the difference between retargeting and remarketing in digital marketeing campaigns

What’s the Difference Between Retargeting and Remarketing?

6 min read

Retargeting and remarketing are both digital marketing strategies that involve re-engaging customers who have looked at your content before, but they find your customers in different ways.

There tends to be some misunderstanding surrounding the terms, likely in part because the term remarketing is also sometimes used to describe a broader category of strategies that includes both. On top of that, Google’s remarketing tools include both remarketing and retargeting strategies!

But, there are significant differences between remarketing and retargeting as strategies in how each is executed within a marketing campaign and how they target people.

What is retargeting?

Retargeting campaigns target users who have previously interacted with your website or social media platforms but left without completing a specific action, such as purchasing or signing up for a newsletter.

Have you ever noticed how you’ll start seeing Facebook ads for a brand or type of product you were shopping for after visiting a website or two? That’s due to retargeting.

Retargeting is a valuable strategy for businesses because it helps them reconnect with potential customers, and even offer them a tailored experience based on what content they interacted with. That’s why Facebook might show you that exact set of bedsheets or you searched for on their website. If you didn’t make the decision to buy in that first moment, maybe seeing online ads a second time will encourage you to do so!

How does retargeting work?

Retargeting works by using browser cookies or pixel tags to track users’ activities on your website. When these users leave the site and continue browsing the internet, advertising platforms use this tracking data to display targeted ads on different websites or platforms they visit. This method ensures that your ads are seen by individuals who have already shown an interest in your products or services, making them more relevant and likely to catch their attention.

One of the key benefits of a retargeted ad is its ability to increase conversion rates significantly. Again, by focusing on people who are already familiar with your brand and have demonstrated interest, retargeting can guide them back to your website to complete their initial action.

This strategy not only helps in converting potential customers but also aids in maintaining brand awareness and recall. As users see your ads, they are reminded of your brand, increasing the likelihood of them returning to your site.

What is remarketing?

Remarketing campaigns are similar to retargeting campaigns in that they re-engage with past website or social media platform visitors. Again, these strategies target people who didn’t quite complete that purchase or conversion on a website, but reach those customers a second time through more directs channels rather than ads.

For example, have you ever left a cart full of stuff un-purchased on a website only to receive an email a few hours later offering you free shipping? That’s an example of remarketing.

How does remarketing work?

The way remarketing works is that when people interact with your brand website or social media profile, their contact information is added to your remarketing list. You can then use this list to send targeted emails, offer special deals, remind them of products they viewed, or provide personalised recommendations based on their previous interactions.

Given our example above, you can quickly see how easily remarketing can be customised. Did they leave items in a cart? Offer free shipping. Did they not sign up for a webinar? Send a limited time offer for a one-on-one consultation for your services.

Remarketing, generally, is effective for customer retention and building long-term customer relationships because it is so heavily customised. You create a sense of familiarity and trust by sending personalised emails that resonate with the recipient’s interests and previous interactions with your brand. This approach encourages repeat purchases and can quickly expand the ways that customers interact with your brand.

The fundamental differences between retargeting vs remarketing

Both retargeting and remarketing can be beneficial to your digital marketing efforts, though which is best suited to your business?

It’s worth considering the types of resources you have for content marketing, creation of social media ad campaigns and email sequences, and where best to re engage customers.

The main differences between remarketing and retargeting lie in:

  • Channels used. Retargeting campaigns primarily use an online retargeting ad to target previous website visitors, whereas remarketing focuses on direct communication, such as email marketing, to re-engage past customers or visitors.
  • Target audience. Retargeting focuses on users who have visited your website but left without completing an action. Remarketing, on the other hand, often aims to engage customers who have already made a purchase or shown a higher level of engagement with your brand.
  • Objective. Retargeting campaigns aim to bring back visitors to complete an action (like a purchase). Remarketing strategies seek to maintain and deepen the relationship with existing customers, encouraging repeat business and loyalty.

