The Ultimate Guide To Remarking Lists for Search Ads (RLSA)

Gone are the days when targeting on the search network is confined to keywords. Remarkeing list for search ads (RSLA) now give advertisers the opportunity to customise their search campaigns based on whether a user has has previously visited their website or not.

In this guide I will be explaining the two methods for using this feature called “target and bid” or “bid only” work and which is best suited to your business.

I will also be sharing with you 5 data backed strategies that we use at our PPC management company that are working right now for our clients that you can implement to improve your PPC performance straight away.

Finally I’ll be sharing with you exactly how you can set up RLSA so you can start using this feature right away.

One thing to touch on quickly before we start is that there have recently been 2 updates to RLSA that were announced at SMX east in October 2016. RLSA will now feature both extended list durations and cross device retargeting.

There are in fact two ways which RLSA can be used.

  1. Making bid adjustments. You can apply RLSA to campaigns or ad groups which will allow you to increase your bids so your ads will appear higher in Googles search results for people who have already visited your website
  2. Creating RLSA only campaigns. Set up adverts that will only be displayed to users who are on your remarketing list and is searching for the keywords that you are bidding on.

Here is a good illustration of how this works that Crealytics have created to help you understand the concept.


Image Credit: Crealytics 

One of the key differences that you will notice between Adwords remarketing on the Google display network and in search is that RLSA will only appear for keywords that you are bidding on, as opposed to the GDN where your ads will appear on any website.

Do remarketing list for search ads work?

If you are wondering what sort of results you can expect by applying RLSA to your own campings then these case studies from a range of different advertisers should give you a good idea of the sort of performance increase you can expect.

Clarks shoes

The high street retailer Clarks shoes has recently seen great results with RLSA. By creating tailored creatives, keywords and bids for individual users they were able to significantly increase conversion rates for returning visitors. The conversion rate for their RLSA campaigns was 4.5% compared to 0.68% on their generic campings.

Overall on their RLSA campings they were able to generate £6 for every pound that they invested into paid search, which is reasonably good for a retailer. One thing that was mentioned in the case study that is worth noting is that they were very granular and created several lists depending on what pages users had visited, so they could create highly specific adverts, which will have contributed heavily to their success.

PPC Hero

When Sam Owen over at PPC Hero ran several split tests on the accounts they manage they found that they got the following results.


Image Credit: Search Engine Land 

You will notice that the CTR was almost 10x higher in the RLSA campaign when they were increasing the bid for their top performing keywords. The conversion rate was nearly 5x higher for the RLSA campaign compared to their average search campaigns. When reading their case study a key takeaway was that they found RLSA worked best for their top performing keywords, so it is a smart idea to test this feature on your top performers campings first.

5. Winning Strategies for RLSA

1. Increase bids for your top performing keywords

One of the most effective ways of using RLSA is to apply them to your top performing campaigns. Both when we tested this and PPC Hero tested this we found this to be one of the most effective strategies for using RLSA.

By applying this strategy, PPC Hero’s RLSA campings achieved 5X the average CTR and saw their CPA drop from $70.13 for their search campaigns overall to $9.57 for their RLSA campaigns.

2. Bid on more generic terms and expand your reach with RLSA only campaigns

The strategy that is generally adopted with “target and bid” is to bid on shorter less specific keywords that may be unprofitable in other conditions.

However if you only bid on these for users that have already visited your website, keywords like “mortgages” that are very generic and would be difficult to turn a profit on if you were a mortgage broker are likely to be profitable.

A good illustration of this could be used for a fashion retailer comes from Claudia Brunner from crealytics. They generally run fashion campaigns using highly specific words such as “Size 10 women’s dresses” however when using “target and bid” they will bid on more generic keywords such as “fashion” to help pick up people who have visited their website before and are searching for more generic terms.


Image credit:  crealytics

3. Increase and decrease bids based on the position with the buying cyle

The likelihood of somebody converting increases dramatically as they approach the end of the buying cycle. For example somebody who has visited your checkout is much more likely to buy than somebody who has visited your homepage for example.

PMG have published an interesting case study on how this works, they segmented users into All users, checkout visitors and then a custom segment where they would remarket to users based on the destination (they were marketing flights and hotels).

The following is an analysis of RLSA campaign performance from 10/26/15 to 12/20/15.


Image credit: PMG

You will noticed that the custom audience where people had visited a category page performed better than all site visitors as the users have shown an intention to purchase, however by far the best conversion rate came from the checkout RLSA campaign.

Here is the impact overall of the RLSA on their account


Image credit: PMG

Overall RLSA accounted for 34% of conversion on the account, making in the strongest non branded booking contributor.

