Retargeting vs Remarketing: What is the Difference Between the Two?

Retargeting vs Remarketing: What is the Difference Between the Two?

Many people confuse retargeting with remarketing and vice versa. They're similar concepts, but they have some fundamental differences you need to keep in mind if you want to use one or the other. They both entail reaching out to people who have already connected with your brand on some level, but how they do this is considerably different. So what's Retargeting vs Remarketing and what's their difference?

Here we'll get into retargeting and remarketing, including their similarities and differences. You may then decide to use one or both to connect with more customers and drive more sales.

What is retargeting?

Retargeting is a digital marketing strategy where ads are served to users who've previously visited a specific website, aiming to bring them back to complete an action, such as a purchase. It operates using cookies stored on user's browsers.

Generally, you can break down retargeting into two main types: on-site and off-site.

On-site retargeting

The first type of retargeting to consider is on-site retargeting, which entails connecting with people who have already interacted with your brand through your website. For example, they may have visited a particular landing page after clicking through an ad or social media post, or they may have visited a product page through search results.

Retargeting these people would help keep your brand in the spotlight as they browse the web, eventually leading them back to you in many cases to complete a purchase. 

You can use retargeting to engage on-site audiences in various ways. For instance, you can:

  • First, send ads to users on the platforms they used to visit your website, including social media channels and Google searches
  • Second, send ads to users based on the products they looked at but didn't purchase
  • Lastly, send email ads or marketing emails to individuals who appeared engaged with your brand but didn't make a purchase

Off-site retargeting

While on-site retargeting entails connecting with people who engaged with your website, off-site retargeting involves targeting individuals who engaged with your brand on other platforms.

Examples of off-site platforms mostly include social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more. You can use off-site data collected from these platforms to continue targeting your audiences until they convert into leads and customers.

Many platforms like Facebook give you tools to assist with retargeting, which could involve sending these audiences relevant ads or content from your social media page.

What is remarketing?

Remarketing, similar to retargeting, is a digital marketing strategy that targets users who have previously interacted with your website or mobile app. The goal is to re-engage these users, typically through personalized ads, in order to encourage them to return to your site and complete a transaction or another desired action.

While many tend to refer to retargeting as remarketing, including Google's Remarketing Tools that actually help with retargeting, it isn't the same. Retargeting is all about encouraging people to convert, whereas the goal of remarketing is to bring customers back for more.

In turn, remarketing tends to use different strategies to connect with your existing customers. Retargeting normally entails sending ads to people to continue selling your brand and offerings. Meanwhile, remarketing uses tactics such as emails, SMS text messaging, and other forms of communication to entice customers to make additional purchases.

An example of remarketing would be to send an email to a customer with a personalized product recommendation. The email's subject line could be something like "If You Enjoyed [Purchases Product], You'll Love This!" Within the email, you could recommend similar offerings that align with the recipient's tastes.

You can also send information about discounts or deals on various products or give them periodic promo codes to ensure they stay engaged. 

However, remarketing isn't always about connecting with existing customers; it could also involve sending emails or other reminders to potential customers to complete an order that's in their shopping cart.

Retargeting vs remarketing: The similarities between the two

Retargeting and remarketing are similar in their objectives, but they have some critical differences that prevent them from being interchangeable. 

Both of these marketing tactics have the shared goal of bringing people back to your business. Once people disengage, every brand should do what they can to engage them and keep them moving along the customer journey.

Sometimes, remarketing and retargeting use similar tactics to connect with their respective targets. One shared channel they can use is email; retargeting could use paid advertising on email platforms to reach users who've only visited your website while remarketing emails could send relevant email content directly to existing customers. 

Differences between retargeting and remarketing

Retargeting typically refers to online ad placements and display ads served to users who have visited a brand's website or app, while remarketing often encompasses email or other direct outreach to re-engage customers who have shown previous interest or taken specific actions.

1. Channels used

One of the main differences between retargeting and remarketing is the type of channels used to connect with audiences. 

In most cases, retargeting primarily involves pushing ads on many platforms to get in front of prospective customers. These ads could appear on other websites that the user browses in the form of banner ads, video ads, and others. Ads may also appear on social media channels, email platforms like Yahoo and Gmail, and in search results on services like Google and Bing. 

On the other hand, the primary channel used for remarketing is email. Although retargeting uses email, too, remarketing uses it more directly. Retargeting uses ads, while remarketing entails sending emails to existing or past customers to keep them consistently engaged. These emails could include product recommendations, discounts and exclusive offers, sales information, shopping cart reminders, and more.

2. Data collection and usage

Another difference to consider is the way these marketing strategies collect and use data. 

Retargeting ads can use a couple of different methods to connect with users through ads, including:

Pixel-Based retargeting

One method of connecting with people through retargeting is to use a pixel, a special piece of code, that "attaches" to users' browsers in the form of a third-party cookie when they visit your website. Once they leave your website, this tracking cookie will communicate with other websites, including search engines, social media platforms, and other websites, enabling you to display relevant ads on these platforms for your brand. One of the main benefits of this strategy is that users are likely to see your ads soon after leaving your site, ensuring they don't forget about you and helping build brand recognition.

