Google Is Getting Sneaky With Advertisers Retargeting Ad Spend

It probably is no secret to you that most visitors to your website are not going to buy. In fact, on average 97% of visitors are not going to purchase on their first visit.

It has also been shown that the more times a user visits your website the more likely they are to purchase.

Therefore, the question becomes is how can advertisers keep their website and products in front of those visitors that come to your website, but do not purchase?

One of the best answers to this question has been retargeting. For those not familiar, here is how retargeting works.

When a customer goes on your website, a ‘cookie’ is placed on their browser. Cookies are small text files with small pieces of data that are used to identify computers within a computer network.

If we have Google retargeting correctly in place, what will happen is that cookie, will allow us to advertise to that customer throughout the Google Display Network (GDN) based on their visit to our website.

In addition, you can customize the cookies to tell us which pages a user visited and adjust bids or whether to include them based on this information within your retargeting campaigns.

For instance, you can only retarget to users who reached your cart but did not purchase. Or you only retarget to users who at least reached a product page but did not purchase.

Advertisers can retarget to specific users by creating what Google calls audiences (which I will show you how to do below). This is really cool!

However, pay attention because this is where Google has gotten sneaky!

Google is now automatically opting your retargeting campaigns into what they term ‘Targeting expansion’.

Targeting expansion is automatically opted on when you create a new retargeting campaign.

What targeting expansion does is show your retargeting ads to users ‘similar’ to the audience that you created. Google does not share the algorithm they use to decide ‘how similar’ they are just that they are similar.

Google also provides a sliding bar where you can include customers who are even less similar to your created audience in greater numbers

This is all new.

Before when creating a remarketing campaign, advertisers would know that they are retargeting to their audience defined as those that previously visited their website. With this feature of target expansion, now advertisers automatically are opted in to serving ads to those that previously visited their website and are included in one of their audiences as well as those ‘similar’.

And the sneaky thing?

Most advertisers don’t realize as the setting is hidden within the more ad group settings area of the Google Ads interface.

What I have found with private clients is that target expansion will substantially increase your spend without increasing your conversions.

This of course makes sense because those users in target expansion have never been to your website and most likely don’t even know who you are.

Next, I’m going to demonstrate how you create a remarketing campaign and then opt out of the new ‘Targeting expansion’.

Creating A Remarketing Campaign

Creating a dynamic remarketing campaign allows advertiser to show the products that a visitor viewed on your website inside an ad that will appear throughout the Google Display Network.

Here are the steps:

1. Click Campaigns from the page menu.

2. Click the plus button to create a new campaign.

3. In the “Goals” section, choose ‘Sales’.

4. From the “Campaign type” section, select Display Network.

5. Select ‘Standard display campaign’

6. Enter your business website URL.

7. Next, you’ll set parameters for your campaign, including:

  • Campaign name
  • Location and language settings
  • Bid strategy and budget

8. Click Additional settings for more options, like ad scheduling, content exclusions, or device targeting (This is where you will want to link a data feed in order to show dynamic ads, see image below). Note, in order to connect a data feed you must have already linked your Google Ads Account with your Google Merchant Center Account.

9. Next, look for “Audiences” in the “People” section. (To serve ads to visitors who have visited your website and left, you will need to use a custom audience that you create in Google Analytics.

Click Remarketing. To select an already prepared audience, click ‘Browse’ and then ‘How they have interacted with your business’).

10. Click the checkbox next to the audiences that you would like to add. This will add them to your targeting.

11. Below the audience, you will see the ‘Targeting expansion’ this is where Google will automatically opt you in to showing your ads to users ‘similar’ to your audience. In order to opt out, slide the slider to the off position.

12. Create your Ad group bid.

13. Create your Ad.

14. Click the ‘Create Campaign’ button.

Forgetting To Turn Off The Target Expansion

If you follow the steps above, your dynamic retargeting ads will be correctly configured and you will start to serve your ads to previous website visitors that you have identified in an audience.

However, what if you forget to take one of these steps? Even worse, what if you see an unexplained spike in traffic and spend in your new retargeting campaign?

If you see more traffic than you are expecting, chances are that you either used a wrong audience with the campaign or forgot to turn off the ‘Targeting Expansion’.

Fortunately, you can adjust your campaign settings even after the campaign has been created.

Here are the steps –

1. Click Campaigns from the page menu.

2. Select your newly created retargeting campaign.

3. Click on the Ad Group that you want to adjust.

4. Click Settings from the left-hand navigation menu.

5. Click on the ‘Edit ad group targeting’ button.

6. Once you click on the ‘Edit ad group targeting’ button, then you can scroll down and scroll the Targeting Expansion to Off.

