PPC vs Remarketing vs Retargeting - learn the difference! • Digital Dot

PPC vs Remarketing vs Retargeting – learn the difference!

For all of its merits, digital marketing does often pose a particular, inherent challenge; terminology. Between ever-changing language conventions and colloquial use of ambivalent, lookalike words, terms can often confuse and dismay aspiring marketers. It’s not uncommon, for example, to conflate “lead acquisition” with “lead generation”, since “acquisition” and “generation” carry similar colloquial meanings. In marketing terms, however, these are distinctly different practices. The same applies to “remarketing” and “retargeting”, for similar reasons – and “PPC”, frequently including both, further complicates matters. Here at Digital Dot New York, we have seen this confusion in practice manifold. As such, let us use this article to explore these terms and hopefully clarify them for good.

What is PPC?

Since this is the umbrella term for this entire subject, let us begin with “PPC”. PPC stands for Pay Per Click, and refers to paid advertising. This is quite an old and established form of marketing, as it yields demonstrable benefits for many industries. As the name implies, PPC has two innate characteristics:

  1. It is paid marketing of any kind
  2. Its costs are calculated based on clicks produced

As such, the first distinction between this one and the other two terms we’re discussing should already be clear. PPC is an umbrella term for paid marketing, while remarketing and retargeting are more specific. Thus, PPC marketing may include either or both of these practices, but they don’t necessarily require a PPC campaign behind them to function. Of course, the best course of action would be to consult with a professional PPC agency New York.

Types of PPC marketing

To ensure more clarity, let us explore some key examples of PPC marketing.

#1 Google AdWords

Perhaps the most common form of PPC marketing, we’re all likely familiar with Google AdWords. Put simply, those are the ads we sometimes get for search queries above organic search results. Google clearly tags these inorganic results as ads for transparency.

Google search results related to SEO, displaying ads and organic results.
AdWords produces the ad results to Google searches that most internet users have seen.

#2 Social media advertising

Another famous, common, and lucrative form of PPC marketing is social media advertising. This can range from Facebook ads for B2C businesses to LinkedIn ads for B2B businesses. Much like Google AdWords, advertisers pay for these based on clicks they generate. However, where AdWords targets search queries for specific keywords, social media ads target specific audiences based on the advertiser’s criteria.

#3 Display advertising

Finally, display ads are a type of paid ads that most internet users are familiar with. Specifically, they are ad banners, be they image-based, text-based, or both, that lead to the advertiser’s website. Notably, these have a lower click-through rate (CTR), which makes them comparatively less appealing for advertisers. Still, they only charge for clicks too, and they can serve to raise brand awareness.

What is Retargeting?

Now, “retargeting” is a specific subset of PPC itself. In essence, as the name implies, it involves retargeting potential customers to increase conversion rates. This is primarily done through pixels, which enable marketers to track users across the web through cookies. The process is fairly simple:

  1. A user visits your site
  2. They leave without completing a purchase
  3. They visit other sites, where they see your ads

Therefore, “retargeting” uses other forms of PPC, such as display advertising, to retarget users who did not convert. SingleGrain visualizes this quite well.

A visualization of retargeting, that describes visitors who leave a website and then see ads about it elsewhere.
Retargeting is one of the most common PPC-related practices today.

Setting custom criteria for retargeting

However, optimal retargeting is not quite so simple. The basic premise is of course simple enough, but it takes many calculated steps to get right. For the sake of text economy, however, let us delve into what’s arguably its main characteristic.

Retargeting requires specific criteria to be effective. Among others, consider the following subsets of visitors:

  • Visitors who have only reached a landing page and left
  • Visitors who have navigated to other pages or your main page and left
  • Potential customers who have abandoned their shopping carts

Similarly, consider different engagement and interaction touchpoints:

  • Visits to partner sites
  • Your own email programs
  • Your social media and distributed content

Thus, optimal retargeting requires hyper-specific criteria to work effectively. Marketers may segment their audiences into specific subsets, depending on the above or other criteria, and retarget them accordingly.

What is Remarketing?

Now, this is where confusion typically ensues. “Remarketing” often sees a broad colloquial definition; “to remarket a product or service to an existing lead”. By this definition, “retargeting”, also in a colloquial sense, sounds similar. Both seem to target existing customers and leads. So certainly, the two terms are largely interchangeable, right?

Well, no. “Remarketing” may, by all means, see descriptive use; one may “remarket” by retargeting. But as marketing terms, the two are distinctly different.

Remarketing, then, if we’re to distinguish the terms, refers to targeted remarketing via email. Unlike using PPC ads to retarget visitors, remarketing typically uses follow-up emails to encourage leads to convert. Amazon’s and Ebay’s product and deal emails serve as an excellent example of this.

An Ebay promotional email that suggests products.
Product and deal recommendation emails are likely the most common example of remarketing.

What adds to the confusion between the terms is that remarketing, too, takes visitor actions and preferences into account. For example, you may have guessed that the above image remarkets products a user has seen or purchased before. Indeed, that is the purpose of remarketing; to promote specific products to qualified leads that may reconsider buying them.

So how do PPC, remarketing, and retargeting differ, and why the confusion?

Having outlined PPC, remarketing, and retargeting, then, we may consolidate their differences into a digestible list.

  • PPC is a set of paid marketing practices, whose cost depends on clicks produced
  • Retargeting is a form of PPC that uses cookies to retarget website visitors across the web
  • Remarketing is primarily a form of email marketing, which uses follow-up emails to encourage purchases

Thus, the primary source of confusion seems to stem from everyday uses of these words. One may “retarget” customers by remarketing to them, or “remarket” as they retarget visitors and leads. Colloquially, these terms are indeed interchangeable. But in strict marketing terms, and for the sake of clarity, these two refer to substantially different practices.


To summarize and reiterate, PPC, remarketing, and retargeting are distinctly different. “PPC” is an umbrella term that may include “retargeting”. “Retargeting” relies on PPC ads itself to entice visitors into taking desirable actions. Finally, “remarketing” relies on follow-up emails, and can thus be completely independent of PPC campaigns. The three may of course coexist, and therefore cause confusion over time. But for clarity, one should note that these three terms describe vastly different marketing endeavors.

For more input on each of these terms and how best to utilize them for your business, feel free to reach out and consult with our New York digital marketing agency!

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