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A Guide to Remarketing with Google Analytics

Published: May 12, 2016

Author: Will Aronson

In today’s digital marketing world, the audience has grown in importance, and with it, the importance of remarketing and the use of advanced strategies to target more relevant users has grown. While traditional pixel-based remarketing still reigns supreme, and lookalike targeting based on first-party data continues to grow (Google’s Customer Match continues this trend), an oft-overlooked option for remarketing is via Google Analytics.
When used properly, remarketing with GA can be as powerful as any other type of remarketing or audience targeting.  The reason being, of course, that you have more control over the types of audience you are creating and targeting than anywhere else.  Any way you can segment users within GA, you can segment and target through AdWords remarketing.

How to set up Google Analytics remarketing

To get started with GA remarketing, you first need to ensure that your AdWords and Google Analytics accounts are linked (see here for instructions). Once that connection is in place, you are all set.  Just navigate to the Audience sub-section within the Admin panel of your Google Analytics account (located under the Audience Definitions section).  From there, any audience you create will automatically get ported into AdWords for immediate use.
Now that you’ve got your accounts linked, you can start creating your audiences. Here are some top audiences to create:
Site activity
GA is the king when it comes to tracking on-site behavior, so take advantage of all that data to identify valuable audiences. Look to create audiences based on how long users spend on site, their total number of site visits, or any other on-site metric. To set thresholds, use GA to understand your customers’ behaviors, identifying for each metric the point at which users are more valuable. If users with six site visits generate the most revenue, for example, set your site visit threshold at six. This will ensure your audiences are going to be the most qualified.
High value customers
Identify high-value customers based on the number of past purchases, their total amount of revenue, funnel dropouts, or deeper goal conversions that aren’t captured within AdWords (such as looking up directions on-site or watching a video). These are likely going to be your most important customers, so you’ll want to test out different variations here. You can also consider combinations of these actions to further qualify users.
Segment by traffic sources
Create audiences based on where traffic is coming from. Visitors from different sources might behave differently, and different treatments for each should therefore be tested. A paid Facebook visitor might not respond in the same way a direct-to-site or display visitor might. If you are running multiple marketing channels, this can be a good way to introduce some sequencing tactics – serving messages through AdWords based on what other channels users have previously interacted with (and the messaging they saw before arriving). Depending on the volume of paid traffic to the site, you can segment your audiences as granularly as you like – by source/medium, by campaign, or by keyword, offering many options for creative targeting and messaging. Again, testing is the key here.
Advanced e-commerce segmentation
There are many ways for e-commerce sites to take advantage of Google Analytics remarketing.  Segment users by the number of products purchased, the dollar amount added to cart, or by specific products purchased or added to cart. Use internal data about which products drive high average order value, or indicate a higher user lifetime value, then use that information when creating your audiences.
Geo / age / gender
Identify the most profitable geos, ages, and genders, and create audiences for each, or for combinations of more than one.  For best performance, tailor your creative to speak specifically to each group of users.
Other considerations:
Take advantage of the ability to segment users by the last time they visited the site (Days Since Last Session) to re-engage with those who have gone dormant.  Offer discounts to high-value customers who have been quiet, or get back in front of past visitors with new messaging.
Remember that any of the audiences you create can be layered on top of one another to further refine your target group.  Take past purchasers and layer on the most profitable age and gender for a more targeted segment, for example.  These sorts of combinations can be more powerful than individual audiences, assuming the size of the audience remains large enough.
Google Smart List
A Google Smart List is an auto-generated list that Google creates by looking at conversion data within the Google Analytics account, in order to identify users who are most likely to convert in the future. The list is updated on an ongoing basis based on location, device, browser, and other indicators, and can be quickly created from the “Recommended Audiences” section in GA.  Smart Lists offer a quick and easy way to get started with GA Remarketing, and we have seen success with them.  At the very least, they are worth a test.
Remember that any of the audiences you create in Google Analytics can be used in all the ways you’d normally use an audience in AdWords. This means that beyond standard GDN remarketing, these audiences can be applied to search campaigns via RLSA or used in Gmail Sponsored Promotions. These considerations can help tailor the types of audiences you are creating in GA, so be sure to think about how you are planning on targeting users.
Similar Audiences / Lookalikes
Put your audiences to work for you. Google will create lookalike “Similar Audiences” for each audience you port into AdWords from Google Analytics. These are great options for extending your reach beyond your own site visitors in a more measured way. Consider layering these audiences on high-volume, broad search campaigns to increase efficiencies.
Remarketing with Google Analytics offers a wide variety of segmentation options; it is much more robust than what you can do with a standard AdWords remarketing pixel, and should not be overlooked. I’ve listed here only a handful of the hundreds of ways you can splice your audience – there will surely be new and interesting ways for each company to identify its top customers and best-performing audiences with GA segments. The most important thing to remember is that testing is your friend here. Not every audience you create in GA will yield returns, but just about any will be worth testing out.

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