Despite their differences, you can see how both retargeting and remarketing campaigns can work together in your marketing strategy. You can use retargeting to bring back lost traffic, converting visitors into customers. Once these visitors become customers, remarketing takes over to nurture these relationships, encouraging repeat purchases and promoting brand loyalty.

Setting up remarketing and retargeting

In setting up either type of campaign, you’ll want to make sure your retargeting and remarketing efforts are consistent with your overall marketing strategy. The messaging, tone, and visuals should align with your brand identity across all channels.

Retargeting campaign set-up basics

  • Begin by identifying the target audience segments that visited your website but didn’t convert. Use Google Analytics tools to understand their behaviour and interests.
  • Select retargeting platforms that align with your audience’s online behaviour. Common platforms include Google Ads, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  • Design ads that resonate with your audience, reminding them of the products or services they viewed. Ensure your ad design and copy are engaging and aligned with your brand voice.
  • Direct your retargeted traffic to optimised landing pages that reflect the message of your ads. This consistency improves the user experience and increases the likelihood of conversion.

Remarketing campaign set-up basics

  • Segment your email list based on customer behaviour, such as past purchases, browsing history, or engagement level.
  • Tailor your emails to address the specific needs and interests of each segment. Personalisation can significantly increase the effectiveness of your emails.
  • Use a clear and attractive design for your emails. Include compelling visuals and easy-to-read text to enhance engagement.
  • Every email should have a clear and concise call-to-action, guiding recipients on what to do next, whether revisiting your website, availing a discount, or exploring new products.

Again, there can be complicated interplay between the two and keep in mind that you can leverage the strengths of different channels. For instance, use insights from your retargeting ads to inform your email marketing content for a cohesive and integrated marketing campaign.

Examples of retargeting and remarketing

Examples of retargeting campaigns

Online Clothing Store

An online store for clothes can use retargeting to display ads for products a visitor viewed but did not purchase. For example, if a customer looked at a pair of shoes but left the site, they would later see ads for those shoes while browsing other websites. This type of retargeting is often central to e-commerce campaigns.

Travel Agency

A travel agency can target audiences who searched for flights but didn’t book. They can display ads offering special deals on flights or hotels to the destinations they showed interest in.

Software Business

A software company can set up a retargeting campaign for visitors who downloaded a white paper but didn’t sign up for a product demo. The retargeting ads can highlight key features of the software or offer a free trial.

Real Estate

A real estate company uses retargeted ads to reach individuals who visited their listing pages but did not inquire. The ads show similar properties in the area they searched, encouraging them to revisit the site and explore more listings.

Examples of remarketing campaigns

Electronics Store

After purchasing a product from an electronics store, current customers receive remarketing emails suggesting complementary products, such as accessories for the purchased item or extended warranty offers.

Gym Memberships

A gym can set up an email marketing campaign for members whose subscriptions are about to expire, offering them special discounts or benefits if they renew their membership.


After hosting a webinar, a consulting company can send email remarketing campaigns to attendees with additional resources related to the webinar topic or an exclusive offer for consultation services.


An online bookstore uses remarketing emails to reach existing customers who haven’t purchased in the last six months. The email campaigns might include personalised book recommendations based on their previous purchases and browsing history, increasing repeat purchases.

Examples of combined approach

A beauty products retailer uses retargeting strategies to re-engage customers who abandoned their shopping carts and follow up with emails offering discounts on their next purchase.

A SaaS company first uses retargeting ads to encourage sign-ups for a free trial. After the trial, they implement remarketing emails to convert these users into paying customers by highlighting premium features and offering a limited-time discount.

Ready to try retargeting and remarketing strategies?

Contact us to discuss your marketing goals and how our retargeting and remarketing services will benefit your brand and grow your business. Request your proposal and let’s get started today.

Sam McEwin

Sam McEwin

Author Bio: Sam is a life long marketer, founder and Director of BizWisdom Agency & co-host of the Brandwidth® podcast. Sam's passion is unlocking the marketing programs of the world's leading brands to help drive the growth of everyday small to medium businesses. You can find Sam on twitter @sammcewin or on LinkedIn at /in/sammcewin/