Remarketing and Retargeting—What You Need To Know

Remarketing and retargeting

Ever noticed how whenever you mull over buying something, only to cop out at the last second, your potential purchase seems to follow you everywhere? (Alexa, play “Every Breath You Take”…) All of a sudden, you’re opening emails urging you to “BUY NOW!” and every website you browse is full to the brim with ads. This isn’t a coincidence or the red string of fate. It’s remarketing and retargeting at their finest.

If you were to employ these tactics yourself, you could re-engage ‘disinterested’ website visitors and convert them to actual buyers. Here’s what you need to know!

Table of contents:

Remarketing vs. retargeting

Spend more than five minutes looking into remarketing and retargeting and you’ll find yourself positively bamboozled. That’s not because the strategies are particularly complex. Instead, it’s because a lot of people tend to conflate the two terms, making it incredibly difficult to know what the difference is between them.

Whilst there’s undoubtedly a lot of overlap between the two strategies, they both employ slightly different tactics. It’s important to be able to tell them apart so that you can figure out which direction to head in with your own marketing strategy.

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

What is remarketing?

Remarketing is a process that involves re-engaging people who have visited your website but haven’t made a purchase, and past/current customers, via email. Typically, these people will have handed over their email addresses via an opt-in list on your website, or when they were making their way through the purchasing process.

With these emails you can follow-up with potential customers who have abandoned their shopping cart, or even people who have favourited a product or added something to a wish list. The aim, of course, is to nudge them further through the sales funnel.

You can get a better look at this journey in the image below:

Customer remarketing journey

Now, remarketing is a double-edged sword that needs to be wielded carefully. Though the action of handing over their email address highlights an interest in your products or services, it can just as easily be revoked. Push your subscribers too far with frequent emails, or pushy CTAs, and they’ll unsubscribe and become a lost lead.

What is retargeting?

Retargeting is a process that presents personalised, targeted ads to people who have visited your website, taken action on your website, or used your app. With a clever bit of tracking code on your website, you can store cookies on your visitors’ computers which takes note of which pages they click on, which products/services they show interest in, and even how far into the purchase they get.

Once your visitors leave your website, these cookies will be used to display ads as they browse through other websites that are part of the Google Display Network, or look up similar products and services on Google. The idea is that once your visitors see these ads, they’ll be reminded about their interest and will proceed to make the purchase.

Here’s what a typical retargeting journey looks like:

Customer retargeting journey

The main selling point of retargeting is that you’re reaching out to people who have already shown an interest in your business, which means you’re far more likely to convert them than brand new potential customers.

Why is there so much confusion between them?

As we’ve shown, though both processes involve re-engaging website visitors and potential customers, there are clear differences between the two. So why do people use both terms interchangeably?

One reason is that many advertising tools nowadays give businesses the ability to retarget through email lists, which essentially blurs the line between remarketing and retargeting. Another reason is that one of the biggest retargeting tools out there is Google Ads remarketing. Yep, you read that correctly. It’s a retargeting tool that’s referred to as ‘remarketing’.

If you find yourself blinking in confusion, Neil Patel offers us a simpler explanation:

“I see remarketing more as an umbrella term for marketing to the same prospect multiple times, whereas retargeting really is targeting online ads at the same traffic again and again.”

So, if you spot someone using the term ‘remarketing’, it’s safe to assume that they’re also referring to retargeting.

Why should I use these strategies?

Question mark in circle

If you have a look at your website analytics, you’ll notice that out of the X number of visitors you get per day, only a small percentage actually follow through and make a purchase. So, what happens to the rest of these visitors?

Some of them will have decided that you’re not actually what they’re looking for—opting, instead, to turn to one of your competitors, or to a completely different product/service. Others, however, will simply be mulling over the potential purchase until they feel ‘ready’ to take the next step.

How many times have you almost made a purchase, only to tell yourself to hold off for a few days, just to make sure that you actually want it? You’re not the only one who does this. That’s why remarketing and retargeting are so vital. With the right ad or email, you can remind people why they wanted to make the purchase in the first place.

What are the benefits of remarketing and retargeting?

High conversion rates

Though visitors to your website might intend to return to make a purchase at a later date, there’s no guarantee that they’ll remember to do so. With targeted ads or emails, however, you can give them the reminder they need and nudge them into making an actual purchase.

Lets you offer incentives

In some cases, your visitors will leave your website because they feel like your product or service is too expensive, or because they think they’ll get a better deal from one of your competitors. With personalised promotions and discounts via email or ads, you’re making it more likely that they’ll follow through with their purchase.

Business exposure

Even if your emails and ads don’t lead to conversions right away, the constant exposure to your business builds an awareness in your visitors’ minds. The more familiar they are with you, the more likely they are to eventually return to your website and potentially make a purchase.

It can save you money

It’s much easier to sell a product or service to people who have already shown an interest in it, than to people who are completely unfamiliar with it. As a result, with remarketing and retargeting, you’re getting more bang for your buck—you’re likelier to spend less on these targeted ads and emails (and get more back through conversions) than you are with general marketing to people who might not even be interested.

But don’t forget the pitfalls…

Despite the many advantages that come with these strategies, you need to be extremely cautious when implementing them.

It’s all about timing and frequency when it comes to targeted ads. You don’t want to overwhelm your visitors with dozens of targeted ads the minute that they leave your website. Try to leave a short window of time so that they’re not instantly put off—you don’t want to come across as desperate. You’ll also want to use a mix of subtle and slightly pushier ads so that they don’t feel like you’re trying to strong-arm them into making a purchase.

