Why Advanced RLSA Audience Targeting Is Essential For Your Business

By Tinuiti Team

“The evolution of RLSA and advancing the technology and strategy on RLSA was a big talking point at the 2016 Search Marketing Expo & Conference,” Lewis Brannon, Paid Search Manager at CPC Strategy said.

google serp“Most advertisers simply apply their standard retargeting audiences within their search campaigns and put bid modifiers on them. But, that can be a very basic approach and there’s a lot more that advertisers should be doing to target their audiences within Google Search,” he said.

“Specifically, there was a lot of talk about whether you should be segmenting your campaigns based on audiences and writing different ad copy for those people.”

Before we jump into how your business should be leveraging advanced RLSA targeting strategies – let’s a take a look at the fundamentals and history of RLSA.

The RLSA Recap:

Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) is a feature that allows retailers to customize their search ad campaigns for people who have previously visited their site, and tailor their bids and ads to these visitors when they’re searching on Google.

When potential customers leave a site, remarketing lists help retailers connect with those shoppers while they continue to search for what they need on Google.

For example, Kyle is looking for tennis shoes and he visits a sports apparel website and looks at the shoe section of the site to check out the available styles. Even if Kyle does not purchase, thanks to RLSA, the site will add Kyle to a “Shoe category” audience list. Then, the site could bid more for Kyle the next time he searches for tennis shoes on Google again. 

Retailers set their bids, create ads, or select keywords tailored to those customers that have previously visited their website.

  1. To start using remarketing lists for search ads, retailers create a remarketing list and add a snippet of code that they get from AdWords, called a remarketing tag, to their site.

  3. They can add the remarketing tag to every page in their site. The code then tells AdWords to add every site visitor to their list.

  5. For example, when people visit the homepage of an outdoor apparel website, the cookies associated with their browsers are then added to the remarketing list.

According to Google, there are two basic strategies for using RLSAs:

Bid for Existing Keywords: You can optimize bids for your existing keywords for visitors on your remarketing lists. For example, you can increase your bid by 25% for those who previously visited your website in the last 30 days. Or, you could show a different ad to site visitors who have placed items in a shopping cart but have not purchased them.

Bid for Other Keywords: You can bid on keywords that you don’t normally bid on just for people who have recently visited your site, or have converted on your site in the past. This can help you increase your sales. For example, you could bid on more broad keywords only for people who have previously purchased from your site.

The Evolution of RLSA Explained By Our Expert:

“Initially, the only way that we could use retargeting was on the Google Display Network. You would add the tracking code on your website and then – when people visited your site, Google would aggregate those cookies into audiences based on the rules that you set up,” Brannon said.

“But then Google released RLSA – and advertisers realized they could put their audience lists into Search campaigns too. For example, this could include people that viewed Men’s pages (we would put them in a Men’s audience list), or for someone who added to cart but did not follow through with a purchase (we would put them in a cart abandoner audience list).”

“If someone was on one of those RLSA lists and they were doing a search on Google – we could bid “x” percent higher for them. That was basically the RLSA 1.0 version, but now we have more options than ever before. Advertisers should be leveraging advanced RLSA strategies – which I like to call RLSA 2.0 and in this article we will explain why,” Brannon said.

Introducing RLSA 2.0

According to Lewis, if advertisers are just applying RLSA lists into their normal campaigns and putting bid modifiers on them (RLSA 1.0)- although that could improve the performance of the existing campaign(s) – there are several other ways advertisers can leverage RLSAs (2.0) to:


Theory 1: Unique Ad Copy Experience for Dedicated RLSA Campaigns

“The first theory is maybe we should be building out dedicated campaigns where the entire targeting criteria for the campaign is just for a specific RLSA audience (example: cart abandoners).”

“In other words, rather than having your RLSA list apply to standard campaigns as an additional bid layer – perhaps advertisers should be segmenting campaigns based on audience lists and should have dedicated campaigns targeted only to specific RLSA audiences with unique ad copy & a unique ad experience for each audience,” Brannon said.


Well, according to Brannon – there are two different audiences at play here:

If you think about it, should you be serving the same ad copy to someone who has been to your site rather than someone who hasn’t? Probably not.

“Fundamentally those two shoppers (returning site visitor vs. first time visitor) are going act differently, so advertisers should cater and write ad copy specifically for each of them,” Brannon said.

“If you just have one campaign, then you are basically telling Google you are willing to pay more for them and would like to increase bids for all those listed in your RLSA.”

“Historically, advertisers will increase bids for previous site visitors because they think these shoppers have a higher customer value BUT what a lot of advertisers and industry professionals are now saying is if you break each RLSA audience list into it’s own unique individual campaign you might be able to pay less because your CTR is going to be higher. If your CTR is higher, your quality score will be better and you could get cheaper traffic through RLSA specific campaigns.”

“The main reason for segmenting out RLSA specific campaigns is to improve your quality score – SO MUCH to the point that you can start to get really cheap traffic,” he said.

Theory 2: Dynamic Search Ad Campaigns Targeting RLSA Lists

Another theory that was talked about in relation to RLSA, was creating Dynamic Search Ad campaigns that only target RLSA lists.

Dynamic Search campaigns are based on a website’s content (not based off of keywords) because ads are dynamically pulled). Typically, we have not seen very good performance using Dynamic Search in conjunction with RLSAs because advertisers are essentially allowing Google to dynamically create these ads and push people to your site.

But, by creating Dynamic Search Ad campaigns that ONLY target RLSAs, it gives those specific campaigns more focus in terms of the target audience – which also gives them a chance to perform better.

In our experience, we’ve seen this work well for B2B sites with large catalogs (or longtail searches). This strategy allows advertisers to target specific pages, categories and point Google to almost anywhere on the site and apply bids to funnel in that particular direction.

We’ve also seen this increase a customer’s lifetime value. If we know someone is a past purchaser, we can add them to the RLSA list and target just like a remarketing campaign when they go to search for a similar product again.

Theory 3: For Limited Budgets Try Running RLSA

The last theory targets businesses with a limited budget who want to try running AdWords for RLSA.

For example, if you only have a $5,000 monthly budget – and you are just trying starting out on AdWords, but you don’t want to “go big, too fast” and fail immediately, you can pixel your site first. This will help you to gather audience data, and run your campaigns only against people that have been to your site.

“Once you get something sturdy, build out your AdWords account, and feel like you have enough business stamina to go after new customers – then you can go after that additional traffic.”

“It’s important to note, you might have to expand your audience list (since that is the only way is to get more traffic to your site). So, you might have to open traffic up for a little while so you can get that new traffic into your remarketing list but once you feel comfortable –  then you close it back down again.”

Disadvantages to RLSA 2.0?

So, the obvious downside of having more campaigns segmented out for RLSA specific audiences is – you guessed it: more work & increased need for management.

“You are going to have exponentially more campaigns and it could make it more difficult from an organizational and management standpoint to keep up with it.  And I think that’s why a lot of advertisers hesitate to practice this strategy,” Brannon said.

“Of course, if you can figure out a way to automate your RLSA campaigns – then you can create, add in automation components and alleviate that concern.”

To learn more on advanced RLSA strategies for your business, email [email protected].

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