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Understanding the Difference Between Retargeting and Remarketing

Understanding the Difference Between Retargeting and Remarketing

November 5, 2021

By Sarah Maher

Most marketers share the goal of influencing consumers to choose their product or services over a competitor. Retargeting and remarketing are valuable tools that can bring these consumers to your site. 

Many advertisers consider retargeting and remarketing to be interchangeable, encompassing retargeting with remarketing. However, these two strategies may have some overlap, but it’s important to understand the difference between retargeting and remarketing to achieve the most effective results in your paid media strategy. 

What is retargeting?

The goal of retargeting is to re-engage users who have visited or shown interest in your company in the past. We’ve all been retargeted at some point. Remember when you were shopping for a new jacket online last weekend, but you were interrupted and did not complete your purchase, or didn’t find quite what you were looking for? A few days later, that same jacket started appearing in your Facebook feed, didn’t it? Or on the side of your Google Search? You were being retargeted. 

There are two ways you can use retargeting: a pixel-based interaction and a list-based interaction. Here’s the difference.


When a website visitor takes an action such as clicking on a product or abandoning their cart, a cookie is registered in their browser. The cookie, a snippet of code, tracks the consumer’s actions on your website and lets you know where to find them online. This new information will allow you to show them personal ads for your items or services across different websites such as Facebook or Google. 


This form of retargeting requires you to already have a list of email addresses, again from users that have shown interest in your company in past scenarios. By uploading this list of email addresses, you allow the social platforms to register the user’s profile and display your ad banner as they scroll through Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. List-based retargeting can be highly customizable, because you can even add on personal details about the user such as interests and likes.

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What is remarketing?

The goal of remarketing is to re-engage past users or customers who have already done business with your company. One of the biggest differences between retargeting and remarketing is that remarketing generally uses emails.

Remarketing focuses on keeping your current customers involved with your business. This could include influencing users to return to their abandoned cart, upselling with similar products, or just frequently reminding customers to act on your site.

Just like being retargeted, you’ve likely been remarketed to at some point. While shopping online, have you ever added items to your cart and not completed checking out? The company might have then sent you an email reminder: “Did you forget something?” And there’s your shopping cart, just a click away. 

So what’s the real difference between retargeting and remarketing? 

While remarketing does utilize the email channel, it can also take the form of paid ads to target current customers. A Facebook Custom Audience can be created by uploading a customer list, similar to Google Ads, which allows customer data including emails, phone numbers, and mailing addresses to be uploaded. 

Advertising platforms don’t explicitly clarify on terminology between retargeting and remarketing, either. Google Ads describes their customer list remarketing as “offline data to reach and re-engage with your customers across Search, the Shopping tab, Gmail, YouTube, and Display.” Sounds a lot like the list-based retargeting we just learned about above. 

The bottom line is that these pay-per-click (PPC) platforms have the capability to upload your customer list, blurring the lines between your ad and email channels. Advertisers can essentially use a PPC advertisement to target customers with the same message used in an email.

As platforms like Google group retargeting and remarketing into broader categories (i.e., customer list remarketing) it’s likely marketers will continue to use the incorrect terminology for these two paid media strategies. What’s really important is knowing the difference between retargeting and remarketing so you know exactly when and how to use each to achieve your goal. 

Need more tips on your paid media strategy? Check out how a paid media strategy can help to accelerate your business using inbound marketing methodology.


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Topics: Inbound Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Paid Media