AdWords Display Remarketing Setup Best Practice for e-Commerce

The key to setup a performing ROI based display remarketing campaign is to properly segment your audiences and ad groups.

Basic Theory

  1. The deeper a user is in your sales funnel, the more likely he is to buy. A shopping cart abandoner is more likely to buy than someone who simply browsed your homepage.
  2. The more recent the user’s visit, the more likely he is to buy. A user who abandoned his shopping cart yesterday is more likely to buy than someone who abandoned their cart 10 days ago.
  3. The more likely a user is to buy, the more you want to bid on that user.
  4. The 80 / 20 rule applies. Roughly 80% of your remarketing sales will come from your cart abandoners. 16% will come from your product viewers. And the remaining 4% will come from general site browsers.


Here are the initial audiences to create. If you have a high volume site you may want to add additional audiences with more granular time periods.  Remember that the more granular you make something, the more traffic you need to make the stats significant.

  • Cart Abandoners – 1 day
  • Cart Abandoners – 4 day
  • Product Viewers – 7 day
  • Product Viewers – 28 day

Properly Defining your Audiences

It is important that your audiences do not overlap. (It is ok if the time scales overlap, but not cart abandoners and product viewers). There are 2 ways to set this up.

  1. When you define your audience, make sure you exclude necessary audiences. Exclude purchasers from Cart Abandoners; exclude cart abandoners and purchasers from product viewers.
  2. Create base audiences like “Purchased”, “Added to Cart” and “Viewed Product” and then EXCLUDE the audiences at the ad group level. “Added to Cart” minus “Purchase == Cart Abandoner; Viewed product minus Cart Abandoner == Product Viewers.

Campaign Setup

Create one campaign per major market you are targeting, and give them a descriptive name:

  • USA: Display Remarketing
  • Canada: Display Remarketing

Generally, but not always, you will want a separate campaign for every unique currency and language you are targeting.

Core AdGroups

Creating only these two ad groups will generate 90% of your display remarketing conversions . I highly recommend you start with only these two. Only add more groups (described later) if the extra 10% in remarketing sales will justify the extra administrative complexity.

1. Cart Abandoners

This ad group will target cart abandoners: Visitors who added a product to their cart but never purchased. Dynamic Product ads perform particularly well with cart abandonment, as your visitors are shown the exact products that they added to their cart.


  • Cart Abandoners – 1 day
  • Cart Abandoners – 4 day

2. Product Viewers

This ad group will target users who visited a product details page but who never added a product to their cart.


  • Product Viewers – 7 day
  • Product Viewers – 28 day

Optional Ad Groups

Here are additional remarketing ad groups and audiences. In my experience, most conversions come from the two core ad groups identified above (Cart Abandoners and Product Viewers) but you may have a different experience depending on your business.

Just Purchased

This will show ads to people who have just purchased. This is a good place to possibly push micro conversions such as joining a loyalty program, joining a community, etc… Or perhaps up-selling them another related product?


  • Purchase 7 days

Past Customers

This is similar to the “Just Purchased” ad group, but with a longer time window. This will show ads to people that have previously purchased a product 30 or more days ago. This is a good place to advertise new product launches or promotions.


  • Purchase 30 days
  • Purchase 90 days
  • Purchase 360 days

Never Purchased

This is the opposite of the “Past Customers” group. These are people who visited your site in the past year, but have never purchased. This is also a good place to advertise new product launches or promotions.


  • Site Visitors 30 days
  • Site Visitors 90 days
  • Site Visitors 360 days

Exclude Audience

  • Purchase 360 days

New Customers, Brand Unaware

This isn’t really remarketing, but simple display advertising: These are people who have never visited your site. Your remarketing audiences are EXCLUDED so that you are only targeting people who are unaware of your product or brand. You are arguably willing to pay more for each customer as they are new customers, but this will be your worst performing segment. You can waste a lot of money here, so be careful.


  • Combination of keyword, interest, topic, and placement targeting relevant to your product and brand.

Exclude Audience:

  • Site Visitors 360 days


Other Tips

Exclude “low quality” visitors

You will have to create these audience groups within Google Analytics, and then exclude them from all your remarketing campaigns:

  • Exclude people who have bounced
  • Exclude people who have spent less than ten seconds on the site

Frequency Capping

Most resources online will tell you to limit your frequency cap to about 20 times per user per month, but I suspect this is wrong. That means a user will be exposed to your ad once every other day or so, with no guarantee that he actually noticed it.

I normally set the frequency capping to 20 times per user PER DAY. If you think of how many web pages you visit in a day, 20 ads will be gone fairly quickly and you will probably miss most of them. Add in that for cart abandonment ads you really want to hit the abandoners hard within the first 24 hours, I think the 20 impressions per day is the safer bet.

But the true answer will vary based on your business, product, and customers.

