What do you do when you are told by the ever-present Google that you can’t use remarketing lists or other audiences in your paid search strategies? You work with out a strategy and suggest that remarketing could help engage users who have been on your site but did not convert the first time around. You get the tag placed, the list is built, and then Google disables your list due to a policy violation.

Disabled audience

Before you get mad at Google for removing remarketing as an option in your account, let’s go more in-depth on why Google has a policy on whose data you can collect and target later.

This type of marketing is called personalized advertising, formerly known as interest-based advertising. Google does not allow you to run ads that collect or contain personally identifiable information (PII) or to target people who are dealing with personal hardships, promoting identities and beliefs, and sexual interests.

There are several prohibited categories such as alcohol, gambling, restricted drugs, health, and the list continues here. While you can advertise for certain clients in paid search that might fall under these categories, trying to build a list and send them additional information is prohibited.

This could also include trying to use custom-affinity, in-market, and demographic targeting as well in  Google’a display network. Google is protecting its users and wants to make sure that as advertisers, we are not taking advantage of people going through a difficult time or promoting sensitive topics.

Now we have to get creative when working with these clients since audience targeting is off the table. What is left for the digital marketer to do to grow an account that deals with sensitive data? Here are some ways you can still win the auction even without that fancy audience targeting!

Competitor Analysis

One of my clients is a data-sensitive lead generation client and we are ineligible to build lists. I went old school and looked at her competitors and compared our ad copy to theirs. I went into Google Ad Preview and searched for our high performing keywords. I created a visual library consisting of screenshots of each analyzed ad and I was able to notice a lot of trends.

One trend was what extensions other ads were using, and what type of action is the ad calling for? When doing this, we noticed that none of our competitors were using  Review Extensions or even the Messaging Extensions.

We implemented as many ad extensions as possible and also added the reviews we were using in our extension to our landing page for extra ad congruency. You might find that your competitors have all their ad extensions as well, but these could be a good time to test new ad copy in those extensions.

Creative Testing Cycle

The next step from building a library list of ads from our competitors is to test new expanded text ads and try to test our engagement by having certain ads focus on our client’s benefits while other ads had a stronger call to action than our competitors. You may not be able to bid higher on your search audience by having a remarketing list, but testing new ads might cause users to either convert the first time around or to click on your ad again if it has a different message if they are searching again.

When you are writing ad copy, spend some quality time on the landing page and try and grab phrases or repeated words to place into your ad. This should help boost your ad relevancy by having similar language to the landing page and will hopefully increase your quality score. Also, test several ads at once and let Adwords determine the winner. By having at least 3 expanded text ads in each ad group, Adwords will be able to determine which ad is performing better and start showing that ad more often.


Work on getting into that auction at the right time. There are several bidding strategies available in Adwords, such as Maximize Clicks, Maximize Conversions, Target CPA, Enhanced CPC, etc. Here is a list of Strategies from Google concerning use these models in your account. The important thing is to test out these bidding strategies and have Google help you win in these auctions efficiently.

If you are hesitant about giving into automated bidding, test out Enhanced CPC since it adjusts your manual bids to help you get more conversions while also trying to achieve the same cost per conversion in your account. Just like testing creative, bidding is another area to test and this setting change could help lower CPL and increase conversion rates.

When testing these bidding changes, give it at least 2-4 weeks since it is machine learning and it takes some time to learn how to bid and when to bid. Be patient when testing bidding strategies, when you change them too often it has a likeliho0d to confuse the machine learning and will not get you the result you are looking for.

Final Thoughts

As upsetting as it is to not be able to use your audience lists to target or to bid higher on return visitors, it does not stop you from growing your account. Look at what your competitors are and aren’t doing. Test new messaging and see if you can increase CTR or increase your quality score through highly relevant ads. Google has been cranking out newer bidding models to grow accounts as well, see which bidding model helps your account expand and get the conversions you deserve. While at first, you might feel like you are limited, by being creative and utilizing other tools in Adwords you will find an infinite amount of tests you can conduct to help your data sensitive account expand!