Avoid This Common (and devastating) RLSA Mistake

By Brad


Google Ads Insights

We’re a big fan of RLSAs (remarketing list for search ads).

If you’re unfamiliar with RLSAs; they allow you to group website users into Audiences and then apply one of the following techniques to the audience:

  • Change bids
  • Expand keywords
  • Use different ads
  • Use DSAs for previous visitors only
  • Any combination of the above

As users who have been on your website before are *much* more likely to convert, using bid adjustments or keyword expansion for these groups can often lead to a nice increase in conversions.

However, when apply incorrectly, they can be devastating to your account.

This company is very stable in terms of their conversions each week; however, after applying RLSAs, they saw their conversions plummet:




This was due to one minor setting change.

When you apply an audience to an ad group (or to a lot of ad groups via the AdWords Editor), you choose how that audience will be applied with “Target & Bid” or “Bid Only”:


If you use Bid only, then anyone can see your ads, but you can change your bids if a user is in an audience.

If you use Target & Bid, then only users who searched for a keyword in that ad group AND are in your list will see your ad.

This company had only planned to increase bids for returning users; but because they ticked target and bid instead of bid only; their traffic dropped dramatically.

Target & Bid is a good setting under certain conditions. Consider this scenario:

You’re an automotive dealership with a limited budget. Therefore, words like new car and used car are too general for you to buy for everyone who searched for those words. However, consider this user:

  • Searches for ‘hybrid cars’ and comes to your site and spends time on your site looking at inventory.
  • A week passes. The user still hasn’t bought a car.
  • The user searches for ‘new cars’.
  • In this case, the term new car is worth buying for this user as they already know what they’ll find on your site and you’re trying to bring an interested user back again

That’s where audience targeting is useful; but you need to make sure you get the settings correct.

Here’s a handy chart to use when you’re checking your RLSA settings:

For each audience: Bid Only Target & Bid Who can see your ad?
Use bid adjustments Yes Anyone
Expand keywords Yes Only users in your list
Use different ads Yes Only users in your list

RLSAs can be a lot more complex than just using a single audience. Often you’ll want multiple audiences, such as:

  • people who came to your site
  • users who viewed categories
  • users who added products to their cart
  • users who started checking out but abandoned the process
  • users who filled out a form, called you, or bought your products
  • etc

RLSAs can be a lot of fun and are useful for small and large sites alike.

Once this site fixed the single setting; they see that users in audiences (previous visitors) convert at double those of all searchers (9.15% conversion rate for audience members and 4.23% for all search):


Just make sure when you wander into the world of audience targeting (RLSA, custom match, remarketing); that you have the correct target & bid or bid only setting checked so you don’t suddenly see a large drop in traffic, but instead, an increase in conversion rates.

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  • Michael

    I’m just jumping into RLSA, so this article couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks for the insights and shared experience. I’ll be sure to watch that Audience Targeting setting.

    • Brad

      Excellent – I’m glad that was useful 🙂

  • Pierre

    Hi Brad
    But if you use one campaign for as normal and you make a copy of that an make that copy campagin a target and bid. that should work right???

    Becuse you would still get the same traffic.

    • Brad

      Hi Pierre,

      Yes, that would work. If you want to use different keywords or ads for audiences within a list; that would be the way to do it.

      Users who haven’t been to your site (or on a list) would only see the first campaign and users who are on a list would only see the 2nd campaign.

  • Pierre

    Hi Brad
    I want ot ask you something about DSA. If i have a low search imp share there is that good or bad, I mean shouldnt it be low that is becuse then all the other campaigns are covering the site. i hope you understand and can answer.


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