A word about View Through Conversions

View Through Conversions are conversions where a display ad appeared on the screen, was NOT clicked, but the user ended up purchasing on your site sometime later. In general I recommend that everyone IGNORE View Through Conversions, in particular in remarketing campaigns.

What usually happens, is that an ad is displayed on screen, the visitor may not even see it, but clicks instead on a cart-abandonment e-mail and makes the purchase. AdWords will credit that conversion to the view through.

The one exception is for “brand unaware” customers. These are customers that have never visited your website before. If such a customer sees you ad, and purchases, then the odds are better that it was a result of your ad.

In an ideal world, there would be a simple way to test the value of your view-through-conversions, as they are different for every segment, and every business.

Other Resources

Google Display Network & Extended Keyword Match


  • Keyword Targeting on the Display network does not behave the same way as on  the Search network. Because of “Extended Keyword Match” your ads WILL display on pages that DO NOT contain your keywords. In particular for low volume keywords. Even when using phrase or exact match.
  • Pausing / Un-Pausing an AdWords Campaign triggers a Reset or Recalibration which may cause the campaign to behave differently than it did before the pause.

Targeting our Brand Name:
Are we Getting what we Paid for?

We recently noticed something strange with one of our AdWords Display campaigns. The Ad Group was exclusively using Keyword targeting on a phrase matched keyword: Our Brand name. Although it was a low volume Ad Group, the goal was to display our ads on any pages with a mention of our Brand.

Is Pausing and Unpausing Campaigns Safe?

Pausing a Campaign or Ad Group feels pretty safe — after all you are not actually changing anything, just taking a little break. This was our attitude when we decided to pause our campaign for a few hours one day. However, when we unpaused a few hours later the campaign volume suddenly shot up 100x (as did our costs). Nothing had changed with how the campaign was setup. The only factor at play was the pausing and then unpausing of the campaign.


Impressions and Ad Spend over the last 2 weeks of September. The large hump started when we paused and then un-paused our campaigns.

Extended Keyword Match?
But we’re “Phrase” Matching!

When we took a closer look at what was going on we quickly realized that our ads were showing on sites that clearly DID NOT have our Brand name mentioned. We first double checked that we had the setting “Let AdWords automatically find new customers” turned off, and it was. We then dug deeper and discovered that almost 100% of our ad impressions were triggered due to “Extended Keyword Match”.

Extended keyword match is when the placement was relevant to the keywords you chose and other factors, including pages a person seeing your ad has recently browsed.

You can see what percentage of your impressions are coming from this “Extended Keyword Match” by going to: Display > Placements > Segment > Targeting Mode


Almost 100% of our impressions were due to “Extended Keyword Match”

We did NOT generate any conversions from these extended keyword matches. The goal of this Campaign was to display an ad on pages that mentioned our Brand. Instead we were having ads displayed due to “other factors including pages a person seeing your ad has recently browsed” — this clearly was not aligned with our goals.

Happily, Google was in agreement and quickly issued a full credit for the extra amount spent (which may hint that this is a bug or unexplored edge case of some sort).  On a side note, the AdWords inbound customer service was wonderful, friendly, and exceptional — one of the best customer service experiences I’ve had in a long time.


  • Be careful when pausing / unpausing campaigns. This causes some sort of “reset” of statistics in the AdWords backend and causes the campaign start re-calibrating itself. Monitor the campaign for a few days after the unpause to ensure if is behaving as expected.
  • Avoid exclusively using keyword match types in display campaigns. In particular for keywords with very low search volume. Having a campaign targeting your Brand name does not appear to be a viable option as of this writing.
  • Monitor what percentage of impressions are coming from Extended Keyword Match. Consider excluding those placements that are delivering a relatively high volume of “Extended Keyword Match” impressions.

More Reading…

The Value of View Through Conversions

If you are running a Display or Retargeting campaign you have probably been exposed to View Through Conversions (VTC): View Through Conversions are conversions where a customer saw — but did not click — a display ad on the display network before completing a conversionThere is a lot of debate on if you should count View Through Conversions or ignore them. How can you be sure they legitimately assisted in the conversion?

A/B Testing vs a Blank Ad

Display Network A/B Test

  1. Create 2 different but equal non-overlapping campaigns
    (If you use AdRoll your rep will be happy to set this up for you)
  2. Campaign A will serve your “normal” ad
    Campaign B will serve a Public Service Announcement ad (in our case it was an ad for the SPCA)
  3. Run both campaigns for a few weeks
  4. Do the math:

Valid VTC Formula

Real Life Example

Campaign A
[Default Ad]
Campaign B
[Blank Ad]
Impressions 99,467 97,412
VTCs 329 261

Valid VTCs = (329 – 261) / 329 = 20%

This means that only 1 in 5 View Throughs actually assisted with conversions — the other 80% had no effect and should be ignored. These results are specific to — your results will vary depending on your business and ad creative.