Retargeting vs. Remarketing: What’s the Difference, Anyways?


  • The average conversion rate is 3%, meaning there are a lot of people out there who visited your website who can be turned into customers.
  • The best approaches for doing this are via retargeting and remarketing.
  • Retargeting is one of the most efficient and effective ways to keep customers engaged in a buying process–studies show the conversion rate is 10X higher than traditional paid ads.
  • In order to use remarketing with a customer, you need two things: their email address, and their permission to send marketing messages.

Even if your website has the best conversion rate in the history of conversion rates, most of your visitors leave without buying anything the first time they visit. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong—the average conversion rate is under 3%, after all. What it does mean is that there are a lot of people out there who have been to your site who can become customers if you play your cards right.

But, how do you do that? The best two approaches are retargeting and remarketing.

When someone clicks an ad, interacts with a social post, or finds you through a Google search, you can’t assume they’ll come back a second time on their own. You need a plan for staying visible to those people once they leave your site, so you can eventually bring them back and convert them. Retargeting and remarketing are two related—but distinct—ways to make that happen.

Let’s take a quick look at the retargeting and remarketing differences, and what you’ll need in order to use either strategy.

What’s Retargeting?

Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’re probably familiar with the concept of retargeting, because other sites are doing it to you every day. Have you noticed that when you look at a product on a website, you suddenly start seeing ads for that same product in places where you weren’t seeing them before? Congratulations, you’ve been retargeted!

Retargeting is one of the most efficient and effective ways to keep customers engaged in a buying process—some studies have indicated that ads in retargeting campaigns have click-through rates that are ten times higher than other ads. You can put the magic to work for you on Facebook, Google’s display network, and nearly any other place you can imagine, by making proper use of the cookies your site sets in visitors’ browsers. Those cookies allow your marketing tools to follow your unconverted customers around the internet, so to speak, and show them ads in the other places they visit.

There’s one big risk with retargeting—the possibility of alienating a potential customer by showing them the same ad (or a few very similar ads) too many times in too many places. Be sure to use frequency limits and review your analytics to ensure that your retargeting dollars are pulling customers along, not driving them away.

How is Remarketing Different?

We need to pause for a moment here, and mention that what we’ve just described above as retargeting (and what nearly everyone else in the industry would call by the same name), Google insists on calling remarketing. This tends to creates a lot of confusion, and we’d really all be happier if they started calling it “AdWords retargeting” instead of “AdWords remarketing.” But we’re not going to hold our breath.

Instead, we’ll talk about remarketing the way the rest of the world does, as a way of reaching out to potential customers with a personal message–usually via email–after they visit your site. Remarketing messages can take many different forms, but one of the most popular is a reminder email that tells customers what they left in their shopping cart on their last visit to a site. You can also use remarketing emails to bring a customer back to your site after they make a purchase, by asking them to provide a review or suggesting related items that might be of interest.

In order to use remarketing with a customer, you need two things: their email address, and their permission to send marketing messages. The second item is becoming increasingly important as online privacy laws grow more strict. If you do business in Europe, for example, you need to be sure that you’re getting consent in compliance with the GDPR, which took effect in May 2018. A similar law will take effect in California in 2020, and other states will likely follow the same example.

Don’t Be Passive

Digital marketing is not about being passive. Once you’ve done the work to bring someone to your website, it makes sense to do everything in your power to keep them engaged until they start buying. If you’d like to explore remarketing vs retargeting and how you can use them to enhance your marketing efforts, give the experts here at Redefine Marketing Group a shout today!

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Mauricio has close to 20 years of digital experience and a core foundation in the technical side of SEO. He’s led and executed strategy both in-house and on the agency side and enjoys defining successful strategies for our clients.
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