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Remarketing vs retargeting – what are the differences and what are they used for?

Distinguishing remarketing from retargeting can sometimes be problematic, mainly because the terms not only sound similar, but are also used in similar situations. Both marketing techniques serve to re-engage visitors to a store’s website, but they do so in slightly different ways. In this article, we break down remarketing and retargeting – we’ll discuss the differences between the terms and show examples of how both techniques are used in e-commerce promotional activities.
Read our guide to find out:

What problem does remarketing and retargeting solve?

The terms remarketing and retargeting are used to describe techniques that enable you to reach people who expressed initial interest (visited your website) but left the store without completing a purchase. This way you increase the chance of conversion.

Now let’s try to determine what is the difference between remarketing and retargeting – so let’s start by explaining both terms.


The definitions below are sample interpretations – many marketers will agree with these descriptions, but there are no dictionary definitions of these terms that are not up for debate.

What is remarketing?

Remarketing is referred to as various strategies that involve re-advertising products and services to people who have interacted with your brand. Remarketing activities would include, for example, sending emails to people who signed up for a newsletter but did not make a purchase.

To make this possible, remarketing tracks and analyzes the behavior of visitors on the store’s website and other pages (this is made possible by cookies). An appropriately crafted message (for example, a display ad on another page or an e-mail sent directly to the visitor’s inbox) is then targeted, encouraging the past visitor to return and shop.

How can remarketing be used?

There are many ways to use remarketing to increase conversions.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to get in touch with people who have signed up for a newsletter or created a store account, but haven’t bought anything in a while (or at all). Just send an email with the latest offer or special promotion to encourage purchases. Such an action does not require precise audience segmentation, so it is relatively simple to implement. However, there is no way to count on the high effectiveness of remarketing like this. The difficulty in this case is also that in order to act in this way you must first have access to the recipients’ email addresses and consent to marketing activities.

Advanced remarketing, on the other hand, is an approach that requires preparation, but achieves much better results. First, you need to segment your visitors according to your criteria – all so that you can prepare tailored remarketing content for your audience. You’ll want to send a different message to a person who stayed on the site for several seconds, and a different message to a visitor who had several products in his or her shopping cart, but abandoned the purchase at the last straight line.

Remarketing can also be automated to achieve the best results. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is used for this purpose. Examples of such a tool include HubSpot, Freshworks or Zendesk. It is impossible to list all the features of this type of application, but among the most commonly used is the automatic sending of emails in response to a specific event (for example, the second day after a shopping cart is abandoned). In this way, you can reduce the labor expenses incurred.

Remarketing is, of course, not just about sending emails: Part of remarketing is also displaying tailored ads to users who have left the store, elsewhere. It’s those situations where a consumer, after leaving a smartphone store, sees ads for smartphones for the next few days. But first we will introduce the concept of retargeting.

What is retargeting?

It’s worth starting with the fact that retargeting and remarketing are actually two sides of the same coin. Retargeting is a type of remarketing, so retargeting activities are included in the set of remarketing activities.

The goal of retargeting also is to reach people who have already established some (even superficial) relationship with the brand, but this strategy uses other tools. As a rule, retargeting strategies use paid ads – they are displayed to people who have visited the store’s website or social media profiles.

Retargeting allows tracking user behavior through cookies. That’s why retargeting knows what ads to display to the recipient. So for this to work, the visitor must agree to the cookies right after entering the site.

How to run a campaign using retargeting?

A retargeting campaign, based on paid ads, can be carried out through Google Ads and tools that enable social media display ads (Facebook Ads, TikTok Ads Manager, LinkedIn Ads, etc.).

Here, too, you can bet on a static approach and opt to display ads with the same content to everyone who has visited the site before, regardless of the action taken. This is a good approach if your goal is to build a brand, and will work well, for example, if your company specializes in providing specific services or sells a particular type of product.

However, in order to display a more personalized advertising message to potential customers, you need to use segmentation – this works exactly as we described above.

Using a retargeting strategy, you can not only bring potential customers back to your store’s website, but also display specific products in which they may have a keen interest, or even offer a special deal created specifically for returning users.

Remarketing vs. retargeting – what to focus on?

In general, using remarketing in promotional activities is an absolute must if you run an online store. Maintaining relationships with potential customers, presenting current offers to people who have abandoned their shopping carts or have shopped at your store in the past, but haven’t shown up in a while, are basics that should not be neglected.

However, whether it is worth and appropriate to invest in paid advertising to help draw would-be customers back to the store remains a separate question. The effectiveness of retargeting is undeniable, but it will not work the same for everyone. However, if your goal is to increase conversions among people who have visited your store but have not left any data behind that you can use in your communications, this may be the only way to reach them again.

It is worth recalling that up to 97% of visitors to the site, no longer return to it without additional encouragement. This means that retargeting efforts make sense, because they allow you to remind these people about your store and repeat your offer, which – because they already have a first contact with your brand – significantly increases the chance of conversion.

Finally, we left one more piece of advice: as long as you have the capacity and enough time, it’s a good idea to use several remarketing strategies at the same time or alternately – this way your chances of getting an undecided customer will increase even more!

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