Retarget high-intent prospects with Google Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). Learn how our experts use it everyday to re-engage site visitors and drive more conversions.

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Feel like your Google ad campaigns are leaving money on the table? With Google RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads), you can retarget in-market prospects and drive more efficient conversions.

In an ideal world, customers would purchase your product or service the first time they visit your website. But in reality, the customer journey takes much longer — often leading to multiple visits.

Google’s remarketing features are the key to targeting high-intent customers, attracting them back to your site, and getting them to complete the conversion.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Google RLSA, including how they can improve return on ad spend (ROAS), steps to set them up, and tips to leverage them in search campaigns.

What are remarketing lists for search ads?

Google RLSA refers to remarketing data segments for Google search campaigns. They retarget previous site visitors as they search Google for specific keywords.

For example, you can set up a remarketing audience to target people who:

  • Visited a certain page or series of pages on your website
  • Added your product to their shopping cart but didn’t check out
  • Made a purchase but may be in the market for a related item

Think of RLSA as a tactic for laser targeting people with purchase intent. Remarketing search ads don’t display for just anyone. You can show them only to people who have expressed interest in your business and are actively searching for a keyword you’re targeting.

In some ways, Google RLSA ads are similar to display remarketing. Both campaign types use retargeting data to tailor ads based on users’ behaviors and website activity. However, there’s a big difference between the two.

Display remarketing delivers tailored ads to websites in the Google Display Network. For example, say you’re shopping for software.


You may see display ads for the same items after you click away from the retailer’s site and browse other blogs and news sites. The AppSumo ad above is an example of a display ad for a remarketing audience.

RLSA delivers tailored ads directly to Google search results and Google search partners. For example, say you shop for chocolate chip cookies online.

chocolate chip cookies online

You may see a remarketing ad at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) if you continue searching for related keywords later that day, week, or month. The Levain Bakery ad above is an example of a remarketing ad for the search network.
Question now is: What kind of results can you achieve when using Google’s remarketing campaigns? HawkSEM uses RLSA to optimize ad spend while improving key outcomes.

CEO Sam Yadegar shares, “By integrating targeted RLSA ads and taking the value-add approach HawkSEM does, we were able to increase WindRiver’s users by 39%. At the same time, we nearly tripled WindRiver’s clickthrough rate (CTR) while decreasing ad spend by 20%.”

Why should you use RLSA?

Using remarketing lists with search ads can give your campaigns a serious advantage. Here are some of the biggest benefits of RLSA.

Accelerate the customer journey

With RLSA, Google ads can speed up the customer journey and guide prospects toward a purchase faster. Since they target people who are in-market and engaged with your brand, these ads can reach prospects when they want to buy.

After all, a typical customer journey may include multiple website visits, a little comparison shopping, and even seeking out reviews. It could take days, weeks, or even months for an average customer to make a purchase decision.

Increase conversion rates

If you’re like most advertisers, you target keywords throughout the funnel. Top-of-funnel (TOFU) search terms might attract a lot of people to your website. But they probably won’t lead to many conversions.

With RLSA, the opposite happens. The audience list narrows the targeting, resulting in fewer clicks overall. But because the people who click through are further along in their customer journey, they’re more likely to convert.

We typically pair this Google remarketing feature with our ConversionIQTM marketing technology. Together, they can improve conversions while providing full-funnel attribution.

Improve ROAS

RLSA campaigns aren’t cheaper to run than standard search campaigns. In fact, the cost per click (CPC) for RLSA is often much higher.
But here’s the thing. RLSA campaigns spend ad budgets more efficiently. They let you bid more for clicks that are more likely to convert. The result? Better ROAS.

What to know before using remarketing lists

Setting up remarketing lists is pretty straightforward, as you’ll see below. But for optimal results, keep these best practices in mind.

Meet minimum audience size requirements

Remarketing lists can absolutely narrow your targeting and allow you to re-engage in-market prospects. But for privacy reasons, Google sets a minimum threshold for these audiences.

“Google has a 1,000-cookie limit per remarketing list. This is tough for smaller advertisers,” explains Abhi Bavishi, growth marketer and automation expert.

When you create RLSA audiences, you can monitor their size in your Google Ads account. If it doesn’t meet the 1,000-cookie minimum limit, you’ll see a warning that it’s too small to serve.

Account for RLSA timeframes

Retargeting audiences have membership limits of up to 540 days. That means they can include users who have met the requirements (i.e., visited a specific webpage) over an 18-month time span.

If your business has a short sales cycle, that limit may seem like more than enough time. “But in industries with longer buying cycles, this may not be sufficient,” PPC expert and digital marketing agency founder Magee Clegg shares. “We navigate this by regularly refreshing our remarketing lists and supplementing with other remarketing tools when necessary.”

Update privacy policy and cookie settings

To use RLSA, you have to enable Google signals, which track users’ website activity data. As a result, you have to disclose the information you collect.

