Adwords Remarketing: The Definitive Guide

Have you ever been shopping online and then suddenly you are on another website and the golf clubs that you were just looking at appear in the sidebar?

Well if the products that you have just been looking at are following you around the internet you are being remarketed too.

Adwords remarketing is one of the most powerful ways to bring back users who have not take you desired action, whether that be to buy a product, enquire about your service or download a white paper, and bring them back to they can complete their transaction or enquiry.


Adwords remarketing allows you to display adverts in either text or video format on the Google display network and is essential as part of any good Adwords management strategy.

Adwords Remarketing works by adding a piece of code to your website that allows you to build remarkting lists. These are list of people who have visited certain pages on your website at the most basic level that you can then display targeted adverts to users based on the page that they have visited.

The benefit of targeting people that have already been to your website is that they are much more likely to take action that cold prospects that are visiting your website for the first time and as a result the cost per conversion is generally much lower.

Does Adwords remarketing Work?

Case study: Think With Google – Watchfinder

The watch retailer Watchfinder used Adwords remarketing to bring back users who had viewed products on their website using traditional remarketing. They found that only 1% of users purchased on their first visit and wanted to bring users back to complete a conversion. There results were as follows.

  • Return on investment of 1300%
  • Increase in average order value of 13%.
  • The cost per acquisition (CPA) was 34% lower on their Adwords remarketing campaigns compared to their non branded search campaigns.

Case study: PPH Hero

The team over at PPC Hero also published a case study showing the performance of their remarketing campaigns compared to their search campaigns. Their results are as follows.


image source PPC Hero

  • Cost per conversion was 27.3% less for Adwords remarketing campaigns than search campaigns
  • The conversion rate was 2.7% higher for remarketing campaigns than their non-branded search campaigns.

From these two case studies and our own data we have found that he cost per conversion from remarketing campaigns is going generally going to be in the region of 30% lower than your non-branded search campaigns.

Adwords Remarketing Best Practices

Now it is time to start creating your ads once you have your campaigns and ad groups setup. Here are a few tips to help you write more compelling ads

1) Create Highly Relevant Adverts

The key is to make the adverts and the audiences match. So for example if you have an audience for people that have viewed your tilt and turn windows page then you should have an advert that is tailored to the term “tilt and turn windows”. This is why you should only have 1 audience per ad group. Here is a really good example of an advertiser doing this. Here i have viewed the Rolex Daytona watch on a website called Watchfinder.


About 10 minutes later I was on Entrepreneur magazine reading a few articles and I saw this advert of the exact same watch. This is a really good example of displaying highly relevant adverts to users.


2) Make sure that you have all of the different image sizes covered

There 8 different ad formats that Google supports on its image network. We suggest that you cover all of these formats. Below I’ve also displayed a table which shows the highest impression share format and the impression share that you would loose by not using all of the formats.


Here is a breakdown of the percentage of the share of impressions based on the size of the adverts published by Wordstream. If you are very tied for time you can just create the top 4 and you will cover around 3/4 of the possible impressions. but you would still be leaving 25% on the table.


3) Test static v animated adverts

 John O’Tool published a case study of some of their results with a client where the static ads considerably out performed the animated ones.


4) Separate text and image ads into separate ad groups. You should have both text and image versions of your ads running. Generally the performance will vary so it is best to have these separated into different ad groups for image and text. The average CTR for text ads is 0.23% according to word stream compared to 0.31% for image ads according to Wordstreams research.

5) Analyse your analytics data by location, gender, age, ISP, on site behaviour

 Both Watchfinder and Mazda have published case studies to show the effectiveness of these strategies.


When Mazda used this method they targeted people within a small radius of their dealerships who could easily come in for a test drive. They found that people locally converted 53% better than people who were outside of these zones. Watchfinder found similar results when analysis the behaviour of people who visited their website from London where their boutique was.


You can view these metrics in the following area of your analytics accounts

  • Age. Audience > Demographics > Age
  • Gender. Audience > Demographics > Gender
  • Location. Audience > Geo > Location (then by changing the primary dimension to city)
  • ISP. Audience > technology > Browser
  • behaviour. Behaviour > Behaviour flow

When analysis these areas of your analytics account pay careful attention to engagement statistics such as bounce rate, conversion rate at the time on site. Generally if there is a low bounce rate and time on site then it will be a good candidate for a remarketing list.

