RLSA Strategies for Competitor Bidding

Combining Competitor Bidding And RLSA

Author Jon Quinton 5 min read time

Bidding on competitor terms – is it worth doing?

As with everything in PPC, the honest answer is ‘it depends’. Over the past couple of weeks there’s been quite a lot of debate on the topic, with strong feelings on both sides of the camp.

The downsides are fairly strong; increased cpc’s on your own brand traffic as your competitors respond by bidding on your own brand terms, potentially sticky trademark issues and challenges with your own brand perception.

That being said, the upsides can also be pretty good. Get the strategy right and you can reap the rewards of great conversion rates, stealing precious market share away from your competitors.

This post isn’t a ‘right or wrong’ debate on the topic, but more so looking at a specific tactic that could help you to refine the strategy.

For those unfamiliar with RLSA (retargeting lists for search ads), the premise is simple – only bid on a set of keywords when someone has taken a key action such as visit your website, viewed a case study, added a product to their cart and so on.

This makes RLSA the perfect tool for interrupting a purchase journey where a potential customer may be comparing products and offerings.

In this case, the idea is to only bid on competitor brand terms ONCE someone has visited your website or taken a key action. As a result, we’re interrupting the behaviour and remaining clearly present when someone has considered your offering and is now actively comparing against your competitors.


To me, this is a great time to consider bidding on competitor terms, with ad copy clearly showcasing your competitive advantage and the WHY behind choosing to buy your product or service.

Building Your Audiences

The first thing you will need to do is set up your retargeting audiences and start collecting data.

Working with Google Ads you can either do this via the platform’s own conversion tracking, or alternatively import audiences from Google Analytics. Personally, I always prefer using Google Analytics to build retargeting audiences due to having more options and also only needing one piece of tracking code.

Depending on the nature of your business, here are some audiences you may want to consider:


  • Case study views
  • Pricing page views
  • High intent service pages
  • Contact pageviews (with no leads)
  • Content downloads


  • Add to carts
  • Abandoned checkouts
  • Past purchasers (for repeat purchases)
  • Multiple product views per session (high intent browsers)

As you can see with the above, the idea here is to create high-intent audiences where some form of comparison browsing is highly likely.

Add to Cart Retargeting Audience

Once you’ve created your audiences, simply import them into Google Ads for use within your campaigns.

Setting Up Campaigns

Creating an RLSA campaign is just the same as creating a standard campaign. The key difference here is that you’re going to be layering your audience targeting on top of your keyword selection:

Adding Retargeting Audiences in Google Ads

It’s worth noting that you must select the ‘Targeting’ option when loading in your audience. This means that people need to be within your audience to be eligible for the campaign.

The other slight difference will be in how you choose to structure you campaign. Obviously this depends hugely on the complexity of campaigns you wish to run, but as a starting point:

Campaigns: Strategy & audience segments (i.e competitor bidding / generic keywords + add to carts / case study views etc)

Ad Groups: Keyword selection (to help control ad relevance)

Keyword Selection

The next step is to start planning your keyword selection. In this case we’re sticking with the competitor brands, but how large should you go on your list?

Within RLSA, most advertisers are going to need to consider volume. If the action you are retargeting on is very specific, it’s likely your audience pool is going to be quite small. Therefore, to get any volume at all you might have to start with a larger list of keywords. You might also want to consider using broad match modified as a match type to help capture as many variations as possible.

If your strategy is to interrupt comparisons, should you also be looking at competing products or services?

Ad Copy

Getting your ad copy right is critical to success here. Remember, we’re actively trying to reinforce your key differentiators and benefits whilst your potential customer is looking for other options.

Therefore, the following considerations are super important:

  • What are my key differentiators?
  • What don’t people like about my competitors?
  • Do we compete on price / fulfilment / service?

This is a great point to go into research mode; look at reviews on sites like Tripadvisor, Feefo and Glassdoor to really start building a picture on what issues people are having and therefore what you can push via your ad copy.

SEMRush PPC Bidding

If you can really hone in on the elements above, you’re going to be far more effective at drawing people back.

Competitor bidding isn’t right for everyone, however the tactic of using it as part of an RLSA strategy can be a great option for keeping your brand front of mind throughout a longer and more considered decision making process.


Having been involved in digital marketing for over a decade, Jon set up Overdrive Digital in 2016. With extensive experience in both paid media and organic channels, Jon has worked with brands ranging from small startups to global businesses.