Allow me to lead with some results…
We ran an AdWords test and the Google Smart List outperformed our manually created list. And not by a little — by a lot.
The Google Smart List made $41.58 more per click on (on average) than the human generated Audience #2. Those are staggering results!
Ok, what the heck is Google Smart List?
I’ll get to the Google Smart List in a sec, but first you need to understand Google remarketing ads.
Remarketing is Google’s fancy name for retargeting. These are the ads that seem to follow you around the web.
Let’s look at an example…
Let’s say someone enters your website looking for “dress shoes.” They look around at the all shoe options, but they don’t convert. If fact, about 97% of your visitors don’t convert. You can set up a remarketing campaign to target “people who looked at dress shoes but didn’t convert” in an effort to bring customers back to your website and drive sales. These shoe ads can be set up to show to people across all of Google’s network.
In other words, remarketing is a clever way to show ads to past website visitors based on a set of criteria such as the page they visited, the amount of time they spent on the website, etc.
But it’s that whole “set of criteria” thing that scares people.
What criteria should you choose?
Enter Google Smart List
A Smart List is a remarketing audience that is built by Google using a lot website signals.
That’s why I call it the “Remarketing Easy Button.” Google does all the work.
Here’s how Google explains it:
“Smart Lists are built using machine learning across the millions of Google Analytics websites which have opted in to share anonymized conversion data, using dozens of signals like visit duration, page depth, location, device, referrer, and browser to predict which of your users are most likely to convert during a later visit.”
Google relies on historical conversion data from businesses to generate an audience of users that are most likely to convert during subsequent sessions. By remarketing to this audience, your business can optimize your marketing budget based on the users closest to converting.
Sounds like a winner!
What are the Requirements to Use Google Smart List?
Anyone can use Google Smart List.
It just works a bit different based on your circumstances…
- In order to fully maximize the capabilities of a Smart List there needs to be enough website data for Google optimize. How much is enough data? They ask that your website generate at least 500 monthly ecommerce transactions and 10,000 daily pageviews.
- If your website doesn’t get that kind of traffic or conversions then your Smart List is generated from conversion data of similar businesses. This means you can still create a Smart List, but it include other business’s data in additional to yours.
- Lastly, you will need to have a Google AdWords account that is linked to Google Analytics.
So… who should use Google Smart List?
Consider using a Google Smart List if you are…
- New to Remarketing – if your business has never run a remarketing campaign in AdWords then opting for the Smart List makes perfect sense.
- Looking for a quick win – let’s say you have run remarketing campaigns in the past, but didn’t have much success. You might just be looking for a quick to win to impress your boss, client or coworker. Whatever your motive, a Smart List is a great way
- Not Sure How to Set Up Remarketing in GA – setting up sophisticated remarketing lists in Google Analytics can be daunting if you have never done it before. Creating custom segments to remarket your products requires an intimate knowledge of GA interface and a really well thought out strategy. if you don’t the have time or the technical chops then stick with the Smart List.
- Not sure who your audience is – Understanding your audience is tricky. Many clients have told me all about their customers only to have the data show us something completely different. If you’re not sure about your audience then let Google optimize and target customers who are more likely to convert.
- Someone that loves to test new things – if your company loves to experiment with new features or test new platforms to see what works then give this try. You just may see excellent results.
Why wouldn’t I use Google Smart List?
Frankly, a Google Smart List may not be a good choice for your business. Below are a few reasons I have heard.
- You are a control freak – Google Smart List is anonymous. You don’t know who or which audience they’re targeting to show your ads. All we know is that they’re choosing website users who are more likely to convert. If you’re a control freak and need to know the exact criteria that Google is targeting then skip the Smart List. It’s not for you.
- If your current remarketing campaigns don’t need improving – I’m going to go out on a limb here and say they can always be better. It doesn’t matter how well they’re performing there’s always something to test or worth trying.
- You KNOW your audience – if you have a solid understanding of how your audience is moving across your website and what offer to put in front of them at the right moment then stick to what you’re doing.
- You don’t get much traffic or conversions – like the previous point, if you’re not getting the traffic or conversion volume then you may not see great results, because there’s just not enough data. This is particularly true for new or niche websites.
How to Set Up a Google Smart List
If you think setting up a Smart List could be a good option for your business then follow these steps to get started.
