A Mini-Primer on Google AdWords Remarketing

By August 13, 2013PPC

Remarketing is the term Google uses to describe the practice known as retargeting in the non-GoogleMini-Primer-Google-AdWords-Remarketing search marketing lingo. The AdWords remarketing feature enables advertisers to cookie the browsers of visitors who visit their website to later re-target them with (targeted) text or banner ads when they visit other properties on the Google Display Network, such as YouTube, Gmail or any website participating in Google AdSense and serving Google ads.

Google first introduced remarketing in 2010 and we liked it then, but with some recent innovations we like it even more now.

The 3 most recent “cool” features Google introduced include:

  • Easier Tagging: In the “early days” of remarketing if you wanted to target different types of visitors (“lists” in Google speak) depending on what areas of your website they visit, you used to have to generate and place multiple remarketing tags (tracking java code snippets much like the Google Analytics snippet) to accomplish that. Now a single tag placed across your entire site is sufficient. You control what list is targeted “at the helm” in AdWords.
  • Ability to Create URL-Based Lists: The ability to very precisely target users who visit a specific page or set of pages on your site.
  • Remarketing Lists for Search Ads: This option (still in Beta) lets advertisers target AdWords search ads to a remarketing list.

Regardless of your remarketing strategy (I’ll talk about that in another post), you’ll need to start at the beginning and set things up in AdWords. 

How to Configure AdWords Remarketing 

One area where Google tends to fall short is making features easy to find and configure. With AdWords Help open, it still took me some time to figure out how to set things up. Intuitive it is not. So as a public service contribution, here’s a step by step Mini Primer to help you configuring the new and improved Google AdWords Remarketing:

Step 1: Create a dedicated remarketing campaign in AdWords.

You set up your campaign as you would any Google Display Network campaign, other than omit keywords. Prior to that step (call it “Step 0”) you’ll want to identify the high engagement, high value pages on your website based on reviewing visitor data from Google Analytics to know what URLs or sections of your website you may want to target for remarketing. I’ll discuss this in a separate post. Here I just want to focus on the mechanics of set up.

Step 2: Generate remarketing tag for your campaign & paste it into your website’s source code

First, navigate to the “Display Network” tab in AdWords, select the “Interests & Remarketing” tab and 

locate the green “Change display targeting” button. It’s non-intuitive, but there’s no “Create campaign” button. 

Create-a-campaign-in-AdWords-resized-600 (360x49)

Once you click that button, you’ll be presented with the following menu of for setting up your remarketing campaign.

Choose-an-ad-group-1 (311x360)

Choose the appropriate ad group from the drop-down menu. (Later on you’ll get the opportunity to set this up for the other ad groups.)

In the table that opens up once you make your ad group selection scroll down to the Interests & Remarketing section and select the “Remarketing lists” tab, then scroll down to the bottom and click on the very-hard-to-see (see, that’s why this is useful, we had a hard time finding it too) link that says “Create and manage lists”.

create-and-manage-lists (360x297)

As a reward, once you find this link, Google will show you this inviting page:

remarketing-lists-set-up-resized-600 (360x216)

Once you click on the green “Set up remarketing” button, Google will generate the code snippet for you (see screenshot below). The beauty of this new universal tag is that you can place it on your entire website, and then later configure the specific targeting. This makes it way less of a hassle than having to generate multiple unique tags to remarket to visitors of different sections of your website. (I recommend you check out the Remarketing program policy link for some rules on what is/is not acceptable.)


At this point you can stop (click on “Do this later”), or move on to the next step.

Step 3: Segment your audience based on the content they may visit on your website and create remarketing lists.

Identify high value areas of your website (typically tied to your conversion funnel).  You can build remarketing lists in AdWords based on a specific URL of a high traffic target page, for e.g., your pricing page:


You can start with an empty list or Google can try to get you a “head start” and prepopulate your lists by identifying any prior visitors that had been to your site within the window you set for your list (e.g. last 30 days) that fit your list definition.

Or you can build a list based on a section of the site, so if your site sells an assortment of widgets in multiple colors and styles with URLs that say /multicolor-widgets or /fancy-widgets, you can target all visitors looking at widgets on your site by selecting any URL that includes “widgets”:

empty-list (360x247)

There are many more ways you can configure this, this setup offers flexibility for sites with different URL formats. Name your lists something descriptive that you’ll be able to remember, e.g. “Widget List” and choose your membership duration (e.g. 30 days):


The membership duration default is 30 days, but if you’re in a type of business where you expect a quick decision or none at all (e.g. you sell something that expires, e.g. tickets for an event that is happening in a week), then a 30 day list does not make sense. Instead you may want to create lists with varying membership durations with ad copy that would communicate increasing urgency or messaging (e.g. “Hurry, Seats are Going Fast!” to get your visitor to sign up. More on that in another post.

Step 4: Hit “Save” and you’re off to the races…


Google will generate a “Main List” to which the universal tag is linked. That list is a default, and you don’t need to use it.

Main-list-universal-tag-linked-resized-600 (360x104)

Step 5: Adjust your impressions in Settings.

Don’t stalk your audience (well, just a little). Once someone leaves your website, they’ll be seeing your ads when they visit Google Display Network properties as they go about their day. You want them to notice your ads, but don’t overdo it.

To adjust how many times a visitor sees one of your ads, select the campaign and go to Settings. Scroll down to Ad delivery: Ad rotation, frequency capping and select a number. There’s no hard and fast rule, but the unofficial consensus in our peer group is that 5 per ad group per day seems like a reasonable number. 


So here are the 5 steps (give or take) to setting up Remarketing in AdWords for Google Display Network. In subsequent posts I’ll discus the new Remarketing for Search Ads feature. Also look out for our upcoming post on Remarketing with Google Analytics. 

Related Posts
A Mini Primer on Choosing the Right Metrics for Your Site
Display Ads: Specifications & Best Practices
Paid Search in 2013: Predictions for the (Near) Future of Paid Search 

Dorota Umeno

Author Dorota Umeno

More posts by Dorota Umeno