Paid Search

The ultimate* guide to search remarketing

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 by Coralie Wood

*brief – But only because there are hundreds of ways to experiment with this amazing tool!


Search remarketing, sometimes referred to as RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads), is a relatively new and deeply significant addition to the range of targeting options available in Adwords. Search remarketing is similar to standard display remarketing in that you target your users based on their previous interaction with your site. The key difference here being that remarketing in search requires the user to search again on a relevant keyword in in the search auction, as opposed to being ‘chased’ around the internet by your display remarketing ads.

We already know that remarketing is a great tool (it’s well known that people who have already visited your site are more likely to convert), but search remarketing takes it a step further. This is because the user has to search for something related to your service a second time in order for an ad to be triggered.  So, add the fact that they are already more likely to convert due to being familiar with your site, but this time we can absolutely guarantee that they are still interested in your services. That makes for a pretty powerful tool!

How do I set up Search remarketing?

Don’t worry, there is no additional tech work to put in place here. Search remarketing uses the same tag as display remarketing, so assuming you have that in place already, all you need to do is make sure you have created a list of the people you want to target. Then, you’re ready to go.

Implementing the lists is very simple; select the campaign and ad group where you wish to run search remarketing, navigate to the audiences tab and then click on +remarketing. From here you can select the list that you would like to use.

rlsa set up


There are loads of ways to use search remarketing in an account, but for now I’ll cover a few of my favourites.

  • Optimise your bids – Simple! Have a look in analytics and work out which campaigns are converting well for returning visitors, as well as those which are converting badly. Once you have this information you can use search remarketing to adjust the bids for returning visitors in the relevant ad groups.

As an example: If you know that returning visitors to Campaign A are converting at a lower rate than the new visitors you could choose to apply a bid adjustment of -10% to lower the CPC and reduce CPA. Similarly on Campaign B, where your returning visitors are converting at a much higher rate, you can apply a bid adjustment of +10% and take advantage of this conversion increase to try and drive more traffic to the site.

  • Change your ad copy or landing page for returning visitors – This option will require a slight change to the set up I described above. In order to change the ad copy of landing page we need to duplicate the original ad group. Luckily Adwords makes this pretty easy for us these days, so simply copy and paste the existing ad group and re-name it accordingly (ad group 1 RLSA for example). Then, continue following the setup instructions above to add the audiences.

Once you have done this you can then change the ad and landing page to make your ads as relevant as possible.

So as an example, if you are remarketing to an audience that searched for [name badges] and then all looked at the blue metal name badges on your site, when they search again, you could make your ad more relevant by changing the headline to blue metal name badges. You could also change the landing page and land them back on the page specific to that product.

  • Broaden your keywords – Let’s imagine a visitor landed on your site by searching for “Isle of Wight holidays”. They then leave the site without converting and 3 days later go back to Google and search for “UK holidays”. If you set up a search remarketing ad group and target the audience that all searched for Isle of Wight holidays, but this time only use the keyword +holidays, you stand a chance of getting back the traffic that you already know has an interest in your service. Previously you may not have appeared in the search results as the keyword is very broad, but now you have another opportunity to entice these users to holiday on the Isle of Wight (which they should, obviously, it’s lovely!)
  • Exclude your audiences – First things first, this can be a risky strategy and before you go and completely exclude your audiences from campaigns, ensure that you do a lot of research into the implications this may have for your business. Once you’ve made sure this is the right option for you it can be a great way to reduce wasted spend. Consider using this on:
    • Campaigns where returning visitors do not convert at all
    • Campaigns with frequent returning visitors who won’t convert a second time – If the aim of your site is to get people to sign up to a members area that they will return to regularly then it may be worth excluding these people as chances are they will find your site regardless of a paid search ad being displayed.

Excluding visitors can be done by navigating to the audiences tab and then adding them under the exclusions section as shown here.

rlsa exclusions



When it comes to deciding how to implement search remarketing, Analytics is your best friend. In fact it’s more than your best friend, it’s impossible to implement an RLSA campaign effectively without getting stuck into your analytics behaviour data. So make sure you spend some time learning about what your visitors are really doing on your site before your jump in at the deep end!

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About the author

Coralie Wood

Coralie Wood

Coralie has been working in Digital Marketing for over 2 years and specialises in PPC. Prior to joining Vertical Leap she ran the PPC campaigns in house for a large financial services company. Follow me on Google+