Getting Started with Google Analytics Remarketing

Google Analytics Remarketing

Digital analytics is all about finding insights and making changes to your business. One of the easiest changes to make is to optimize your digital marketing based on things like bounce rate the performance of your campaigns. But there’s an awesome way to use your Google Analytics data to create new marketing campaigns specifically targeted to the needs of your customers. It’s called Google Analytics Remarketing.

I really like this feature because you can take action on your data directly from Google Analytics. And, what’s even better, you can make marketing changes based on the real behavior, of real people, on your site.

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

What is Google Analytics Remarketing?

GA Remarketing is a way to reach an audience using the Google Display Network. The magic is that you define that audience based on people’s behavior on your website.

Here’s how it works.

1. You segment your website users in Google Analytics based on some behavior. This can be anything from looking at a page on the site to buying a certain product.

2. You create a remarketing list in Google AdWords based on the segment that you created. In reality, the list of users is automatically sent from Google Analytics to Google AdWords as long as the list has at least 100 users.

3. You create and run campaigns for users that are on the remarketing list using Google AdWords. The campaign can have it’s own creative that specifically targets the behaviors of people on the list. Your remarketing messages won’t be shown to people who are not on the list.

A few really common remarketing examples include:

* If you’re a publisher, creating a list of users that viewed a certain piece of content
* If you’re ecommerce, creating a list of users that bought a certain product

Setting up Google Analytics Remarketing

You don’t need to do a lot of configuration to get remarketing up and running.

First, you need to make sure you’re Google AdWords account is linked to your Google Analytics account. The reason is that your remarketing list will be automatically added to your Google AdWords account. If there is no link between your accounts – well you get the idea.

Second, you need to change the JavaScript library in your Google Analytics page tag. Here’s how the standard Google Analytics page tag looks. Notice the part in BOLD, this is the ga.js library that holds all of the functionality for the tracking:

< script type="text/javascript" >

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-91817-11′]);

(function() {
var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript'; ga.async = true;
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘‘;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);

< /script >

Now, here’s how the code should look after it’s been changed for remarketing. Notice that the JavaScript library has changed from ga.js to dc.js and is served by a different domain.

< script type="text/javascript" >

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-91817-11′]);

(function() {
var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript'; ga.async = true;
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://’ : ‘http://’) + ‘‘;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);

< /script >

The dc.js library holds all of the logic of ga.js, in addition to some special functionality just for remarketing. The data is still sent to Google via an image request. And Google Analytics still uses a first party cookie to track the visitor.

The only difference is you enable Google Analytics to collect its normal information as well as the DoubleClick cookie.

You don’t need to change any of your event tracking code, custom variables or ecommerce tracking. All of that functionality stays the same.

Finally, you must update the privacy policy on your site. This is really important, we all need to keep users updated to how the web works and how we use it as a business. You must change your privacy policy to include:

  • How you’re using remarketing to advertise across the web
  • How third-party vendors, like Google, show your ads online
  • How you and third-party vendors, like Google, use first-party cookies (like the Google Analytics cookie) and third-party cookies (like the DoubleClick cookie) together to inform, optimize, and serve ads based on someone’s past visits to your website

Check the Google Analytics help center for more information about the privacy policy requirement for Remarketing.

Once you’ve got all of this set up it’s time to start creating a remarketing list!

Creating a Google Analytics Remarketing List

This is actually pretty easy.

Navigate to the Rearketing List tab of the Admin Section and click New Remarketing List.

CreateGoogle Analytics Remarketing Lists

You can create a Google Analytics remarketing list from within the admin section.

The first thing you’ll need to choose is which profile this remarketing list should be attached to. This is really important because profile filters will affect the data. Ideally you’ll use a profile that only includes your customers and not internal employees.

Google Analytics Remarketing List Profiles

You must choose a Google Analytics profile as the source data for your Remarketing List.

You’ll notice that there are some default marketing list types to get you started. You could choose to create a list of user that saw a specific page (by specifying a page URI), a list of users that completed an existing goal (by choosing the goal from a drop down) or you can create your own custom list (more on this later).

