By Susan Waldes, Account Director

When I initially heard about remarketing for search ads (RFSA) in January, my response was lukewarm. To baseline what we are talking about, RFSA (officially released by Google last week as “AdWords remarketing lists for search ads”) allows you to layer a retargeting audience onto a search campaign. It works essentially the same as display retargeting. The audience is assigned at the ad group level with negative audience assignments at the ad group or campaign level. The big difference is that it applies to ads triggered by searches on Google instead of applying to display. It sounded nifty, but I could only think of use-case scenarios that applied to e-commerce, and since I’m currently managing no ecom clients, it didn’t seem like something that would help me much.

Then, a couple of weeks later, it hit me like a lightning bolt! Sure, there is some small incremental value in tweaking your messaging or going for more head terms on your retargeting bucket (which is how Google was explaining the uses of the product)…but the real values in RFSA are segmentation and exclusion!

I’ll give you a few use-case examples:

1. Eliminating Duplicate Leads – One of my clients is in a highly competitive lead gen industry. Once somebody is in their system and that lead is being nurtured, there is no reason to pay for any more clicks from that user. By applying a negative search audience of previously converted users, we made sure those people don’t even see our ads. This cut out unwanted spend and decreased the duplicate leads in their system.

2. Segmenting Users For Reporting – For any company that has multiple conversion points or funnels, RFSA represents the first “tool” that allows you to truly segment these users based on previous on-site behavior through the search channel. You can isolate users who have made a purchase, those who have signed up for the newsletter, or those who have simply visited the site before. Even if you clone every aspect of your campaigns to target these buckets, you can gather data that applies to these segments and start to understand their true value and create bidding profiles that support the economics of each user set.

3. Segmenting New vs. Returning Customers – Most companies internally know the different values of a totally new customer vs. an existing customer. For the SEM channel, a totally new customer acquisition carries with it a full lifetime-value expectation. A returning customer driven by SEM may only be worth the value of that single interaction. By segmenting these at the campaign level, you can apply different CPA targets that reflect the economics of each user’s group. Or, you can set a CPA target for new users only and then bid for an ROAS target on the returning users to make sure you are squeezing as much opportunity but also profit as possible out of each group.

4. Isolating New Acquisitions Only – Piggybacking off of #3, I have run campaigns in the past where the client’s goal was to drive new users only. Until now, you had to “accept” that a certain amount of visits would be driven from previous customers and blend that into the economics of your goal. RFSA allows you to eliminate previous users entirely if the campaigns goals support doing so. Though this is not a super-common overall goal, it often may apply to a single campaign. For instance, many advertisers would prefer to know they were driving new users only on their brand campaign and not paying for branded clicks from previously acquired users on brand campaigns.

In terms of setting up any of the initiatives above, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

– I suggest you start by cloning your current campaign(s) and applying the audience target you are looking for at the ad group level to all ad groups in your new campaign. Remember to also apply the same audience target as an excluded audience to your regular campaigns. Also, if you add any new ad groups down the line, you have to remember to apply the audience to these as well to keep your segment clean.

– Google is dependent on a cookie for tracking this user bucket. That means that a “previous visitor” (for instance) is only as good as the cookie. So, segmentation will not be 100% clean. Users who have switched devices or cleared cookies will not be identified as part of your search remarketing bucket.

– The search remarketing user pool is not the same pool as the display remarketing one. You only begin collecting your user bucket once you enable search remarketing specifically, so depending on goals, it may make sense to create the bucket and wait for a user pool to develop before launching any campaigns that target those users.

RFSA is a powerful new tool in the SEM toolbox that allows us to better serve the customer’s needs and report and optimize at a totally new level of granularity. I can imagine the future features that may get added into this (integration with product ads, more segmentation “levers” to work with) and this becoming a more and more integral part of a well-executed search account.

Susan Waldes, Account Director

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Susan Waldes
Susan Waldes has worked in the search engine marketing industry since 1999; she is currently the SVP of Client Services at Fivemill Marketing. Susan has handled a multitude of lead generation, branding, and eCommerce clients in her previous roles at ROI Revolution and Rockett Interactive and as an independent SEM consultant. Susan has a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. Susan has contributed insights about SEM and client relationships to other highly regarded outlets, including