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Retargeting vs. Remarketing – what’s the difference?

Retargeting vs. Remarketing – what’s the difference?

Retargeting and remarketing are often used interchangeably, however, most of the time, this is incorrect. Nowadays, there are a lot of tools out there around marketing to people who’ve already come in contact with your brand. Whether they visited your site, saw an ad somewhere else, or clicked on a PPC ad, or filled out a form on your site, you now have the capability to market to them again.


But when it’s time to “market” them again, there are two main terms you hear when talking about this approach. Remarketing and Retargeting. They sound pretty similar, but we’ll have to explore the differences between the two, the various tools that are available to execute these campaigns, and talk about the use cases in which each tactic is useful.


Retargeting is most often used to describe online ad placements and display ads, served based on a user’s activity on your site. For example – a user visits your site, a cookie is set and you can now target ads to them on other sites they visit, hence the term retargeting.

What makes retargeting so appealing is that it’s done through third party networks like the Google display network, thus giving you the opportunity to reach users wherever they are, on millions of sites.

A fair warning to marketers just starting out – there’s a huge possibility that your retargeting efforts could annoy or create feelings of mistrust with some customers.

The bottom line is that retargeting is an important part of the marketing toolkit, but you need to pay special attention to the frequency, context and how often these ads are served to our customers. If done well, retargeting will have a positive ROI and will keep your brand constantly in the eyes of your potential customers in the early stages of the buying cycle.

Why should anyone consider retargeting?

1) It’s a good  way to convert an already interested shopper. Whether they were just visiting your site, or actually put an item in the cart, these are people who have shown an interest in your products. Which means the effort it will take to win them over is much less than someone who’s never been to your site before.


2) It reminds potential customers. Shoppers need to be exposed to an ad several times before they’ll buy something. Especially today, where there are so many twists and turns and distractions along the path to purchase. Retargeting provides a gentle reminder that might just make them purchase that new pair of headphones that they’ve always wanted.

3) Retargeting usually works cross-platform. Shoppers tend to move across screens all the time, and in order to meet them, advertisers need to be able to do the same. Some re-targeters can match a shopper across desktop, mobile, and apps, allowing you to reach them with a consistent message and experience wherever they are.


Remarketing is a much simpler solution, but doesn’t always work as well as retargeting. This term is typically used to describe re-engaging customers with email. Nowadays, remarketing is used to describe shopping cart abandonment email campaigns, upsells/cross sell emails.
Ever went to Amazon, added a product to your cart, then didn’t end up making the purchase? I’m sure you’ve received an email 30 minutes later reminding you of the product that you’ve left in the cart – that’s called remarketing.

But why does remarketing work so well?

Think of it this way – if you’re sending something like a cart abandonment email campaign, the recency of the interaction the customer had with you is critical. We’re talking about a customer who is expressing the highest level of buying interest and who has made it to the very bottom of your marketing strategy.


You could certainly retarget the customer with a display ad too, but there is no guarantee that the customer will see or be influenced by it within that one hour window where you have the best chance to convert them.

Which one should you use?

The bottom line is that the difference between retargeting and remarketing really isn’t very big and it is rather forgivable that people misuse them. At the end of the day, they are both effective methods to use existing customer data to attempt re-engagement and increases conversions.

But why choose? Our recommendation would be to use both!


The way retargeting and remarketing can work hand in hand is actually by being apart. Use retargeting for your potential customers – those who are just browsing. If they do get back to your site and make a conversion, like buy a product or make an inquiry, that’s when you lay off the retargeting and do more remarketing.

If that same customer hasn’t made any efforts to convert in months, retarget them again. Doing so ensures your audience doesn’t get bombarded by constant alerts from your business. In turn, you’ll likely have more loyal ones because you’ve respected their boundaries. Mindful marketing will always pay off in the end.