Segment AdWords Remarketing By Traffic Source

Remarketing in AdWords has been around for a long time (a long time for the search industry, anyway). Showing your ads to people who have already visited your site is a great and tested route to improve your site’s overall conversion rate.


One of the Google Display Network’s best features is the ability to combine targeting methods to produce better results. To recap: remarketing can be used in conjunction with other targeting methods to improve the quality of targeting overall (e.g., you can show display ads to person A who is reading about footwear fashion, but if person B is reading about footwear fashion and has already visited your shoe sales website then person B is more likely to buy something from you as a result of clicking on your ad – they’ve done it before).

Using remarketing in sophisticated ways can give fantastic results. Google recently made a change that will help us to do that.

What’s Changed?

The previous setup was fairly straightforward: put a tag onto page A, and anybody who has seen page A is eligible to see your ads. If a person saw a tag on page B then they’re eligible for both sets of ads. You can then set up simple “include A but not B” rules to add priorities to those (e.g., excluding people who have completed a purchase).

We now have the choice to generate just one tag and put it on every page of the site. We then specify features of the URL to decide who should see each set of ads. A typical use might be to say something like “URL contains /shoes” vs “URL contains /boots” to determine which list to put them in, and which ad to show them.

Why Segment by Traffic Source?

Why segment by any visitor feature? Because everybody is different. You wouldn’t analyze your site’s traffic by bundling all your visitors together to look at overall stats. (If you do, it’s time for a quick primer on personas.)

All of your traffic sources are different. People in your existing customers email list are very different from people searching on non-brand keywords on Google. Referrals from your partner sites are going to behave differently from direct traffic.

People are different and have different goals. Their behavior on your site won’t be the same, and their motivations won’t be the same. Showing them different remarketing ads that reflect their individual features will give you better response rates.

Now I Know Why, But How?

Google’s recent change to the system lets us do this. If you’re using any web analytics package you almost certainly use query strings in your landing pages to track those visitor types.

From here on I’m going to assume Google Analytics, but the principle will be identical for any package, just with different tracking strings. Each of your traffic sources has been carefully tagged. Email has utm_medium=email, AdWords has gclid=xyz, etc.


In the remarketing interface you will choose “Define a list of site visitors based on the selection below” and you will have the ability to specify features of the URL. In this instance you’re going to choose “contains” and add the query string key and value you are interested in. For example, setting up a list that only includes AdWords visitors:


To set up a list that only includes email visitors:


What Do I Do With it?

You should know what your major traffic sources are and how you’re tracking them in your analytics program. Hopefully you have a nice spreadsheet somewhere detailing all the tracking parameters you’re using. (If not, consider building one!)

Create an ad group for each traffic source, and set each ad group to target the new remarketing list appropriately. You can now do two things:

  • Create custom ads for each visitor type
  • Bid individually for each visitor type

If remarketing is working much better for group A than group B, you can now have separate bids for each group. Bid higher on group A and be more aggressive showing them more ads.

Finally, remember always to keep a frequency cap on your campaign if it includes remarketing. Your aim is to remind visitors of your site and encourage them back, not to annoy them with crazy stalker tactics.

Related reading

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Making the case for more non-brand funding in paid search
Five things to do on a small digital marketing budget
The fall of ad copy, long live ad copy