Remarketing vs Retargeting

People always get confused with Remarketing and Retargeting because these two words can be used interchangeably, depending on different viewpoints.

A very common notion for these two is like –

Retargeting is a technique, used to serve ads based on user cookies; whereas Remarketing is a method, using which marketing is done via channels like E-mails, SMSes, etc.

Let’s check what retargeting is?

It is a technique in which cookies will be dropped in a user’s browser via a small, invisible JavaScript code. This pixel will be placed on the advertiser’s website and, when it fires, collects user data based on Cookies.

Eventually, there will be a list of users (commonly called “Cookie Pool”) who visited the site in the recent past. Campaign managers get the user data through Cookies and then use various combinations of Remarketing methods to show ads only to users present in Cookie Pool.

You also must have encountered retargeted ads yourselves…

Imagine you visited to check for the latest pair of Nike shoes. You browsed the collection for some time, but you decided to buy them later, so you left Amazon’s website.

Do you know: By this time, Remarketing Pixel is dropped on your browser and is already collecting data of your activities.

After some time, when you went on to read on some news on a website (say,, you’ll see Nike’s Ad nicely placed, and inspiring you to buy.

You’ll come across these “retargeted” ads until you clear your browser’s cookies.

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However, it may so happen that a user was just window shopping. Therefore, targeting those kinds of users gives advertisers a 50-50 chance (worth taking, because you never know!) of getting the user in their court.

Having Retargeting Campaigns is a prevalent practice amongst advertisers. They retarget only those users to whom ads were shown with an intention to get some action (like, Click, Conversion, Sale or Form Fill-up, etc.) but did not. There will be a high probability of getting the action done because the ad will be targeted this time - showing only to a particular set of users.

The average click-through rate for display ads is around 0.07%. For retargeted ads, it’s 0.7%. some more interesting facts here

Let’s take another example, from a different perspective –

There is a car company, who recently launched a new variant, wanted people to register on the website so that a representative may call the user for a demo drive. Now, a typical user flow will be -

  • Seeing an ad on some website
  • Landing on the car company’s website by clicking on the ad
  • Filling a one-pager form and then,
  • after clicking the “Submit” button, the user gets redirected to the ‘Thank You’ page for acknowledgment number.

Sounds very common thing, right?

These are behind the scene actions -

The campaign manager first puts separate pixels at different levels of the car company’s website, so that user flow can be captured (this is known as 'segmenting users'). Then later on, they can start retargeting campaigns for the users who –

  • only saw the ad, but did not click
  • saw the ad clicked on it but did not go to the register now page for some reason
  • saw, clicked, and went to register now page but did not fill any details
  • saw, clicked and went to register now page and fill their details.

Especially for last point above, campaign managers would need to do an ‘exclusion’ because the user has already registered. There is no point in showing ads to them again because it will be a waste of budget.

Quick Tip: It is suggested to run a broad or open campaign in the first phase of your campaign so that you get a fair idea of how many users are coming to a website. After that, you will be able to gauge the size of the Cookie pool. And then you can plan to run the “Retargeting” Campaign.

Implementing pixel only applies to desktops and mobile web users because Cookie can be set or dropped on browsers.

So how it is done on Mobile In-Apps?

Since it is not possible to put JavaScript and the dropping of Cookies cannot be done, there is a separate method - by integrating an SDK.

It can identify the user and pass the information to the platform the advertiser is using.

Google and Apple have enabled their operating systems to identify and track individual devices. Apple’s IFA (Identifier For Advertisers) and Google’s Advertising ID allows the SDK, sitting in the app, to send these ‘user identifiers’ while requesting for an ad.

However, “Limit Ad Tracking” or “Opt-out of interest-based ads” options are also available to prevent users' privacy.

As stated above, the Pixel/Cookie-based retargeting process is also used in categorizing audiences of a website into different segments.

For example, if a JavaScript Pixel is placed on the Sports page of a website, then it will be effortless for an advertiser to do bulk retargeting - meaning targeting all users interested in reading Sports News or those who are frequently visiting Sports section of a website.

Apart from that, there can be –

  • Social Media Targeting – Used to target audiences based on the activity they do on Social Media platforms. For example, Facebook knows where you go and what you eat on Weekend. It’ll be very easy for a Pizza Company to (re)target people eating Pizza on Sundays!
  • Search based – Targeting users based on the various searches they do on Search engines. For example, if you have searched for a flight from New Delhi to Bangalore. A travel agency might show you ads for a cheap flight with a caption “Sale” or “Book Now” or so.
  • Behavioral - Target online customers based on their past behavior, such as the web page they frequently visit, the type of ad they usually click, etc.

Coming to Remarketing...

It is a method by which advertisers can reach out to users using different mediums. Apart from the standard Display Campaign, other mediums can be -

  • Through e-mail - Reconnecting with someone via e-mail, once they have visited a website and left without buying. For example, you might receive an e-mail to finish the booking of your flight tickets and get a discount coupon for Cab from the airport.
  • Through SMS – Its functionality is the same as that of e-mail’s, but advertisers use SMS to touch base with customers. For example, you might receive an SMS mentioning that seats in the movie theatre are available, which was not in your search last week.

These two are most commonly used for what is known as “Cart Abandonment”. It means those who have items in the shopping cart but didn’t purchase anything or similar other activities.

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Do you know, SMS remarketing messages are opened within 90 seconds on average, compared to 90 minutes for e-mail. These messages have an open rate of 98%, with 90% of messages opened within three minutes.

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All in All - there is no clear separator in the digital advertising world for the said terminologies. Definition or utilization totally depends on the service provider, platform, or even the person using them.

Nevertheless, whether it is remarketing or retargeting, the principle remains the same –

" (re)target potential users and convert them into customers. "

1 comment

  1. Parth Pancholi

    First of all, Your post on the difference between remarketing and retargeting is very effective and important. it help me a lot in my work. Keep it up and Thank you very much for it.

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