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AdWords Remarketing: 6 Ways to make a small remarketing audience bigger

pwd staff OLIVER WOOD
Oliver Wood

|30th May 2018

Advertisers and Google AdWords experts well-versed in remarketing know it is a powerful tool that can enhance CTR and conversions on display and search networks.

According to Advanced Web Ranking, users are 70% more likely to convert if retargeted with display ads While the average CTR for display ads is only 0.07%, it is 0.7% for remarketing display ads.

It isn’t just remarketing display ads that are useful for increasing user engagement. The value of RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) is also apparent when you discover the increased conversion rate and cost-saving factors. In a case study from industry leaders Search Engine Land, they found their RLSA campaign’s CPA was roughly a third of the cost of their regular search campaign, CPC was almost half the cost, and CTR was doubled.

Many other advertisers have experienced similar positive results with remarketing. The table below shows comparative results for JellyFishConnect’s RLSA campaign vs their standard search campaign:

Advanced Web Ranking’s research uncovered that online users who encounter remarketing ads are three times more likely to convert than those who have not experienced the business before.

Advertisers frequently find remarketing effective because it targets users who have already shown an interest in your website. However, remarketing does have its limitations.

Remarketing = better converters but a smaller audience pool

Most companies want continual improvements, excellent ROI, and ever-increasing profits.

With remarketing campaigns that have been running for some time, advertisers can run into two problems: Their campaign either starts suffering from diminishing returns or remains reasonably successful. Still, they are unable to gain enough scale.

These issues arise because of the limited audience pool created by remarketing. In our recent Paid Traffic blog on ad fatigue, we briefly mentioned the problem of audience pool saturation points. The saturation point of an audience pool happens more quickly if you are already working with a narrow audience base.

By targeting users who have already visited your website, you are targeting a more relevant, likely-to-convert audience but a much smaller one. It limits the capacity of the campaign, which results in diminishing returns.

For those advertisers with strong search or display or social PPC campaigns or even just strong organic traffic acquisition, remarketing campaigns can remain successful but still need the desirably increased scale.

“Increase your remarketing effectiveness by finding bigger audiences”

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could target highly relevant users like those on your remarketing list and find brand-new customers just like them? Well, you can.

In the last few years, Google AdWords has evolved to enable it. Talented Google AdWords experts always look for strategies to target the most valuable users, and companies always want to add more scale to their successful campaigns for the best ROI. Google’s new audience types include lookalike audiences. Try similar affinity or in-market audiences if you want to expand your remarketing audience pool.

1.0 Similar Audiences

Utilising Google AdWords’ similar audience feature is a superb tactic for expanding your remarketing audience. Targeting similar audiences allows you to reach brand-new customers who display similar characteristics to people in your remarketing lists. This means they are a new pool to tap into but more likely to convert than other new audiences on the GDN.

Suppose you have been running a remarketing campaign and have generated enough data. In that case, Google will automatically look at browsing behaviour on the display network over the last 30 days and suggest similar audience lists for you to target.

This will only work for a remarketing list with at least 500 cookies. According to Google AdWords, using similar audiences can expand a remarketing audience 7 times.

AdWords find similar audiences by analysing peoples’ browsing habits online over the last month, alongside their contextual engine, to find users with similar interests and behaviour to your remarketing list. Contextual search is an improvement on traditional search because it is more precise. It analyses a user’s full query and looks at their profile to determine an identity for greater context and more personalised results. If you want to discover more about the ever-improving power of Google’s contextual engine, read Search Engine Land’s blog on the future of context and search engines.

Unlike your existing remarketing audience, these new, similar users won’t have been on your site before but will have similar interests and online behaviour. This is valuable because correlating interests and behaviour means these users are more likely to desire or need the same product or services.

Savvy Google AdWords experts will use specific similar audience lists based on the segmentation of their remarketing lists, e.g. if you have segregated your remarketing lists by the products your users showed interest in, then you can target similar audiences for each individual remarketing list. If an audience checked out your vintage umbrellas, they and lookalike users might be a very different kind of person than those interested in bejewelled sandals. Remember, you may have multiple audiences and numerous similar audiences.

Browse these criteria from Google to see if similar audiences are right for you. If remarketing has worked well for you in the past, it’s a good bet that a similar audience list will convert well too. Try longer time windows for the best effect, as it may be the user’s first time encountering your brand, so their conversion time could be longer. Advertisers should not be deterred if this new, similar audience does not convert immediately since once they have visited your website, they can join your remarketing list.

You can develop specialised ads to target these new, similar audiences because your original remarketing list is automatically excluded from the similar audience list.

