas trainers – not Nike running shorts, or some other unrelated product. By spending some time segmenting my retargeting campaigns I’ve seen great results – I highly recommend everyone does it, from day one.
Testing different banner ad creatives is an expensive, time consuming exercise, especially if you’re outsourcing the task (like I do). As with any form of online advertising however, you have to test, test then test some more in order to come up with a winning set of banner ads that draw in clicks, and more importantly, conversions. If you stick with just one set of banner ads, your campaign will only ever be mediocre (at best). For the greatest results, you have to make a commitment to on-going testing.
When signing up to AdRoll, ensure you do a Google search for the latest promo codes. AdRoll regularly run offers that give you a chunk of free credit to burn through with your first campaign. I started my first AdRoll campaign with $100 of credit, which was great for testing settings without eating into my relatively small marketing budget. Don’t signup without looking for an AdRoll promo code – it’s practically free money!
I’ve been very impressed with AdRoll – the user-friendly interface allowed me to learn the ropes very quickly (although I did have an advanced understanding of PPC in general prior to using AdRoll). In around six months I’ve become the custodian of a hugely successful retargeting campaign – and I’m just about to embark on another retargeting campaign with a new website.
Using the AdRoll network has been a big success for my ecommerce business, and I’m really glad I took the plunge initially. After some frustration in those early days, my campaigns have started to chug along profitably with minimal intervention on my part.
I highly recommend the AdRoll platform. Just remember, retargeting is not a license to print money – despite what some people claim. You will have to put in some legwork to find the winning formula for your campaigns, but it can be done.
My rating: 9/10
It’s worth reading this moz.com article if you’re particularly interested in the different retargeting options out there. Although slightly outdated in parts, it’s bang on the money in most respects.
This article also includes the pros and cons of various retargeting networks, along with a few best practices for you to consider.