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What is the Difference Between Retargeting and Remarketing?

Written by Erik J. Olson on . Posted in .
Home > Blog > What is the Difference Between Retargeting and Remarketing?

If you have never heard of retargeting and remarketing, you might be inclined to say they are the same thing. However, if you are paying for advertising on the web, you should be aware of some key differences. Continue reading to see the differences between retargeting and remarketing. If you need help with either, contact the professionals at Array Digital.

Retargeting vs remarketing: what is the difference?

It’s easy to become confused about the differences between retargeting campaigns and remarketing campaigns. It used to be more of a significant difference. Google Ads and Facebook ads have helped to bring the two concepts closer together, and now they are often used interchangeably online, though that use isn’t fully accurate.

Remarketing and retargeting share similar goals.

  • To re-engage with people who have come to your website or interacted with your brand
  • To get people to upsell or purchase from you
  • To build brand awareness, so the next time they think about the service or product you offer, they remember you

The concept of remarketing and retargeting has expanded over time. Now, it’s common for remarketing to seem virtually the same, especially when you’re researching which type of display ads or online advertising you should be doing.

The biggest difference to remember is who you are talking to:

  • Retargeting is about previous website visitors
  • Remarketing is more focused on previous clients

What Is retargeting?

In online advertising, you’ll use a variety of methods to get people to your website. That may include the use of display ads or advertisements in various places on the internet with the goal of targeting your would-be clients. This could be on search engine display pages, social media, or other websites. The key here is understanding the placement of those ads and how to make that decision.

Retargeting is the process of using paid ads presented in front of people who have visited your website at some point. These display ads aim to re-engage those people with your website or your social media.

That’s a basic description of how retargeting works. Now, let’s take a more in-depth view.

Retargeting is all about finding a way to get people to engage with your website again. Using Google Display Network, which manages these display ads, it’s possible to be very precise in who you engage and where.

There are two main types of retargeting that you’ll likely want to use: pixel-based and list-based.


In pixel-based retargeting, you can re-display the ad to anyone that anonymously visited your website. This is the most common way to use retargeting.

When someone visits your website for any reason, a very simple piece of JavaScript, which is a pixel, is added to their search browser. You may have heard these called cookies because they leave a trail behind them.

When the person leaves your website to move on, the cookie goes to work to alert the Google Display Network or other retargeting platforms about what’s happened. That triggers the system to display ads to that person based on the pages they visited on your site. This method offers a few key benefits:

  • The retargeting could be specific to the page they visited.
  • The retargeting can begin immediately as soon as they leave your page.
  • Client or customer behaviors are the basis for this.

There are a few things that make pixel-based retargeting less ideal. For example, there are few people within the retargeting campaign at any given time based on visits to your website, where they go on your site, and when they decide to leave. It’s also a bit more complicated to implement this method on numerous website pages.


The second type is list-based retargeting. In this situation, the retargeting campaign begins once someone comes to your site and provides their contact information to you. They’ve signed up for a newsletter or made a purchase on your site.

Once you have these lists, you can then upload that list to your retargeting campaign. The platform then goes to work to identify users on the network, like Facebook or other social media. Once it does, it can then position retargeting ads in front of them.

List-based retargeting campaigns are in use less frequently because they require having that list of email addresses and contacts. Yet, it offers the benefit of:

  • Creating very customizable ads based on those specific people
  • The basis of these ads is on more than just client or customer behavior, which could make them more effective.

The process is less automatic since you’ll need to maintain those lists and keep the database up to date. Both methods of retargeting can be beneficial to your digital marketing strategy.

What Is remarketing?

Many people confuse remarketing with retargeting, and that’s a problem. Remarketing campaigns are a bit different in how they work.

Remarketing is more able to re-engage audiences. This is done through email mostly. Remarketing may seem very different, then, from retargeting, but there’s some similarity in how it works, especially when you factor in Google’s remarketing tools. These tools are very much retargeting tools in reality.

Confused? It’s easy to be. What’s most important here is to understand that remarketing and retargeting have the same goal — to get people to your website to purchase. What’s different is the strategy they use to achieve this.

Often, remarketing will use email to get more from your client, like offering an upsell on a service they’ve already made or asking them to reach out for a second time.

It’s valuable because it helps to keep your brand fresh in the mind of the client. That way, it enables you to get them back to buying from you or engaging with you again. The process uses the client’’s previous history with you — what they did on your site, such as the interactions they had — to control the types of email messages sent..

The confusion between retargeting and remarketing is made worse by the way Google Ads views the differences. View remarketing as an umbrella term that can refer to a variety of different ways to display ads in front of your clients. Google describes two main types, for example.

Standard remarketing

This form refers to the use of Google Display Network to position ads in front of people who have visited your website when they are on an app or a website that is part of the Display Network.

Dynamic marketing

This refers to the use of ads that will include the products or the services you offer that these people looked at or engaged with on your website or in your app.

How do these processes help with conversions?

No matter which remarketing ads or retargeting ads you use, the bottom line is that it needs to help you engage your target audience, increase sales, and help both new and current clients see the value that your business offers.

