3 Simple Ways to Optimize Your AdWords Remarketing Campaign Now

When Google AdWords remarketing first hit the scene in 2010, many of us wondered how we’d be able to optimize this type of online advertising as we did with the flexibility of search ads.

Sure, remarketing was a great way to continue advertising to people who had already visited our websites, but what could be done beyond just showing them ads over and over as they moved about the Web?

Five years and multiple new features later, we’ve found that there are so many ways advertisers can streamline their remarketing campaigns for improved return on investment (ROI).

And while the possibilities are seemingly endless, there are a few “go-to” areas in your remarketing campaign you can analyze first when you want to boost your ROI. With a few small adjustments and tests, you can garner significant results.

In this post, we’ll look at the following three ways you can optimize your AdWords remarketing campaign now:

      The type of advertisement
      Frequency and duration of the ad impression
      Auditing your remarketing lists

1. Types of Ads and Their Performance

When you’re running a remarketing campaign in the display network, you have a few types of ads to choose from: text ads, image ads, and video ads. The following chart via AdWords illustrates ad formats by type of advertising:


As you probably know, within each of those ad formats, there are additional things to consider. For example, your image ads can be created in multiple sizes like the square, banner, leaderboard, rectangle, skyscraper ad, and so on.

There are multiple ways in which you can optimize these image ads, and you can learn more about that here in the AdWords help files.

When optimizing a remarketing campaign, the ad type we’re using is one of the first things I analyze. Google recommends creating three to four display ads per ad group and testing different messaging and image ad sizes to see what works; I agree with that, but also encourage you to explore the oft-overlooked remarketing ad type: the text ad.

Text ads are the most basic form of display ads, and simply look like a search ad, but are displayed on websites your target customer is browsing on:


Some people will scoff at the text ad for display – especially when there is so much appeal in the image ad, and particularly if you’re a B2C-type company selling consumer goods.

It’s true that text ads for remarketing aren’t for everyone, but should not be ruled out. In fact, text ads can sometimes have an advantage over their display counterparts because they may be supported in more of the websites you want your ad to be.

(You can read more on the image versus text ads debate in this AdWords forum discussion; see the response by user Jon_Gritton on the notion of text ads being supported in more places.)

The key is to test all formats, and see which converts better for your brand. We’ve found results all across the board, and in some cases, text ads crush the performance of display ads for certain types clients, like B2Bs, for example.

So while the default decision when remarketing for display may be to create a bunch of image ads and let it ride, don’t forget about the simplicity of the original text-based ad, either. You may be surprised at the results.

2. Frequency and Duration That Your Ads Show

Remarketing can be a delicate balance between staying top of mind and literally stalking your target customer. Show up too little, and you may be overlooked; too much, and your target customer could get irritated.

In my experience, it’s better to start off in the sometimes-uncomfortable area of “we may be stalking you,” test the performance of that frequency, and scale back from there. This can be accomplished through your frequency capping setting in AdWords.

Frequency capping allows you to set how many times an ad will impression to an individual prospect on the display network over a given time period (per day, week, month, etc.).

We’ve come to find a happy medium in many cases is seven to 10 impressions per target customer per day. Even this frequency can make some advertisers uncomfortable, but try it first, and make slight adjustments throughout the life of the campaign to see which frequency moves the needle more.

If you’re feeling very bold, experiment. It could be interesting to see the results of a test where you set the frequency cap very low for a period of time, and then open it up to unlimited for that same time period to see what that does for performance.

If you’ve created remarketing lists in the past, you’re likely also familiar with the “membership” duration. Membership duration refers to how long a user’s cookie is set to receive the ads in your remarketing campaign.

The default setting is 30 days, but you can modify it based on your products, services and industry to match your typical sales cycle. From the AdWords help files, here is a brief explanation:

If you sell movie tickets, you might select a membership duration of a few days only, but if you sell cars, you might choose a duration of a few months. You’d do this because while it might not take too much time for people to decide they want to buy movie tickets, it generally takes longer to make the decision to buy a car. Similarly, if you sell Valentine’s Day gifts, you might choose a membership duration of a year plus a few days so that you can reach the customers on your list when Valentine’s Day comes around the next year.

While each campaign is different, you’ll want to keep additional considerations in mind when thinking about the duration, like the length of the membership duration with other factors such as impressions per day. So, for example, if you have a longer membership duration, you may play with lowering the frequency cap to find that sweet spot.

3. Auditing Your Remarketing Lists

Depending on the volume of advertising you do, set your calendar to audit your remarketing campaigns at least once per quarter. Are there new features you can take advantage of? Old settings you can get rid of? Certain visitors you can omit from the campaign, because they’ve already converted? New ways you can group your Web pages for remarketing?

Check out the custom combination list, feature to help you do this. With custom combination lists, you can do things like the following (from AdWords):

Custom combination lists let you create advanced lists out of existing remarketing lists. Say that you want to offer a special price to people who buy three products as a set – for example, a mobile phone, a headset, and a charger – but these products are in three different URLs. To create a remarketing list of people who visited the three products, you could create one list of “people who visited the mobile phones page,” one list of “people who visited the headset page,” and a third list of “people who visited the charger page.” Then, you could create a custom combination to reach people who saw the mobile page AND the headset page AND the charger page.

In closing, remember that Google AdWords is continuously improving its remarketing product. Since it launched in 2010, we’ve seen the introduction of dynamic remarketing and remarketing lists for search ads, too.

Surprisingly, many brands are not yet taking advantage of remarketing, and even if they do, many aren’t able to keep up with all the great features that make this advertising option as targeted as others in the AdWords suite.

So go on, and make that remarketing campaign one that can target those already interested prospects with advertising that makes them convert. Start optimizing your remarketing right now.

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