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Friday, December 8, 2023

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Think Differently About RLSA & Boost Your Conversion Volume


Remarketing is an important part of most AdWords account strategies these days. Aside from search (including Shopping campaigns), remarketing campaigns are probably the most utilized and successful campaign type for SEM advertisers.

RLSA (Remarketing Lists For Search Ads) has been around for a couple years, and in a way, it combines the best of both search and remarketing. You’d think that it would be extremely popular given the success of search and remarketing campaigns. Yet it’s very under-utilized in the accounts I audit.

Many accounts don’t use RLSA audiences at all, and most RLSA implementations that I do see simply layer RLSA audiences onto existing ad groups with a boosted bid modifier.

It’s a valid strategy, but the impact it has at boosting conversion volume is very tiny — you get a fraction higher click-through rates (due to higher positions) on a fraction of your traffic that may have clicked even without the bid boost.

To unlock the power of RLSAs in boosting your conversion volume, you need to start thinking differently about what these audiences mean.

The Value Of Remarketing Audiences

The Google Display Network (GDN)-based remarketing campaigns that we’ve all been running for years have gotten us stuck in a rut in terms of how we think about the value of a remarketing audience. We think of our GDN-targeted remarketing audiences like this:

“These people have been to my site, so they are considering my offerings. If I serve them my ad at the right time with the right offer, they are pretty likely to go ahead and convert.” 

Granted, that explanation is simplified, but even in reference to highly segmented, sophisticated remarketing campaigns, it still holds:

“These people have abandoned a very popular product in my shopping cart in the last two days. If I serve them my ad at the right time with the right offer, they are really, really, really likely to go ahead and convert.” 

Because we are used to thinking about GDN remarketing audiences in this way, we extend this thinking to RLSA audiences, valuing the audiences simply for their higher likelihood of converting. Higher conversion rates mean we can bid higher, so we toss on a bid modifier.

However, because RLSA audiences exist in the realm of search queries, they carry important information about intent that can be much more powerful than simply carrying a higher likelihood of a conversion.

RLSA & Intent

Set aside that remarketing audiences have higher conversion rates for a moment (though it’s true and makes the economics of RLSA campaigns work well for most advertisers).

Remarketing audiences are valuable in the search universe (i.e., RLSA) because you “know” things about that bucket of people and their intentions that you do not know about generic audiences. A couple of examples:

  • You have a travel site that exclusively sells cruise packages to the Caribbean. Sally visited your site last week. It’s fair to assume that Sally is considering cruising to the Caribbean.
  • Your site is B2B and sells restaurant supplies. Jack orders from you a few times a year. Jack must be a restaurant owner or some other kind of restaurant supply purchase decision-maker.

Why do these inferences about intent matter? Because keywords are also indicators of intent, and these audience targets can replace portions of your keywords.

In your normal keyword search campaigns, you have carefully chosen keywords that align specifically with what you offer. Via time and optimization, you have developed stringent match typing and negative keywords to home in on the highly-specific queries that carry all the right intent signals.

For the cruise example, your normal keywords will be “Jamaica cruises” and “cruise to USVI.” Now, think about what we know about Sally. We already know she is interested in cruising to the Caribbean.

When Sally searches for just “cruise,” we can target her, knowing that she is considering cruising to the Caribbean. When Sally searches for “USVI,” we can target her again, knowing that her interest in the islands is to visit them via cruise.

Our restaurant supply company wouldn’t target “dinner plates” in our general search campaigns, as only a tiny portion of those searchers have bulk commercial intent and can afford our 200 plate minimum order size.

But when Jack searches for “dinner plates,” we can afford to show up in position #1. Because of what we already know about Jack, Google.com might as well be RestaurantSupplySearchEngine.com, and that “dinner plates” keyword becomes high-intent, viable and valuable.

What’s especially exciting is that by advertising on “cruises” or “dinner plates” (albeit to a limited bucket of people), you are showing up on totally new, high-volume auctions, expanding your SEM reach and driving (often big) incremental conversion opportunities that aren’t covered by your “normal” campaigns.


When setting up these layered campaigns, make sure your ad group “flexible reach” setting is set to “Target and Bid” for interests and remarketing.

This is not the default setting, so you need to proactively change this setting on the ad group level to make sure you are only appearing on queries made by previous site visitors.


[Click to enlarge.]

There are several ways to execute on this kind of layered search + RLSA intent strategy that broaden your reach into new, valuable auctions. The simplest ones forgo the keyword all together.

Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) + RLSA

Dynamic Search campaigns allow Google to match queries to relevant content within your site. Without the RLSA layering, advertisers see mixed results from these campaigns; usually, complaints are that the query matching is too loose.

When you are only reaching people who have been to your site before via RLSA, Dynamic Search Ads are a very powerful tool to ensure you draw them back in, at scale, when they are searching for anything relevant to your offerings.

When we add an RLSA audience target to a DSA campaign in this account, we achieve CTRs 2.5x better and conversion rates 4x higher than with our generic DSA campaigns.

[Click to enlarge.]

You can start with just one ad group targeting all site content and layer an RLSA of all site visitors for the easiest and broadest reach. This will not only drive incremental conversion volume from a broad swath of highly targeted searchers but will also serve as a “discovery engine” for queries that returning users make in their path to purchase.

PLA (Shopping) + RLSA

RLSA functionality for PLA/Shopping campaigns was just broadly released about a month ago. Just like Dynamic Search Ads, Shopping campaigns match queries to relevant on-site content (products driven by a data feed).

When you layer an RLSA audience onto a Shopping campaign product group, you can skip the very segmented product grouping and negative keywords that you might use in your regular shopping campaigns. The RLSA audience itself serves as an intent signal, so even tangential queries or less popular products can see great performance.

Broad Keywords + RLSA

If you take a keyword-based approach to this campaign type, a simple way to begin is by just cloning your exact match campaign(s), changing the match types to broad and layering on an RLSA audience of all site visitors. You may be used to rolling your eyes at the very loose or tangential queries you see in your search term reporting when you use broad match.

However, with the intent already carried by your RLSA audience layer, those tangent queries are positive new opportunities to gain conversions.

Another way to discover good broader keywords is within your Google Analytics site search data. In the restaurant example above, I mentioned that Google.com might as well be RestaurantSupplySearchEngine.com.

For that very reason, when we are talking about your RLSA audiences, Google can be used as an extension of your own site search to draw people back in to your products and services that they are searching for.


Final Thoughts

This strategy can drive big boosts in conversion volume within CPA or ROAS goals across many different verticals.

For e-commerce advertisers in particular, now is the perfect time to implement this strategy, as we are just about to enter the holiday season. The season itself is an additional boost to conversion intent: November and December drive 30 percent more e-commerce revenue than non-holiday months. This is also the first holiday season that RLSA audiences can be used on Shopping campaigns.

Effective use of this incredibly powerful combination of multiple intent signals based on prior site activity, current broadly targeted queries and a higher probability of converting due to the seasonality can boost your 2015 holiday SEM to new, record-high success.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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