The experts guide to retargeting - 2024 edition

Published Feb 24 2023 Last updated May 1 2024 10 minute read
retargeting in marketing explained

As the third-party cookie prepares to crumble and it keeps getting harder to reach the right audience, the way marketers buy ads will have to change. In this guide, we'll go over everything you need to know about retargeting campaigns with third-party cookie deprecation in mind. We hope it will make retargeting work harder for your business.

Takeaway: Learn how retargeting works and what changes are on the horizon in the wake of the deprecation of the third-party cookie.

Remarketing and retargeting, what’s the difference?

The terms “remarketing” and “retargeting” are often used interchangeably, and the lines can blur a bit. However, there is a subtle difference between the two:

  • Remarketing: Focuses on re-engaging with an audience who have previously done business with your brand. It leverages data you've already collected from previous interactions (like sign-ups or past purchases) to target specific users.

  • Retargeting: Primarily uses online display advertising to reach users who have previously interacted with your brand online. It relies on cookies or similar tracking technologies to follow user behavior across different websites and platforms.

Or, to put it simply:





Owned channels (email, push notifications)

Paid ads (display ads)

Data Source

Existing customer data (email addresses, past purchases)

User behavior data collected through cookies or tracking pixels


More targeted based on past interactions

Broader targeting based on website visits or similar interests

Here's an analogy to understand the difference:

  • Remarketing: Like sending a personalized postcard to a past customer reminding them about a sale.
  • Retargeting: Like encountering a billboard with an ad for a product you recently looked at online.

In essence, remarketing feels more personal and relies on established relationships, while retargeting casts a wider net to capture users who have shown initial interest.

In today's increasingly cookieless future, the distinction between remarketing and retargeting might become even less clear.

Why use remarketing?

A remarketing strategy is an effective way to target ‘warm leads’ or potential customers that have already shown interest in your products and/or services.

Remarketing efforts are an excellent way to remind customers about your brand.

Typically, remarketing depends on first-party data, such as email addresses as well as third-party data like cookies, to track customers who could be contacted. The advertising platforms need this data to identify users and be able to tell who has already engaged with your brand. Analytics software is needed to collect this data and make it usable for remarketing. 

Cookies are the same technology that allows you, as (say) a marketer for an e-commerce store, to understand user behavior: what pages were visited, how long users stayed on the pages, and what products they looked at. Another interesting thing to track is what products people added to their shopping basket, before they decided to leave your website. 

Remarketing campaigns can help you:

  • Upsell or cross-sell consumers.
  • Turn one-time consumers into loyal brand fans.
  • Remind potential customers of the products they were browsing to push them to convert.
  • Reach consumers who are not responsive to emails.
  • Ensure your brand stays at the top of consumers' minds by promoting — and re-promoting — your content.

What about retargeting?

Retargeting will become more of a challenge as third-party cookies are phased out at the end of this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to disappear entirely. But marketers will need to place a greater emphasis on collecting first-party data and leveraging a combination of both remarketing and retargeting to reach their target audience effectively.

How do retargeting campaigns work?

Retargeting ads work in the following way:

  1. Someone visits your website and eventually leaves after browsing.
  2. The user visits other websites or apps.
  3. While on the other website or apps, they see your retargeting ads.
  4. Upon seeing your ad, they are reminded of your brand and the specific items they were looking at.
  5. They return to your website and complete the purchase.

The future of retargeting

Cookie-less: First-party data and contextual targeting will come to the fore as cookies are phased out.

Privacy first: Transparency and consent will take a more important role, and focus will be on relevant and unobtrusive advertising.

Advanced: Marketers will leverage CRM data and AI to personalize campaigns and take an omnichannel approach for a cohesive brand experience.

Optimized: Multi-touch attribution will help marketers gain a holistic view of the customer journey.

The benefits of retargeting and remarketing campaigns

There are a number of benefits of both retargeting ads and remarketing campaigns, including:

Increase brand awareness

This general marketing "rule" states that it takes seven impressions with a brand before a consumer becomes a customer. Retargeting ads help speed that process up by targeting consumers who previously bought from you.

Reach warm leads

Retargeting lets you stretch your marketing budget for ad spend by only targeting leads that are already warm. Or for webshops, remarketing to consumers who previously showed interest in your products. 

Gain insights

Retargeting lets you gain a deeper understanding of where the highest percentage of your conversions are being recaptured after the user leaves your website. These analytics act as a road map for your future efforts to bring more qualified traffic to your website. You can use these insights to create a laser-focused digital marketing strategy. 

Turn existing users into paying customers

Existing customers — whether they've just visited your website or store or they've made a purchase — are more likely to return if they're prompted. When you retarget them, you gently nudge them along the sales funnel, taking them from website visitor to paying customer.

