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The Complete Guide To Understanding Remarketing

By Brendan Flavin

VP + Director of Digital Marketing

The practice of remarketing has been around for years, but between products offered by companies like Google, AdRoll, and Retargeter, the strategy has developed to a point where there are new opportunities for segmentation and targeting across a variety of mediums. In the glorious words that follow we’ll review how it has evolved and what opportunities exist for organizations to reach consumers and leads across the web in a number of ways.

We’ll cover:

  • Remarketing Basics
  • How Remarketing Works
  • Remarketing List Segmentation
  • Dynamic Remarketing
  • Remarketing Segmentation with Google Analytics
  • YouTube Video Remarketing
  • Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA’s)


Just as a refresher for those who are not familiar with how it behaves at the highest level, remarketing is a practice that involves delivering ads to individuals who have previously visited your site. This audience, as you can imagine, is very valuable. They may have exited your web property for a number of reasons – say the phone rang as they were about to convert on your site – only to later forget about your product or service. Your remarketing ad can be that critical reminder to come back and complete their purchase, fill out a form, whatever your website goal may be.


A snippet of code is applied across your website that places a cookie on your visitor’s browser when they navigate across the pages of your site. That cookie later allows the advertiser to serve ads to that visitor as they browse through other sites or social media channels on whatever network that remarketing provider is affiliated with (for context, the google display network claims it can reach over 90% of global internet users across websites, apps, and games).


As remarketing has evolved, so has the ability to refine the audiences that you are remarketing to. The most basic segmentation is to deliver creative based on what section or pages of your site an individual has visited. An advertiser can set up parameters that define which ads you would like to serve based on the URL of a page or section of your site they hit.

Say you have a website where you sell software, but also offer IT consulting services and teach group classes about HTML, each being a separate section of the website. While a single branded advertisement about your organization delivered to a previous site visitor can be effective, a more targeted advertisement that speaks to the specific service the individual was researching is even more effective. Click-Thru-Rates have demonstrated this time and time again.

Just as I mentioned that you can create rules that allow you target visitors, rules can also be applied to ensure ads don’t show to visitors of a specific page or section. The most common application of these rules are to limit ads from showing to visitors who previously converted, minimizing wasted impressions. This is done by excluding the URL for the thank-you page of your conversions.

Revisiting the example above, you can exclude the page that confirmed payment of the software a visitor might have purchased, or the thank-you page where they submitted a contact form.

Taking this one step further though, what if, in addition to excluding visitors of this page from your remarketing audience, you create a separate set of ads for these customers that tells them about your loyalty program or upcoming sales. There are plenty of different messages you can send to different types of visitors of your site to encourage them to come back again! Get as creative as you want!


Dynamic remarketing takes a different spin on segmentation, and is a great tool for online businesses – particularly ecommerce sites – to remarket to their past visitors. Leveraging a data feed, advertisers can deliver ads that incorporate the exact item you were viewing on their site, down to the color or style of the product.

Depending on the remarketing platform the advertiser is using, these dynamic remarketing ads can show across the web and even social media sites. Just as I mentioned that segmented remarketing audiences demonstrate higher CTR, dynamic remarketing has shown to be highly effective in terms of CPA. This helpful dynamic remarketing case study from the bright minds at PPC Hero (it’s a bit dated, from 2013) shows a 78% reduction in CPA using dynamic remarketing. Their study involves Dynamic Remarketing using Google, but there are plenty of other platforms that provide this service.


Continuing along the segmentation spectrum, in late 2012 Google introduced tools in Google Analytics to further target your remarketing audiences based on on-site engagement. One could create remarketing audiences comprised of visitors who spent a certain amount of time on your site or a specific page, only showing ads to people who spent more than 30 seconds, for example. This essentially eliminates those less effective impressions on visitors who came to your site and exited immediately. You could also target visitors who abandoned your shopping cart at a certain point in the conversion funnel, or who have previously spent above a certain dollar amount. The opportunities here are endless!

More recently (April 2014), Smart Lists were introduced as a Google Analytics remarketing feature. This is a much more hands-off approach to identifying audiences, essentially allowing Google to collect data on your visitors and leveraging machine learning to identify future visitors that have a “high propensity to convert”. This product is only available to sites with high traffic volume (10,000 daily page views, 500 monthly conversions) in order to collect enough data for the lists to be effective. As new criteria that may contribute to conversions becomes available, the lists continue to dynamically update, something that makes traditional list management hard to replicate.

The presence of Smart Lists may not rule out the practice of segmentation altogether, though. There may be several audiences for your website, and a traditional conversion may not be the goal of each. Depending on your overall remarketing strategy these Smart Lists will probably drive a significant number of conversions, yet still leaving room for audience segmentation.

Here is a really insightful article about Smart Lists.


Similar to how you would segment a remarketing list based on what section of your site a visitor browsed, or how they engaged with the site via Google Analytics, Google also allows marketers to create audiences based on engagement with your YouTube channel.

Simply linking your YouTube and AdWords account initiates the collection of channel viewers, subscribers, and visitors. You can build upon these lists to include people who have interacted with your video or viewed your TruView instream ads. You can then create new video ads to remarket to these individuals!


Remarketing Lists for Search Ads, or RLSA’s, are a frequently overlooked tactic that can be very effective in re-engaging previous visitors of your site. This practice is specific to Google, for now, and incorporates aspects of remarketing and search strategies.

RLSA’s leverage the same remarketing lists an advertiser would create in Google for the more traditional practice of showing ads on the display network. You can even use the YouTube video remarketing list just mentioned above! Once the list reaches 1,000 users for “Google Search”, the minimum requirement for this practice, the lists can be added as an “Audience” to a search campaign. With a quick settings adjustment the campaign will only target the members of that remarketing list when they search for the keywords in your campaign.

The opportunities that this type of remarketing presents are very exciting. An advertiser will certainly want to increase bids to show in a high position to any audience they know has visited their site previously and is searching for a relevant keyword. Highly targeted ad copy can also be applied here, as you may have a different message for a previous visitor searching for a keyword compared to a new lead. Loyalty promotions can be emphasized, or even highlighting what might have been a positive experience they had when they were last on your site.

Search Engine Watch published this helpful article on RLSA's which dives into the nitty gritty details. The most important part of the set-up process is ensuring that this audience is set to “Target and Bid” which ensures your impressions are limited to only the members of the remarketing list and who are searching for the keywords. The other option is for “Bid Only”, which will show your ads to either the members of the remarketing list or who is searching for your keywords in the campaign, totally undermining the work you are trying to do!


As you can tell from all of the different opportunities to leverage remarketing I’ve listed above, there is incredible potential for how this tactic and technology can support your overall marketing strategy. The ability to segment and target your site visitors to encourage them to re-engage with you can’t be understated. Don’t neglect these audiences or you run the risk of missing out on some of the most attainable conversions!

What remarketing strategies have you had the best luck with?

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Brendan Flavin

VP + Director of Digital Marketing