The PPC Pro’s Ultimate Guide to Google Retargeting

As the earliest major ad platform in the remarketing game, Google AdWords offers expansive opportunities to reach previous website visitors with ads of all formats.

Whether you want to target users in search results, display placements, YouTube videos, or their Gmail inboxes, AdWords has a solution for you.

In this article, we’ll cover installing tracking, creating audiences, and remarketing through various campaign types.

Creating Remarketing Audiences in AdWords

Remarketing Through the AdWords Pixel

To track audiences, AdWords uses a universal remarketing tag that can be put in place across your entire site. You can then define criteria for individual audiences, including pageviews and referring URLs. If ecommerce parameters are in place, you can also define shopping-related audiences such as shopping cart abandoners and purchasers.

To create an audience, hover over the wrench in the top toolbar and navigate to Audience Manager.

Here, you can choose to create an audience using the AdWords tag or import an audience from Google Analytics. If you haven’t yet created a tag, the interface will walk you through setting it up and adding it to your site. We recommend using Google Tag Manager to install AdWords remarketing for the simplest deployment.

Using the AdWords tag, you can define criteria for your audience based on URLs visited within your site and on referring URLs. You can combine multiple criteria to group together people who visited multiple pages and to add exclusions. For instance, you could target people who viewed products on any URL containing /product/ and exclude people who converted on any URL containing /thank-you.

Next, you can choose to retroactively include people who match your criteria from the past 30 days (assuming the tag has been in place on your site from that point in time) or choose to only include individuals who match the criteria moving forward. You can also define the duration for which people remain in your list, which can range from 1 to 540 days.

Remarketing through Google Analytics

You can also use Google Analytics to create remarketing audiences, a simpler alternative if you already have Analytics installed and have the proper access to the account. Analytics will let you define audiences based on a far wider range of criteria than AdWords, including metrics such as time on site, completion of events, and device-based targeting.

First, you’ll need to have linked your AdWords and Analytics accounts. Next, navigate to the Admin section of Analytics and go to Tracking Info > Data Collection under your desired Property. Turn the toggle to “On” under Remarketing to enable collecting data from website visitors.

Finally, go to Audience Definitions > Audiences within your Property. Here, you’ll see an option to create a new audience. Define the parameters, ensure that you choose the proper AdWords account for import, and save it. You should then see this audience in Audience Manager within your AdWords account.

Remarketing Campaign Types

AdWords remarketing lists can be used to target audiences via search, display, video, and Gmail campaigns. Let’s dive into the details for each.

Search Remarketing

Often referenced as RLSA (remarketing lists for search audiences), layering remarketing audiences onto search campaigns allows you to target a subset of searches who have previously viewed your website.

To add or edit audiences, navigate to the Audiences section within your desired campaign or ad group. Select the pencil icon and choose Edit Audiences.

You can choose to ONLY target individuals in the remarketing audience(s) you’ve applied to an ad group or to choose the “Observations” setting. In the second case, ads will still show to anyone who searches keywords in the ad group; however, you’ll see performance broken out for individuals in your remarketing audiences who searched. You can also apply bid adjustments to make ads more or less likely to appear for certain audiences.

Remarketing audiences can also be excluded from search campaigns. For instance, you may want to prevent past converters from seeing ads.

Display Remarketing

Through remarketing on the Google Display Network, you can show ads on sites around the web to individuals who previously visited your site. AdWords offers several potential formats for display ads:

  • Responsive Ads: These incorporate both imagery and text, which can appear in various sizes and formats. Google may choose to show just text or text plus an image depending on the placement. We recently wrote all about Google’s responsive ads.

  • Expanded Text Ads: Currently, you can only add text ads to display campaigns via AdWords Editor. These will be adapted to fit various size placements and may pull in logos or other imagery from your site, along with “buttons” such as the blue arrow shown below.

  • Dynamic Ads: These ads can auto-populate product imagery, names, and pricing (depending on the format), pulling data from a Merchant Center feed. You can use these to reach people who viewed particular products and chose not to purchase or even specifically target shopping cart abandoners.