That comes down to the conversion rate.

Consider how this works in a traditional ecommerce site:

When a customer comes to a website, especially a first-time customer, they may leave something in their shopping cart. They may click away to go back to something else they were viewing without taking the action needed to buy.

In the legal world, you don’t have a shipping cart, but the premise remains. The actions of the client visiting your site can help to direct marketing strategies to reach them again.

Both retargeting and remarketing strategies can help remind potential clients of your services. They remind the client of your website a second time, helping to provide them with more information or to entice them to come back to your site to complete a contact form.

At some point, they found something on your website that was valuable, interesting, or otherwise desirable to them. While onsite, they went to a page to look at the details of that product or even took the time to enter that item into their shopping cart. They were very interested.

People certainly leave websites for various reasons. Sometimes, their wallet is in the other room, and they don’t complete an e-commerce purchase. Other times, they just aren’t ready to pull the trigger. These marketing tactics help to sway them to come back and check out that item again.

How does this increase conversions?

Consider that these retargeting ads and strategies are targeting people that already found something they want and need. This is not the first-time they are seeing your product. The key here is that they expressed interest. As a result, when you have cart abandonment like this, you have a key opportunity to re-engage with people to get them back to your site.

The way retargeting works, then, is to say, “Hey, you forgot something” or “complete your purchase,” without using those words. That can, then, increase conversion rates.

Here’s another way to consider the value of using these marketing strategies. When you develop SEO practices, create fantastic landing pages, and launch marketing campaigns, you’re spending a lot of money and time getting people to your website for the first time. It’s their first look at what you have to offer. When those people are interested enough in what you have to offer but, for some reason, leave without purchasing, you will not get that investment back.

When you take advantage of retargeting ads, then, you are optimizing that first investment. You’ll put more time into the people most likely to make the purchase. These are the site visitors that are most valuable to you because the conversions are likely to be higher when they do make it back to your site.

What are the challenges of retargeting?

There are challenges to any type of marketing. It’s all about hitting the sweet spot — that place where you are saying just enough in the right way to bring people back to close the sale. Yet, challenges can occur.

Clients are at different stages of taking action when they visit your website. They are in a different place in the sales funnel. When you retarget the client who clicked away without completing a contact form or otherwise engaging with you,, you risk annoying them through these retargeting ads. Most people have been annoyed by ads more than once. It’s critical that your ads are engaging.

It’s important these ads are not always the same. When using the various types of remarketing, it’s essential to switch things up to ensure that you’re prompting clients in a way that encourages them to come back to the site. You could point out your firm’s 5-star reviews of the pricing strategies you offer compared to other law firms — whatever helps them to see you’re worth another look.

Segmentation can also help you here. You can offer services that are similar to the one the client was searching for. For example, if they need information on child custody, they may also need supportive services for child support.  A cross-sell like this could help you to move people through the marketing funnel, getting them back on your website.

What is the biggest challenge with remarketing?

email inbox with a large number of unread emails

With remarketing emails, you are sending very specific messages to your email list in the hopes of getting them back to your website. The problem here is that you have to be quite engaging with email marketing to ensure people actually open, look at your email, or in some way acknowledge it.

Remarketing emails don’t just show up on their screen like a retargeting ad campaign may. While email campaigns can certainly be highly effective and valued, they may not get the same type of views that your retargeting campaign may get.

Other times, it’s harder to work around the limitations of email marketing, such as if the client didn’t provide an accurate email address. Sometimes, people use a fake email address for advertisements so that their primary inboxes do not become cluttered. They may not bother to open retargeting emails due to disinterest or large volume. That means they’re not getting the messages you’re sending, and you are losing out on your investment.

Hand off the challenge to the pros

The investment you make in marketing for your business should have a focus on your target audience. Both retargeting ads and remarketing campaigns can be a viable, positive investment to make. Often, you’ll want to incorporate these marketing efforts alongside others, like PPC campaigns where you’ll run an ad campaign that has nothing to do with visits to your site. You can also include content marketing and optimize your website for SEO. It’s the combination of many of these features that will:

  • Improve your click-through rate
  • Get people to make a purchase onsite
  • Contact you for more information
  • Recognize your brand
  • Return to your site at a later time

Marketing is complicated, and that’s why it’s best to hire a professional to help you with the entire process. Array Digital can handle every aspect of your digital advertising. Our team fully understands the nuances of both methods and can create a campaign with a design for your ideal client.

We capitalize on the way marketing works to build your brand. Our knowledgeable and transparent methods not only create results, but we also regularly provide campaign updates and suggestions along the way. Our online advertising is effective because we continue to work to improve campaigns over time, creating better results as we go. We’ll work to ensure your landing pages are converting and your sales are growing.

Are you ready to re-engage your target audience?

Contact Array Digital today to learn more about how we can help you make the most of your marketing investments. Fill out our contact form now or call us at 757-333-3021 to get started.

Written By Erik J. Olson
Founder & CEO
Erik J. Olson is the Founder & CEO of Array Digital—a marketing agency that enables its clients to achieve their dreams, fulfill their missions, and impact more lives with their services.

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