Koozai > Blog > Handy Strategies for Using Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs)

Handy Strategies for Using Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs)

| 13 minutes to read

Imagine if you could tailor your search campaigns to bid more (or less) for people who RLSA Main Imagehave already visited a particular page on your website? Or only target search campaigns to users who have already visited your site and who are searching with the keywords you are targeting? Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) make this possible.

RLSAs have been available since July 2013 and many advertisers have experienced fantastic conversion rate and ROI increases as a result of using them. This post will cover lots of different strategies for using RLSAs and also provide some handy tips on setting them up.

What are Remarketing Lists for Search Ads?

They are pretty much exactly what they say on the tin – you can now apply AdWords Remarketing lists to your search campaigns.

In Google’s words:

“Remarketing Lists for Search Ads allow you to make your search campaigns even more relevant by allowing you to tailor your search-only campaigns to users who have already been to your site.”

What are the benefits of using Remarketing Lists for Search Ads?

According to AdWords, just 2-4% of site visits result in a transaction. This is because a user’s online journey to making a purchase can involve several searches and site visits whilst they ‘comparison-shop’ and research their purchase. Using RLSAs you can ensure that you are putting emphasis on targeting users who are in this purchase consideration phase where they are more valuable to you and more likely to purchase because they have already visited your site. This in turn allows you to:

  • Target more qualified customers as they have already expressed relevant interest by visiting your website previously
  • Improve the ROI of your search campaigns by tailoring your bids based on the value of a potential customer who has already visited a specific page of your website
  • Better customise your ad text by using messaging which is more suited to users who are further down the purchase funnel determined by the fact that they have already visited a particular page on your website

How do RLSA’s Work?

Remarketing Lists for Search ads work in a similar way to Remarketing lists for the Google Display Network; by dropping a cookie on a user’s browser when they visit your website. Whilst standard Remarketing tracks users on the Google Display Network, RLSAs track when the user is searching on Google Search.

You can then apply the RLSA to any search campaign, to work alongside your keyword targeting.

The result is that if a user who has previously visited your site searches using the keywords that you have within your search campaigns, your ads are eligible to be shown to them (alongside all normal eligibility factors such as Quality Score and bid).

Strategies for Remarketing Lists for Search Ads

There are lots of ways to use Remarketing Lists for Search Ads, and here are a few ideas

Small businesses with very low budgets might not be overly suited to use AdWords PPC normally because their budget is too little and gets exhausted quickly. By targeting users who have already visited the site they can ensure their PPC traffic is more qualified and so more likely to convert.

You can apply RLSAs to normal search campaigns, and then just add bid adjustments for those visitors who are on the Remarketing list. For example, a holiday company might have a campaign for holidays to Cape Town, and they apply the RLSA for users who have visited their holidays to Cape Town page, with the option to bid on the audience but still trigger their ads when other targeting options (their keywords) are matched. This would mean their ads will be shown to users regardless of whether they visited the Cape Town holidays page, but would have a bid adjustment for those who are on the RLSA and had visited the Cape Town holidays page because they are more likely to convert. To apply a bid adjustment for an audience, ensure you select ‘Bid Only’ when you are applying the RLSA to the ad group or campaign (described below in the section about applying lists to ad groups), and when you look at the audiences that are applied to the ad group you’ll see a column for ‘Bid Adjustment’ where you can set bid adjustments for this audience type:

Audience bid adjustmentUpsell to customers who have purchased from you already. For example, a mobile phone retailer might upsell phone cases and accessories to their customers who have completed a mobile phone purchase. This would allow the retailer to bid on terms which they normally wouldn’t bid on because they are low cost (and possible low margin) products. As they know their ads will only be shown to users who have already just purchased a phone from them, and so are likely to be in the market for accessories such as phone cases, and they are likely to purchase from them because they have already just shown trust and purchased a phone from them. To do this, the retailer would need to set up a search campaign with ad groups containing all the relevant phone accessory keywords. They would then apply a RLSA for users who have purchased phones (created by using the checkout completion page URL). They would select the ‘Target and Bid’ option when they apply the list to the ad group, so the keywords will only be triggered when both criteria are met (user is on the RLSA and is also searching with the targeted keywords).