Setting up Adwords Remarketing

There are several steps that you need to take to setup Adwords remarketing for lead generation websites. The first is that you need to build several Adwords remarketing lists to segment users that have visited your website depending on what page they have visited. You will then need to create targeted adverts based on the pages they have visited.

SECTION 1. Adding the Adwords Remarketing Code

There are two different types of remarketing codes that you will need to setup. The Adwords remarketing code and also the analytics remarketing code that will allow you to access even more audiences.

Adwords Remarketing Code

STEP 1. Go to the shared library down the left hand side of the Adwords interface and then choose audiences.


STEP 2. If it is your first time using Adwords remarketing you will get a set of options that look like this to choose from. Select the first one that “website visitors” and then click “setup remarketing”.


STEP 3. You will then see a page that looks like the one below. You now have two options, you can either email the remarketing tag to your website development team, or if you have some web design knowledge yourself you can click “view Adwords tag for websites” and then follow this instructions on how to install it. Once you have done this you have setup the Adwords remarketing code.


Analytics Remarketing Code

To setup the Google analytics remarketing code you need to have the Google Analytics tracking code active on your website (which it should be already). However if it is not here is a guide on how to set it up. I will now outline how to link your Adwords and Analytics accounts so that you can use Analytics remarketing list within Adwords.

STEP 1. Go to the gear cog in the top right hand corner of your account and then from the drop down select “linked accounts” as shown in the screenshot below.


STEP 2. Select Google analytics and click “view details”


STEP 3. Now select “setup link” to the Google Analytics account that is associated with your Adwords account.


STEP 4. Make sure that the “import site metrics” box is checked and then click save as shown below.


You have now completed setting up both Analytics and Adwords remarketing codes.

Checking Your Adwords Remarketing Codes Are Correctly Setup

To check this if you go to Adwords remarketing audiences in the shared library as you did in the first few steps of setting up Adwords remarketing codes you should see something that looks like this when both your Adwords and Analytics codes are correctly linked.


This is the first section complete, you are now ready to start creating Adwords remarketing lists.

SECTION 2. Creating Adwords Remarketing Lists

Once you have your tags setup the next step is to build Adwords remarketing lists. These lists allow you to create groups of people based on:

  • What pages they have visited on your website
  • What pages they have not visited
  • What actions they have taken
  • How they have engaged with your website

You can also use combinations of the above, for example you can target people who have visited your contact form page but have not visited that thank you page that they would be diverted to if they had converted into a lead.

It is a good idea to make a new Adwords remarketing list for each of the different services that you can offer. This way you can tailor your adverts to that audience so that it appears highly relevant which will help increase its CTR.

For example here is Anglian Windows website where they offer a range of different window installation services.


Here I would suggest that you create 8 remarketing lists as follows:

  1. People who have visited the windows page category but did not visit the thank you page (where they would be redirected if they enquired).
  2. people who have visited the uPVC windows page but did not visit the thank you page
  3. People who have visited the sash windows page but did not visit the thank you page
  4. People who have visited the heritage windows page but did not visit the thank you page
  5. people who have visited the bay windows page but did not visit the thank you page
  6. People who have visited the arched windows page but did not visit the thank you page
  7. People who have visited the tilt and turn windows page but did not visit the thank you page

Here you will see I have decided to create an Adwords remaketing list for each of the services so that will allow me to display tailored adverts with the type of window on to improve relevance. I have also excluded people who have visited the thank you page as we don’t want to remarket to these users as they have already taken the desired action that we want them to take.

I’ve also decided to create an audience for people who have just visited this category page as we still want to remarked to these users, however we don’t know which type of window that they want yet so we can only display a generic advert. These people are also considered to be earlier in the buying cycle so are less likely to buy and therefore you may want to bid lower.

The key is to also segment people by position within the buying cycle

People who have viewed your homepage, but have not visited other pages on your website are the least likely to convert because they have shown very little interest in your offer.

People who have visited your category pages that contain several different services (such as the window one above) are less likely to enquire than people who have visited specific pages (such as the tilt and turn windows page) but have shown more interest in your offer than people who have simply visited your homepage. These should be in a separate ad group and should have a higher bid than the ad group that targets people who have visited the homepage only.

