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Small Business Guide to Email Retargeting

Jennifer Post
Jennifer Post

Email retargeting can help you stay in touch with subscribers who previously showed interest in your business but who've lost touch. Here's how it works.

  • Email retargeting serves content to subscribers who previously showed interest in your products and services but who haven’t bought from you in a while (or at all).
  • Retargeting can boost revenue by re-engaging inactive subscribers and reminding them why your business is valuable to them.
  • Following email retargeting best practices is key to ensuring your marketing efforts are successful.
  • This article is for entrepreneurs who want to engage inactive subscribers on their email lists and earn business from people who have previously expressed interest in their brand.

Email retargeting is one piece of your overall email marketing plan. Just because it is a small part doesn’t mean it should be overlooked or dismissed.

Email retargeting is the act of sending an email to a segmented portion of your subscriber list to try and reengage those who once showed interest in your business. There could be many reasons behind sending a retargeting email, such as reminding consumers of items in their shopping cart or trying to bring them back to your website by offering a discount code.

How email retargeting works

Email retargeting starts with analyzing customer behavior to determine who is receptive to your message. Because retargeting is focused on such a specific segment of the email list, it tends to have high conversion rates.

“Email retargeting works by observing the customers’ behavior patterns. It is one of the most popular marketing strategies for brands, owing to the high conversion probability it offers when used correctly,” said Ankit Thakor, head of digital marketing at

Email retargeting also helps you monitor the target audience’s behavior.

“Browsing cookies play a significant role in monitoring user activities. Nowadays, email marketers are also using tracking pixels to track specific users’ behavior after opening the email,” Thakor added. “And the most popular way is by adding unique code in the email HTML or signature, which can be tracked when the recipient opens the email, clicks on CTAs [calls to action], and gets redirected to the landing page.”

Key takeaway: Email retargeting focuses on inactive email subscribers, previous customers, or people who almost made a purchase but never followed through.

Email retargeting best practices

Below are some common best practices, as explained by experts we spoke with, for executing email marketing campaigns.

  • Move fast. “To see better results, you must move fast, and take advantage of potential clients’ momentum and interest. A good practice is to send your emails right after someone’s left your site,” said Jessica Ulloa, community manager at MyPerfectResume.
  • Re-engage inactive users. Ulloa recommended looking at the products or services your inactive users were once using and then sending those individuals emails with special offers or updates.
  • Cross-sell and upsell. “Send your current clients product or service recommendations that will lead them to update their current product or service. Suggest similar products to the one they already have, i.e., you purchased a phone and start receiving emails with offers on headphones, phone cases, chargers, etc.,” Ulloa added.
  • Keep frequency in mind. Email retargeting can help you provide value to your customers, but frequency matters, too. Customers don’t want their inbox full of your ads, especially since sending it too often can result in them deleting your emails unopened, according to Mika Kujapelto, founder and CEO of Laptop Unboxed.
  • Segmentation. “Segmentation is making your email target lists more specific and clear The more in-depth understanding you have about the desired audience, the better … the conversion,” said Thakor. “It ensures that the email you are sending to the desired customer is useful to them. Thus, the right segmentation of the target audience helps to gain high possibilities of lead generation.”

Key takeaway: Email retargeting should be delivered to a specific segment of your target audience, it should leverage cross-selling and upselling opportunities to encourage sales from an audience that previously expressed interest in your company, and your retargeting efforts should not annoy consumers.

The dos and don’ts of email retargeting

There is a right way and not-so-right way to approach email retargeting. Some approaches are turn-offs for customers; it’s important to find a balance between sending engaging retargeting emails and ensuring you’re not harassing subscribers who aren’t interested.

Thakor offered several do’s and don’ts for email marketers.


  • Draft a simple, yet attractive subject line, and try to personalize it.
  • Experiment with different calls to action.
  • Keep your message engaging and clear.
  • Monitor the quality of your content.
  • Look for spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Create a positive user experience.
  • Monitor email frequency to avoid overloading your subscribers with information.


  • Make your email campaign overly promotional.
  • Send emails multiple times in rapid succession.
  • Buy a list of email prospects.
  • Use unbranded email addresses.
  • Use the same email message or content repeatedly.

Key takeaway: Email retargeting efforts should create a positive experience for potential buyers, and your message should be clear and engaging. Email campaigns shouldn’t pester subscribers into making purchases they don’t need.

When to use email retargeting

How does a business owner know when it’s appropriate to use email retargeting? April Maccario, founder of AskApril, said it’s best to use it if your brand needs a long-term marketing strategy.

“It keeps your company or organization in front of potential customers even after they’ve left your website. It is also an excellent marketing strategy because it has the potential to target customers despite changing trends,” Maccario said.

There could be a dozen reasons you pinpoint that merit a retargeting email. However, keep in mind that it’s not usually best practice to send out a retargeting email to your entire email list.

Knowing how to segment your email list will help you effectively serve retargeting emails. You will reduce the likelihood of subscribers deleting your email without opening it or unsubscribing altogether, which would hurt your progress.

Here are some examples of when to send a retargeting email:

Abandoned cart

Sometimes, people are in the mood to shop online, but then when they reach checkout, they have second thoughts.

“Businesses should utilize email retargeting when they’re met with an increase in customers abandoning their carts,” said Kujapelto. “Maybe life has interrupted many customers’ lives or made them more cautious with impulsively purchasing online products. Whatever the case, email retargeting can help remind customers they have a cart full of products they were once interested in purchasing.”