You can apply RLSAs to brand term campaigns to make them even more likely to convert by landing them on a landing page that is the most relevant to their previous browsing activity. For example, you could create a copy of your brand campaign and apply the RLSA ‘Everyone who visited the Shoes category page’, and then land those ads on the shoes category page, rather than the Home page which you might otherwise be using for your brand campaign. Select the ‘Target and Bid’ option when you apply the RLSA to the ad group so your ads only show to those in the Remarketing list and also using the keywords to search. Be aware that just because a user visited a particular page, it doesn’t mean they didn’t visit other category pages, so keep an eye on the conversion rate of this kind of campaign as it might not work well for everyone. I’d recommend setting it up only for your top converting category pages and keeping a close eye on it.

Some clients worry that bidding on their brand is a waste of ad spend because they pick up a lot of users who have already visited the site and who would return to it regardless of whether there was a PPC ad (probably organically, providing they rank for their brand). Counter their fears by excluding the RLSA audience of all site visitors from the brand campaign. This means the brand campaign would only show in instances when users were new to the site and not returning further down the funnel. Be aware that if you apply this and you usually get a high level of second visits to the brand PPC campaign you may see these drop and you may find the brand campaign conversion rate drops as a result.

One way to test PLAs on a small budget campaign initially is to create a campaign which contains a copy of your top converting ad groups, targeting all users who have previously visited the site but who have not converted. These ad groups have a history of performing well as standard text ads so with a Remarketing list applied to them they have the potential to perform even better! You could think about excluding the remarketing list for these users from the normal versions of these ad groups to avoid overlap. If you don’t exclude them you will need to make your RLSA bids much higher than those on standard text ads.

RLSAs aren’t just great for encouraging new purchases; you can use them to encourage repeat purchases. For example, you could target all users who have converted within their own RLSA campaign where you can tailor your ad text to contain messages to encourage repeat purchase, for example 10% off your next order.

If you have particularly high margin products that you’d like to give a push, you could try setting up RLSAs just for those and seeing how they go before expanding into other product areas

Campaign Structure, Bidding Strategies and Using Negative User Lists

RLSAs can be applied to any of your existing search campaigns, but I’d recommend setting them up in their own campaigns so that you can have more control over them.

You can use AdWords Editor for all implementation of RLSAs as described in this Google webinar, or you can do it in the AdWords interface.

For example, a fashion retailer might have might have a normal search campaign for the shoes category of their site, and they would also create a duplicate of this campaign called RLSA Shoes campaign, to be used with their Remarketing lists. The remarketing list applied to the RLSA Shoes campaign might be something like ‘All Visitors of the Shoes Category Page’.

The retailer should then add another list to the normal search version of the campaign, which excludes all visitors who have viewed the Shoes category page. This would ensure they don’t double up and potentially target the same audience twice within two different campaigns.

In the instance that a ‘negative’ Remarketing list excluding ‘All Visitors of the Shoes Category Page’ wasn’t applied to the original search campaign, AdWords will choose which campaign ads to show to a user based on the bids and Quality Score of each campaign.

Creating Campaigns and Applying Lists to Your Ad Groups

If you choose to create new campaigns for Remarketing, ensure the campaign type is ‘Search Only Campaign’ and avoid the new AdWords Hybrid campaign. Make sure you’ve selected ‘ All Features’ in the sub settings, or you won’t be able to use Custom Combination lists:

All Features

When you apply your lists to ad groups, you’ll need to go to the Audiences tab for that ad group and follow Google’s instructions which you can find here.

Make sure you tick the box for ‘Target and Bid’, if you’d like to ensure your ads will only show when both the search query and remarketing criteria are present:

Image of Target and Bid

If you would like to have a campaign where your keyword targeting runs as normal and targets all users who are searching regardless of whether they’ve visited your site, but with the option of adjusting your bid for those who have already visited your site, then you’ll need to tick ‘Bid Only’.

To exclude audiences, so that you can create targeting such as ‘user visited shoes category page but didn’t convert’, you will need to do this using the exclude audiences option, rather than by creating a custom combination list as RLSAs aren’t currently compatible with custom combination lists that exclude visitors who viewed a particular page.

Exclude Audiences

Remarketing Tag for Remarketing Lists for Search Ads

Before you put the code on your website, make sure you update your Privacy Policy to state that you are using DoubleClick cookies. You can find out exactly what you need to include in your Privacy Policy here.

RLSAs use the AdWords Remarketing tag, rather than the Analytics Remarketing tag, so you’ll need to ensure you have the AdWords Remarketing code on your site before you start using RLSAs.

You can run both sets of code alongside each other,  and users will be eligible to be part of two lists (Google Display Network Remarketing using Google Analytics, as well as AdWords Remarketing Lists).

