Remarketing Guide: Turn Online Leads into Conversions

Think back to the last time you bought something from a brand you’d never heard of before.

Chances are, you didn’t buy it right away.

No matter how inexpensive the item was, you most likely hesitated for at least a little while. You might have even waited a few days, or even weeks, before actually going through with the purchase.

Or…maybe you didn’t end up going through with the purchase, after all. Maybe you took a quick look at a new gadget that caught your attention, said to yourself “I’ll check this out a bit more later,” and promptly forgot all about it.


Either way, you’re not alone. A 2017 report from Episever found that 92% of consumers who visit an ecommerce site for the first time do so for browsing purposes—not to make a purchase. In other words, in order to acquire any new customers, you need to ensure your visitors check out your page more than just once (or twice, or three times…).

Now, you can sit back, do nothing, and just hope your first-time visitors remember to come back to your page on their own volition. But you don’t need me to tell you that this probably isn’t the best course of action.

Instead of leaving up to chance whether or not your new prospects will come back to your site, you’ll need to take action.

In short:

You’ll need to do some remarketing.

What Is Remarketing?

(Fair warning, this is going to get a bit confusing. It’ll all become clear by the end of this section, though.)

Okay, so, the word “remarketing” is thrown around a lot on the internet, and is often taken to mean a number of different things. And, as we’ll get to in a bit, it’s often used interchangeably with the word “retargeting,” despite the two not actually being synonymous.

At any rate, if we were to boil down the word “remarketing” into a single, simplified definition, it would be something along the lines of “marketing to the same prospect repeatedly while nurturing them through the sales funnel.”

In other words, remarketing is everything you do to ensure those 5th, 6th, and 7th engagements take place.

Now, technically remarketing isn’t something that just happens online. For example, a poster on a commuter train acts as repeated marketing to anyone who rides that train on a daily basis. Similarly, a follow-up phone call from your mechanic after they’ve given you an estimate is yet another method of keeping the conversation going and nurturing the customer along.

For our purposes, though, we’ll be looking at the two most effective forms of online remarketing.

(This is where it might get a bit confusing.)

The two methods we’ll be discussing are:

  • Email remarketing
  • PPC remarketing

What’s so confusing about that, you ask?

Well, the phrases “email remarketing” and “PPC remarketing” are rarely used. Rather, “email remarketing” is typically just referred to as “remarketing,” while “PPC remarketing” usually goes by the name “retargeting.”

(The generally-accepted reason for this confusion is that Google years ago referred to its new retargeting tool as a remarketing tool, leading to an internet-wide game of “telephone.”)

So, to clarify:

  • Remarketing as a concept refers to any act of repeated marketing to a new or existing customer
  • Retargeting is a type of remarketing that involves using paid internet ads
  • When we say “remarketing” as an action, we’re talking about email remarketing

Now that we have that all ironed out (I hope), let’s talk about why remarketing is so important in the first place.

Why Should Your Ecommerce Company Focus on Remarketing?

You already know the overarching answer to this question:

Remarketing is necessary to ensure your first- and long-time customers engage further with your brand and move toward conversion.

So, really, the question should be:

Why should you focus specifically on email remarketing and retargeting?

The answer:

Because they work.

As far as remarketing via email goes:

  • Welcome emails sent directly after an initial touchpoint bring in a staggering 320% more revenue than other promotional emails
  • Personalizing email content leads to an 82% increase in open rate, and a 56% increase in sales
  • Abandoned cart emails have a 25.73% click-to-open rate, and a 6.54% click-through rate

Retargeting is also incredibly effective—and efficient:

On the consumer’s side of things, nearly half of those surveyed are more than comfortable with brands using their information to provide targeted ads, promotions, and other content. Overall, most consumers are at least neutral when it comes to such tactics: only 11% of those surveyed report negative feelings toward remarketing/retargeting.