Quick note, to adjust and turn off Targeting Expansion once an account is created, it must be done from the Ad Group Settings not the Campaign Settings. In addition, it must be done on EVERY ad group where you wish to opt-out of Targeting Expansions.

See how it is sneaky now?

Not only does Google automatically opt in campaigns to Targeting Expansion, but they burry the option to adjust it including the ability to opt out under the Ad Group Setting.

Final Word

Retargeting is a fantastic way to stay in front of the 97% of users that leave your website without purchasing.

Just like with Shopping and Search Ads, with Retargeting ads you don’t pay unless a user clicks on your ad. This means that if a user sees your ads; reminding them of your product or service and simply goes and types in your website URL, well you don’t pay.

In addition, by using audiences you can determine how much you ultimately are willing to pay for one type of website abandoner vs another.

Example, I always set bids higher for those users who reached the cart page then left versus those that left at the product page without adding a product to their shopping cart.

And finally, by using your product feed and cookies, you can show a user the exact product that they were looking at on your website within the retargeting ad that you later serve them.

All this works very well. However, what I’ve found doesn’t work well is when Google tacks on similar audiences.

By opting campaigns into Targeting Expansion, it will most likely lower your profitability and significantly increase your spend.

And worse than that?

It is just plain sneaky!!

Looking for More Information on Google Advertising?

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Andy Splichal


Andy Splichal is the founder of True Online Presence, author of the Make Each Click Count book series, host of the Make Each Click Count podcast, founder of The Academy of Internet Marketing and certified online marketing strategist with twenty plus years of experience helping companies increase their online presence and profitable revenues. To find more information on Andy Splichal, visit or read The Full Story on his blog,

Merging Retargeting With Search Campaigns

Google Retargeting or Google Remarketing (the terms are interchangeable) is the process of using Google’s technology to advertise to customers who have already visited a website or a specific section of a website.  Generally, when an advertiser thinks of retargeting they envision those image ads for websites they have previously visited that ‘magically’ appear for a product or service when a user is surfing other websites.  This is indeed the most common use of retargeting and can be quite effective, see my blog post – Google Remarketing – What It Is, Why Use Google.

However, Google retargeting list (called audiences) can also be incorporated into search campaigns. By merging a Google search campaign with a retargeting list, advertisers can increase or decrease bids for their search ads when those ads appear to users that have previously visited their website. 

Why Is This Beneficial?

As we have stated previously, on average 97% of visitors leave a website without converting.  This holds true for ecommerce as well as professional service advertisers.  Many of these potential customers will subsequently return to Google and perform a related if not the exact same search. By merging retargeting with search, advertisers have the ability to increase their bids on these return searchers and thus increase their ad rank by targeting those customers who have previously visited their website. 

Customers who visit a website multiple times have been found to have a higher conversion rate.  In addition, ads shown to customers who have previously visited a website have also been found to have higher click through rates (CTR) which increases quality score, another factor in boosting ad rank.  For additional information on quality score, refer to my blog post – Why Advertisers Need To Know Their Quality Score.

T.O.P. AdWords Campaign Review & Ratings SystemCreating A Retargeting List

The first step is to create a retargeting list. There are two ways to create retargeting list with Google, either by using the Google AdWords interface with Audiences which is found under Shared library or through Google Analytics.  Both will work and as long as Google Analytics is properly linked to an AdWords account. Once the retargeting list is created in Analytics the retargeting list will display in the Shared library in Google AdWords just as if it was created using Google AdWords.

Creating a retargeting list in Google Analytics I feel is more user friendly and provides a few more options, so for this example that is the method we will focus.

In order to create the retargeting list in Google Analytics, first open Google Analytics and click on the Admin tab in the upper menu.

Admin Tab In Google AnalyticsIn the second column, the Property column, click on Remarketing and then Audiences. An advertiser will first need to click on Remarketing which will drop down a secondary list that contains the Audiences option.

Google Analytics - Remarketing OptionOnce the Audiences window opens, an advertiser will need to click on the +New Audience button to create a new campaign or select an existing audience if they wish to make changes to an audience that currently exists.

Analytics - New AudienceThe first thing an advertiser will then be asked to select is which AdWords account they would like the retargeting list to be associated.  This is going to be vital for advertisers with multiple AdWords accounts. In addition, this process allows advertisers to ensure their AdWords and Analytics accounts are properly linked.

