A No-Nonsense Pros And Cons List For RLSA Implementation

By Sarah Stemen | @runnerkik | Account Manager at Hanapin Marketing

Traditional pay-per-click (PPC) advertising allows advertisers to bid on relevant keywords. When a user query matches the search term the company’s advertisements appear at the top and right side of the page. This is a pretty easy concept to sell to companies. It is also a really targeted form of advertising.


Traditional Search Ad
Traditional Search Ad for My Daily Attire


But guess what? Search ads just got better!


In case you need a refresher. Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) are a way to modify your search ads for previous site visitors. You can increase or decrease bids for these ads. You can also change the messaging appropriately based on the actions of users. When a user performs a search in Google and is on a designated remarketing list the user can be shown new and distinctive ads.


RLSA was rolled out in July of 2013. Surprisingly most new clients I see are not using this feature.


If you decide to start using RLSA, you can set them up in one of two ways. The first way is to add remarketing lists to new campaigns with keywords. The second way is to add remarketing lists to your existing campaigns. This post will cover the pros and cons of each method of implementation.


Method 1: Add Retargeting Audiences To An Existing Campaign


Adding a remarketing list to an existing campaign and setting it to bid only is quick. You are using identical keywords.




  1. No worries about keyword overlap. You are simply setting a custom bid for each audience. For example, you might want to increase the bid for past visitors.
  2. Front-end metrics can show improvement. This is especially true if you are excluding an audience such as current customers or previous converters. If you have a company where a sale only takes place one time, excluding previous converters is a great way for your campaign to be more efficient.
  3. RLSA is a great way to reduce advertising cost. Bidding on generic terms can be tremendously expensive. If you create a list of previous site visitors and then bid on generic keywords, your costs become manageable. Keep in mind you can build remarketing lists in Google Analytics from any source. You can use all previous site visitors, or visitors from email, SEO and or social sources.




  1. You will need to remember when you added the audience to track the front-end metrics change.
  2. All users, whether new or part of the remarketing list, will see the same ad copy.


Method 2: Create A New Campaign, Add Your Audience, And Use Target And Bid


By selecting target and bid, you are telling Google to show your ads if the visitor is on the retargeting list and the visitor has previously seen your ad.




  1. You can bid on broader terms. Broad terms can be detrimental to a campaign because it is hard to determine user intent. However, if you add an audience to your search campaign (making it RLSA) you reduce cost exposure in the campaign. The fact that the user has already been to your site makes the audience more valuable and increases the chances of conversion.
  2. You can use unique landing pages. Depending on how you build your list you can create unique landing pages. Knowing a user visited the shoe section of your site, you may want to show a landing page that has imagery or messaging that corresponds.
  3. You can choose to only retarget those who search in a certain geographic area. Sometimes you know the propensity to convert is higher in certain regions. You can create a new campaign targeting these DMAs and then add your retargeting list. This creates a highly targeted campaign in a valuable region for marketing.
  4. You can reduce cost. Some products are so inexpensive that spending money in AdWords adds to the cost of goods sold. For this reason, your marketing team may try to promote the product via other channels. If you add a remarketing list to this group of products you can reduce the bids and make advertising more affordable.
  5. Your reporting will be more straightforward. Let’s face it, we all make a monumental amount of changes to our campaigns in a given month. Going back through a campaign to determine why impressions decreased, or conversion rate increased can be difficult. If you simply set up a new campaign, you will avoid reporting errors.
  6. You can enhance your brand campaign. You can set up two duplicate brand campaigns. In the first brand campaign you can exclude previous site visitors. In the second brand campaign you can include previous site visitors. You can then test which campaign converts better. You can also change the messaging, reduce prices, or promote an up-sale to customers who previously visited your site.
  7. You can bid on your competition. Most brands are reluctant to bid on their competitors search terms. However, knowing a user has visited your site and is now searching for a competitor may convince you to speak to this searcher. To do this, you would simply add the previous site visitors audience to a new campaign with terms for your competitors.




  1. You could restrict traffic. Anytime you are setting up a new campaign with an audience you are restricting those who see your ads. This tactic could curb new visitors.
  2. You could compete against regular campaign keywords if you select bid only. If you are not careful you could simply compete against yourself. You can avoid this by making sure you select target and bid when adding duplicate campaigns. Make sure that you make the additional audience campaign a negative audience in your other campaign that includes identical keywords.


RLSA is a great way to acquire additional conversions, further entice conversions, or upsell past customers. I would almost always create a fresh RLSA campaign. However, there are some circumstances where that is not possible so you may just want to add the audience and adjust bids accordingly. While I was doing my research for this blog post I did read one very interesting implementation idea. A user in one of the SEM forums suggested adding retargeting lists to all of your campaigns as bid only. The suggestion was to leave bids the same and measure if visitors to certain pages convert better than others.




Much like most pay-per-click tactics, there are pros and cons to each method of implementation. As I stated I tend to prefer isolation, however, the method you chose will ultimately depend on balancing time, goals of the client, and the size of the budget. There is not a unilateral way to implement.