To target similar audiences, select your campaign and then the display network.


Select the red +targeting button.


Choose your desired AdGroup from the drop-down.


Select add targeting and choose interests and remarketing from the drop-down.


From the category drop-down, choose the desired audience. Similar audiences will create a list based on your remarketing data. Click save, and your new targeting will be applied.


Suppose you are curious about experimenting with similar audiences. In that case, this video from AdWords explains more about how similar audiences and other audience types can help advertisers add scale to their remarketing campaigns:

2.0 Auto-targeting in AdWords remarketing

If you have run a remarketing campaign before, you may have noticed the auto-targeting option.


Auto-targeting is suitable for expanding your pool but only for audiences with a high probability of converting. If you have eCPC activated (enhanced cost per click) for a conversion-focused optimisation of your campaign, then Google AdWords recommends auto-targeting for your remarketing list.

Similar audiences are different as you are allowed more direct control over your budget and ads, such as being able to create specific ads for a similar audience. Similar audiences are more sophisticated and a better option if your primary focus is expanding your audience pool.

Auto-targeting comes in two varieties, conservative or aggressive. The traditional option helps advertisers stay close to their desired CPA, and the aggressive option acquires as many new conversions as possible.

3.0 Affinity audiences

Affinity audiences are another method for expanding your online audience base, which was introduced by AdWords back in 2013. This audience option was initially developed to help businesses accustomed to TV advertising find relevant audiences online at scale.

With affinity audiences, AdWords takes a user’s browsing history, what they have watched on YouTube and duration on pages into account and then assigns them an interest category, which advertisers can target. Over 80 interest category segments are available to choose from, focusing on various interests, e.g. travel, news, fashion, health, sport etc.


Affinity audiences are a good option if your campaign seeks to target users at the conversion funnel awareness stage, but many advertisers feel the targeting is too broad. To give advertisers more control, AdWords introduced custom affinity audiences.

4.0 Custom affinity audiences

Custom affinity audiences are very similar to affinity audiences, except that advertisers can create bespoke lists. This is helpful for advertisers looking to target a subgroup within the affinity categories, for example, targeting users interested in alternative fashion, not mainstream fashion.

To create a custom affinity audience, you can combine interest categories with specific website URLs you believe users may have taken an interest in.


To avoid limiting your audience, Google AdWords recommends including at least 5 websites and topics, but you can always add more, which won’t restrict your audience base.

Learn more about affinity and custom affinity audiences in the AdWords Q&A video below:

5.0 In-market audiences

If you like the idea of affinity audiences but want to hone in on an audience likely to convert, then in-market audiences are the one for you. The in-market audience option can target people who have shown behavioural signs of being in the market for your product or service.


In-market audience functionality was launched in 2014. AdWords looks for users who are showing clear signs of being in the market to buy. AdWords analyses data from review sites related to the product or service, price comparison sites, and user behaviour.

In-market audiences are an intelligent strategy for reaching a highly-interested audience beyond your remarketing list. These users have displayed specific purchase intent, making them ideal prospective customers to expand your audience pool.

You can learn more about the potential of in-market audiences from Think with Google or by watching this video from AdWords:

Suppose you are looking to target by interest cues rather than users with a similar profile to your current remarketing lists. In that case, you should choose affinity, custom affinity or in-market audiences. If you are still unsure, look at this article from the Digital Marketing Association which discusses the difference between these three audience types in great detail.

While all these audience options are valuable tactics for expanding your audience pools beyond your remarketing lists, they are only available for remarketing in the GDN.

Advertisers who have unlocked the power of RLSA ads and desire greater scale may be frustrated that these options are not available. There is no need to worry because there is another formidable audience list you can wield for RLSA ads; customer match.

6.0 Customer Match

Customer match allows advertisers to upload their customer emails to AdWords and put their PPC budget behind ultra-precise identity-based targeting, which had previously been the domain of Facebook.

Since its launch in 2015, the success of AdWords’ customer match audience list has already outstripped Facebook.

As we mentioned in our blog on remarketing lists, customer email remarketing lists are ideal for cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers. They are also straightforward to implement and effective if you can regularly import directly from your CRM to keep the updated list. Head to your shared library to set up customer email lists for remarketing, head to your shared library.


Then select audiences.


Now select the red + remarketing list button and select customer emails.


Name your list, upload your file and adjust the settings to your preference. Then click update and save list.


After you have uploaded your customer emails, Google takes about 24 hours to match them with existing Google accounts. The list is then available to target in your shared library audiences.

To apply a customer email list to an RLSA campaign head to your audience tab in the relevant campaign.