Linking Analytics & Google AdWordsAn advertiser is then directed to define their audience (retargeting list). Here, Google gives some common suggestions for use including: Smart List, All Users, New Users, Returning Users, Users who visit a specific section of the website, Users who completed a goal conversion and Users who completed a transaction.

Defining an Audience in remarketing listGoogle’s list is merely suggestions and will populate the first rule based on the criteria of list selected.  However, Google’s Audience Builder is customizable and allows all lists to be defined on a wide number of attributes including: Demographics, Technology, Behavior, Date of First Session, Traffic Sources and Ecommerce.

The Audience Builder also allows an advertiser to combine multiple attributes based on whom they would like to have included within their remarketing list.

Using Google's Audience BuilderBelow is a list I created for a client that contains All Users that have never made a transaction with a membership duration (how long a customer will remain in the list) of 30 days.

Google Retargeting - No Conversion ListDeciding on the attributes that will create a remarketing list can be challenging, yet fun.  Think of what type of potential customers you would be willing to pay more to reengage and test for results. The possibilities are only limited by your traffic and your creativity.

Once a new list has been saved, it is ready for use for traditional remarketing or it can be incorporated into bidding for Google search.

Incorporating Your Retargeting List With Google Search

Now that we have a retargeting list, let’s look at how to integrate it into a Google search campaign.  Note, a retargeting list will need to have sufficient members in order to be eligible for use.  If it is a new list, it will take time before the audience is eligible for use in search.

Assuming there is a large enough audience within the retargeting list to use in search, the first step is for an advertiser is to open the AdWords Ad Group they wish to apply the retargeting list and click on the Audiences tab.

Google AdWords - Audiences TabOnce in the Audiences tab, select the red +Remarketing button in order to add a remarketing audience.

Google AdWords - Adding Remarketing ListOnce this window opens, an advertiser has 3 options: Targeting, Ad group exclusions and Campaign exclusions. The Targeting drop down is what allows a retargeting list to be added in order to adjust bids.  The other 2 options will stop ads from showing to a particular audience, so make sure the Targeting drop down is selected.

Once the Targeting drop down has been selected a sub-menu will display showing Interests & remarketing.

Google AdWords Interest & RemarketingNext an advertiser needs to select the remarketing list they wish to adjust bids. By clicking on the double arrow next to the name, the list will move into a selected column displayed to the right of rest of the lists (if multiple remarketing lists are available).

Google AdWords - Selecting A Remarketing ListClick the blue save button at the bottom of the screen and voila, done.  An advertiser now has the ability to adjust bids to those users who are contained within a specific retargeting list.

T.O.P. AdWords Campaign Review & Ratings SystemIn order to adjust bids, an advertiser needs to click on the dash in the Bid adj category and select the amount they wish to increase (or decrease) their bid to those customers.

Google AdWords - Bid Adjustment

Note, bid adjustments are done in terms of percentage.  For example, if an advertiser increases their bid 30%, a $1 bid will become $1.30 for customers in the retargeting audience searching keywords contained within the applicable Ad Group. Also note that bid adjustments done within the audience tab work in conjunction with other advanced bid adjustments including location, ad schedule and device. For additional information on adjusting those bids, review my blog post – Optimizing Google Campaigns For Mobile.

Summary –

Incorporating retargeting audiences into search campaign is an effective way for an advertiser to have their ads more prominently displayed to those users more likely to convert. By paying a fractional increase per click, advertisers can see dramatic increases in sales coming from those users that have previously visited their website.

In addition, adding retargeting audiences to search can provide advertisers with a competitive advantage over their competitors who simply bid the same for each keyword regardless of whom it is displaying.

As with best-practices when using an advanced technique, it should always be tested.  Test the audience and test the bid to optimize for maximum results. Through ongoing work with my clients, I have found that with the proper implementation and testing this advanced technique has the potential to provide a nice boost to a Google search campaign’s ROI.

Still need help or looking for someone to bounce ideas off?  I am currently offering free marketing discovery sessions to those interested. Call True Online Presence at 1-888-456-6943 or schedule online.

Happy Marketing!


Andy Splichal is an online marketing strategist  with more than a decade and a half of experience helping companies increase their online presence and profitable revenues.  Although this blog focuses on driving profitable traffic through Google AdWords, True Online Presence offers additional services for lead generation as well as other proven marketing strategies customized for each client.