If your website’s privacy policy doesn’t already reflect this information, you may need to update it. You may also need to adjust your site’s cookie settings and allow users to opt out.

Know the limits of RLSA targeting

Google ads remarketing can be powerful. But this tactic isn’t a foolproof solution for every search or smart shopping campaign.

One of this feature’s biggest limitations is that it can only retarget people who have enabled ad personalization for their Google account. By default, Google delivers personalized ads. However, anyone can switch off this option for their Google account, which would opt them out of any retargeting list.

How to set up Google RLSA campaigns

The steps for building a remarketing audience and setting up an RLSA campaign are simple. Once you have the basic setup down, dive into the different ways to use RLSA below.

Prefer to have an experienced team handle setup and optimization for you? We’re here to help. Reach out toHawkSEM to speak with Google ads consultants.

Link Google Analytics and Google Ads

Setting up a remarketing audience starts with connecting Google Ads and Google Analytics. Open your GA4 account and go to the “Admin” panel. In the “Property” column, scroll down to “Google Ads Links.”

Google Ads Links

If you’ve already connected your accounts, you’ll see a Google Ads account listed here. In that case, click to open the Google ads account settings and confirm that “Enable Personalized Advertising” is switched on.

Enable Personalized Advertising

If you haven’t connected the accounts, click the blue “Link” button. Then select a Google Ads account from the list.

Google Ads account

By default, the workflow should select “Enable Personalized Advertising” and “Allow access to Analytics features from within Google Ads.” Double check that both are switched on, and complete the connection.

Enable Personalized Advertising2

Activate Google signals

Next, activate Google signals for your GA4 property. In the admin panel, look for “Data Settings” for your property. Select “Data Collection.” Then click the blue “Get Started” button.

Activate Google signals

Review Google’s description, and then click the blue “Activate” button. Not sure if your cookie or privacy policy is sufficient? See below for data collection best practices.

Activate Google signals2

Create a remarketing audience

Now you’re ready to build a remarketing audience. From the admin panel, go to the “Audiences” tab. You should see some auto-generated audiences for all users and purchasers.

To add a remarketing audience, click the “New Audience” button. To get started quickly, choose one of the audience templates. They let you retarget non-purchasers, recently active users, and other standard segments.

New Audience

Another option is using Google Analytics’ predictive audiences. These are more advanced than the standard options, as they consider intent. However, you won’t be eligible to use them if your site doesn’t get enough traffic.

Create New Audience

To build from scratch, click the “Create a Custom Audience” button. Here, you’ll see dozens of options for targeting people based on their behavior. For example, you can target people based on:

  • Conversion events they completed — such as filling out a lead generation form
  • Ecommerce items or categories they browsed in your shop
  • Pages they visited or links they clicked on your website

build new audience

You also have the option to create sequences with multiple steps. Although RLSAs can get really granular, it’s best not to define them too narrowly.

“Too narrow an audience may result in high conversion rates but low overall conversions due to limited reach,” Clegg explains. “We recommend starting with broader parameters and gradually refining your audience based on performance data.”

When you’re finished building the audience, click the “Save” button. Since you already linked Google Analytics with Google Ads, the audience will automatically transfer to your ad account.

Add RLSA to search campaigns

Next, open your Google Ads account and manage your audiences. Open the “Tools” panel in the lefthand menu, and select “Audience Manager.” You should see your new RLSA listed under “Your Data Segments.”

Audience Manager

To add the newly created RLSA to an existing search campaign or ad group, select it and click the “Add to” option in the top menu. Pick either “Campaigns” or “Ad Groups.” Then choose where to apply it.

Ad Groups

To add a remarketing tag to new search ad campaigns, select the list during the setup workflow. Start by creating a new campaign for the search network.

new search ad campaigns

Expand the “Audience Segments” panel. Under the “Browse” column, select “Your Data Segments.” You should see the newly created remarketing list under “Website Visitors.”

new ad campaigns

Note that you’ll need to choose how to apply the audience to the campaign. By default, Google Ads chooses “Observation.” This setting allows you to adjust bids but doesn’t restrict ad delivery to the target audience.


If you want to retarget more narrowly, select “Targeting” instead. With this setting enabled, the search campaign will deliver only when a person in the RLSA searches for one of your keywords.

Note that you can add basic demographic targeting during campaign setup. For example, you can refine your targeting by choosing locations.

RLSA searches

Then finish creating the campaign. You’ll need to upload a keyword list and create responsive search ads. Once the RLSA campaign is live, you can start retargeting in-market prospects.

7 Ways to win with RLSA search campaigns

What are the best ways to target users with a Google search campaign? Try these RLSA strategies.

1. Retarget prospects with custom messaging

Creating an RLSA audience for a search campaign is a great first step. But don’t stop there. To make the campaign more successful, write ad copy that resonates with the site visitors you want to target.

For example, say you’re advertising to people who have visited your pricing page. Since you know they’re curious about cost, consider mentioning a discount in the ad headline.

