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How to Use On-Site Remarketing on Mobile Without Harming the User Experience

How to Use On-Site Remarketing on Mobile Without Harming the User Experience


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In this post we’ll look at how on-site remarketing can be used on mobile websites without interrupting the customer journey. 
Remarketing, such as on-site acquisition, can be used effectively on desktop and mobile. In this post we’ll look at how it can be used on mobile without being interruptive, and without falling foul of Google’s mobile algorithms.

What is On-Site Remarketing?

On-site remarketing is about using on-site messaging to influence customer journeys and nudge them towards a purchase, or to offer alternatives, such as submitting an email address for further information.
It can be used on desktop or mobile sites, and with a range of messages, including:

  • Personalized product recommendations.
  • Prompts to join live chat or received assistance with your purchase.
  • Urgency related messaging.
  • Offer to email cart contents for later purchase.
  • Encourage email sign-ups.

These are often delivered in the form of overlays, with the aim of providing useful information and encouraging conversions and sign ups.
Here’s an example from Oakley, which uses an overlay to invite browsers to sign up for emails. As you can see, it doesn’t take up the whole screen and can be easily close, either by pressing the ‘X’ or clicking elsewhere on the page.
It should also be noted that these messages are served according to strict criteria, not just to any visitor as soon as they arrive on site.

It has to be said that some are implemented better than others, and it’s important to distinguish between intrusive pop-ups and smart and targeted messaging.

What On-Site Remarketing Isn’t (Or Shouldn’t Be)

The increasingly popularity of adblocking solutions is just one indicator that web users aren’t too keen on ads, and intrusive ads like pop-ups are among the most hated formats.
Indeed, with formats like autoplaying audio and questionnaires which obscure content, some publishers are almost driving web users to adopt adblockers.

No retailer (at least none I know of) would be foolish enough to interrupt the customer journey as some publishers do. After all, it’s all about making the browse and purchase process as smooth as possible. However,  some ecommerce sites can use on-site messaging badly.
For example, some messages asking for email addresses can be served too quickly. For example, Gap serves this message the moment you arrive on site. It’s a good offer, but coming so quickly it can be an irritant that may cause some visitors to abandon the site.

In addition to the effect on the user experience, badly timed messages simply won’t work as well.
On-site messaging can be timed to appear in response to strict criteria, to ensure that overlays are useful to visitors rather than interruptive.
For example, visitors showing an intent to leave the site can be served a specific message, such as an offer to provide help when completing forms.

On-Site Remarketing and Google

Another concern for some is Google’s recent focus on the mobile user experience and the linking of this to mobile search rankings.
Through the release of its mobile-friendly algorithm in April 2015, and subsequent updates, Google have been rewarding sites which provide a better experience for mobile users, or punishing those that don’t, depending which way you look at it.
A recent development along these lines, announced last August and rolled out in January 2017, is the targeting of pages which obscure content as users arrive at a site.
These are some of the examples given by Google of interruptive interstitials:

And these are examples which are acceptable, according to Google. If ‘used responsibly’ that is.

To quote Google, “pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly”.
Google can be vague with its pronouncements at times but it’s clear here, that it’s looking at the transition from search results i.e. pages that show interruptive messages as soon as a user arrives on site. 
This means that the on-site messaging which many ecommerce sites use, and which SaleCycle implements for clients, is not an issue for Google. Indeed, we’ve checked our messaging using Google’s mobile-friendly test.
I also tested this blog, which uses an overlay to invite sign ups for our newsletter, and we pass the test.

Another important point is that Google isn’t especially interested in targeting on-site remarketing with its mobile algorithms, it’s more about some of the awful ads that publishers and others are using.

How On-Site Messaging Can Be Used on Mobile

Interstitials and pop ups this can be intrusive. Moreover, they are blunt instruments looking to push users to take action by interrupting their browsing. This is a very different thing to targeted messaging based on browsing and other on-site behavior.
First, of all, the focus should be on influencing rather than interrupting the user journey. This means messaging should be in the form of overlays which don’t take over the screen, and can be easily closed by users who don’t want to see them.
Here’s one we designed for ASICS. It doesn’t take over the mobile user’s screen, can be easily closed, yet is still effective.

The user experience on mobile is very important, and with more ecommerce activity moving to mobile devices, it will become more so.
Indeed, mobile’s share of visits in the Christmas shopping season wasn’t far behind that of desktop. However, the share of sales was far lower. The last thing retailers should do on mobile is to spoil the user experience with intrusive messaging.

This is why it’s important that is used wisely for mobile, and in the right context. Here’s a good example from House of Fraser.

The messaging is there where visitors are contemplating a purchase, it doesn’t take over the screen, and can be easily ignored.
The messaging adds a sense of urgency, which can help to drive sales when stock is low or products are very popular.
Messages like the one below can prompt users to come back to a purchase, or to opt-in for email updates and marketing messages. The key is that is doesn’t interrupt the user, but actually adds value.

In Summary

There’s no reason why on-site remarketing shouldn’t be used on mobile. Indeed, we’ve seen some excellent results from it. It’s just about using it intelligently.
This isn’t necessarily about conforming to Google’s guidelines either, it’s just good practice not to interrupt (and therefore annoy) the visitors you want to sell to. 
It’s understandable that some people will worry about new Google updates, but with the focus on mobile UX, the search engine is targeting some of the more interruptive ad and messaging formats, not intelligent and well-targeted messaging.
Don’t worry about Google, just focus on providing the best user experience for mobile shoppers.

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Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.