Higher engagement

A remarketing campaign allows you to reconnect in a meaningful way with people who cared enough to visit your website in the first place. In fact, website visitors who are retargeted are more likely to convert by 43%.

Increased conversion rates

Retargeting campaigns offer a distinct advantage in that they can lead to higher conversion rates when they're done well. When your retargeting ads reach the right people at the right time and remind them to return to your website, it leads to a lot more conversions, boosting your overall conversion rate. 

Build long-lasting customer relationships

Today's consumers expect a personalized customer experience. In fact, 66% of consumers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations; 52% expect all offers to be personalized.

When you inject personalization into your marketing efforts, you'll connect directly with your consumers' specific needs, which in turn encourages brand loyalty and builds trust.

Related reading: How to allocate your marketing budget 

Setting up your own retargeting ads

You can partner with a marketing agency to set up your retargeting ads, or you can self-serve your ads. You don't even need a specific retargeting platform, since Google Ads and Facebook also offer remarketing possibilities. We will discuss how to use these platforms (that you probably already know) to launch remarketing campaigns.

How to use retargeting in Google Ads

You can use Google Ads to remarket and re-engage with your target audience by adding your website and app visitors to a retargeting list and then targeting the list with ads — this is known as list-based retargeting.

To set up a remarketing tag, you will need your Google Ads Conversion ID from your Google Ads account. To obtain this, follow these steps:

  1. Sign into or create your Google Ads account.
  2. Select "Audience Manager."
  3. From the menu, click "Audience Sources."
  4. In the Google Ads tag card, click Details or "Set up tag."
  5. Select "Use Tag Manager."
  6. Copy your conversion Iink.

While you can even use retargeting in search ads (by bidding higher CPC's if a user has visited your website before), retargeting marketing can also be done on Google with display ads. Display ads (or banner ads) will be visible on different websites, such as news websites, for the people who visited your website before. Finally, you can also show video ads on YouTube to the people who interacted with your website. This may not lead to direct sales, but is a great way to build your brand

How to leverage retargeting on social media 

Facebook and Instagram's massive user base — both companies are owned by Meta — make them two of the best places to advertise. In fact, Instagram and Facebook advertising make up more than 23% of total spending on digital advertisements. What's more, Facebook retargeting campaigns have been shown to boost conversion rates by 70% and have a click-through rate ten times higher than typical ads  – so it’s definitely worth including social media retargeting in your campaigns.

Meta's process for retargeting is as follows:

  1. Make a list if you know the customers you'd like to retarget.
  2. Install a Facebook pixel if you want to retarget your website visitors.
  3. Create a Custom Audience from your list or Facebook pixel data to specify the target audiences you want to reach with your retargeting campaign.
  4. Create ads to show relevant items from your catalog.
  5. Once your retargeting campaign has started, track your ad campaign performance with Facebook measurement. This will allow you to keep track of the ads that are getting the most engagement from your target audience.

But as you know, social media doesn’t stop at Meta! Other social media platforms offer tools for retargeting and remarketing, so you can reach your customers where they already are with your online ads. 

Twitter:  Twitter Ads allows you to retarget website visitors who have taken specific actions, like signing up for a newsletter or abandoning a cart. You can also target custom audiences based on interests and demographics to reach a relevant audience.

LinkedIn:  LinkedIn Ads is particularly valuable for B2B marketers. You can retarget website visitors who showed interest in your services or content and reach them in a social media context that’s especially professionals.

Pinterest:  Often overlooked in the social media space, Pinterest's user base (often interested in DIY projects, fashion, and home decor) can be a great retargeting platform. Pinterest Ads can be a great way to reach your target users with visually compelling content.

YouTube:  Consider YouTube social media retargeting for video-based campaigns. You can target custom audiences who have watched specific videos on your YouTube channel or interacted with your video ads.

Reaching people on social media is a smart move for many brands, and this is certainly the case if you can use retargeting to reach the right audience. And if you use a CDP, you can also show the exact products consumers are interested in in the ads. In that case, no two people will see the exact same ad, unless they browsed the exact same products and categories on your website. 

Personalized emails

Email remarketing involves sending emails to customers using the information you already have about them, including their behaviors, interests, and buying patterns.

You can use email marketing channels to:

  • Send highly personalized emails based on the subscriber's browsing behavior.
  • Upsell consumers who are already interested in your products and/or services.
  • Offer exclusive discounts and promotions to customers who have already purchased from you.

You can think of email retargeting campaigns as your second chance to convert visitors into sales.

If you use a CDP, you can also do email retargeting. It works like this:

  1. A person logs in on your website — for example, an e-commerce store selling sports gear.
  2. They visit the winter sports section. And open several ski boots pages.
  3. They leave your website without buying.
  4. The next week, you send them an email showing exactly the products they have looked at. Totally automated!

