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Digital Advertising

How To Use YouTube Advertising To Build Your Search Remarketing List

admin | Dec 1, 2016

Update January 2018:
Since this article was published, Google has allowed YouTube audiences to be used for Remarketing List for Search Ads (RLSA). Learn more in our blog post about RLSA »
YouTube remarketing doesn't always work on mobile devices

Warning: Some YouTube remarketing lists don’t work the way you expect them to when viewers are on mobile devices.

YouTube has an awesome feature that lets you create audiences that you can then use for remarketing in Google AdWords, including within search campaigns (through RLSA, or remarketing lists for search ads).

Search Remarketing Through YouTube

The potential here is great: You can begin by targeting users on YouTube (where the cost may be 5 or 10 cents per view), and then retarget those users who watched your video on YouTube when they’re doing a search on Google (where the cost per click is often 100 times the cost per view on YouTube). By the time the users see your ad in Google search results, they’ve already had an exposure to your brand (by viewing your video ad) and pre-qualified themselves (by having chosen to watch at least 30 seconds of that video ad).

Using YouTube advertising to build your Google search remarketing list is a cool tactic with lots of potential. When we tried it, our expectation was that it would work in a straightforward manner.

Here’s how you’d expect it to work:

  1. You run a YouTube video campaign in AdWords
  2. You create any kind of YouTube remarketing list in Google AdWords (under Shared Library > Audiences):
    Create YouTube remarketing list in AdWords audiences
  3. You go into any ad group in an AdWords search campaign and add that YouTube remarketing list:
    Add YouTube remarketing list to a search campaign
  4. You profit.

Instead, what happens is this:

  • You complete steps #1 through #3 above
  • You pay for a bunch of YouTube video advertising
  • Less than 3% of users who viewed your YouTube video ad get added to your YouTube remarketing list (in our case, it was 0.3%)
  • You try to figure out what’s going on and come up empty

We ran YouTube ads that drew 13,960 views. Exactly 48 of those viewers were added to our YouTube remarketing list.

We called Google AdWords support. Why wasn’t our remarketing list growing? We scoured the Internet. (Google doesn’t have a help topic article about this question. No one else was talking about it.) We banged our heads against the wall. None of that yielded anything, until finally AdWords support escalated the issue to an engineer at a high enough level to get an explanation.


What We Missed That You Might Be Missing Too

  • Only specific types of YouTube remarketing lists work with search remarketing
    The only viewing-based list type is Visited a channel page. The others are action-based: liked a video, subscribed to my channel, commented on a video, and shared a video. (And these lists still have to reach 1,000 members before they’re eligible for use in search remarketing.) Every other YouTube remarketing list type is only eligible for use on the display network and on YouTube itself.Viewed any channel page YouTube remarketing list audience
  • YouTube users are added to your audience only when they’ve visited a page on your YouTube channel
    An individual video’s own page does not count. Thus, in order to build a YouTube audience for use with RLSA, you can only use the video discovery ad format (not the in-stream or “bumper” ad format), and you must select “My channel page on YouTube” as the landing page:
    Video discovery ad landing page setting
  • YouTube users will only be sent to your channel page if they’re in a browser—not in the YouTube app on a mobile device
    This was the piece that took the longest to pin down. It means that in your video discovery ad group, you must stop the ads from appearing on mobile devices and tablets. Go under Settings > Devices set a full negative bid adjustment (decrease by 100%) on “mobile devices with full browsers” and “tablets with full browsers.”
    Mobile device bid adjustment in Youtube ad group
    Please note that a small percentage of mobile device users view YouTube videos in their device’s web browser (by visiting m.youtube.com) instead of in an app, and those users can be sent to a channel page. For now, we are willing to pass on those users in order to avoid showing ads within mobile apps—where users cannot be added to our search remarketing audience.
  • Also: Interest-based ads must be enabled on your YouTube channel
    When logged in to YouTube, go to Creator Studio > Channel > Advanced and make sure “Disable interest-based ads” is unchecked. If that box is checked, as the instructions state, “remarketing lists will stop working for your channel.”
    Youtube disable interest-based ads setting

Remember that with audiences in a search ad group, you have the option to “bid only” or to “target and bid.” If you want to show up in search only to people who have viewed one of your YouTube videos, be sure to select “target and bid.”

Once you’ve put all these settings in place, the campaigns will work as you might have expected them to work.