People who have visited your specific service page (such as the tilt and turn windows page) are more likely to enquire that those who have just viewed all the windows pages because they know what type of window that they want now, but are still not as likely to covert as people who have gone to your contact us page. Here you want to bid slightly more than you are for people who viewed your category pages.

The people who are mostly likely to convert are those that have viewed your contact us page but have not enquired. They have decided that they have a need for your product and are likely to know what they want. These are the people that you want to bid highest for as they are most likely to convert into revenue.

So how do you create these lists within Adwords?

STEP 1. Go to the shared library and then to Audiences where you setup your Adwords remarketing code.


STEP 2. Click the bright red “+ Remarketing List” button and then from the dropdown “website visitors”



STEP 3. Give your Adwords remarketing list a name. If you have several categories and services it may be best to use a naming convention such as {main service} | {sub services} so that you can keep track of your lists.


STEP 4. Next choose who you want to add to your list. Here you have serval options as shown below. To create the audiences that I outlined earlier, for example people who visited the tilt and turn page but did not visit the thank you page you would select the second option, “visitors of a page who did not visit another page”


STEP 5. Now you need to create your rules. For example if the URL of the tilt and turn page is: then you would want to enter that the URL equals window-options/tilt-and-turn-windows/. This is the section after the domain.


If you are trying to create something more complex then you also have 8 other options. these can be useful if you want to build a list of all the people that visited all the pages within a category for example.

I have also added a second rule for the audience that we are trying to exclude. Here the audience will not contain anyone that has visited the thank you page and have already taken our desired action (to enquire about new windows).


STEP 6. Detrmining the membership duration. This is the number of days that people will remain on your list for and be displayed adverts.

Wordstream have done some research into membership durations and have calculated that the membership duration should equal 3x the length of your average sales cycle to ensure maximum ROI.

So for example if it takes 30 days between somebody visiting your website and signing a contract with you offline then the membership window should be set to 90 days.

One other thing to consider is that you generally need 1000 members in your Adwords remarketing list before you can display adverts, so if your landing page only get 500 per month then you will need to have a duration of at least 60 days for your ads to run.


STEP 7. Once you have setup your list then click the blue save button and then you are ready to move onto the 3rd section which is about grouping your remarketing list and adverts for maximum ROI.

Creating lists with analytics

You can also create remarketing lists based on data within your analytics account and then import these into Adwords. This is a really good way to maximise your ROI. There are a maximum number of 2000 audiences per property within Analytics which gives you lots of room to create lots of very targeted audiences. 

To create an analytics audience you need to take the following steps.

STEP 1. Log into your Analytics property and then navigate to the admin tab using the top navigation.

STEP 2. Within the Admin tab then go to the property column and then select Audience definitions > audiences as shown in the screenshot below.


STEP 3. You should now see a screen that looks like the one below. Here you will need to set the destination account to the Adwords account that you want to create a remarketing audience for. Once you have done this click the enable remarketing option that is presented.


STEP 4. The next step will be to define your audience. There are a huge number of different combinations that you can use to define who will be remarketed to.


You can target people based on demographics, technology (ISP) on website behaviour, traffic sources, new v returning users, people that have converted or have completed a specific goal, conditions and sequences. The possibilities are literally infinite to how many different audiences that you can create.

This is really powerful when you combine different audiences together, for example you can target people that have visited from London that are between 25 and 54 and have visited using the Safari browser.

In the best practices section on Adwords remarketing that I have included below I have explained which audiences have worked well before for us and how you can analyse your analytics data to find good opportunities for a remarketing list.

The last thing that you need to do to compete your list is to determine your membership duration which is the time that a user will be in your list for an remarketing adverts will be shown to them. The maximum membership duration for the list is 540 days.

Generally a membership duration of 30 days is what is recommended so that you don’t upset your customers. however if you are going to remarket to people who have purchased from you in the past a longer audience time of up to 540 days would make more sense.

Finally name your audience with what it is targeted so that people can easy see what is in it when it is imported into Adwords. The quickest way to do this is to copy what is in the “define an audience” box into the audience name area.

When you create a new remarketing audience, Analytics populates the list with up to 10 days of data so that you can use the list right away. If you have fewer than 10 days of data available, then Analytics uses the data you have.