As with search, add remarketing audiences from the Audiences section within your desired ad group or campaign. As with search, you can choose between “Targeting” and “Observations.” If your intent is to only show display ads to individuals in your remarketing audiences, be sure to select “Targeting” here. If you select “Remarketing” in the box of targeting options, you’ll see a breakdown of available remarketing lists to target and can select the ones you’d like.

Video Remarketing

You can reach remarketing audiences with video ads through both YouTube and Google Display Network Placements that allow video. In addition to remarketing to website audiences, you can also create remarketing lists of people who have viewed videos on your YouTube channel. Note that you’ll have to link your YouTube channel and AdWords account to access this option.

Note that remarketing for video only allows you to directly target audiences (with no “Observations” option) and does not allow bid adjustments.

Potential ad formats include:

  • In-stream: Ads that play before (preroll), during (midroll), or after (postroll) videos
  • Video Discovery: Ads that promote YouTube videos, appearing alongside other videos or in search results
  • Bumper: 6-second unskippable ads that play before videos


In November 2017, Google expanded Gmail ad targeting to include remarketing. Note that you can only create Gmail ads in the new AdWords interface (ads created in the old interface will continue to serve but can’t be edited).

To create a Gmail campaign, start a new campaign and choose Display as the campaign type. Select Sales, Leads, or Website Awareness as a goal (or don’t choose a goal). Next, you’ll see an option to choose “Gmail campaign” as the campaign subtype.

In the next step of the process, you’ll have the option to add targeting while defining campaign settings. Choose Remarketing and select any desired audiences.

You can create responsive ads within Gmail campaigns, which will then adapt these to fit Gmail-specific placements. Dynamic remarketing ads are also eligible to show within Gmail, showcasing products individuals viewed on a site.

Similar Audiences

Similar audiences (also called lookalike audiences in other platforms) include users who have demographics and interests in common with those in audiences you’ve created. Auto-generated in your account based on existing remarketing audiences or Customer Match audiences, similar audiences can help to expand reach to additional prospects for your services.

These audiences can be used for search, shopping, and display campaigns. For a similar audience compatible with display, a remarketing list must have at least 5,000 cookies and sufficient similarity in characteristics among users. Google will automatically create the audiences at its discretion. For a similar audience to be used in search, a remarketing list must contain at least 1,000 users with sufficient similarity in search activity. When choosing audiences for your campaign, you’ll see all compatible similar audiences listed to select from.

As with other audiences, you can choose between “Targeting” and “Observations” for an ad group including similar audiences. Since these can include a wide potential array of users, you may want to start using the “Observations” option in existing search campaigns and apply bid modifiers if performance differs from the main audience.

Audience Exclusions

In addition to targeting audiences, you can exclude audiences from campaigns and ad groups. This tactic can be helpful for ensuring previous purchasers don’t see your ads or segmenting out people who looked at service pages not relevant to what you’re promoting. For instance, you may want to exclude people who have viewed consumer-focused content when you want to reach enterprise-level customers with a particular campaign.

To exclude audiences, go to “Exclusions” in the Audiences section of your desired ad group or campaign. From here, you can click the Plus symbol to add or remove audiences and use the box that appears to choose which type(s) of audiences you want to exclude.

Audience Minimum Sizes

AdWords prescribes minimum sizes for remarketing and similar audiences depending on the context:

  • Remarketing for search: 1,000 active users in last 30 days
  • Remarketing for display: 100 active users in last 30 days
  • Similar audience for search: Corresponding audience must include at least 1,000 individuals
  • Similar audience for display: Corresponding audience must include at least 5,000 individuals

Start Remarketing!

Whether you’re a newbie to remarketing or have yet to try a particular campaign format, hopefully you’ll take what you’ve learned here to apply to your next campaign! What tips or questions do you have about AdWords remarketing? Share in the comments below!