The AdWords Remarketing tag is really easy to implement, you just need to add one tag to the footer of your site, before the closing “</body>” tag,  so that it is present across every page of your website. This tag will track visitors via desktop and mobile devices, and you can find it using the following Google’s instructions:

    1. Sign in to AdWords at https://adwords.google.co.uk
    2. Go to your “Shared library”
    3. In the “Audiences” section, go to the “Remarketing tag” box at the top
    4. Click the View tag details button and then click Set-up
    5. Click View remarketing tag and instructions to get the remarketing code you’ll need to add to your site
    6. Check that the tag is working using the information here

List Creation

Create your lists in the AdWords interface (rather than in Google Analytics), as they need to be lists that use the AdWords Remarketing code rather than the Google Analytics Remarketing code. You will find the All Visitors set up in your account as standard, providing you have correctly implemented the AdWords Remarketing code.

RLSAs need to have a minimum of 1,000 members before you can remarket using them, so consider this when you set your list membership duration. For example, if your site doesn’t get much traffic it might take a long while to build up over 1,000 members, in which case make your membership duration longer so they stay members for longer and you are more likely to achieve 1,000 members at one time.  Remember that Remarketing lists include members on your site from any traffic source (PPC, organic, email etc), so lists won’t just be based on traffic from PPC.

If you get lots of traffic and achieving 1,000 members isn’t a problem, consider your users’ path to purchase and at which point after they have visited your site they will make a purchase. A good way to do this is to use the Time Lag report which is from Google Analytics but can also be found in your AdWords account under Tools, Conversions and then Search Funnels, followed by Tim Lag:

Time Lag report

Here you can see how long it takes consumers to convert after they visit your site, and you can set your list durations to account for this.

Things to Note about Remarketing Lists for Search Ads

  • You can’t target users who are logged into Google services, as they are currently not compatible
  • Google have not openly disclosed how Quality Score is calculated in RLSAs, however they have said Quality Score is basically the same for RLSAs and standard search campaigns but that because CTR is generally higher with RLSAs, and CTR is obviously a factor in Quality Score, so it is likely that over time your RLSAs will experience a higher Quality Score than standard search campaigns.
  • AdWords estimate that around 10% of AdWords traffic which is picked up via standard search campaigns will also be members of your Remarketing Lists for Search  Ads
  • If you use all the normal bid adjustments (location, scheduling and device), as well as RLSA bid adjustments, all of these bid increases will be multiplied on top of each other
  • If a user is on multiple RLSA lists, the list with the highest bid will be shown to them
  • If you duplicate a search campaign exactly for RLSA (ad text, keyword and bid) they won’t be competing against each other – the remarketing audience copy would ‘trump’ it, so the only ad which would go to auction is the audience campaign
  • Your Remarketing Lists for Search Ads are available to use on the Google Display Network in other campaigns, but not all Google Display Network Remarketing lists are applicable to RLSAs because they aren’t always compatible (for example, if they are created using Google Analytics tag, or if they are custom combination lists
  • You should still use negative keywords with your RLSAs
  • There is no frequency capping on RLSAs yet because the user is searching actively, rather than being passively pushed display ads like they would be with standard Remarketing

These are just a few of my ideas and tips, so please feel free to add to them by commenting below!

If this post has whetted your appetite for remarketing, discover what’s possible for your website and check out how Koozai can help, today.


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  3. Daniel avatar

    Hi, Tara. Congrats! This post is amazing.

    I have so many questions about RLSAs. Can you help me with this? I can e-mail or however you think is better?


  4. Alvaro avatar

    Thanks Tara, this is a great article on RLSA.

    I have found RLSA particularly useful for some of my clients with CPA decrease of more than 40%. Definitely one of the best tools that AdWords has come up with recently.

  5. Digitt Trendz avatar
    Digitt Trendz

    Google Remarketing is an effective way to retain and gain more customers that are probably go from you.
    This article is helpful for me to learn more about RLSA.

  6. […] Handy Strategies for Using Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs), Koozai […]

  7. Arianne Donoghue avatar
    Arianne Donoghue

    Great post Tara! I’m hoping to get the Adwords tag deployed this week so we can have a go with RLSAs – some great tips here.

    1. Tara West avatar

      Thanks Arianne! Yep it’s a bit annoying that it has to be done with the AdWords tag rather than the Google Analytics tag, but the results I’ve seen for ecommerce clients have been good so far so it’s worth it!

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