STEP 4. You now need to go and check that your Adwords remarketing list has been setup, to do this navigate to your remarketing lists within Adwords. To do this go to shared library > audiences. You should then see the remarketing list that you have just created within Analytics as shown below.


Once you have completed these 4 steps your analytics remarketing list should now be setup and ready to use within Adwords.

SECTION 3. Creating Remarketing Campaigns and Grouping Adverts and Audiences

This section will talk about how to use ad groups to display the most relevant adverts to your users and creating compelling adverts that get clicked.

There are several different types of remarketing adverts that you can create.

  • Static image adverts on the display network
  • Animated image adverts on the display network
  • Text adverts on the display network
  • Youtube video ads displayed to users on youtube and other GDN websites. Not to be mistaken for the banner ads on the side of youtube which are infact state image adverts.

The first thing that you need to do is create a new campaign on the display network.

STEP 1. Create a new campaign on the Google display network if you are creating any different type of the display network ad (Excluding youtube ads). If you are creating video ads to remarket to users of Youtube select video instead.


STEP 2. Now select the “Take an action on your website” option.


STEP 3. Name your campaign using your standard naming convention and fill out the settings as you normally would for a search campaign. The only options that will need specialist treatment are the two below.

First set the delivery to accelerated. You want to hit people as quickly as possible once they have left your website so they don’t go and buy from your competitors first.

Secondly you need to consider frequency capping. The more that you show your advert the more likely you are to upset your users. Generally 2 times per day should not upset your users.


Once you have done this save your campaign and you are ready to create your first ads and ad groups.

(Optional section for advanced users using Adwords Editor)

STEP 1. Create a new campaign on the Google display network if you are creating any different type of the display network ad (Excluding youtube ads). If you are creating video ads to remarket to users of Youtube select video instead.


STEP 2. Enter your campaign settings (see step 3 above for guidance)



STEP 4. Audience are added at ad group level so you will need to create a new ad group for each service / audience that you have. To do this click the red +adgroup button as shown below.


STEP 5. Name your ad group using your standard naming convention and then select remarketing list as your targeting option and then add the remarketing lists that you want to target by clicking the two arrows so that it moves to the right hand side of the screen, as shown below.

You want to add one remarketing list per ad group. (in the example I’ve added a list of all the users in the last 30 days however you would add the list of the people who have visited the page you want to target your ads at)


STEP 6. You then have the option if you wish to narrow your audience. This can be useful in some cases, for example if you are targeting equity release mortgages at the over 65s then you could narrow your audience by demographics.


STEP 7. Un tick target optimisation and then click save and continue.


From the two case studies and our own data it is clear that Adwords remarketing is an effective way to bring back users who did not convert on their first visit to your website in a cost effective manner with CPAs around 30% less than for non branded search traffic.

When it comes to traditional Adwords remarketing this can be incredibly powerful when combined with the correct audience. Adwords remarketing lists will give you a solid start to your campaign and should provide a very good ROI but to really excel you need to use Analytics remarketing lists as well.

By rigorously analysing your analytics data and looking for trends when it comes to different demographics, locations, ISPs and much more you can create highly targeted audiences that will perform very well when coupled with a highly relevant advert that you just can’t get with Adwords data alone.

Further more its critical to be relevant, the better the match between your audience and your advert the better results you are going to get so make sure that you go as granular as possible.

Another key mistake i see a lot of advertisers make is not using the full set of advert formats and sizes. Make sure that you have both text and image ads within your account and that you are using all of the image sizes otherwise you are leaving 25-50% of the possible impressions you could get on the table.

If you are an advertiser that has a huge product portfolio that is constantly changing such as online retailers, airlines and hotels then dynamic remarketing adverts can be a great way to save you time and still create highly relevant adverts.

However don’t be lazy, make sure that you create custom lists using analytics to target segments that Google does not automatically create for you. your top 20% of products will generate 80% of your sales so make sure that you create custom lists around these and the top performing categories as by creating highly targeted ads with bespoke headlines that match these products and categories you can double your results compared to just using the standard remarketing segments that Google provides for you.

wesley parker
About wesley parker

Wesley is Founder and CEO at Clicteq. He currently manages a £6 Mil Adwords portfolio across a range of different sectors. He regulally features in leading search publications such as Search Engine Journal, Econsultancy and Certified Knowledge. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Linkedin

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