Go through the steps to set up remarketing but instead of choosing a remarketing list select customer email lists.


Customer match is a practical approach we recommend implementing, as it provides more accurate remarketing than a traditional remarketing list. This is because an email allows AdWords to track the user by their online identity rather than just using a cookie; hence cross-device remarketing is vastly improved. Google claims that customer match is better than standard remarketing lists for segmenting by customer behaviour. Google’s own data also revealed that when customer match email lists and remarketing are used together, advertisers have frequently seen a 48% increase in clicks and a 41% increase in conversions.

In addition to cross-selling or up-selling, advertisers can bid more or less competitively on keywords in search ads, depending on if it’s a customer match or not. They could also test excluding existing customers from specific search campaigns while offering exclusive existing customer offers in other RLSA email campaigns. According to a Think with Google case study Roland Mouret did exactly that.


The result was a CPC 56% lower than the industry average and an 86% improvement in their CPA compared to previous months.

Using customer email lists is ideal for improving your remarketing, but it also gives more value to your customer emails and brings a whole new approach to email marketing. Customer emails are perceived as highly precious to digital marketers, and they allow a direct line of communication with your audience. This is undoubtedly better for sales, isn’t it? Email marketing may not be as successful as many marketers hope. Mailchimp report that the average email open rate is below 25%. That seems like quite a waste, considering the potential effort to build those more extensive email lists, yet when we look at the success rate for customer email lists in AdWords, we can see they still have tremendous potential.

It isn’t just Google singing the praises of their products either; Wordstream went so far as to call customer match “THE most exciting AdWords update in the history of the platform.” The firm claims that Google Customer Match offers the best match rate between emails uploaded and users found for marketing. They even state that advertisers can expect Google to match 50.4% of their email list to their users. This might sound ambitious and depends on the type of business you are in and the demographics of your core audience (i.e. if they are over 60, they are less likely to have a Google account, and the match rate would probably be lower). However, as Wordstream reports conversion rates of roughly 15% compared to 5.5% for their new visitor audiences, the experiment with customer match seems well worth the trouble.

Advertisers might wonder how customer matches can bring greater scale to their remarketing. It is a helpful tool but could contribute to expanding an audience pool in remarketing. Customer email targeting is not limited to RLSA ads.


The screenshot above shows customer email lists as an option for remarketing on display, the only campaign. You will also notice the opportunity to utilise similar audiences for customer email lists, which is a fantastic way to reach new users who are lookalike audiences to your existing customers. Advertisers should note that you can only use audiences similar to customer email lists if you have uploaded more than 5,000 emails that have been processed and matched to Google users.

Unfortunately, customer email lists on AdWords do have some frustrating limitations. Site Traffic Control expressed their disappointment that customer match is limited to search ads and cannot be used on display campaigns. While you can use customer email lists on display campaigns, they are only shown on Gmail, not on the wider GDN.

For your RLSA ads, you do not have the option of targeting similar audiences.

Considering this, advertisers might need to consider customer matches for RLSA ads that cannot bring any new scale to their audience pool. This is not true because not all customers start as online customers.

Businesses can have the first contact with a customer in various ways, including television advertising, catalogues or in-store. If you discover a brand on television or out in the world, you might first buy from them in person, and you may then relinquish an email address without ever having encountered them online. Even in the world of increasing online shopping, traditional shopping is still alive, and the customer relationship can work in this direction. Customer match allows you to move your in-store audience online, where you can more effectively remarket to them.

The future is bright for identity-based digital marketing.

With increased identity targeting and the improvement of Google’s contextual engine, we may look forward to improvements in customer matches in the future. We have our fingers crossed that Google will incorporate customer match functionality fully into the GDN and allow similar audiences to email lists in RLSA ads.

It’s time to have fun and reach new audience pools beyond traditional remarketing.

When choosing the right audience type for your remarketing campaign, be sure to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and what your main goals are. Audience types like similar audiences, in-market audiences, affinity audiences and customer matches can make display remarketing, and RLSA campaigns more robust and provides greater scale to gain those great ROI reports.

Testing the different audience types will reveal what works best for your business but keep your test campaigns separate so that your targeting is narrow enough and your data is more precise.

Digital marketing is increasingly less focused on queries and keywords and more audience-based. The psychology of audience profiling has led to significant gains for advertisers on social channels like Facebook, but now AdWords is in action with their diverse audience targeting. Digital technology is allowing more personalised browsing and shopping online. Many Google AdWords experts expect to see strategies for behavioural targeting, identity targeting, and contextual targeting.