Think of it this way:

A strong approach to remarketing makes re-engaging with your brand incredibly easy for your new potential customers (as well as your long-time patrons). By “popping into” your prospects’ lives at just the right time, you’ll help keep your brand top-of-mind without requiring anything of them. Needless to say, the easier you make things for your potential customers, the more likely they are to do business with you.

Online Remarketing via Email

In discussing the positive impact of email remarketing earlier, we alluded to some of the ways in which email is typically used for remarketing purposes in the first place:

  • Welcoming new mailing list members
  • Making personalized product recommendations
  • Re-engaging at-risk customers

(Of course, this isn’t a finite list by any means.)

Now, if you’re thinking “Hey, email remarketing sounds just like email marketing,” well…you’re sort of right. The main difference is that remarketing campaigns are specifically targeted to specific individuals based on their specific actions.

In any case, your first order of business is to get your visitor to input their email address. Can’t email them if you don’t have that, right?

Luckily, there are a number of ways to capture leads and grow your mailing list, including:

  • Using opt-in forms
  • Popups
  • Email bars
  • Registration option at purchase

(Source / Caption: You’ll get that $10 back easily once you have their email address.)

But I digress…

Anyway, once you have a new prospect’s email address, you’ll want to immediately reach out to them with a welcome email. The welcome email typically serves a few purposes:

  • Confirms the individual’s registration
  • Sets the registrant’s expectations moving forward
  • Offer value in the form of content, discounts, etc.


Looking at things from a remarketing standpoint, the welcome email is yet another touchpoint along the path to conversion. As we said earlier, more touchpoints lead to higher conversion rates—so why wouldn’t you want to send a welcome email?

Welcome emails also offer an opportunity for you to learn more about your new leads. In turn, this allows you to provide more tailored content to them in the future.

(Source / Caption: Here, IKEA provides registrants the option of filling out a short survey about themselves.)

(Note: For our purposes, we won’t be discussing newsletters or any other type of scheduled content that isn’t triggered on an individual basis. Remarketing is all about getting as close to that “segment of one” as you can.)

Now, let’s say you’ve collected an individual’s email address, but they haven’t actually bought anything. They’ve visited your site twice in the last day, but haven’t even added a single item to their cart yet.

Enter remarketing.

As we said earlier, the vast majority of your site’s visitors aren’t going to convert—be it their first time visiting or their hundredth. For those who were “just browsing around” but left empty-handed, you’ll want to shoot them a quick reminder of their experience.


Same goes for cart abandoners, as well:


Again, the focus of these emails is on one thing:

Keeping your brand at the front of your prospect’s mind.

The more you pop up in their lives, the more they’ll think of you. The more they think of you, the more likely they are to convert.

Now, as we’ve talked about, remarketing isn’t just for prospective customers. You’ll also want to focus on engaging further with your current customers, as well.

This is where product recommendations, upselling and cross-selling come in.

Whether a first-time or long-time customer, once they convert you want to immediately hit them with additional offers and value while you still have your attention.

(Source / Caption: Amazon includes product suggestions within confirmation emails.)

Now, while you definitely want to send out offers to your various segments via email from time to time, we’re going to skip over this discussion. Again, our focus is on emails triggered by individual action.

…or inaction, as the case may be.

As you surely know, not all of your customers are going to stay engaged with your brand forever. As engagement fades over time, so too will your brand’s image in your customer’s mind.

(Dramatic, I know…)

However, that’s nothing a well-timed re-engagement email won’t fix.


As in the above example, this is where you want to go “all-in” in trying to re-engage your at-risk customers.

Simply put:

If you do nothing, you’re going to lose your at-risk customers. By reaching out with one last-ditch effort, you at least have a sliver of hope for retaining them into the future.

Email Remarketing Best Practices

Now, regardless of the purpose of a specific piece of email, all effective email remarketing initiatives follow the same best practices.


First and foremost, they’re timely. That is, effective remarketing emails are delivered at just the right moment. From immediately-delivered welcome emails to cart abandonment messages sent exactly 48 hours after the fact, the goal is to determine when a given customer is most likely to expect—and engage with—your brand.

