Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) - An Introduction

1 June, 2018

This article is the first in our new series of blogs on about ‘PPC Features That Every Business Should Try’.

What is Remarketing?

Let’s talk about remarketing in pay-per-click. 

As you may already know, remarketing is a system with which you can target specific users based on whether or not they have interacted with your website or app. In layman’s terms, remarketing is why that Batman dressing gown you were looking at once has been following you around the web for the last fortnight. 

This makes sense as, depending on what product you sell, someone who visited your site yesterday may be more likely to convert than someone who visited 28 days ago, or hasn’t visited at all. 

Google Display Network will use these remarketing lists to show relevant ads to the members of each list on other websites that are part of their network.

What is RLSA? 

But there’s another really cool way to use your remarketing lists. 

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (or RLSA), is a system that lets you apply your remarketing lists to your Google Search Network campaigns to refine your targeting and drive efficiency.

Let’s say you are running a Batman Dressing Gowns campaign on Google Adwords. You will probably be targeting keywords like [Batman dressing gowns] or maybe “superhero dressing gowns”, and will no doubt be gaining impressions from users searching for these items.

As well as this, let’s say you have a remarketing list consisting of people who have visited your website within the last 30 days. These people may be more likely to convert than new visitors should they search again. RLSA means you can overlay your Batman Dressing Gowns campaign or adgroup with this remarketing list.

Your campaign will still be targeting users searching for your keywords, but you will have an additional audience segment of previous visitors to work with.

What can RLSA be used for?

There are a few great ways to use RLSA in your Search campaigns:


Applying remarketing lists to a campaign will create a segment, allowing you to compare performance data between your audiences and new visitors. This is a great way to decide whether or not previous visitors are more or less valuable than new faces.

Bid Adjustments

If you find that your remarketing list performance is stronger, you can apply bid adjustments to the segment, either increasing or decreasing bids for those searching for your keywords while being part of that list.

Quality Control on BIG terms

We all want clicks, but nobody wants to waste their budget. If you’ve ever tried bidding on a pure broad match top-of-funnel keyword, you may have found your budget drained in no time. It may be sensible to steer clear from these keywords if budget is an issue; a common alternative is to pursue long tail keywords.

Or… you can use RLSA instead. By restricting your search audience so you are targeting only people who have searched for your keyword AND have visited your site before (this is known as Target & Bid), you can still get the valuable clicks from these big terms, but with the added layer of efficiency associated with their previous visit and familiarity with your site. 

Note: Targeting remarketing list members exclusively will drastically reduce click volume – but that isn’t the goal here. The goal is to drive up efficiency.

Creative Ad Copy

You can also tweak your ad copy depending on whether or not a user has visited your site previously. This can be useful if you want to increase urgency, offer additional promotions, or simply avoid repetition for the user.

RLSA example strategy

I’m going to stick with the Batman dressing gown example here, because I like Batman and dressing gowns. If your ecommerce website sells a variety of different items, including merch from the caped crusader, you could use a strategy like this:

List NameDescriptionList Duration
Everyone(not actually a list – this is simply everybody who is not on one of your lists)N/A
All Visitors – 30 DaysEverybody who has visited any page of your site but not converted30 Days
All Visitors – 7 DaysEverybody who has visited any page of your site but not converted7 Days
Batman – 30 DaysEverybody who has visited the specific Batman page of your website but not converted30 Days
Basket Abandoners – 7 DaysEverybody who has visited your site, placed an item in their basket, proceeded to the checkout page, and then exited.7 Days

Providing your website gets sufficient traffic, each of these lists will contain people at different stages of your customer journey. 

You can then add your bid adjustments to these lists as you see fit. You could even leave them be and simply use the segmented traffic for reporting purposes.

Target & Bid or Bid Only?

Google aren’t particularly good at explaining the difference between these two targeting settings, so we’ll try and make it nice and clear.

Target & Bid

This tells Google to target only those who are searching for your keywords AND appear on your list. This is the lower volume one! In the new Adwords interface, this is known as simple Targeting.

Bid Only

This tells Google to target users searching for your keywords as normal, so anybody searching is eligible to see your ads. You will still have the ability to segment through RLSA. This is the bigger volume one! In the new Adwords interface, this is known as Observations.


  • RLSA is predominantly an exercise in driving efficiency – it does not increase your existing targeting reach unless you use it to target new search terms through Target & Bid.
  • Make sure you know the difference between Target & Bid and Bid Only and make sure these are set correctly.
  • If your remarketing lists aren’t large enough, Google will simply reject them, and nobody will be targeted. Try not to make your lists too specific unless you get lots of traffic.
  • Remember to include or exclude converters as required. This depends entirely on your own business requirements.
  • Test, test and test some more. You probably won’t get the perfect result right away, so have a play around with your various lists and see which perform best.

Good luck!

This is, of course, the tip of the RLSA-berg (hmm…), and there are countless configurations and strategies you can play around with to improve your accounts. The trick, as with all things PPC, is to plan your strategy carefully, test thoroughly, and respond to the data appropriately. Thanks very much for reading, and I hope this resource has been helpful.

Written by Tom

Tom cites his key strengths as communication, writing and presenting. He enjoys working in digital due to the way it satisfies both the creative and logical sides of the brain.

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