Low stock/back in stock

If someone has something in their cart or they viewed a particular item multiple times and you’re running low on that item, let them know. Customers can decide whether they want to purchase that item, and you create a sense of urgency by telling them it might sell out if they don’t take action.

A feature you might want to add to your website could be that if an item is out of stock, customers can enter their email address to be notified when it’s back in stock. This way, you know you’re sending this retargeted email to a highly interested customer.

You can also send back-in-stock emails to those who have viewed an item that was once out of stock but who didn’t sign up for the back-in-stock notification email. Now is your chance to remind them of the item and persuade them to take action.

Sale/special offer

Similar to a low stock alert, if an item that a customer has their eye on goes on sale, that might be the push they need to become a paying customer. Additionally, if a customer is constantly viewing a certain product or adding it to their cart but not buying it, offer them a discount that’s specific to them. Again, this might persuade them to finally make the purchase.

Last chance

Whether you are discontinuing an item or a sale is about to end, sending an email with an urgent subject line letting customers know this is their last chance may bring them back to your website.

Product recommendations

Email retargeting isn’t just for people who don’t open your emails or who don’t complete purchases on your website. You can also use it to recommend items to loyal customers.

“When you’ve had a loyal customer for the past five years, they’ve already been to your site and know a lot about the products you have. However, you can still use the products one customer bought, has shown interest in, and more to help create product recommendations for them,” Kujapelto said. “The more accurate you are with the type of products you think will interest this loyal customer, the more value you’re giving them.”

Kujapelto added that the approach above provides an excellent customer experience, improves the chances they will continue to shop with your business, and it sends a message to your customers that you care.

Key takeaway: Email retargeting can be used in a variety of scenarios, such as cart abandonment, sales events, product recommendations, items that are close to being out of stock or that have been restocked.

Why you should send retargeting emails

Email retargeting can boost revenue by giving interested individuals that extra push to become customers.

“Most people purchase products they’re interested in, and retargeting allows you to remind them that you’re offering exactly what they need,” said Dave Nilsson, founder and director of digital marketing company The Converted Click. “When you do that, it regenerates interest, and they crystallize their decision to buy.

Nilsson also said that retargeting helps you hone your marketing strategies.

“I think retargeting is a brilliant way to boost your success rate. That’s because you’re not shooting an arrow in darkness. You have a clear vision of what customers are interested in, and this helps save you valuable time in crafting effective strategies,” Nilsson added.

Another reason for sending retargeting emails is to re-evaluate the interest of your subscribers, especially inactive ones. You may want to send retargeting emails to see if inactive subscribers are still interested in receiving your emails. This is one instance where email segmentation is important.

If you segment your email list thoroughly and create a separate list of inactive subscribers, you can revisit that list with a retargeting email. There are two ways you can approach these emails: You can ask those subscribers if they want to continue receiving emails, with an option to unsubscribe. Or you can offer them a special discount to regain their attention and remind them of your business.

Examples of email retargeting

You probably receive dozens of retargeting emails without even realizing it. Companies that tailor their emails specifically to their customers’ habits, purchasing history and interests often achieve success with their retargeting efforts.

“Businesses that merely send generic marketing emails about their new products are less likely to maintain customer loyalty. Instead, email retargeting should be about giving customers something they would use based on previous searches they’ve made, so even those who aren’t paying customers can benefit from these personalized emails,” said Kujapelto.


Netflix sends out lots of emails that you might not realize are retargeting emails. The two most common are emails about titles you might like based on your past viewing history and pricing emails about upgrading your plan or your plan increasing in price.


Nathan Sebastian, a content marketer with B2B research and review platform GoodFirms, said that when Adidas sends cart abandonment emails, they do so without sounding salesy.

“… This is an excellent way to bring the product back in a customer’s mind without appearing as pushy,” Sebastian explained.


“If you have an Amazon account, chances are you’ve received email marketing. They send their customers emails such as ‘We found some items we think you might like,'” said Alex Membrillo, CEO at Cardinal Digital Marketing Agency. “They then list products in the email with links to Shop Now.”

Membrillo added that the email’s product suggestions are remarketing based on a customer’s shopping history, focusing on items that were researched or left in a cart but not purchased.


Marriott sends promotional remarketing emails based on a guest’s past travel history or an interested guest’s site activities, according to Membrillo.

“For example, if you’ve been researching hotels in Mexico, you might receive remarketing for special offers, getting to know the local area in Mexico, and other promotions for your travel destination,” said Membrillo.


Nike sends retargeted emails after customers leave an item in their cart. They give opportunities to consumers to talk to a Nike representative to resolve queries, but they also emphasize their free shipping and free return policy.

“It won’t be wrong to say that email retargeting is a powerful tool to get back to your customers,” Thakor said. “It helps regain trust and belief. Email retargeting automatically triggers and helps in achieving your lost targets. Email retargeting, performed with good strategy and zeal, gives fantastic results.

Key takeaway: Household name brands all use email retargeting. Check your inbox – can you identify which emails are retargeting emails?

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Jennifer Post
Jennifer Post
Contributing Writer
Jennifer Post is a professional writer with published works focusing on small business topics including marketing, financing, and how-to guides. She has also published articles on business formation, business software, public relations and human resources. Her work has also appeared in Fundera and The Motley Fool.