What’s the difference between remarketing and retargeting?

By Callum Coard, PPC specialist

Vertical Leap


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September 25, 2020 | 5 min read

A lot of PPC advertisers use the terms remarketing and retargeting interchangeably. However, these are two distinct strategies and it’s important to understand the difference if you’re going to use them both effectively.

A target dartboard.

While they have their similarities, remarketing and retargeting traditionally use different channels and they also have entirely different goals. So let’s clear up any confusion and clarify the difference between these two essential marketing techniques - so you can get better results from both.

Remarketing vs retargeting

Recently, we published a guide to Google Ads remarketing and this was one of the questions we addressed. In short, the difference between remarketing and retargeting is:

● Retargeting primarily uses paid ads to re-engage audiences who have visited your website or social profiles.

● Remarketing primarily uses email to re-engage past customers who have already done business with your brand.

In terms of marketing goals, retargeting is all about bringing visitors back to your website so they can convert. Remember, the average PPC conversion rate is lower than 4% while the best-performing campaigns tend to max out at around 9% conversion rates.

Whichever way you measure it, 90+% of the traffic you pay good money for isn’t going to convert on the first visit. Retargeting gives you the chance to bring them back, close the deal and maximise your PPC ROI.

Now, remarketing is more about re-engaging your existing customers to keep them involved with your brand, encourage them to buy more and maximise customer lifetime value.

Why the remarketing vs retargeting confusion?

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this subject in the PPC community and this is partly facilitated by the interchangeable use of the two phrases. The majority of content I read about this - most of which is published by experienced advertisers - includes the following four words somewhere in the piece: “remarketing (also called retargeting)...”

The confusion isn’t helped by advertising platforms like Google Ads who conflate the terms. Here’s an extract from the Google Ads Help website, entitled About remarketing:

● Standard remarketing: Show ads to your past visitors as they browse sites and apps on the Display Network.

● Dynamic remarketing: Boost your results with dynamic remarketing, which takes remarketing to the next level with ads that include products or services that people viewed on your website or app.

● Remarketing lists for search ads: Show ads to your past visitors as they carry out follow-up searches for what they need on Google, after leaving your website.

● Video remarketing: Show ads to people who have interacted with your videos or YouTube channel as they use YouTube and browse Display Network videos, websites and apps.

● Customer list remarketing: With Customer match, you can upload lists of contact information that your customers have given you. When those people are signed into Google, you can show them ads across different Google products.

If you read the explanation for standard remarketing, it reads: “show ads to your past visitors as they browse sites and apps on the Display Network,” which sounds exactly like the definition of retargeting we looked at earlier.

If you go by Google’s documentation, the easy assumption is that remarketing and retargeting are basically the same thing. After all, Google is describing retargeting and calling it remarketing, which suggests interchangeability.

Remarketing as an umbrella term

Over time, the concept of remarketing has expanded to include both retargeting and remarketing strategies. If you look at the description for customer list remarketing in this list above, it talks about customers, not previous website visitors. It’s also worth noting that this feature uses your customer email lists to collect data and deliver ads, which sounds a lot more like the traditional definition of remarketing.

So remarketing in Google Ads is a combination of retargeting and remarketing features. Perhaps it could have mixed the naming conventions so we had “standard retargeting” and “customer list remarketing” but this sacrifices consistency for strict accuracy.

The key point is that while you could argue that - in today’s marketing world - retargeting is a form of remarketing, they are not the same thing.

Why does this matter?

The remarketing vs retargeting distinction may sound pedantic but it’s not about using the correct terminology. What’s more important is understanding the difference between the two. As mentioned earlier, these strategies generally use different channels and, more importantly, they have different goals.

While the line between them has faded and major names like Google now group them into a broader category - knowing when, why and how to use these two different strategies will help you achieve their individual goals more effectively.

It’s no different from understanding the difference between SEO and content marketing, even if the two are so closely linked they’re impossible to separate.

Callum Coard is a PPC specialist at Vertical Leap


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