PUBLISHED: Oct 20, 2017 7 min read

4 Simple RLSA Strategies We Employed to Boost a Client’s ROI 1546%

First things first… what is RLSA?

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) is a massively important concept to digital marketing strategy. But what exactly is it?

RLSA is a Google AdWords tool that lets you customize your paid search campaigns by retargeting past site visitors, via Google remarketing lists. By employing RLSA, you as a marketer can identify past visitors that have yet to convert, and tailor bids and ads specifically and accordingly.

 The power of remarketing

Consider the following remarketing statistics:

  • Retargeted customers are 3x more likely to click on your ad than people who haven’t interacted with your business before.¹
  • In 2016 72% of online shoppers were likely to abandon their shopping carts prior to actual purchase. Without remarketing, only 8% of these prospects were likely to return to complete their transactions. With remarketing, that number jumped to 26%.²
  • Search Engine Land found that for Marin Software clients (which include mega companies like Gap, Comcast, and American Express), Google RLSA campaigns had 2-3x higher click-through rates (CTRs) compared to non-RLSA campaigns. Moreover, average RLSA cost per click (CPC) dropped 25% in a 3-month period compared to non-RLSA CPC.³  

Remarketing is obviously one of the single most effective drivers to higher CTR, lower CPC, and overall Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). RLSA is simply the engine that powers the whole drive.

RLSA in action: from an ROAS of 2 to a ridiculous 31.5 (+1546%)

As a Premier Google Partner, we at Amsive Digital are constantly striving to stay ahead of the AdWords curve.

Recently a B2B client came to us after seeing months of continual CPC increases for branded terms. After auditing their prospecting AdWords campaign, we decided to shift to an RLSA strategy to the tune of these results:   

  • 1546% higher ROAS (31.5) compared to the prospecting campaign’s (2).
  • 86% lower CPC compared to the prospecting campaign’s (from $15.13 to $2.20).
  • 3872% higher CTR compared to the prospecting campaign’s (from 0.69% to 27.41%).

So how did we do it? By homing in on these 4 fundamental RLSA strategies:

1. Run RLSA first as an experiment.

Any time you’re venturing into new territory, you’re essentially running an experiment.

Think about the first few times you rode your bike. You figured out very quickly what worked and what didn’t.

For example, pedaling constantly brought you balance, while jolting the handlebars erratically brought you plenty of scrapes and scabs.

Without even knowing it, you were experimenting and learning, on the fly, the process of optimization (more of this… less of that).

Digital marketing, and remarketing for that matter, are no different. You are conducting an experiment to find out, just as you did with your bike, what works and what doesn’t.

Often times that might mean starting small makes sense. Crawling before you walk, walking before you run. Better to test balance on a bike 3 feet from the ground than on a tightrope atop the Freedom Tower.

In the case of RLSA, we advise running your experiment on one or two keywords with a smaller budget to start.


2. Don’t separate out your best-performing prospecting keyword.

That is, don’t kick off your RLSA campaign taking from your #1 prospecting keyword. Rather, start with your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th ranked prospecting keyword.


It’s a matter of risk management.

You want to select keywords that you believe will drive results while not banking the entire farm on them.

If your #1 prospecting keyword applied to your RLSA campaign doesn’t pan out, your whole campaign goes in the toilet.

But if your #3 prospecting keyword doesn’t pan out, certainly it won’t be as detrimental to your overall campaign health.

All that is to say, hedge your keywords.

 In action:

Below is a screenshot of our client’s prospecting campaign ranked by number of total conversions.

We simply took the 2nd-ranked keyword from the prospecting campaign (not the 1st-ranked one) and copied it over to the RLSA campaign.

RLSA Campaign

Again, starting small is crucial (you can always scale upward once you’ve tested your strategy), so when we rolled out the RLSA campaign we started only with the 2nd-ranked prospecting keyword.

 You’ll see in a second how combining these 2 strategies played out.


3. Don’t bid conservatively lower… bid aggressively lower.

When it comes to scale, start small.

When it comes to bidding, start extremely small.

That is, to see the true impact of retargeted search, you’ll need to bid aggressively lower than what you’re currently bidding on your prospecting campaign(s).

But what exactly constitutes “aggressively lower”?

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule, let’s say generally that you want to start your new bid at least 25% lower than that on your prospecting campaign.


Because these are people that have already visited your website, which means they’re at least somewhat familiar with who you are and what you do. It doesn’t make sense to bid anything close to what you would for brand-new prospects.

Reduce your bid dramatically when retargeting past visitors.

In action:

The below screenshots show the same keyword performances in our client’s prospecting campaign vs. RLSA campaign.

Prospecting Campaign
RLSA Campaign

Pay attention to our max bids for each: $27.38 and $14.84, respectively. That’s a 45% decrease in bid across prospecting vs. RLSA.

Now look at the Quality Score columns: 3/10 for prospecting, and a perfect 10/10 for RLSA.

In the next 4 months we’d go on to reduce RLSA average CPC by 86% (from $15.13 to $2.20).  



4. Don’t be afraid to write copy that hard-sells.

Remember, you’re retargeting past website visitors. That means it’s fine to assume they’re already somewhat familiar with your brand and/or product.

No need to schmooze them or beat around the bush with broad value propositions and general claims.

You’re speaking to medium- to high-intenters converging at the meaty/bottom part of your funnel.

You can hard-sell these people.

Write something that’s clear. Something that’s bold and direct. Something that impels them to take action NOW.  

(Remember to keep in mind at all times Google’s advertising and editorial policies.)

 In action:

Unfortunately at present we’re not at liberty to provide copy from our client’s RLSA campaign, so instead we’ll show broad vs. direct examples from other paid campaigns.  

Examples of broad copy:

This ad starts with a weak noun (“Average”) rather than a strong verb. “Find” (the CTA) doesn’t appear until Headline 2. Also note the absence of any actual prices in the copy.

Here, Headline 1 simply states what the product is: an espresso machine.

Examples of direct copy:

Here’s a great example of direct copy. Not only does the ad start with a strong verb (“Join”); Headline 2 provides a killer value proposition, especially for fence-sitters (free 3-day guest pass).

The only thing that trumps a strong verb… exact price! This ad starts off with a bang, letting you know upfront of its $99 per month roofing cost. It doesn’t get any more direct than this.



Of course, this is anything but an exhaustive list of RLSA tips and strategies to improve marketing (and remarketing) ROI. This post isn’t meant to cover the whole gamut, but rather give you a basis from which to start.

As is stated beautifully in Gino Wickman’s Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, “It is less important what you decide than it is that you decide.”

Or, to recall an earlier metaphor:  

First get on the bike. Then learn how to balance.

Of course, we’re here to help if you’re looking to minimize your digital cuts and scrapes.


Co-Authored by Jaclyn Howell & Steven Lo

¹Ad Retargeting in Numbers – Statistics and Trends
²17 Retargeting Ad Statistics that will make you Retarget Right Now [2 Infographics]
³Survey Reveals Google RLSA Performance Benchmarks & The Promise Of Cross-Channel Retargeting