- Go to your admin panel in Google Analytics
- In the middle column (Property) scroll down to Remarketing – Click on Audiences
- Click on New Audience
- Pick your website view and AdWords account
- You will see Smart List at the top of the recommend audiences
- Select your membership duration (30 days is the default) and name it
- Now the next time in your AdWords you should see this list
Where can I place Google Smart List ads?
Google’s Smart List is only compatible on the Google Display Network.
The good news is the Display Network is huge!
The Display Network is a collection of more than 1 million websites, smartphone apps, videos and blogs, and provides the opportunity to reach 90% of all Internet users worldwide.
And yes — it does include Gmail and YouTube.
What this means is you can create a remarketing campaign that reaches your target audience across the Internet. Choose how people interact with your ads by showing them as images, videos or text, and make sure to align your messaging appropriately.
Case Study: Google Smart List
What does this campaign look like in practice? Does the audience list actually work?
A few weeks ago, I set up a Smart List for Digital Marketer. Just to be clear, their remarketing campaigns are performing really well. They know their audience, and they have a team that can navigate Google Analytics extremely well.
But Digital Marketer loves to test and experiment with new features — so we set one up as an experiment.
On September 10th, we launched a remarketing campaign targeting Digital Marketer’s Google Smart List with the goal of selling Ryan’s book the Invisible Selling Machine.
The results were incredible!
In the month of September, Digital Marketer spent $1206.65 on clicks and has brought in an astonishing $22,494. That’s huge ROI and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS).
Here are the results…
The image version of this ad resulted in a 17.33% conversion rate on 277 clicks and brought in a whopping $20,489 in revenue.
This is what that ad looked like…
In contrast, the text ad didn’t perform as well with only a 7.14% conversion rate on 154 clicks and only $2005 in revenue.
Here’s what it looked like…
But, the real question is…
… how would Google’s Smart List measure up against our manually built remarketing lists?
I mean… surely my ability to build a remarketing list will trump the Googlebot! Right?
Well… not exactly.
Below are the results for the same ads targeting three separate audiences – two human generated audiences verses one computer generated audience.
The manually created Audience #2 beat the Google Smart List in some areas with…
- 15% more conversions
- 5% cheaper CPC
- 33% more clicks
- 30% more view-through conversions (it happens when someone converts after an impression)
But the Google Smart List beat my manually generated list in the following areas…
- 16% better conversion rate
- Spent 21% less
- 9% decrease in cost/conversion
- 269% increase in total conversion value
Moreover, the best metric to determine the better performer is Revenue Per Click (RPC). This is where the Google Smart List really shines!
The Smart List made $41.58 more per click on (on average) than the human generated Audience #2. Those are staggering results!
It appears that Google is very good at knowing your audience. With this data, I would argue not only do they know your audience, but they also know who is more likely to convert.
Bravo, Google. Bravo.
Can I Scale a Google Smart List Campaign?
So the Google Smart List is pretty smart. But if this strategy works so well why try anything else? Just switch over to the Smart List entirely and let Google handle the nitty gritty of audience targeting.
The answer is tied to scalability.
Google Smart List is an incredibly powerful way to segment your audience, but it does have a performance cap. The algorithm that creates this list looks at dozens of factors, each one shrinking the size of your potential audience.
Currently, Digital Marketer’s Smart List is composed of just 31,000 people and in its lifetime has consistently hovered around 30,000. That’s only 6.9% of the visitors hitting our site monthly, and 0.6% of our annual visitors.
In contrast, audience #2 from the above comparison varied between 50k-100k and refreshed the audience at a much faster rate (since the requirements to be included in this segment were less stringent). The custom audience more than doubled the potential reach, while performing well in its own right.
We’ve also seen that Smart List performance drops over time. After 6 weeks, the Google Smart List conversion rate for the Invisible Selling Machine offer dropped noticeably below that of our custom created audience. To combat this list fatigue, we stopped serving the Smart List ads about the book, and picked a new product to serve to this list.
The best advice if you want to get started today is to take your strongest offer and supplement your remarketing efforts (or start your first campaign) with the Google Smart List. Once you get this started, refresh the offer you make to this list every month or two to keep what you’re showing them fresh and engaging.
You’ll find that the Google Smart List can help you increase the return of your AdWords efforts and help you maximize the performance of a specific campaign for a short period of time.
What do you think about Google Smart List? Are you going set it up? Have you used it before? What results have seen with it?
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