Remarketing: How the Google AdWords Content Network Stopped Sucking So Bad (and Started Making You Money)

Remember DoubleClick? They were the company that we all hated a decade ago because they were placing cookies in their ads that were tracking us all around the Internet. We HATED that. Remember?

It seems like so long ago as to be laughable. I mean, who ever thought of a world where we didn’t track things? It sounds like nonsense. Nowadays my shoes send my running data wirelessly to a fitness website. My money is automatically tagged and sorted by my financial programs. My websites have so many tracking tools on it it’s like what would happen if overkill tried to over do it.

A year ago, I saw tools like Inspectlet and ClickTale for the first time. Being able to see videos of people using my site was a wonder. So it’s understandable that a year later I’d agree to what used to feel like a Faustian bargain.

What am I talking about? One word: Remarketing.

What is Remarketing?

Remarketing is the process of marketing to people who have already been on your website. In this case, we’re using Google AdWords to do the remarketing. In short, when somebody visits your website, you can assign them to a list. You can then use those lists to create AdWords campaigns to show those visitors visual ads on Google’s Display Network (GDN) while they are surfing around the Internet.

A Remarketing Example

Earlier today I went to Indochino, a website for custom men’s clothing.

Then I went to for my daily dose of humor that makes you go hmmm… and and came across a story called 5 Things They Don’t Want You to Know About The Olympics. What should I see at the top of the page but this ad:

That, in a nutshell is remarketing.

I’ve been to their site and they want to target me again. I’m already familiar with their service, so just staying in my mind increases the chance that I will buy from them.

Remember How Bad the AdWords Content Network Was/Is

The content network on AdWords, now known as the Google Display Network (GDN) has, at least in my mind, always been the ghetto for AdWords campaigns. The interaction between AdSense and AdWords has always been a little sketchy. But above all it’s been dumb. Sure, you could manually pick out the sites you wanted your ads to run on, but in my experience, the GDN never converted as well as AdWords itself.

The biggest problem is banner blindness. People don’t see the ads. So “impressions” becomes a meaningless figure. There’s no such thing when you can almost guarantee that your potential visitor didn’t even see the ad.

But a funny thing happened while I was reading a Cracked article. I started noticing the ads. Why? Well, for one thing… I was noticing the same companies a lot. And then I realized that I already knew all the brands. And then I realized that I had already been to all of their websites.

And I’ll be honest…

It pissed me off. And it doubly pissed me off when I was getting ads from companies where I had just made a purchase. My feeling was, “Hey asshole. I just gave you money. How much does it cost to make you leave me the fuck alone?” (I told you I was pissed.)

But looking back, I can’t remember who I was mad at. AND it also turns out it works. I remember the sites when I’m remarketed by them. It’s kinda spooky. I mean, I know I’ve seen ads for JOS Bank,, Inspectlet, Optimizely, Indochino and more after going to their websites. It’s lodged in my brain.

Which is also why I was pissed in the first place. As a marketer I know this stuff works. And it offends the part of my psyche that is inhabited by Bill Hicks.


So, with all due apologies to Bill, here’s how to smarten up your AdWords account so that you can increase your revenue and justify your monthly AdWords budget.

How to Implement Remarketing on Your Website

You’re gonna need two things:

1. A Google Analytics account
2. A Google AdWords account

What we’re going to do is:

1. Link your Analytics and AdWords accounts
2. Update the Analytics code on our website
3. Update our privacy policy
4. Create a Remarketing List
5. Create an AdWords Remarketing campaign

It sounds long and hard but I promise. We’ll be in and out in under 3 days. I mean, 15 minutes.

1. Link Your Analytics and AdWords accounts

1. Log into your Google AdWords account.
2. Click on “Tools & Analysis” in the main menu and select “Google Analytics” from the drop down menu.
3. You will be shown a list of your Analytics profiles. Log in to the one you wish to link to this AdWords account.
4. Click the “Admin” button on the right side of the page.
5. Click on the “Remarketing Lists” link
6. Click the link button and select your profile.

Boom. Done. 🙂

2. Create a Remarketing List

First, a caveat: You’re going to want to have declared all of your goals in Google Analytics. Remarketing lists are way more powerful if you can attach them to goals.

Let’s take for example a band’s website. They sell CDs/digital downloads and they tour regularly.

They can setup two goals in Google Analytics. The first goal would be for users who went to the tour page and clicked on specific tour dates. The second goal would be for users who went to the music page and listened to at least one song. These goals can be setup in Google Analytics by tagging the tour dates and songs as events. Then when you define your goals, you set them to match these specific events.

Once that’s done, we can setup a remarketing list for each goal.

Why do we want to do that? Ah-ha! This is the secret sauce of remarketing. Not only can you market to people who have already been to your website before but you can serve different marketing messages to different segments of your users! In this example, that means that we can serve each list a different type of ad, based on whether they’re looking to see the band on tour or seem interested in listening to their music.

Now, let’s create the lists.

In the admin section of Google Analytics, click on the Remarketing tab and then the “New Remarketing List” button.

There are three things you need to do in order to create a remarketing list.

