Take Advantage of AdWords Audiences With RLSA Campaigns

By Emma Welland | @emmawelland | Group Head of Performance, Periscopix. A Merkle company

Are you taking advantage of the Audiences tab in AdWords? If not, why not? This tab gives you the option to add audiences (groups of users who have visited your site) to your existing search campaigns and bid differently for them. This technique is known as Remarketing List For Search Ads (RLSA’s). Your bidding strategy can become increasingly targeted enabling you to move from just paying per click to attributing different levels of value to users who have visited your site previously. The level to which you use this strategy is up to you, however I have outlined a few tactics below.


Add Your Lists


If you aren’t currently utilizing audiences in your search campaigns, the first step should be to add your audiences to every ad group in your account and select the “bid only” option. This selection won’t change anything in your account, but it will give you the opportunity to see how these audiences perform when they see your ads and search terms.


Image of target and bid option in AdWords


Which audiences should you add? This is the million dollar question. I recommend adding a variety of audiences to your ad groups so that you can see how different audiences perform for your keywords. For example, people who have previously converted are likely to perform differently than those who have visited your site and haven’t converted.


This insight will provide you with the data to inform educated decisions about whether your existing audiences perform differently to people who have never been to your site before. This is a nice quick win!


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Once these audiences have been in place long enough, (your determination will be based upon the volume of data you have) you’ll be able to take action. How you interpret this data will depend on your account goals. For example, if you’re looking for conversions, I recommend you add bid multipliers for conversion rates that are higher than your normal conversion rates. To work this out you would want to look at your audiences conversion rate in comparison to the existing conversion rate.


Expand Your Lists

Once you have your basic data and have realized that RLSAs are working, you’ll want to look at expanding the program. There are two ways to scale:


1) Add different user lists

2) Play with the cookie durations (the amount of time a user remains in a list)


If we consider the first option, you might have lists targeting:


  • Users who have visited your site before, but haven’t converted
  • Users who have previously made a purchase

These are good foundations to start from. However, you may wish to develop more specific lists. For example:


  • Specific areas of your website
  • Abandoned shopping carts
  • Visitors in different stages of the purchasing funnel


If we consider option two, by default your lists might be targeting people within a 30-day cookie window. Is this duration reflective of your purchasing cycle? There’s a lot of room for experimentation here.


As a first step, I would recommend looking in the search funnels report and analyzing the time duration from first click to conversion. This report is an indicator of useful time periods to potentially target. You will also need to consider the volume of users in your list to see how specifically you can target. Again, you could add these audiences to your account with no bid multipliers, and then make decisions based on the data that comes in.


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It is also worth considering the time of year. For example, in the lead up to Christmas people tend to browse and research more than other times of year, therefore you may want to implement audiences with longer durations in this time period.


Negative Lists


Don’t forget you can also exclude audiences. These exclusions can be a handy way to keep costs down. Some examples of how you might exclude audiences include:


  • Users who have recently visited your site from your brand campaign
  • Users who have previously purchased from your brand campaign
  • Users who have started but not completed a process. For example, those users who have signed up for the free service but never graduated to the paid version may want to be ruled out


Target Audiences Differently


You can also choose to only appear on the search results page when people who are within your audience lists search on Google. If people haven’t been to your site before you will not be targeting them using this method.


To take advantage of this feature, I recommend creating a separate campaign and leaving your normal search campaign targeting everyone else. Here are two examples of how you could use this feature:


Different Ads


Target audiences with different ad copy from your normal search campaign. You may show them different USP’s, different offers, or simply have a different tone of voice to help them remember their previous experience with your brand. One example of how you might use this strategy is by giving a discount code to abandoned cart visitors.


Different Keywords


If you have generic keywords that have never worked, or you have never tried, this is the perfect opportunity to test those keywords on a qualified audience.




Every account manager should be utilizing audiences in their accounts. If you aren’t, create a strategy and begin building lists of data straight away. Utilizing audiences will provide you with the ability to refine your targeting strategy on search campaigns, enabling you to allocate more budget to those users with greater intent to purchase.


If you have any questions or comments, please share below!