(Note: Since ideal times for sending out such emails differs for various industries and customer bases, we’re not going to get into specifics, here. The point is, you need to figure out what works best for your audience, and ensure your remarketing content gets to them at the exact right moment.)


Of course, if doesn’t matter how timely your remarketing emails are if they don’t provide much value to the recipient. To be seen as valuable, your emails must be personalized, as well as relevant to the individual’s current circumstances.

Take a look at this email from Birchbox:


Clearly, the team does it’s homework on their customers—and transfers this knowledge into engaging, personalized email offers.


Another reason the above email works so well is that its value aligns with where the recipient is in the sales funnel. In this case, since the individual is already a paying customer, Birchbox has no qualms about sending an email specifically meant to sell more product. However, this same email would likely come off as way too pushy if it were received by a consumer who had yet to make an initial purchase.

(For those individuals, an email containing, for example, an explanation of how Birchbox works might be more appropriate—and seen as more valuable.)

As we alluded to earlier, chances are you probably implement at least one of the tactics we mentioned while discussing remarketing via email, here.

Still, it’s always good to look at these tactics through a different lens from time to time.

By classifying these tactics as remarketing tactics—and explaining exactly what that entails—our hope was to remind you of the important role they play in nurturing prospects to conversion.

Retargeting (Or Remarketing via PPC)

In addition to remarketing via email, there’s also the option of doing so via pay-per-click ads.

With PPC ads, instead of showing up in your target’s email inbox, you’ll gain visibility in a variety of other areas on the web, from Google and YouTube to Facebook, Instagram, and more.

But we’re not talking about merely buying ad space and putting up a banner ad for all to see. With retargeting, your targets see ads that are specifically tailored to their individual needs and expectations.

This is made possible by the culmination of a number of factors, including the consumer’s:

  • Demographic and geographic information
  • On- and off-site behavior and history
  • Interests, as available

More accurately, it’s made possible by your ability to use this information to create laser-targeted PPC campaigns that reach the right consumers at exactly the right moment.

Sound familiar? It should.

Although approached in different ways, the goal of retargeting is the same as email remarketing: Keep potential customers engaged and moving forward in their own personal buyer’s journey.

The quick explanation as to how retargeting works is as follows:

  1. Consumer visits your site
  2. Via tracking cookie, you collect data on the consumer while they’re on your site and as they go elsewhere online
  3. Your ads will be triggered in certain places on the web based on the factors mentioned above (and more)

Retargeting gets much more specific in terms of how it targets individuals. While email remarketing revolves around a mere handful of scenarios (e.g., welcome, cart abandonment, etc.), retargeting gets pretty granular with its audience definitions.

In other words, don’t be surprised if you find yourself one day creating ads targeting “21-year old men from Boston who visited our site exactly three times in the last 72 hours while wearing a red cap and whistling to themselves.”

(Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But, as you’ll see, it may not be all that far from reality.)

Anyway, if it hasn’t become clear by now, one of the main advantages retargeting has over email remarketing is that you don’t need to collect your visitor’s email address to get started. You simply need them to opt in to receiving cookies, and you can start tracking them right away.

Two Main Platforms

As we mentioned above, retargeting is mainly done on one of two platforms:

  • Google and its affiliate websites
  • Popular social media channels

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Retargeting on Google

Even if you’ve never used Google for retargeting purposes in your own business, you’re probably pretty familiar with it.

(Source / Caption: See the word “Ad,” there? This is just one example of retargeting.)

As shown above, ecommerce brands can use retargeting to create Google Search Ads. These are text-based ads created by companies targeting individuals who use certain search terms. For example, Nike may target individuals that have been to the brand’s website who then use the search term “basketball sneakers.”

Similarly, you can also implement retargeting for your Google Shopping Ads, as well. Take the following example:


In screenshot above, we simply searched Google for “PS4.” At the very top of the page, we were then presented with three sponsored ads from major retailers selling PlayStation 4 gaming systems.

