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How To Use Google AdWords To Reach The People Who Didn’t Click On Your Ad

Have you ever been stalked… by an ad?

I have. It started when I clicked on an ad for a fitness product. I read through their sales page, considered the offer, and honestly, I was tempted to buy – but I decided not to.

It didn’t end there.

I started to notice this company’s ads everywhere – on Google searches, on image ads while reading completely unrelated sites, and even on YouTube videos.

One day, I was thinking about getting back into shape, and I bumped into the same ad again. I clicked through, and bought the product.

Clearly, stalking me worked for this company – so let’s talk about how you can do the same!

The Majority Don’t Convert: Understanding Re-Marketing

The significant majority of the people who visit your site do NOT convert.

They don’t sign up to your list, they don’t share your content, and they certainly don’t buy anything.

This may sound depressing, but it’s true; show me a marketer who says that his offer converts more than 50% of the time, and I’ll show you a marketer who’s inflating his numbers!

There’s nothing wrong with that, either – while conversion rates vary across industries and offers, in most cases involving online advertising, a conversion rate of 10% is considered exceptionally good.

But what about the other 90%?

Most marketers just let those prospects disappear. Which is a shame, because at least some of them would likely buy your stuff if you have another chance to make your case – especially if yours is the kind of offer that requires a little more research, planning and buyer education.

Re-marketing is about doing exactly that – presenting your ad and sales message to people who have already seen it, in hopes that the repeated exposure will convert more prospects into customers. You can use re-marketing to…

  • Remind visitors about your free trial offer
  • Showcase benefits that they may have missed on first glance
  • Increase the size of a discount offer for those who weren’t converted by the base offer
  • Show ads that adjust to reflect changing offer timelines (“only X days left”)

Re-marketing is an opportunity to try again with a prospect that expressed interest, but didn’t get so far as to take the desired action on the first exposure to your message.

Sounds great, right?

Except… if they don’t keep searching for you, how can you keep showing them your ad?

Where to Stalk Your Customers: The Google Display Network

Google Display Network

The Google Display Network (GDN), formerly known as the Content Network, makes Google the perfect advertising partner. Through the GDN, you can place ads on many, many sites (including YouTube) – enough sites to reach 80% of global internet users.

Now usually, if you’re running ads on the GDN, Google’s algorithms find the pages on the content network that most closely match your keywords, and put your ads on those pages. But it doesn’t work that way with re-marketing – your ads can be displayed out of context. The prospect has already “raised their hand” and shown an interest in what you’ve got – they did that by visiting your site.

This means that you don’t need to resort to analyzing the pages that they read in order to find them as a prospect – you already know that they are, and you can stalk them with confidence, knowing that wherever they are, they’re still people who have an interest in what you are trying to sell.

Okay, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of how to do it…

Quick Start: Re-Marketing Setup in AdWords

The way to setup a re-marketing campaign is to click on the “Control panel and library” link that is under the list of campaign folders, on the left-hand side of the “Campaigns” tab in AdWords. From there, click on the Audiences option (still on the left), and create a new audience.

The actual setup is very simple; you pick a name and description for the list, and set the membership duration (how long should Google recognize someone as being on this list from the time they’ve visited your page). The default length is 30 days, but you can make it as short as a day, or as long as 18 months – it’s a question of how much time and consideration usually goes into your prospect’s decision-making process, and when do you want to be in front of them during that process.

Finally, you can either create a new tag (Google will give you a piece of code to insert into the pages for that tag), or associate the remarketing list with one of your pre-defined conversion goals.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: Don’t Forget Image Ads

Image ads are the part of a display network campaign that often gets put on the list of “things to add later on”.

Don’t make that mistake with your re-marketing campaigns, though – yes, they do take a little more time and effort to create, but they’re important to your re-marketing efforts for two reasons:

  1. A large proportion of the GDN is setup to favor image ads, and you will miss out on a lot of potential exposure if you don’t have them.
  2. Human beings recognize images much more readily than they recognize text. Since re-marketing depends heavily on the prospect recognizing your branding and remembering the benefits that they read about, images are critically important.

