Remarketing uses organic channels to re-engage potential customers, and retargeting uses paid ads. While both aim to re-engage potential customers, the main difference between the two is the strategy.

Here, you’ll find:

If you’re struggling to understand the difference between remarketing vs retargeting, you’re not alone.

The terms are often used interchangeably, but they are technically different. Understanding their differences and when to use each will help you make better strategic decisions about your own marketing.

Below, Ian Dawson, one of HawkSEM’s esteemed lead strategists, helps break down the similarities and differences, along with how to know which one’s right for your biz.

But before discussing how they’re different, let’s define each.

What is remarketing?

Remarketing is a digital marketing strategy that aims to re-engage existing customers and people who have previously shown interest in your brand. Businesses typically do this using email marketing, but they can also use channels like direct mail, SMS, or social media.

While the goal is often to get a repeat purchase, remarketing isn’t just about conversions. It also deepens customer relationships by getting people to re-engage with the brand.

Not only does remarketing help businesses increase conversion rates, brand recall, and brand loyalty, but it’s also very cost-effective. Since you are reaching out to users who are already familiar with your brand, the customer acquisition costs are lower than if you were trying to bring in new customers.

What is retargeting?

Retargeting is a marketing strategy that involves using online ads to target users who have previously interacted with your website without making a purchase. The goal is to get these users to re-engage with your brand and complete the conversion.

When the visitor lands on your web page, a cookie is set on their browser, which allows you to retarget them and show ads for your brand after they’ve left your website.

Typically, this involves placing retargeting ads on Facebook, another social media platform, or third-party sites through the Google Display Network.

The ad appears in front of those site visitors as they browse other sites online after they have left yours. The ad reminds them about the brand or product and encourages them to re-engage.

A great example of retargeting is when a pair of pants you look at on a clothing store’s website follows you around the Internet. (That’s not just me, right??)

Retargeting ad example

Retargeting ad campaigns offer higher conversion rates and more cost-effective reach since the people you’re targeting are already familiar with your brand and offers.

Continued exposure to retargeting ads can also help increase brand awareness and recognition.

Remarketing vs retargeting: The main differences

The main differences between remarketing and retargeting are the goals, target audiences, and channels used for each strategy.


Remarketing focuses on creating a deeper customer relationship and increasing the customer’s lifetime value (LTV).

While upselling, cross-selling, and repeat purchases are often an outcome of remarketing campaigns, these campaigns also work to foster a sense of brand loyalty while increasing engagement on different marketing channels.

Retargeting campaigns focus primarily on increasing conversions. The goal is to keep your brand visible through continued exposure and encourage users to return to your site to make a purchase.

Target audiences

Typically, the target audience for remarketing is people who have some type of established relationship with your brand. Beyond past customers, this could be email subscribers, social media followers, or people who have engaged with your brand through other channels.

On the other hand, retargeting is often used to target people who have shown some interest in your brand but don’t necessarily engage regularly or with any amount of depth.

These can be people who have browsed your site or interacted with a piece of content but didn’t convert.


An important difference between retargeting vs remarketing is the channels you use. Remarketing focuses on re-engaging customers and leads through various channels—from email marketing and social media to SMS and mobile notifications.

Retargeting uses paid advertising to re-engage potential customers. Retargeting ads can be placed on Facebook or third-party websites using retargeting tools like Google Ads.

Social media and PPC ads help you reach people with targeting messaging after they’ve left your site.

When to use each

Both retargeting and remarketing are powerful strategies to connect with people who have already shown an interest in your brand. However, for best results, it’s important to understand how and when to use each strategy.

When to use retargeting

Retargeting works best when your goal is to increase conversions. If you want to connect with website visitors who have shown an intent to purchase but have not yet converted, retargeting is the way to go.

Now what do we mean by an intent to purchase? Maybe they have put some items in their cart but didn’t finish checking out. Perhaps they visited your pricing page. Or maybe they’ve even reached out and interacted directly with your team.

For example, Dawson suggests, “I would use a retargeting strategy for users who have tried a demo or received a quote but have not yet initiated a contract or purchase agreement.”

When to use remarketing

Remarketing works best when you want to re-engage a previous customer or lead who has interacted with your brand before.

Email campaigns are often the best way to do this because it’s so easy to segment your email list in a way that allows you to send personalized remarketing emails.

Cart abandonment emails are a popular example of remarketing. This email triggers after a user has left your site without purchasing the items in their shopping cart.

The email re-engages the prospective customer and encourages them to return to the site to purchase. Here’s an example of an abandoned cart email from Prose, a custom haircare company:

Prose abandoned cart email

The email acknowledges that the user has already visited their site and learned about their products. Now, it just encourages them to make it a reality by heading back to purchase the product.

Remarketing is also a great strategy for upselling and cross-selling. Using email or SMS, you can reach out to and re-engage customers who have previously purchased a product or service and might be a good fit for a higher tier.

