Are they the same?


Confused about the difference between remarketing and retargeting?

You’re not alone!

These terms are used interchangeably these days.

But are they the same?

Technically, they are not!

Remarketing and retargeting have similar goals.

But there are also some important differences that you should understand.

Remarketing and retargeting differ in terms of strategy and who you can reach.

Remarketing and retargeting: similar, but different

Advertising executives spend a lot of time testing audiences, getting creative, and obsessing over numbers.

It can be a long process; with only a small percentage of ad clickers converting.

While you might be getting a lot of new inbound web traffic, you might not see those numbers translate into sales quickly.

And few of them turn into a sale the first time they land on your webpage.

In the age of “but we can keep everything” it can be easy to get sidetracked.

It’s easy to forget the true role of marketing:

To convince people long before they make the decision to choose your product or business over others.


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Often the best people to target are those who have visited your site more than once or have interacted with you digitally in the past.

Both retargeting and remarketing reach these customers. And they’re the ones who buy the most, rather than first-time visitors.

And it can be an extremely important strategy in your marketing efforts.


Now let’s explore remarketing and retargeting individually, so that the differences become clear to you.

What is retargeting?

Retargeting can have several approaches.

Most commonly, these are online ad placement or display ad placement targeting users who have interacted with your site in a specific way without making a purchase.

Once a visitor comes to your website, clicks on a product, or takes a certain action that you want them to take, a cookie is set in their browser.

You can then use this information to “retarget” them with advertisements based on their interactions once they leave your site.

These ads are placed by third parties, such as the Google Display Network or Facebook. They allow your ads to be triggered on other sites your visitors go to.


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Ultimately, retargeting can be categorized into 2: “onsite” and “offsite” events.

Each has different strategies you can adopt depending on the type of interactions you want to target.

Let’s take a closer look.

Target “ on-site ” interactions

This is the category often associated with retargeting. This is to target people who have already visited your site.

They have already interacted with your products and services. Or they took some other action but may not have completed the sale.

Retargeting to those who have had onsite interactions can increase conversions.

They can also help retain those who have already expressed an interest in your brand.

There are many ways to retarget.

Here are some of the ways you can target people who have had on-site interactions:

  • Target based on a product they interacted with but didn’t purchase.
  • Target based on how they found your site (social media, search, or other inbound events).
  • Those on your email list who have shown interest in your brand, but have yet to convert to sales.

These settings can be configured in different platforms, such as:

  • Google Ads.
  • Google Analytics.
  • Facebook Ads.
  • And many more.

Retargeting campaigns almost always show higher engagement and conversions than campaigns without retargeting.

It comes down to the fact that it’s much easier to market and advertise to those who have shown interest in your brand or industry.

Target “off-site” interactions

Rather, retargeting was limited to behavior on the website.

This has changed as more and more users have been spending time on social media.

The delivery of product and brand information was no longer hosted in one place.

Instead, it started to spread to other areas.

This meant that interactions with the public now existed in several places that were no longer owned by the brand.

Social media giants like Facebook have recognized this and have started making engagement targeting a possibility.

In other words, brands could do retargeting pushes based on what a user has done on the platform in regards to their page, events, and other Facebook-controlled items that a brand participates in. .


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Retargeting can now include “users who interacted with your page” and other similar options.

In practice, targeting these users was always retargeting.

It has become the brave new world of “offsite” interaction targeting.

What is remarketing?

This is where it gets a little confusing and there is some overlap in the industry.

Sometimes retargeting is called “remarketing” (even though it’s actually remarketing).

Google’s remarketing tools are one example. These are all retargeting tools in the classic sense.


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While it can be a bit confusing, just remember that remarketing and retargeting share goals and terminology isn’t as important as the associated strategy.

That being said, remarketing is more often about re-engaging customers via email.

Retargeting involves moving customers who are not yet on the path to purchase.

Things like emailing a customer to renew a service or sell an accessory are traditional examples of remarketing.

It can also take the form of a mark “reminding” a user to take action, using information about their purchase history.

This happens frequently in email marketing, but also takes the form of paid ads targeted to current customer segments.

The blurry line between remarketing and retargeting

These two tactics once existed in silos: Email was its own island, and paid media was limited to the top of funnel targeting and website action-based remarketing.

However, these two elements have become somewhat interchangeable in recent years.


Well, platforms like Google Ads and Facebook added the ability to target the platform using email customer lists years ago.


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Email no longer exists as a separate information silo from the paid media part of the world.

Here is the version of Facebook:

Remarketing vs retargeting: are they the same thing?

This is the version of Google Ads:

Remarketing vs retargeting: are they the same thing?

When an email list is uploaded, the platform will then work to match those email addresses with user logins.

This matching list is used to serve ads on (assuming it meets the minimum audience size threshold, which varies by platform).


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So now you have that fuzzy line of targeting your email users, maybe with the even message that you send in emails, but with paid advertising.

Retargeting vs remarketing: the takeaways

When you compare retargeting and remarketing, the overlaps and differences have become less obvious over the years.

But this has also been true for digital marketing in general.

Their common goal, however, is to increase conversions of those who most likely buy from your brand; and the difference really being the associated strategy.

Retargeting is really focused on paid advertising (and can take a variety of forms and target a wide range of individuals).

Remarketing focuses on email campaigns and targets those who have had previous interactions with, allowing for more specific upselling and messaging.

This amalgamation of retargeting and remarketing is really indicative of what we see in digital marketing as a whole:

Attribution is not a clearly defined thing.

It used to feel like this was the case, but this was mainly due to the fact that the platforms did not integrate all the elements that marketers had access to.


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As these platforms continue to intersect, questions arise less about what defines a tactic, and more about which mix of them works best.

More resources:

Image credits

All screenshots taken by author, September 2020

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