For example, we might want to create a remarketing list around all of the people that viewed the Factory Tours page. Perhaps we want to target that group of users with information about why they should visit our factory! Just choose the appropriate list type and enter that page URL in the field.

Remarketing List For Users Viewing a Page

To create a remarketing list based on users viewing a page, just click the correct radio button and enter a page URL.

You’ll also need to specify how long a user will be part of this list. The default is 30 days, but you should adjust this based on the activity you expect from the user.

Google Analytics Remarketing List Duration

You can specify how long a user remains part of a remarketing list. Make sure it aligns with your campaign objectives.

For example, if you’re creating a remarketing list around some date-specific event, like a holiday, make sure that the remarketing list will expire after the holiday.

If the remarketing list is based on long-term user behavior, like ownership of a certain product, you might want to extend the duration longer.

The maximum time that someone can be on a list is 540 days.

NOTE: that the duration will be extended forward every time the user visits the site and qualifies for the list. So, if I’m part of the Sports Enthusiasts list because I read sports content, and I view sports content every day, my inclusion on the list will be extended every time I visit the site.

Once you’ve set your condition it time to view how many users meet the criteria. Click the Get Estimate number and Google Analytics will return the number of users that meet your condition.

Get the number of users in a remarketing list

Get the number of users in your Google Analytics remarketing list. Remember, you need at least 100 users in the list.

Remember a remarketing list must have at least 100 users.

That’s it. Just click save and the remarketing list will be saved to your AdWords account.

Creating a Custom Google Analytics Remarketing List

Let’s look at how to create a custom list based on our own user segment.

Segments are created using filters. No, not profile filters. User filters. There are two kinds of filters: Dimension & Metric filters and Sequence Filters.

There are two types of Google Analytics Remarketing Filters

There are two types of Google Analytics Remarketing Filters: Dimension & Metrics filters and Sequence Filters.

A Dimension and Metric filter is just list a standard Advanced Segment. You choose a combination of dimensions and metrics and Google Analytics will fiter the data and create a remarketing list based on the users that meet your criteria. Remember, this is real, user segmentation, not visit level segmentaiton like the regular Advanced Segments in Google Analytics.

A Google Analytics Remarketing Dimension & Metric Filter

Google Analytics Remarketing Dimension & Metric Filters are very similar to Advanced Segments.

Dimension and Metric filters are applied at the user level, regardless of time. So if you create a segment based on Revenue, it would be Revenue for the user over all time.

Sequence filters are almost the same. The biggest difference is that you can create conditions that must happen in sequence. You still specify dimensions and metics, but now you connect your conditions in a time sequence. This is the type of filter to use if you want to create a remarketing list of people who abandoned your shopping cart.

Google Analytics Remarketing Sequence Filter

When you create a Google Analytics Remarketing Sequence Filter you must specify that your conditions happen in a certain order.

It’s really important to understand that the Sequence Filters apply to user actions that occurred any time in the 7 days prior to the current visit. It’s not applied to any time in the past. There is a limit.

When you add multiple filters to a visitor segment Google Analytics adds an AND condition to the filters. This means that all of the filter conditions must be met in order for a user to be in the segment.

Google Analytics Remarketing list with multiple filters

You can apply multiple filters to a user segment.

That’s all there is to creating a custom remarketing list. Don’t forget you need to choose a profile, set a duration and make sure that you have at least 100 users in the segment.

Some Remarketing List Ideas

So what remarketing lists should you create? That’s fodder for another post. But here are some quick ideas:


  • User who view a certain category of content. Create campaigns based on the same content or similar content.
  • Interested in Membership. Does your site offer membership? Create a list of users that looked at membership benefits page but did not sign up for membership.
  • High-value users: Create a segment of users that spend a lot of time on your site and


  • High-value customers: Create a segment based on the customer’s total lifetime revenue.
  • Product buyers: Create a segment based on the customers that purchased a certain product and market accessories for that product to them.
  • Brick & Mortar Visitors: Create a list of people who view information about your store(s) and create campaigns around incentives to visit the store.

