Why You Should Be Using Google Analytics Smart Lists For Remarketing

Are you using Smart Lists in your remarketing efforts? Columnist Rebekah Schelfhout believes you should consider doing so if you're not already.

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Almost to this date last year, I wrote a blog on the Periscopix website detailing what Google Analytics Smart Lists were.  These were introduced in April 2014, so I imagine you’ve heard of them by now. The question is, have you actually used them?

We’ve been doing some more testing of them at Periscopix, and the results look good.

A Recap On What Smart Lists Are

A Smart List is a type of remarketing list that Google creates for you based on your conversion data in Google Analytics. Using machine learning, Google looks through this data for indications that a user is likely to convert on a subsequent visit to your site.

Signals like location, device, browser, referrer, and more are analysed daily, and the list is then updated to include users who show characteristics of those with a higher propensity to convert.

Criteria For Setting Up Smart Lists

You need to have adjusted your Google Analytics code to enable remarketing and advertising reporting features as per instructions here.  You also need to have at least:

  • 10,000 daily pageviews on your site
  • 500 monthly transactions

If you don’t have enough data, then Google will look at businesses that are similar to your own and generate your list based on signals from their data. The list will work better if it’s made using your own data, but it’s still worth testing this list out even if you know it won’t be based on your own signals.

The Results

We set up Smart Lists for a retail client of ours selling high-end items. Image and text ads were split out into separate ad groups, and the other 13 lists that were set up were a mixture of AdWords URL targeted lists and Google Analytics remarketing lists such as “10 minutes on site and no purchase.” A sample of metrics can be seen below from the trial that started mid-March.

Results 1

As expected, Smart Lists are proving to generate a higher ROI than the other lists. They also have a higher relative CTR than other ad groups.

It’s interesting to note here that the text ads are outperforming the image ads despite the image ads being of a high quality. I would speculate here that the text ads are caching more engaged users who are taking the time to spot and read the ads rather than just seeing something that is eye catching and clicking through.

We also set these up for a top-end high street fashion client, and the data below is for a 30-day period.

results 2

Though this is a smaller data set, results are looking much better for the Smart List audience. This time, image ads are working better than text ads, so I haven’t been able to distinguish a key trend yet with which ad type works better. As you can imagine, differences in performance can vary due to many factors.

How To Set Them Up

In Google Analytics, select the “Admin” tab at the top. Then, under “Property,” you’ll see an option for “Remarketing.” Click that, then click on “Audiences.”


Select to create a new audience using the red button, then select the account you want to set this up for.

Step 2

If you select Smart List, you’ll then be able to see roughly how many users you’ve had pass through that site over the last 7 days. This will help you when determining your membership duration, as you need to make sure you’ve got at least 10,000 users in the list for it to use your own data.

Step 3

Add an audience name and hit “Save,” and you’re done! This list will then appear in your AdWords shared library, and you can use it in any of your Google display remarketing campaigns.

Why To Use Them

It can be complicated to research into and set up so many Remarketing Audiences in Google Analytics. In addition, factors change often that may influence a purchase — for example, seasonality and time of the month can play a major part in the purchase process and cycle.

Smart Lists remove the need to keep re-evaluating your remarketing lists, as they dynamically update based on the latest criteria that has shown to lead to a conversion. If you’re new to Google Analytics remarketing, this is probably the best place for you to start!

I’d love to hear any feedback on your experiences with Google Analytics Smart Lists in the comments.

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About the author

Rebekah Schelfhout
Rebekah Schelfhout is Associate Head of PPC at UK based paid media agency Periscopix, a Merkle Company. In her six years at the company, she has acquired specialist knowledge across both the AdWords and Bing/Yahoo platforms. She has managed accounts across a range of sectors with specializations in retail and e-commerce and currently manages a division of search account managers. Rebekah was announced as the 30th most influential person in search in the UK in The Drum Search Top 50 2014, was nominated for Women in Search 2015, and has spoken at SMX London, SMX East & Internet World as well as being a regular contributor to the Search Engine Land blog.

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