List-based retargeting 

Another form of retargeting data collection and usage is the formation of a list of contacts. You can develop a contact list on platforms like social media sites, giving you the ability to push ads to these users in your retargeting efforts. As soon as users on your list begin accessing the platform, they'll likely come across one of your ads. You can also fully customize your contact lists to determine precisely who sees your ads.

At the same time, you can run remarketing campaigns using any email addresses you've collected from your customers. Request this information from them during checkout or earlier, such as when they sign up for an account on your website. You may then send personalized and highly relevant remarketing emails to these audiences.

Ideally, you should send appropriate remarketing emails at various points throughout the buying cycle, starting with reminder emails if people neglect to complete a purchase. Once your customers have bought your products or services, you can then begin taking steps to bring them back for more. You might also send other emails, ranging from deals to company updates such as changes to your products or services that might interest your customers. 

3. Audience targeting

The third big difference between retargeting vs remarketing is the type of audience you're targeting. 

As mentioned, retargeting generally applies to people who have engaged with your website or social media pages but have not actually made a purchase of any kind. They're either on the verge of becoming leads or have become leads but haven't officially become customers. Retargeting efforts will attempt to turn these people into happy customers by encouraging them to make their first purchase.

Retargeting ads could apply when people take different actions on your site or social media without buying from you. This includes completing web forms, commenting, or otherwise interacting with social media posts,. Moreover, visit various landing pages from initial ads or social media. Lastly, leaving items in their shopping carts. 

Remarketing would apply when you've already converted someone into a customer and want to make them loyal to your brand. Remarketing emails can use all types of strategies to get customers to make additional purchases. Not only can you send emails with personalized recommendations and deals, but you might also send them at specific intervals. This is to maintain a consistent level of engagement. Also, when people become inactive and you want to keep them in the sales funnel. The key here is to strike a balance between engagement and annoyance. Also, sending emails too frequently could get people to click "unsubscribe" more than anything. You must also ensure your emails are relevant and maintain a meaningful connection with your customers.

Choosing between retargeting and remarketing

Retargeting and remarketing both have their place in a complete marketing strategy. However, sometimes you might want to use one or the other. This should be depending on your circumstances and goals.

Here are some items to consider when choosing between retargeting vs remarketing for your strategy:

1. Business type

The type of business you're running will dictate which strategy to use primarily. Specifically, this will depend on whether your business is new or well-established.

If you're running a new business, you'll likely have a small or non-existent customer base. Making retargeting critical alongside initial marketing and advertising efforts. If your ads get people to click through and visit your website, but they don't become customers, you can send retargeting ads shortly thereafter to keep your brand in front of them. This will help earn their recognition and trust, potentially leading them to convert into customers for the first time.

Conversely, if you're a more well-established company with a larger customer base, you may want to invest more in remarketing efforts along with retargeting. Remarketing will help you maximize the average customer lifetime value (CLV). This will help each customer and help drive repeat sales, leading to a steadier revenue stream.

2. Marketing objectives

The type of strategy you use will also depend on your marketing objectives. For instance, your goals might be to:

  • Increase brand awareness and visibility — If this is your main goal, retargeting will serve you better. These ad campaigns will keep your brand in the eyes of potential customers. Also, it will help you outshine other less engaging brands. Ultimately, retargeting ads can be a great way to ensure people don't forget you and that your brand doesn't get lost in the competitive mix.
  • Boost sales and revenue — Want to increase profits more than anything? Remarketing is the ideal tool to use in this case. Remarketing emails will engage existing customers to get them to make more purchases and stick with your brand over competitors.

3. Audience demographics

You'll also want to take audience demographics into account when deciding which type of strategy to use. Retargeting is ideal for connecting with people who are right at the beginning of the buying cycle but haven't committed to your brand. At the same time, you can use remarketing to target people who have either neglected.  Also, in committing to purchases after adding items to your cart or need more persuasion to become loyal.

4. Budget

Another consideration is your available pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and marketing budget. If you're working with a lower budget, you'll likely want to stick with retargeting more than remarketing. Channeling your funds into these campaigns will help ensure your ads go to those who have expressed interest in your brand and are more likely to buy. As a result, they often do much better than conventional ad strategies, with Citreo finding that retargeting ads see a 43% higher conversion rate than non-retargeting campaigns.

Retargeting vs remarketing: Conclusion

If you're considering retargeting vs remarketing strategies for your brand, think about the similarities and differences between them. You'll also want to take into consideration the various factors that might influence your decision. Generally, both of these campaigns can be invaluable assets for your business, but knowing when to use each will give you the upper hand over the competition in your industry.


Berkem Peker

Berkem Peker is a growth strategist at Storyly. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the Middle East Technical University. He/him specializes in growth frameworks, growth strategy & tactics, user engagement, and user behavior. He enjoys learning new stuff about data analysis, growth hacking, user behavior.

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