Love Remarketing? Hate Remarketing? Post your thoughts below.

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    1. says

      Thanks a lot Justin!
      I noticed that also ‘https://ssl’ becomes ‘https://’ with the doubleclick code, I don’t know if it matters but that might create confusion if your readers copy/paste the change of .js in bold without changing this part as well.

      I was wondering though, why would we implement a specific js when we need remarketing, why not have this by default in ga.js? Is this a weight/performance issue? Because otherwise, that would be much more practical (and cost-effective), for instance I wouldn’t need to retag any site for remarketing purposes!

    2. Maggie says

      Hey Justin, thanks for the post. Can you share your thoughts on using the doubleclick cookie which is blocked by ad-blocking softwares? What happens to the GA data? Is it gathered and processed as usual or it gets blocked as well?

      • says

        @Maggie: Nothing changes from a Google Analytics data perspective. You still get all the same data. The product will still work the exact same way.

        As mentioned in another comment, some ad-blocking programs do block the DoubleClick domain. However, this will not completely stop your Google Analytics tracking. I think each business needs to know two things:

        1. What is the impact on my data
        2. Is the change in data worth the benefit of using this feature

        Thanks for the question,


    3. says domain is blocked by popular adblock browser plugin. If you change your ga.js source as, you can not track your users that has ad block plugins. Maybe you can consider this, but I couldn’t.

      • says

        @Murat: Yes, some ad-blocking programs do block the DoubleClick domain. However, this will not completely stop your Google Analytics tracking. I’ve been working with a number of clients implementing Remarketing with Google Analytics and we’ve seen almost no impact in the data. I want to stress, that it may be different for your audience. But I think each business needs to know two things:

        1. What is the impact on my data
        2. Is the change in data worth the benefit of using this feature.

        Thanks for the comment,


    4. says

      Great post to get me started on our first effort here.

      1) What happens when you have more than one remarketing list associated to campaigns, and a visitor qualifies for two or more of them? Are they bouncing between all the campaigns they associate with or can you set prioritization of the campaigns – meaning if they qualify for this one, put them there, if not, put them over here?
      2) I’m wondering because I figure I could set a blanket list as a catch-all with very generic ad content, but if I set up a more refined list, I’d know more about these people and where they were in our pipeline to send a more appropriate ad message. Furthermore, I’d be able to evaluate the effectiveness of remarketing on these various audiences and maybe shut some campaigns down if they’re losers (which a blanket, catch-all strategy might be!). Is that a good approach?


      • says


        1. If you create multiple campaigns for a single Google Analytics remarketing list, users on the list will see both campaigns.

        2. The best approach is to create a remarketing list in Google Analytics based on real, user behavior – you mention this in your comment. Segment based on user actions and their location in your pipeline, then create advertising that is relevant to that group. Remarketing is really a good way to put the right message in front of the right person at the right time.

        Hope that helps!

    5. says

      I have recently updated to Google Analytics Universal (beta) and was wondering if changing the code to ‘‘ would affect the implementation! Would highly appreciate your feedback.

    6. iselatorres says

      Am I missing something here? I don’t understand what the difference is between GA remarketing and the remarketing lists that are built in AdWords.

      Someone please explain.

      • says

        @iselatorres The big difference is that Remarketing with Google Analytics is based on any action that the a user takes on your site. You can identify these actions using all of the tools in Google Analytics, which are much more powerful than those in AdWords. You can do true user segmentation in Google Analytics which can help you remarket to existing customers.

    7. javier says

      Hi Justin, Thanks a lot for the tutorial. Really useful.

      I’m reading from Google Support: “You cannot change the name, membership duration, or AdWords account associated with a list. If you need to change any of these, you need to create a new list”

      Is there a way to delete / rename a remarketing list within g. analytics?

      If I have a mispelling do I have to leave that list like that for ever?

      Thanks and congrats!

      • says

        @Javier: Unfortunately, right now, if you need to make a change then you need to recreate the list in Google Analytics. I know it’s a pain, but that’s the way it works now. Hopefully it will becomes much more flexible in the future.


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