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Remarketing vs. Retargeting: Understanding the Difference

Remarketing vs. Retargeting: Understanding the Difference

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they're not quite the same. In the world of online advertising, both remarketing and retargeting have similar objectives, but they come with some key differences that are important to grasp. Let's break down these terms and learn when it's best to use each strategy.

Remarketing and Retargeting: Similar but Not Identical

Managing advertising campaigns can be a complex and time-consuming task. Advertisers invest significant effort in creating target audiences, testing creative content, and closely monitoring data. However, only a small percentage of those who click on ads actually end up making a purchase.

While you might be witnessing a surge in web traffic to your site, that doesn't necessarily translate into immediate sales. Most visitors don't become customers on their first visit to your site. It's easy to forget the primary role of marketing, which is to build interest and trust with potential customers long before they decide to choose your product or business over others.

In many cases, the most valuable audience to target is the one that has interacted with your site multiple times or engaged with your brand digitally. This audience is more likely to make a purchase compared to first-time visitors. Targeting these potential customers is a crucial strategy in your marketing efforts.

Now, let's take a closer look at remarketing and retargeting to understand their individual roles.

What Is Retargeting?

Retargeting can be approached in various ways, but it typically involves displaying online ads or display ads to users who have interacted with your site in specific ways without making a purchase. Here's how it works:

When a visitor comes to your website and performs certain actions, like clicking on a product or completing a desired action, a tracking cookie is placed in their web browser.

This cookie data is then used to "retarget" these visitors with ads based on their previous interactions when they leave your site.

These ads are usually displayed on other websites through third-party platforms like the Google Display Network or Facebook.

Retargeting can be divided into two categories: "on-site" and "off-site" interactions. Each category has its own set of strategies based on the types of interactions you want to target.

Targeting "On-Site" Interactions

This category primarily focuses on users who have previously visited your site. They might have engaged with your products or services in some way but didn't complete a purchase. Retargeting these users can significantly increase conversion rates and help retain potential customers who have shown interest in your brand but aren't ready to make a purchase just yet.

You can use various methods to retarget users who have had on-site interactions:

Target users based on the products they interacted with but didn't purchase.

Target users based on how they found your site, such as through social media, search engines, or other inbound channels.

Reach out to users on your email list who have shown interest in your brand but haven't converted into customers.

These retargeting parameters can be set up on platforms like Google Ads, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, and others. Retargeting campaigns tend to have higher engagement and conversion rates compared to non-retargeting campaigns because it's more efficient to market to users who have already expressed interest in your brand or industry.

Targeting "Off-Site" Interactions

Retargeting initially focused on on-site behavior but evolved as users spent more time on social media platforms. User interactions with brands and products started happening on various platforms, not just on the brands' websites. Social media giants like Facebook recognized this trend and introduced engagement targeting options. Brands could now retarget users based on their interactions with the brand's page, events, and other Facebook-controlled elements. In practice, this still involves targeting users who haven't converted into customers yet, making it the world of "off-site" interaction targeting.

What Is Remarketing?

Sometimes, the lines between remarketing and retargeting can become a bit blurry, and there's a degree of overlap in the industry. For instance, Google's Remarketing Tools are essentially retargeting tools in the classic sense, even though they're called "remarketing." But what really matters is the strategy behind these terms.

The biggest difference between the two lies in their objectives:

Retargeting aims to move potential customers down the path to purchase, focusing on users who have interacted with your brand but haven't made a purchase yet.

Remarketing is about re-engaging existing customers through media platforms such as email or paid ads. It often involves tactics like emailing a customer to renew a service or upsell an accessory.

Remarketing can also involve "reminding" users to take action based on their purchase history. This can take the form of email marketing campaigns or paid ads targeting specific customer segments.

The Blurry Line Between Remarketing & Retargeting

In the past, remarketing and retargeting existed as separate tactics. Email marketing was its own domain, and paid media focused on top-of-funnel targeting and retargeting based on website interactions. However, these lines have blurred in recent years. Platforms like Google Ads and Meta Ads integrated the ability to target users using email customer lists. Email is no longer a separate silo; it's now closely connected with the world of paid media. When you upload an email list, the platform tries to match those email addresses with user logins, enabling you to show ads to users from your email list. This blurred line means you can target email users with the same message you send in emails, but using paid advertisements. Alternatively, you can send a different message to the same email list, depending on how you plan to use the list.

When to Use Retargeting vs. Remarketing

The decision to use retargeting or remarketing comes down to your strategy. You don't have to choose one over the other; both tactics can be incorporated into your marketing strategy to increase conversions. They complement each other. Here's when you might use each:

Prioritizing Retargeting as a Strategy

Use retargeting if your primary goal is acquiring new customers.

Consider retargeting if your product or service is typically a one-time purchase.

If you're already investing in brand awareness campaigns and paid ads for building awareness, retargeting can help nurture potential customers down the sales funnel. Most users won't make a purchase the first time they encounter a brand or product.

Retargeting complements your brand awareness efforts by guiding users towards making incremental conversions.

Prioritizing Remarketing as a Strategy

Employ a remarketing strategy if your product or service is typically purchased multiple times or if you want to upsell existing customers with additional products.

Remarketing is an excellent choice if you have a limited marketing budget. Remarketing options have expanded in recent years, allowing you to re-engage existing customers through "free" channels like email marketing and SMS messaging. This can be a cost-effective way to remind customers about your products, introduce them to new offerings, and nurture long-term relationships with your brand.

Customers who have already purchased from your brand often become your best advocates through word-of-mouth marketing.