For example, Dawson shares he has used remarketing strategies to reengage customers who have stagnated or those who have pursued additional features to their basic or standard SaaS agreement.

Here’s a great example of an upsell email from SaaS company Evernote:

Evernote upsell email example

The email has been sent to someone using a lower tier of Evernote. It invites the user to upgrade to the premium or plus tier of the product to get more features.

And they even add a little incentive to act now by giving them extra time for free.

Tips for successful remarketing

Here are just a few tips to help you get started with your remarketing campaigns:

  • Segment your audience: For the most effective remarketing campaigns, segment your audience based on behavior. For example, you might send out an upsell email to all of the people who have used your product actively in the last 3 months.
  • Personalize messaging: Use the data you have gathered to personalize your messaging. For example, you can include images of products the customer has viewed on your site to re-engage their interest.
  • Perfect your timing: Timing is important in remarketing campaigns. For instance, when it comes to abandoned cart sequences, you want to make sure you send them within 24 hours of the cart being abandoned.
  • Offer incentives: When you can, offer incentives to encourage people to return to your website. This could be anything from free shipping or exclusive offers to discounts and coupons.
  • Try a variety of channels: While email is a popular remarketing channel, it’s not the only one. Try using social media, SMS, or even direct mailers to see which channels offer the best results.

As with any marketing campaign, you want to measure the results of your remarketing efforts. Use the data you collect to make decisions about future campaigns.

For instance, if you have a low click-through rate on a remarketing campaign, find ways to optimize the content for the best results.

Tips for successful retargeting

Now, let’s look at some strategies for effectively retargeting potential customers:

  • Optimize based on the platform. Create your retargeting ads with the ad platform in mind. The PPC ads that are most successful may not work on Facebook without a little tweaking.
  • Use dynamic retargeting. Dynamic retargeting allows you to show ads that feature products or services the user has previously viewed. This makes the ads more relevant and increases your chances of conversion.
  • Set frequency caps. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience and give them ad fatigue. Set frequency caps to limit the number of times a person sees your ad so you can continue to create a positive brand perception.
  • Optimize your ads for mobile. More and more people are using their mobile devices to access the Internet. Optimize your retargeting ads for mobile so these users have the best possible experience.
  • Refresh your ad creative. Regularly update your ad creative—both copy and images—to keep the messaging fresh and interesting for people who have not yet clicked on your ads.

You’ll be doing a lot of testing and measuring results with your retargeting ad campaigns. Whether you’re using search engine ads, Facebook ads, or a combination of both, test different ad placements, creative, and calls to action to see what resonates with your audience most.

Leveraging remarketing and retargeting together

While remarketing and retargeting are used for different purposes, this doesn’t mean your brand can’t use both strategies in your marketing efforts. In fact, the most successful brands will leverage both remarketing and retargeting to re-engage customers and potential leads across the customer journey.

At the beginning of the customer journey, you might use retargeting to recapture the attention of potential customers.

Since they’re beginning their journey, they may not necessarily be ready to buy, but you could target them with ads that offer a lead magnet, giving them valuable information that will help inform their buying decision.

“A common retargeting mistake can occur when a marketer targets the user at the wrong stage of their decision-making process,” Dawson cautions. “A campaign can seem ineffective when a user is shown action-taking ad copy during their information gathering phase.”

Retargeting can be used again at the end of the buyer’s journey to influence a final sale. Retargeting ads can be used together with abandoned cart emails (remarketing) to encourage the person to return to the site and finish their purchase.

Remarketing campaigns can be used throughout the buyer’s journey to provide more ongoing personalized communication. While the retargeting ads remind the lead of your brand, the remarketing messages can help leads get to know your brand better and start to foster a relationship.

Should my business use one or both?

Retargeting and remarketing are not just for ecommerce retailers trying to sell more products. They can also be effective when used by B2B brands with longer sales cycles and higher price points. Dawson gives a great example of how he’s used both with a B2B brand.

“Leveraging both retargeting and remarketing is essential in the B2B space,” Dawson explains.

“Where an ecommerce purchase can be nearly instantaneous, a B2B capital expenditure purchase or SaaS contract can take up to a year to close. During that time, purchase stakeholders will be researching. And they may forget their purchase options.”

Dawson has used retargeting to offer whitepaper downloads to nudge and nurture a lead along the sales funnel and remind them of his B2B client and their unique selling propositions (USPs).

For the same client, he’s used remarketing to connect with existing customers regarding upgrades or expanded product versions. This has resulted in increased adoption and new upsell opportunities.

The takeaway

While remarketing and retargeting are sometimes used interchangeably, they do have some important differences that impact which strategy you might use in your business.

However, their shared goal is to re-engage leads and customers to influence a conversion.

Using both together to connect with people at every stage of the buyer’s journey is the best way to cover all your bases and make sure your brand is actively in front of the people who are most interested in buying from you.

Need support with your retargeting or remarketing strategy and campaigns? The team at HawkSEM is here to help you every step of the way. To get started, contact us.

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