In creating your image ads, try to keep the look as consistent as possible with the web pages that the prospect will have visited – the more quickly they recognize the ad, the more likely they are to click on it and convert.

Who to Stalk, and How to Do It: Targeting Lists

The beauty of re-marketing lists in AdWords is that you can use them to segment your customers based on the pages that they’ve visited on your site, and the actions that they’ve taken. The trick is to figure out what those page-views and actions can tell you about them, for example:

  • If they’ve visited a specific product page, they could be researching different products in that category. Show them ads that showcase the benefits of your product versus the competing solutions that they might be evaluating.
  • If they’ve visited your pricing page, they could be price shoppers who need to see more cost-justification information. Show them ads that include ROI calculations, examples of benefits, and your money-back guarantee.
  • If they’ve visited your community page, then they’re probably interested in user engagement, so show them testimonials from satisfied users, and statistics showing how many tweets, shares, and so forth your content is generating.
  • If they’ve visited your tools and resources page, they could be looking for stuff to add to their toolbox, and could be “collectors”, so consider showcasing a free download offer to attract them back into your funnel.
  • If they’ve visited your email subscription thank you page, then you can show them targeted ads referencing the material that you’re sending them via email, to make your messaging even more effective and pervasive.
  • If they’ve visited your shopping cart (but abandoned the process), then they’re the most valuable group of people you can target, because they were within one click of becoming your customers. Showcase the benefits of becoming a customer, including social proof from existing customers.

You show different ads to each of these groups by creating a different ad group for each of the tag categories. Start by creating tags for your highest traffic pages, and create at least two ads per ad group, so that you can start testing the different messaging options that you think might work.

Then gradually, as you track the results, expand by adding more tags to other key pages, and setting up ad groups to match.

The Right Messages for the Right People: Exclude Lists

exclude list for remarketing

If someone has visited and abandoned your checkout process, you don’t want to be showing them the same generic ad that you show anyone who has visited your site. The problem is that they will almost certainly have visited other pages on their way to the checkout process – which means that they’re likely to be on more than one list!

Ideally, you could configure the lists so that when someone is added to one list, they’re removed from another (this is pretty standard with auto-responders, for example). Alas, Google doesn’t allow us to do that at the moment, so we are left with two alternatives:

Alternative #1 is to create negative lists for each ad group. Just as you can select an audience for each ad group (defined by one of the targeting lists that you created), you can also select negative audiences – those targeting lists that should not be shown the contents of the ad group.

Important note: Create a list for people who have landed on your checkout thank you page (people who have successfully converted), and make sure to set that list as a negative audience for all of your ad groups – showing the ad to people who have already converted can cost you money and annoy your customers, without any up-side!

Alternative #2 is to bid higher on the ad groups targeting lists that are more likely to convert. Since you want prospects to see whatever ad is most likely to get them to convert, and you should be willing to pay more for impressions that are more likely to convert, you can adjust the bids so as to offer more for the ad groups that are targeting lists that are more likely to convert.

Why You Should Start Re-Marketing Today

Re-marketing allows you to target the people who have demonstrated an interest in what you’re selling, so that you can give them the extra nudge that they need in order to convert.

This will always be a best-practice, because it’s just smart marketing.

There is one very good reason why re-marketing will work better for you now than it ever will again, and that reason is that very few marketers are doing it. It will always be effective to re-market to your prospects, but it is even more effective now, when hardly anyone is doing it – you will be that much more memorable to your customers.

It takes less than an hour to setup an entire re-marketing campaign. So block off that hour in your calendar, and make it happen.

Your bottom line will thank you.

About Kissmetrics

Kissmetrics combines behavioral analytics with email automation. Our software tracks actions of your users across multiple devices allowing you to analyze, segment and engage your customers with automatic, behavior-based emails in one place. We call it Customer Engagement Automation. Get, keep and grow more customers with Kissmetrics.


About The Author: Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the definitive marketing training program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers. Visit his site today for a free cheat sheet about Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does!, or follow him on Twitter @DannyIny.

  1. Awesome article Danny. It’s also important to note that Adwords tracks click-through AND view-through conversions, meaning people who have clicked an ad to convert, as well as people who have seen an ad and have then converted. This is an important element of retargeting that many other channels can’t provide.