Similarly, overdoing it with emails can start to annoy people. Speaking from personal experience, we’ve found that the more businesses spam us with emails pushing us to make a purchase, the more likely we are to unsubscribe and forget about them entirely. Remember, everyone has limits.

How to get started with remarketing and retargeting

Pixel based retargeting

If you’re interested in implementing these tactics in your marketing campaigns, you’ll probably want to use Google Ads remarketing. Though there are other retargeting tools out there, Google Ads is the most popular, accessible and far-reaching.

Before you proceed, make sure you’re familiar with the process of setting up Google Ads remarketing on your website with the following resources:

Pick your poison…

When getting started with Google Ads remarketing, you’ll have to choose between targeting people by pixels or by lists. (Quick note, you’ll notice that it sounds an awful lot like the remarketing vs. retargeting section!)

Pixel-based retargeting ads

This process begins with adding a piece of code to your website which will track your visitors’ cookies. Once your visitors leave, these cookies will immediately notify Google Ads, which will trigger targeted ads that will be displayed when your visitors land on other websites or look up similar terms on Google.

Now, depending on your settings and preferences, you can get pretty specific when it comes to your targeted ads. The code that you use can record all sorts of vital information, such as the specific pages that your visitors clicked on, products they showed interest in and even the amount of time they spend on your website. This means that you can display ads that are based on the exact pages and products your visitors were looking at.

Creating these types of personalised ads with Google Ads can be slightly more time-consuming than generic ones, but it’s well worth the time and effort.

List-based retargeting ads

Unlike pixel-based retargeting, list-based retargeting involves using an existing list of customer email addresses that you’ve gathered, e.g., from opt-in lists on your website or from potential leads on your CRM.

You can use these lists in two main ways:

  • Display ads whenever they’re browsing other websites, e.g., to flog a specific product, or to get them to subscribe to a particular service.
  • Send personalised emails to nudge them into following through with a potential purchase, or to make a follow-up purchase.

Simple, right? Well it is…until you realise Google Ads offers even more customisation when it comes to the ads you want to display…

Remarketing with Google Ads

  • Standard remarketing: shows ads to people who have visited your website as they browse other websites and apps.
  • Dynamic remarketing: shows personalised ads that include products or services that people have viewed on your website. You can create a list of people who have visited your website and target them.
  • Remarketing list for search ads: shows ads to people who have visited your website as they conduct follow-up searches for what they’re looking for on Google.
  • Customer list remarketing: once you’ve got lists of contact information from your customers, you can show targeted ads to them as soon as they sign into Google.
  • Video remarketing: shows ads to people who have clicked on your videos or YouTube channel as they continue to use YouTube and browse other videos, sites and apps.

Figure out your goal…


If your main aim is to increase conversions, you’ll want to create personalised, targeted ads that are relevant to what your visitors are interested in—there’s no point in trying to flog Product A if your visitor was looking at Product B.

It’s not all about focusing on specific products, either. If your visitors have shown an interest in your services in general, but didn’t seem to focus on one thing in particular, try to tweak your ads to appeal to what they’re looking for…

  • Highlight product benefits
  • Share testimonials
  • Offer a free trial or freebie
  • Give them a discount or free shipping

Brand awareness

Believe it or not, remarketing isn’t just about conversions—at least, not right away. Though plenty of your website visitors will indicate some kind of interest, due to the page they’ve landed on or the product they’re looking at, there will be some that are a complete mystery to you.

This is where retargeting for brand awareness comes in. If you’re not sure what brought certain visitors to your website, rather than taking a stab in the dark and picking a random feature or product to push, you can simply show them content that emphasises your brand. Though it won’t automatically lead to a conversion, it will keep your name at the front of their minds—potentially leading to them returning to you in the near future.

So, what exactly do you emphasise? You could create an ad that links to a specific blog post that highlights your business’s goals or area of expertise.

Segment your visitors…

Every visitor who ends up on your website is there for a different reason. They might be there because they’ve got their eye on a new product, have an interest in one of your blog posts, or even because they’ve stumbled onto your website by accident!

So, does it really make sense to remarket or retarget them all with the same message? That’s where audience segmentation comes in. You can customise your ads so that you’re displaying different ads to audiences that meet different criteria, e.g., targeting those who have abandoned their shopping cart with one ad and those who are more interested in your blog with another.

The more personalised you can make your ads, the more likely you are to meet your visitors’ interests and needs, not to mention push them further through the sales funnel.


If you’re new to remarketing, it will take you some time to figure out what sort of ads will be most effective with your visitors. Even if you’ve got great instincts, it’s unlikely that you’ll be an overnight success. That’s why you need to take the time to experiment with your ads.

Once you’ve crafted an ad that meets your goal(s), try to create a couple of variations. Then, as you would with A/B testing in email campaigns, send the variations to different visitors to see which one is most effective. This will help you refine and optimise your ads.

Do remember, though, that the work never really stops with remarketing. Even if you craft the world’s best ad—one that has conversions skyrocketing and masses of visitors returning to your website—it will only be the best for so long. Eventually, your visitors will be looking for something new and your goals will change. So, make sure you adapt your ads accordingly.

What are you waiting for?

Now that you’re better acquainted with the ins and outs of remarketing and retargeting, it’s time for you to get your hands dirty and try a few new things with your marketing campaigns. And, as always, if you’re having any trouble, contact Supersede Media and we’ll be more than happy to help you achieve your goals!

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