You can also do this with specific products the visitor added to their shopping cart.

Evaluating your retargeting campaign

Just like other campaigns, make sure to check if you meet your campaign goals. You can do this within the platform you use or with a third-party platform, like a marketing data hub. Use the following key metrics to measure your retargeting campaign success.

  • Lead conversions
  • Cost per lead
  • Nurture touches
  • View through conversions
  • Website visits
  • Email opens

Related reading: Discover the 10 most important performance marketing metrics 



Is remarketing the same as retargeting?

Retargeting and remarketing are quite similar as both have similar objectives: usually referring to the ads displayed to users who visited the page and left without action.  Remarketing is subtly different in that it is for customers who have previously done business with your brand. Retargeting involves detecting incoming visitors and following them when they leave the web browser. Retargeted advertising is provided via third parties such as Google Display Network and Facebook, giving you the opportunity to reach your prospective customers through multiple websites.

Where does retargeting fit into a marketing strategy?

Retargeting ads are usually very much focused on getting to a sale or conversion. But retargeting can fit in several different areas of the marketing funnel, including:

  • Awareness
  • Interest and evaluation
  • Commitment 

How will the deprecation of the third-party cookie impact retargeting?

Third-party cookies have been a vital tool in retargeting ads for more than a decade, with tech giants including Amazon, Facebook, and Google all relying on third-party cookies for their ads.

As consumers become increasingly concerned with their privacy, Google, Apple, and Mozilla are among the companies that have announced plans to phase out third-party cookies, forcing many brands to rethink their advertising strategies. Most retargeting campaigns rely on third-party cookies. But that doesn't mean it's the end of retargeting. It just means that marketers may have to get more creative as they create retargeting ads by using other strategies, like first-party cookies.


Alternatives to third-party cookies

Alternatives to third-party data that you can use when you create retargeting ads include:

First-party data

When customers voluntarily provide their data, like an email address to access a promo code, or create an account on your website, it's known as first-party cookies. First-party cookies are often used to create a better user experience, by creating a personalized UI.

First-party cookies allow marketers to learn about what users did while visiting your website and how often they visit it and glean other insights into customer behavior to help create effective marketing strategies. 

The primary difference between first- and third-party cookies is that first-party cookies don't let you see data related to what your website visitors are doing on other websites.

Contextual targeting

Contextual targeting refers to the practice of displaying ads based on a website's content. For example, placing an ad for Campbell's soup on a recipe blog or an ad for Airbnb on a travel website.

Contextual advertising is most effective when the publisher's website is highly specific or themed and attracts users with specific interest — and purchase intent.

The major weakness of this form of advertising is its limiting targeting options, as it does not identify specific users or the demographic characteristics of users. It is also less effective for marketers with broad and diverse audiences.

Also read: Contextual targeting vs behavioral targeting

Clean rooms

Data clean rooms allow advertisers to run targeted campaigns in a privacy-friendly way.

Publishers can upload or match first-party data from their end, while advertisers can do the same from the other side. As a result, advertisers can glean insights about their target audiences and activate targeted ads.

The downside of this solution is that the clean room needs to have millions of entries to have a good chance of matching a specific user. To make this work, publishers and advertisers must coordinate to share user data.

Digital fingerprinting

Digital fingerprinting works to identify users by gathering details about their device in order to create a unique "fingerprint."

The two main forms of digital fingerprinting are:

  1. Browser fingerprinting: Information is gathered from the user's browser as they surf the web.
  2. Device fingerprinting: Information is gathered through third-party apps the user has installed on their device.

Digital fingerprinting works to identify users by recording their:

  • Browser
  • Plugins
  • IP
  • Operating system
  • Time zone

The main benefit of digital fingerprinting is its ability to gather data on a user's daily activities, providing advertisers with rich and specific information about their interests and where they use their devices. Fingerprinting can also be used to track users across platforms and websites, provided they are using the same browser or device.

The problem with digital fingerprinting is that since it can be done without storing data on the client's device or browser, it's hard to detect or block, raising privacy concerns. Mozilla is one browser that recently announced its plans to block third-party requests from companies that are known to participate in digital fingerprinting. 

Final thoughts

Retargeting campaigns are a popular and highly effective method of converting website visitors to paying customers. Especially for e-commerce this is the case, when retargeting campaigns are used to remind customers of the specific products they were interested in while visiting your website.

Rising security concerns around third-party cookies, used in retargeting, are a threat to this way of advertising. But the good news is this: there are alternative solutions to third-party data that advertisers can adopt and hone to continue effectively retargeting consumers.

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