(Of course, since a brand’s retargeting efforts are hidden from the consumer’s view, it’s hard to tell just why these ads appeared in this specific instance. That said, it wouldn’t be unheard of for me to start seeing ads for PlayStations throughout the rest of the day.)

Which bring us to Google’s Display Network. Again, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’ve definitely seen it in action:


As you’re probably assuming, the actual ads that show up in these spaces are tailored directly to the individual browser.

(That being said, I’d like to make clear that the above example did not come from my computer…)

Anyway, since YouTube belongs to Google, we can also include Video ads here, as well.


Again, the premise is the same:

Use everything you know about the consumer—from their search preferences to viewing history, and more—to deliver the right video advertisement at the right time.

Retargeting on Social Media

You also have the option of retargeting potential customers as they browse their favorite social media feeds.

(For ecommerce companies, this means developing retargeting ads for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.)

Regardless of which platform you’re using, you’ll have two options as to how to create, develop, and target audience segments:

  • Pixel-based segmentation
  • List-based segmentation

Pixel-based segmentation utilizes tracking cookies to…track…your visitors as they browse your site (and others). Individuals are then segmented based on a variety of behavioral and other factors.

With list-based segmentation, you use your audience members’ social media profiles as a data repository of sorts, and cross-check it with existing data within your own database. That way, you can immediately begin remarketing to your current customer base on these platforms using precise data about each individual consumer.

For a deeper dive into each remarketing on each of these platforms, check out the following blog posts:

  • Facebook Post
  • Instagram Post
  • Snapchat Post

Best Practices for Retargeting

Before looking at specific best practices for retargeting, let’s quickly recall the overall principles of remarketing in the first place:

  • Timeliness
  • Value
  • Relevance

Keep these things in mind as we discuss the following best practices.

Funnel-Based Segmentation

Remember how we said earlier that a top-of-funnel customer isn’t going to want to see emails filled with dollar signs just yet?

Same goes for remarketing ads. Consumers don’t hate paid advertisements; they hate irrelevant advertisements. Your hesitant prospects don’t want to be sold to, and your long-time customers don’t want to be bothered with ads for your initial offering.

That said, you’ll want to develop retargeting ad campaigns focused specifically on each stage of the sales funnel, from strangers and visitors to leads, customers—and even promoters. The more relevant the surface-level offer, the more likely your individual audience members are to dig deeper.

Laser-Specific Targeting

Now, we joked before about going overboard in defining target audiences for your remarketing campaigns.

As the saying goes, though, there’s truth in every jest.

That is to say, you probably should aim to get as specific as you possibly can when creating your retargeting audiences. As we just said, relevance is key, after all.

However, you don’t want to get too crazy, here. Obviously, there’s no point in creating an ad campaign targeting an insignificant amount of potential customers. The trick, here, is to start broad and pare down your segments as you learn more about them. Not only will you be better able to create relevant ads for each segment, you’ll also be sure to not “oversegment” your audience to a moot point.

Message Match

Now, while your retargeted ad will be the thing that catches your target’s eye first, your follow-up offer will be what will hold their attention.

Now, we’re not going to get into the fact that your subsequent offer should be a good one. This is a bit obvious, no?

For our purposes, we want to focus on message match.

Essentially, proper message match is such that your retargeted ad’s copy and subsequent landing page align in terms of value promised, as well as branded aesthetic feel.




(Source / Caption: Disruptive Advertising provides this simple, yet effective, example of message match.)

Basically, you want your ad to appear as naturally and organically as possible, whether presented within your target’s search results, Snapchat Stories, or Instagram feed. In other words, your ad should stand out because your brand is recognizable, not because it’s obviously an ad.

Wrapping Up

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:

You do not want to just assume your first-time visitors—or even your long-time customers—will re-engage with your brand sometime down the line.

You don’t even want to leave it up to chance, because the chances of them coming back are not good.

Which is why it’s essential that you have strong remarketing and retargeting strategies in place. In turn, you’ll be able to re-engage both your soon-to-be and your long-time customers on your terms—not theirs.