Retargeting and remarketing are forms of inbound marketing that attempt to reconnect with people who have visited your website but didn’t complete their purchase. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences between them. In order for you to fully understand how they are different, it helps to see how they work in the real world.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Sue visits your website looking for a toaster. She browses the different models you have, does some comparisons and gets familiar with your company. She even signs up for your emails, so that’s a good sign. Then she leaves without buying anything. Chances are good that Sue will end up buying that toaster from someone sooner or later, so wouldn’t it be nice if you could follow her on her journey?

Retargeting and remarketing allow you to do that.

As Sue browses some other websites or takes a break from her search for a couple of days, your brand remains front and center. You can target her with relevant ads (retargeting) that remind Sue of your company and the cool products that you have to offer. You may even be able to win Sue over by offering her an incentive such as a discount code or free shipping through an automated email (remarketing).

Your hope is that Sue will return to your website and complete the sale for her new toaster. But even if she does not, remarketing gives Sue positive feelings toward your brand. If she finds herself in need of a new appliance, hopefully Sue will return to your website to check out your products. She may even recommend your company to one of her friends.

Now that you know how retargeting and remarketing work, let’s take a look at the subtle differences between the two.


Retargeting most commonly refers to online ad placements and display ads that are shown to customers based on their activity on your site. When Sue visits your site, a cookie is set and then you are able target her with ads when she visits other sites. What makes retargeting appealing is that it’s done on third party networks like Google display network and AdBrite so that you have the opportunity to reach users wherever they are.

You are able to choose from a variety of targeting strategies as well. You can target individuals based on the:

  • searches they conduct on the major search engines.

  • specific products viewed, actions taken or actions not taken.

  • way they arrived on your site.

  • interactions with your email programs.

  • types of content they consume.

  • interactions with your distributed content.

  • visits to a partner site that shares similar interests to your own site.


What makes remarketing slightly different from retargeting is that it refers to marketing tools that re-engage customers, mainly email. Examples of remarketing include shopping cart abandonment emails, upsell and cross-sell emails and lifecycle marketing emails.

With remarketing, you can send Sue emails based on her behavior on your website. If she adds a toaster to her shopping cart but doesn’t complete the sale, you can remarket to her with an email that reminds her that her shopping cart still has items in it. You can also upsell the toaster with related products such as a handy toaster cover.

The most popular remarketing emails for consumers are:

  • Alert emails for sale items

  • VIP customer appreciation emails

  • Cart abandonment reminders

Remarketing shows promising results, but time is critical. A study by MIT shows significantly lower engagement rates for outreach within one hour of a customer leaving your site. If you follow up with a potential customer, do so right away. Within the hour. You can show them a targeted ad, but it’s possible that they may not see it or be influenced by it. Instead, it’s best to try to reach the customer through their inbox. It may be one small detail that is holding them back, and you have the power to change that.

Is One Better than the Other?

In an ideal world, it’s best to use a combination of retargeting and remarketing. Both work well together and play on each other’s strengths. You can use display retargeting to reach top-of-the-funnel buyers and keep your brand fresh in their minds. You can then use email remarketing to convert customers who have reached the bottom of the funnel and are giving you the strongest signals that they are ready to buy.

How to Avoid Being Annoying

Of course, nothing is a perfect science, and this counts for retargeting and remarketing as well. Just because you retarget Sue with an ad or send her an email doesn’t mean she will feel good about your brand or complete the sale. In fact, she may be annoyed by your ads if they continue to follow her on her searches.

Some of the potential problems that can occur with aggressive retargeting are:

  • Feelings of mistrust

  • Annoyance or frustration

  • Negative sentiment about your brand

Fortunately, there are things you can do to avoid the above problems from happening. In this UK study, users found online ads to be interesting and useful initially, but annoying if they were shown multiple times. More than half of users said they would be less likely to buy a product or service if they saw the same ad repeatedly.

Additionally, users were more likely to have a negative sentiment of the brand after being shown the same ad three or more times. Luckily, people who have grown up with online advertising (20-29 year olds) were most likely to find display ads exciting and encouraging. So if you’re going to run a retargeting campaign, you can probably be a bit more aggressive with a younger audience.

The takeaway from this study is that you shouldn’t show the same ad to the same person multiple times. If you are too intrusive, your ads will have the opposite effect. So if you plan on using retargeting, make sure your strategy has the right balance.

We hope that this article has helped you to better understand retargeting and remarketing and their respective differences. Both are highly effective, easy and affordable. Let SEMGeeks show you how to convert more leads, close more sales and improve brand visibility with retargeting and remarketing.