What we can learn from this case study is that you need to segment users by buyer intention. For a retailer i would suggest creating the following lists.

  • Homepage vistors (least likely to buy)
  • Category page visitors
  • product page visitors
  • Shopping cart abandoners
  • Past customers (most likely to buy)

For the homepage visitors you may want to increase your bids slightly say 10-15% for users who are on your remarketing lists, however those that are on your shopping cart abandoners list of past customer list you may want to be much more aggressive with your bidding and increase them 70-80%.

4. Apply RLSA to Google shopping campaigns

In October 2015 Google announced that RLSA would be available to add to shopping campings to increase or decrease bids for users that have previously visited your website.

Wordstream have recently published their research to show the performance increase of applying the new RLSA to shopping campings and the results are impressive. They also used a very similar set of segments to the ones that i have outlined above.


Image Credit: Wordstream

When it comes to deciding if you should be using “target and bid” or “bid only” Wordstream also did some research into this. They found that the reach of “target and bid” was very poor and “bid only” accounted for 98% of their impressions so we would suggest just using the bid only option with several list segments based on the position of the buyer within the buying cycle.


Image Credit: Wordstream

5. Upsell converted users

There is no doubt that past buyers are the much more likely to convert again than users who are unfamiliar with your brand. Infact wordstreams data showed that when applying RLSA past buyers were 6x more likely to convert than people who are reasonably unfamiliar with your brand and may have visited your website once.

One way you can leverage this to your advantage is by cross selling accessories that may have to smaller profit margin to advertise to cold users, however when targeting users that already trust you and convert considerably better these products can be advertised profitably.


A good example I’ve stolen from Tara West of Headstream is a mobile phone retailer selling phone cases. With the tiny margins on a £10 iPhone case it would be very difficult to sell these profitably with PPC even if the CPC is very low at £0.20 and have a 3% conversion rate as it would cost you around £6 to sell each case.

Contrast this with using RLSA if your conversion rate is 6X higher it may only take you 6 or 7 clicks to make a sale at a cost of £1.20-£1.40 which will make selling mobile phone cases profitable.

How to setup remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA)

To setup RLSA there are 3 steps that you need to take.

  1. Firstly you need to add a remarketing code to your website. This will allow Google to identify which users have visited your website before. There are two ways to do this you can either use the Adwords remarketing code, or if you would like access to more sophisticated targeting options you can use the analytics remarketing code.
  2. Create a remarketing list to target. The tag will allow you to remarket to all of the people that have visited your website, however in some cases you will want to only target ads at people who have visited certain pages. Remarking lists allow you to select people who have visited a certain page or taken a certain action that you can then display ads too.
  3. Apply your remarketing lists to the campaigns and ad groups that you like to use RLSA on.

1) Adding the remarketing code to your website

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.

2. Creating 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. Here are the steps that you need to take to create Adwords remarketing lists.

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.

3. Adding remarketing lists to Adwords campings and ad groups

Once you have created remarketing list the next step is to apply them to Adwords campaigns and ad groups. The fastest way to do this is by using the Adwords editor interface.

STEP 1. Within the account that you want to apply the remarketing list too go to the keywords and then select “audiences” as shown in the screenshot below.


STEP 2. Next click the +audience button as shown below.


STEP 3. From the popup that appears select the “remarketing” tab from the 3 available tabs as shown below and then select the remarketing list that you want to apply to your ad groups. Once you have selected the audience that you want click “ok” and it will be applied to that ad group.


STEP 4. Now click “edit ad group and flexible reach”

STEP 5. At this point you want to select either “bid only” if you only want to apply a bid modifier to increase the bids for people who have previously visited your website. Or alternatively if you are creating a campaign that is only targeted at people who are on your remarketing list then select “target and bid”.


If you have selected “bid only” then you will want to follow step 6 which will explain how to increase the bids using a bid modifier.

STEP 6. To add a bid modifier go back to audiences as you did in step 1. Once you have done this then you should have the option below where you can enter a bid modifier.



From the case studies that I’ve presented it is clear that when applied correctly RLSA can provide advertisers with a much stronger ROI than standard search campings and advertisers should be looking to utilise this feature.

By applying the 5 key RLSA strategies that I have taught you in this article you should be well on your way to creating highly profitable RLSA campaigns that will significantly improve your Adwords performance. Finally the detailed guide to implementing this strategy should leave you with no excuse not to implement this strategy today if you have not already!

Thank you for reading, if you have any questions please feel free to comment below and I will get back to 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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