Google Remarketing – What It Is, Why Use Google

On the average, 97% of website visitors leave a website without buying.  It is a fact that most of these potential customers are gone forever! What if there was a way to reach back out to these customers easily and seamlessly?  There is through Google’s remarketing.

By using Google remarketing a marketer can easily serve a relevant ad to a visitor that has been on their website and left by using an almost endless stream of websites in the Google display network when their abandoned visitor is online browsing the web. To achieve, all a marketer needs to do is place a small snippet of code that Google provides on the pages of their website that they wish to promote with Google remarketing ads.

When using Google remarketing you have full control just like in Google search on how much you are willing to pay for each click, which allows you to ensure you receive a profitable ROI. A powerful way to keep your brand in front of customers, Google remarketing can give the appearance that you have an immense marketing budget with customers thinking ‘wow this company is everywhere!’  This not only encourages customers to return and purchase, but  it also instills a confidence that may very well have customers returning on their own without clicking on the ad, which of course would incur no charge.

Google offers a number of different options for their remarketing including dynamic ads, which thanks to Google’s Ad Gallery, makes creating semi-easy and free.  For eCommerce marketers, dynamic ads are able to capture images, prices and headlines of products that customers viewed before they left your website and re-serve these products to customers.  You know the potential customer has interest because they already viewed a particular product, why not remind them and reshow the same product?

The second type of remarketing is a bit more complicated and involves creating audiences. Basically, what creating audiences does is allow a marketer to segment users by which page they viewed before leaving and serve an ad tailored to have them return.  It also allows a different bidding strategy to be implemented.  Example, a visitor that made it to your shopping cart is a far more valuable customer to have return than one that viewed a single category page.  With Google’s remarketing system, a marketer can bid higher for ads shown to cart abandoners than to website browsers.

The use of audiences is also a very effective way of using remarketing for Professional Service marketers.  Abandoned visitors can be easily segmented by which part of a website they visited allowing an effective bidding strategy to be implemented.

What It Looks Like

Retargeting-AdIn the above example, I visited UGG Australia’s website and looked at the UGG Men’s Brunswick Robe. Then I visited and was served an ad for the same product that I was just looking at (although UGG elected not to display name and price, which I personally prefer). Wow, how did they know!

Why UGG Australia may indeed have the marketing budget to advertise on all the sites in the Google display network, most companies including yours probably does not.  However, think of how impressive it would be to a would-be customer if they thought you did!  Plus the ability to serve a potential customer the exact product they have already looked at and shown an interest in is a powerful tool in the conversion game.

With Google retargeting you can control how many times and how often ads are served to a customer (frequency caps) along with controlling which websites ads are ineligible to show (if you find a particular partner site has a low conversion rate, you can omit it from the list of website eligible to show your ads).  These tools are just a few that allow marketers to be able to control their advertising and generate a positive ROI.

Review-and-Ratings-SystemWhy use Google for retargeting?

You may be saying to yourself, there is a ton of retargeting companies out there, why use Google?  The truth is that although different retargeting companies say they have this advantage or that advantage over the other, most respectable retargeting companies have a very similar reach (which websites ads are eligible to be shown).  With Google retargeting, you can also use Google’s code for other display network advertising you might use as well.  In addition, Google’s system is user friendly to create ads and the reporting is delivered alongside your other AdWords reporting marking retargeting easily tracked using the same interface as Google search ads.

A final plus for using Google retargeting, Google is not going anywhere and is constantly growing.  A few years ago, I used a different retargeting company that was smaller, but very effective (it was before retargeting was available with Google).  Suddenly, the retargeting company I was using was purchased by AOL and the service changed, product functionality declined and prices went up.  I had to change my remarketing company and lost hours of time that I had spent building out retargeting campaigns.  With Google, they are always adding new sites into their network and additional features that make remarketing more effective and easier to track.


Remember 97% of your customers come to your site and leave.  Will they come back?  Maybe, maybe not.  With Google remarketing you can stay in front of your lost customers with precision ads that help drive return traffic with a system that allows you to control cost and create an effective ROI.

Still need help or looking for someone to bounce ideas off?  I am currently offering free marketing strategy sessions to those interested. Contact True Online Presence at 1-888-456-6943 to schedule.

Happy Marketing!


Andy Splichal is an online marketing strategist  with more than a decade and a half of experience helping companies increase their online presence and profitable revenues.  Although this blog focuses on driving profitable traffic through Google AdWords, True Online Presence offers additional services for lead generation as well as other proven marketing strategies customized for each client.