AdWords Remarketing vs Facebook Retargeting: Part 1

By Heidi Smith | Oct 13, 2016
More Articles by Heidi

Using remarketing can make you feel like you’ve hit one out of the park in your first at bat. Not only are remarketing campaigns easy to set up, but they typically report higher engagement with more quality site visitors, increased conversion rates, and lower cost per conversions.

Both Google and Facebook, which are arguably, if not outright, the two biggest technological and advertising forces in the world, offer this once revolutionary marketing tactic in their advertising interfaces. But how do they differ from each other, and how are they the same? In this two-part series, we’ll discuss the differences between the two platforms as well as how performance compares between both options.


AdWords remarketing and Facebook retargeting (which are the same thing, just different names used by the two companies) both require you to put their “tag” or “pixel” on all pages of your website. From there, you can create specific lists indicating the URLs, or pages, that you want to include. The lists populate over the span of a day or two, and once they have users in their audience, you can apply them to a campaign.

The Differences

  • Both platforms require a minimum of users before you can target them — AdWords requires 1,000 users, and Facebook requires 20 users.
  • AdWords remarketing lets you link your AdWords account to Google Analytics.
    • This means you can create a more tailored, specific remarketing audience in Analytics and import it into AdWords to retarget to those users using the Display Network.
    • For example, your list could include not only relevant URLs, but specific actions taken on your site, such as users who clicked on a PDF download or the “Add to Cart” button but did not purchase.
    • This cannot be done with Facebook as it does not have an Analytics integration and the current Custom Conversions options do not allow for goal tracking of clicks alone (they have to be destination URL goals).



Facebook’s intriguingly granular targeting options could be considered far superior to AdWords at this time. While the Google Display Network does allow you to target or exclude certain users from your remarketing campaign based on certain demographics (age, gender parental status), in-market affinity audiences and general interests, Facebook lets you further segment your list with very specific demographics like education level, job industry and title, etc. Just because they visited your site doesn’t mean they are qualified, so applying those additional targeting or exclusions can make a difference in the quality and performance of your campaign.

You’ll want to consider your targeted audiences and how they tend to access each platform. Mobile is the way of the world, and more people are using their handheld devices to complete certain actions than ever before, but depending on your call to action, your strategy may need to be different for each platform or at the least considered when developing your strategy.


AdWords remarketing ads run through the Google Display Network, which consists of “two million websites that reach over 90% of people on the internet.” Ever have a pair of shoes follow you around from site to site while you’re looking at something completely different?  You can thank remarketing for that.

Facebook retargeting runs ads through Facebook itself – so the retargeted users would see your ads either in their news feed or on the right-hand side column. It also has an Audience Network, which allows your ads to “extend…beyond Facebook to reach your audiences on mobile apps, mobile websites, instant articles, and videos.” You can opt out of the Audience Network and only show on Facebook, depending on your goal and strategy.

The Differences

One main and, in my opinion, crucial difference between AdWords remarketing and Facebook retargeting is the ability to set an ad frequency cap; AdWords provides it at a somewhat granular level while Facebook does not offer it at all. This means that Facebook can show your remarketing ad to the same user as many times as it wants. How many times do you personally log on to Facebook a day, whether on your handy mobile device or while taking a break from your grueling workload? If it is anything around the 13.8 times reported by Biz Journals in 2013, then you can imagine how not being able to control the ad frequency could be an issue, especially if your remarketing audience isn’t a sizable amount.

AdWords, on the other hand, lets you cap viewable impressions by the ad, ad group and campaign level as well as the day, week or month.

google adwords frequency cap settings


Google Display Network tends to require more design know-how since the best way to utilize the network is with a full “set” of image ads in multiple sizes in order to fit in various website placements. Although recently Google has been releasing updates to their ad creation capabilities that makes it easier to create your own ads without a designer.

It is easier to get an ad up and running without a designer on Facebook since you only need a high quality image and copy. It is also more straightforward to run a video ad in Facebook than in AdWords, which can give you use of more media types to engage your audience.


You can easily make a Facebook ad just like this one.


Did I miss any key differences between AdWords and Facebook remarketing? Share your positive and negative experiences with me below, and come back next month to see my analysis on how remarketing performance has differed between the two interfaces.

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