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Tapping the Unknown Power of Google RLSA

About a year after Google AdWords Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) was launched, we’re finally seeing how effective, strategic, and powerful this is.

Tapping the Unknown Power of Google RLSA

Savvy marketers know that retargeting can be a huge source of leads and conversions. Retargeting is designed to bring back those bounced visitor and abandoned shopping cart. Retargeting is nothing new in the paid search world, but Google’s entrance to the market is relatively recent.

Now, around one year after the launch of Google AdWords Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA), we’re finally seeing how effective, strategic, and powerful Google’s approach to retargeting is.

I wrote this article because I want to alert you to RLSA’s potential, and share some power tips for improving targeted traffic to your site.

RLSA: The Next Frontier?

I believe that RLSA has been overlooked by many marketers. Nearly everyone is using Adwords, but why is everyone not using RLSA for those Adwords?

Alan Mitchell summed up my sentiment best when he wrote this in Search Engine People,

I genuinely believe RLSA could be huge, and am surprised just how little exposure RLSA has had in the search marketing community…I’m surprised how it seems to have slipped under the radar for many a Google AdWords advertiser.

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Even after it had been in beta for over a year and then in its finalized form for several months, Google reported that only 1% of Adwords advertisers had tried RLSA, as reported in a Google All-Stars Summit.

The paucity of participants represents an opportunity for you — an opportunity to test, engage, and enjoy more accurate paid search.

One RLSA user experienced a 161% increase in their conversion rate by using RLSA. They described it this way, “It feels like Google has opened up a completely new marketing channel.” It is new, it is effective, and it can truly improve ad spend ROI.

Understanding What RSLA is All About

At its most basic level, Google’s remarketing lists for search ads allows you to customize ad campaigns for a specific market segment — those who have already visited your site.

RLSA Targets Revisitors

When someone visits your site and leaves, it can easily be perceived as a loss of a customer or lead. In reality, however, that user is much more likely to buy. Why? Because many visitors won’t purchase on their first time, but they will return to buy. They may do so on their second, third, fourth, or a later visit. It may not be until days after their initial visit that they make the purchase.

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Marketo’s research concluded that 95% of first-time prospects are visiting your site for research, not purchase. Another bit of statistical interest comes from, whose research produced this gem:

Tapping the Unknown Power of Google RLSA

With the statistics tilted in favor of revisitors, it only makes sense to bump some of our advertising efforts towards those revisits.

“Remarketing” Not “Retargeting”

Google has pointed out that RLSA is not the same as “search retargeting or search remarketing.” The only distinction, apparently, is that “It does not provide access to or use information about users’ Google search histories, and cannot be used in connection with sensitive categories.”

In this article, I’m using the words “retargeting” and “remarketing” somewhat loosely, simply because there’s no single useful word for what Google is doing with RLSAs.

To Sum Up

  • RLSA is only for people who have visited your website before. This person is considered a “qualified” lead.
  • RLSA does not access user’s search history. It only targets previous visitors.

Should You Use RLSA? Using Analytics to Determine the Relative Importance of RLSA

I’ll admit that RLSA investment may not be for every marketer. So how do you know if you should be allocating some of your budget towards RLSA, or how do you benchmark your bid level for RLSA?

There are two helpful analytics metrics that can give you some insight.

Time Lag

In Google Analytics, navigate to Conversions → Multi-Channel Funnels → Time Lag. Here, you can find out how many days it takes a user to make a purchase.

The eCommerce site pictured below is gaining the majority of its purchases from a visitor’s first visit. If your site has a large percentage of visitors making purchases after 0 days, it makes sense to engage remarketing.

Tapping the Unknown Power of Google RLSA

Path Length

The other informative metric comes from path length. You can see how many visits — or more accurately, “interactions” — it takes for a customer to make a purchase. In Analytics, go to Conversions → Multi-Channel Funnels → Path Length:

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Tapping the Unknown Power of Google RLSA

I recommend further segmenting visitors, conversion paths, and other features in order to get a more nuanced picture. However, these two metrics will give you some information as you engage in a remarketing campaign.

Strategic Adjustments That Will Increase the Value of Your Search Campaigns

I want to share six tips that will help you go deeper on RLSA. As my title suggests, there is a vast unknown power to Google RLSA that few marketers are taking advantage of. By leveraging this incredible power early on, you’ll be able to edge out your competitors.