    If you’ve already dabbled with AdWords Re-Marketing, check out ReTargeter for a more advanced solution. ReTargeter goes beyond AdWords by accessing all of AdWords’ display inventory, as well as dozens of additional ones.

  2. Remarketing has gotten a lot of exposure lately. I understand the concept but no one so far has explained it well enough for me to do.

  3. It would be helpful to have screen grabs of an example.

  4. Great article. I am blocking off an hour now. Thank you for the information and the thorough instructions.

  5. Craig Desmarais Jul 15, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Awesome article. I will be sure to try this out and work it into my existing campaigns! Good stuff, keep it up.

  6. Shelley Ellis Jul 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Very well done. Great explanations and easy to understand.

  7. Appreciate the nice comprehensive look at AdWords retargeting. If you drive a lot of your site traffic through paid ads, don’t forget to test out a *different* message than the original ad copy that brought your visitor around (e.g. a coupon code, shedding light on a different benefit, etc.)

  8. Great informative article. Thanks for posting! Trying to find the “Control panel and library” in my adwords campaign but to no avail. Will keep searching.

    • Found it, my setup must be totally different – I had to add the tab in the main Nav tab. But found it.

  9. Aaron Richman Aug 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Great write up Danny. Your explanations and best-practice tips are spot on. A couple more quick tips to help drive ROI.

    1. While many advertisers may initially want to exclude their converted users from a remarketing campaign, it’s also very important to have the ability to target this list. For example, you might wait 4 weeks after the conversion and then offer a special promotion to repeat customers. These tend to be very high repeat-conversion lists, and when used correctly can help increase brand loyalty.

    2. Running remarketing cross-network (i.e. using platforms that access Google’s inventory plus 30+ other networks)can help increase your reach and optimization choices.

    3. Never lock yourself into fixed pricing, contracts, or minimums. All campaigns should be pay-as-you-go, and you should be able to increase/decrease your budget on a weekly basis.

    4. Creative: check out and for great ad samples.

    To learn more about cross-platform retargeting or to start a free trial, visit (disclosure: I work for AdRoll).

    Aaron [@] AdRoll [dot] com

  10. Darren Hughes Jan 20, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I have used remarketing on many occasions when running digital campaigns on behalf of clients. I do have mixed feelings about it though.

    For the client, it does help to achieve very good results, however, for the consumer it can seem, frankly, a little bit aggressive and creepy. seeing an ad for a site you have recently visited placed against highly irrelevant content is an experience that is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the visitor and therefore turn out to have a negative impact on the advertisers brand.

    My recommendation to advertisers considering remarketing is to use frequency capping and/or run it within managed placements to ensure that you don’t do too much damage to your brand.

  11. Owen McGab Enaohwo Feb 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    @Danny what are your thoughts about just buying retargeting adds on sites like Retargeter, Adroll, or PerfectAudience vs buying on Google Remarketing and Bing Remessaging?

    Please advice

  12. Jitesh Navlani May 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Re-marketing approach is quite good and the tactics which are given here are quite useful which will help every marketer.

  13. Thats awesome article Danny. I am sure it will be help me.

  14. kundan mishra Sep 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Gud stuff It will help all

  15. I believe there’s a certain advantage and power to the ability to remarket ads to site visitors. One thing I’ve noticed though in my own experience is that the frequency of that ad showing up EVERYWHERE on future websites creates some blindness to the ad very quickly. After I notice it a couple of more times, I subconsciously start blocking out that ad from me even seeing that ad as easily in the future. Is there any data behind the potential negative impact of remarketing?

  16. I love the idea of remarketing but so many companies get it wrong! Limiting impressions and targeting the ads so I might come back is crucial. Sometimes you a consumer needs to hear a different message, see the product in a new color or a new idea and they may convert. I cannot tell you how many times I see the same ad over and over again and never anything new or potentially interesting.

    Love the article and that you touched on lists and the features you need for successful remarketing! This is a buzz word right now and can end up hurting rather than helping a brand or company. I hope people follow your advice!


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