Retarget prospects

As another example, say you built the RLSA audience above to retarget people who viewed an ecommerce item. In the ad copy, create fear of missing out (FOMO) by highlighting urgency.

How much can this tactic help? “We created remarketing lists targeting visitors who spent a specific amount of time on the site or viewed specific product pages but didn’t make a purchase,” Clegg explains. “By tailoring our ad copy to these audiences and their previous interactions with the website, we saw a 35% increase in conversion rates and a 20% reduction in cost per acquisition (CPA).”

2. Apply bid adjustments based on customer journey stage

The closer prospects get to a conversion, the more valuable they become to you. With remarketing lists, you can easily bid more on these prospects.

Start by mapping out your customer journey. What do prospects tend to do when they first discover your brand, when they begin considering it seriously, and when they approach the decision-making stage?

For example, at the middle of their customer journey, your prospects may read articles that compare your product to the competition. At the end of the customer journey, they may visit your custom pricing page.

Create separate audiences for each stage of the customer journey and add them to relevant search campaigns. Then use Google’s bid adjustments to spend more on prospects at the end of their journey.

Apply bid adjustments

How much more should you bid? “For bid adjustments, there’s no fixed rule,” Bavishi explains. “I usually start with a 10% increase. I watch and adjust bids based on results. It’s important to review and change based on the campaign’s success.”

3. Upsell related products to loyal customers

Retargeting prospects who haven’t converted yet is one of the most common use cases for RLSA. But you can also get a ton of value from upselling existing customers.

To use this tactic, create a remarketing list that includes people who purchased. If the audience is large enough (i.e., well over 1,000 users), consider dividing it into separate lists for categories or products.

Then add relevant RLSA segments to keyword groups. Use the bid adjustment tactic above to spend more on these lists. Keep in mind, getting bidding strategies right is a bit of a balancing act.

“For optimal bid adjustments, we consider factors like the potential customer’s past interaction with the website, their position in the sales funnel, the competitiveness of the keyword, and the overall campaign budget,” Clegg shares. “It’s a delicate balance of aiming for high visibility without exhausting your budget on a single remarketing list.”

Take this tactic to the next level by adding a remarketing list to a shopping campaign. That way, you can continue to retarget your brand’s most loyal fans.

4. Get more value from general keyword targeting

Without audience targeting, bidding on general keywords can be tricky. They often have a ton of competition but fail to drive many conversions, which can make them expensive to target.

To optimize ad spend for these keywords, use RLSA. Add a remarketing list to the ad group or campaign. Make sure to adjust the bid so you can spend a little more to attract in-market shoppers.

Remember, most people searching for these general keywords probably won’t fit your ideal customer profile. But when someone who’s already visited your site uses Google to search for these keywords, they show higher intent — which makes their clicks more valuable.

general keyword targeting

To make your ads stand out in search, be sure to enable extensions for Google ads like in the NetSuite example above. Callout assets can be particularly helpful for highlighting extras like free shipping.

5. Bid on competitors’ keywords

Similar to broad keywords, competitor keywords can be expensive to target — and a typical click may not lead to a conversion. But remarketing lists with competitive targeting can be a winning combination.

After all, a searcher who’s already been to your website and is now looking up the competition is likely comparing options. If you can get your ads in front of comparison shoppers, you could win their business.


For best results, follow’s lead. The search ad example above, which appears when searching for a competing platform, goes directly to a landing page that compares Asana versus

6. Combine with dynamic search ads

Most Google search campaigns use responsive ads and keyword groups to deliver the right message to the right people at the right time. Dynamic search ads let Google do the heavy lifting by automatically generating headlines and URLs based on your website.

Dynamic search ads give you less control over what your ads say and how they look. But you can use them to serve ads for relevant search terms you aren’t already targeting.

When you combine them with RLSA, you can serve ads to people who are already engaged with your business and who are looking for related search terms.

To set up a dynamic search ad, you first have to publish a search campaign with a standard ad group. Then add another ad group and select “Dynamic” instead of “Standard.”


Input your website and the landing page(s) you want to target. Then create a dynamic ad. Since Google generates headlines and URLs, all you have to do is write descriptions.

7. Exclude audiences to optimize ad spend

In many cases, you’ll likely use these lists to narrow your target audience for retargeting ads. But you also have the option to optimize paid search ads by excluding lists of existing customers. You can add exclusions by opening the audience settings for any published campaign.


The best time to exclude RLSA lists is when you’re targeting top-of-funnel or branded keywords. Ideally, these search terms will attract and convert new customers — but they aren’t likely to make existing customers convert again.

The takeaway

Google RLSA campaigns are designed to get your search ads in front of in-market prospects. As a result, they have the power to increase conversions, optimize ROAS, and guide customers through the funnel more efficiently.

Whether you’re testing out this feature for the first time or you want to optimize existing campaigns, HawkSEM is your remarketing partner. Connect with our Google ads experts for a free consultation.

Contact HawkSEM for Free Consultation