1. Define the type of remarketing

There are three options: You can track all visitors to the site, visitors who go to a specific page or section of the website, or visitors who complete one of your Analytics’ goals. The first two are self-explanatory. The third one is what fits our needs for the band website. If we’ve already created the Google Analytics goal(s) above, all we need to do is select them and we’re good to go.

2. Name the List

This is self-explanatory. This is for your own use. Try to resist making your name dick-themed.

3. List Duration

By default it’s set to 30 days. This number defines the number of days a person will be remarketed to with your advertising.

You can also estimate how much traffic you can expect to get to your list.

Make as many of these as you want.

3. Update the Analytics Code On Your Website

In order for your remarketing lists to work, they need to be able to track your visitors around the Internet. DoubleClick, which was bought by Google in 2007 for $3.1 billion in cash will be your partner in this crime. What we need to do is to switch out the google tracking cookie code with the DoubleClick tracking cookie.

In your code, you’ll see the following line:

ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘’;

You’ll have to replace it with this line:

ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://’ : ‘http://’) + ‘’;

This can be tricky if you’re using a plugin on your website to implement Analytics. In that case you’re going to have to update the plugin’s code. Otherwise, this is a straightforward swap out. Here are more details from Google, if you need them.

4. Update Your Privacy Policy

Since you’ve decided to engage in remarketing, you need to tell your visitors that you do this now. Also, you need to give them the opportunity to opt-out of all of Google’s remarketing efforts.

You have to do 5 things in your privacy policy. Read the official list here.

1. Disclose in your privacy policy which features of Google Analytics for Display Advertisers you use. Basically, tell the good people that you use remarketing.
2. Provide information to your visitors how they can opt out of Google Analytics for Display Advertisers and opt out of customized Google Display Network ads by visiting the Ads Preferences Manager. Google also encourages you to link to the Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on.
3. Explain how you’re using remarketing to advertise online.
4. How third-party vendors, including Google, show your ads on sites across the Internet.
5. How you and third-party vendors, including Google, use first-party cookies (such as the Google Analytics cookie) and third-party cookies (such as the DoubleClick cookie) together to inform, optimize, and serve ads based on someone’s past visits to your website.

Basic boiler plate language for this is:

This website uses Google AdWords, Google Analytics, and the Google Display Network together to serve ads to you on other websites after you’ve visited our website. This practice is known as remarketing and is a tool that Google offers to businesses. If you would like to know more about the program, you can do so here. But here are the basics: we, along with third-party vendors, Google and DoubleClick, use first-party cookies (such as the Google Analytics cookie) and third-party cookies (such as the DoubleClick cookie) together to inform, optimize, and serve ads based on your past visits to our website.

If you would like to opt-out of receiving advertising like this from Google, you can manage these settings by visiting the Google Ads Preferences Manager. Also, Google recommends installing the Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on.

5. Create an AdWords Remarketing Campaign

All that’s left now is to create your AdWords campaign and to link it to your remarketing lists. Now, I’m not going into the details of how to setup an AdWords campaign. But it’s important to know how to attach your remarketing list to your AdWords campaign.

Fortunately, this is really easy. All you have to do is login to your AdWords account. Then click on the “Campaigns” tab. Then create a new campaign. You’ll see the following screen.

Where it says “Type”, make sure “Display Network Only” is selected. This will give you the remarketing radio button you see above. And BOOM. That’s it! The rest comes down to setting up an AdWords campaign like usual.


The end result is an AdWords marketing campaign that targets people who are much more likely to buy from you than the random sample of people that ads from the Google Display Network typically attract. You stand to gain substantially with savvy use of remarketing.

It’s a smart move by Google to unite their products to make AdWords, and the Google Display Network suck less, for our gain.

It’s definitely worth trying.

7 comments on “Remarketing: How the Google AdWords Content Network Stopped Sucking So Bad (and Started Making You Money)

  1. Great article! Just retweeted it to 5786 people:) We sometimes struggle to get business leaders to understand the possibilities in a good remarketing campaign. Now I’ll just refer to your article.

    kind regards,

    Freddy Aurso
    Lighthouse8, Sydney Australia

    • That’s a good question. Off the top of my head, no. But I also see people who use AdBlock as doing me a favor. When they block the ad, they keep me from registering an impression so it doesn’t affect my CPM. If somebody wants to be that anti-knowledge and turn the ads off, then they’re probably not going to consume the advertising in the first place. It would be a wasted impression. Now, if you’re going to target the select group of folks who use AdBlock, banner ads are probably not the best way to do it. 🙂

      However, if you find a workaround, please let us know!

  2. Good article Ben. I’m thankful for the awareness that Google AdWords may bring to my company but the fact that it is a charge for click regardless of whether it brings about a sale is discouraging and sometimes feels as though it may not be the best use of money when it comes to advertising. People aren’t purchasing products from billboards anymore. They want to hear stories about how a product has benefitted someone they trust and want to hear the things they like about the product. That’s what separates OpinionAmp from other forms of online marketing I’ve used – it’s taking the opinions of real people that would never be heard otherwise and broadcasting/sharing those stories with other people

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