In some areas like Adwords and even basic content marketing, the competition has become so crowded that it’s very expensive and sometimes impossible to get the audience you want. With Google RSLA, however, you have a fresh opportunity. Few advertisers are even using RLSA, let alone strategically maximizing it.

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To stay focused in this article, I’m assuming some level of familiarity with Adwords and implementation of RLSA. To start using RLSA, it’s as easy as opening up a search network campaign, clicking the “audiences” tab, and adding remarketing.

The best place to learn about RLSA is on Google’s support site. For another introduction you can check out Lisa Raehler’s article in Search Engine Watch.

Now, I want to share some RLSA tips that will help to improve the power of your ads.

1. Create multiple lists.

You can create as many lists as you want, but there are only three types of lists. Here is Google’s chart of the list types:


Tags / DefinitionsNotes
Tag-basedThese lists are based directly on the tags on your website
Rule-basedURL contains …Lists based on rules about the URLs visited
CombinationAny combination of the two types of lists above

It seems limited, but as long as you’re using the Display Network, you can widen the amount of features and increase the detail of your parameters.

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The more lists you have, the more targeted and intentional you can be with your ad results. For example, you can create a list for visitors who landed on your homepage, visitors who visited as recent as two days ago, visitors who performed certain actions on your website, etc. Go beyond the ordinary, however, and create lists based on geolocation, product views, time of day, day of week, device usage, etc.

The greater your awareness of your visitors, the more focused and intentional you can become with your lists. The creation of lists is probably one of the biggest opportunities to improve your RLSA effectiveness. It all starts with lists.

2. Piggyback on the power of effective search campaigns.

One of the unique advantages of RLSA is its integration with Adwords. If you see one of your search campaigns is really effective, you can increase this effectiveness by augmenting it with RLSA. Simply create a new campaign, customize your message, and salvage those who are not being engaged by an otherwise successful ad campaign.

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This is an easy and straightforward way to identify already powerful and valuable sources of leads.

3. Use generic keywords.

Since RLSA is already focusing on previous visitors, you would do well to broaden your Adword bids to include broad match keywords.

When you broad-match the keywords you bid on, you will gain additional exposure to a user’s searches. You don’t have to worry about the customary fear of high-bidding competitive keywords. You’ll gain the value of broad-matched searches, not only because the searchers are qualified, but because your competition is smaller.

4. Determine innovative ways to engage with your RSLA audience.

Revisitors are a unique audience. They are qualified or semi-qualified. And, based on the nuances of your list, they have certain interests, behaviors or actions they have performed on your site. Now, what do you say to them? How do you approach them? Your ad can be customized according to what you consider to be the best approach.

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If there are visitors getting as far as your shopping cart, you may want to create a price discount message. If visitors are a list of services, you may want to display an interesting services description ad. The engagement possibilities are endless.

Look at the trends of users, especially revisitors, to see what they are doing most — how much time do they spend on certain pages? How far down the funnel do they go? What are they clicking on? Then, create lists based on these behaviors. Assuming these lists reach the minimum threshold of 1k, you’re ready to customize a message just for them.

5. Use Fresh and Creative Ad Variations

Remember, you’re trying to engage visitors who have already visited your site in the past. They have some level of awareness, recognition, or familiarity with your brand or message. It’s important then, that you implement variation into your efforts.

Using RLSA is all about unleashing your inner creative. Use as many variations as you want, each one customized for your specific list.

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6. Test, test, test.

Every marketer knows the power of testing. If you’re using RLSA, you also want to be testing RLSA. Is it effective? Is it worth it? Don’t depend on the test results of just a single test, though. As I mentioned above, get creative with your RSLA efforts. Try several different things, and test those different things.


An RLSA campaign is only as effective as you are strategic. There is a lot of room for both strategy and effectiveness within the RLSA framework. It may not completely replace the need for outside retargeting services, but it does provide a new channel for more effective ads.

How have you seen RSLA improve your advertising?


Image Credits

Featured Image: mtkang via Shutterstock
Screenshots: Taken June 2014

CategoryPaid Search

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Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs ... [Read full bio]

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