All You Need to Know About Google Ads Customer Match

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Google Ads Customer Match is one of the most accurate targeting options available to digital advertisers. If you have a list of customer or follower info, you can upload it and target those people with ads or use it to expand to similar audiences. Wordstream and other trusted sources report that conversion rates are usually quite high for campaigns using customer match. But how does it work? 

Here’s a simple explanation. Many of us have Google email addresses or other Google-integrated accounts. Google matches the email addresses, phone numbers, mailing addresses and other offline data in your lists with user profiles in its database. Google protects the user information and deletes it once the audience is created, disassociating the personal information with the targets. See this page for more information about how it works.

The appearance of customer-matched ads is no different than other search, YouTube and Gmail ads. However, since you know just who you’re targeting, you can more effectively create ads that appeal to your targets. 

What’s the Difference Between Customer Match and Remarketing?

The idea of remarketing is to reach people who have already interacted with your business in some way. Most of Google’s remarketing lists rely on cookies stored in browsers as well as remarketing tags added to your website code. These lists are often referred to by names like “remarketing lists for search ads” (RLSA) or “remarketing lists for display ads.” Google automatically monitors user activities on your site or in your apps and lets you target those who meet certain conditions, which you can define in Google Analytics. For example, you might choose to target people who have viewed 3 pages on your site during the last 3 days but haven’t purchased anything. You might want to reach out to that audience to ask them to reconsider buying from you.

Customer match is a kind of remarketing but it’s the only kind that is based on customer lists with email addresses, phone numbers and sometimes other information in them. This information is provided directly by consumers when they sign up for newsletters or opt in for other reasons, such as to register for a sweepstakes, and is then matched to user profiles as we explained in the previous section.

Can anyone use Google Customer Match?

Not every advertiser can use customer match. Only those who follow Google policies and are using an account that has 90 days of history and has spent more than $50,000 (USD) are allowed. 

In addition, you’ll need around 2,000 users in your customer list for search campaigns and around 200 for YouTube and Gmail campaigns. Google requires 1,000 matches for search and 100 for YouTube and Gmail, but the match rate is only about 50%.  If Google can’t match a user profile with a user in your list, that list entry won’t count towards the 1,000 or 100 that you’ll need in order to run the campaign. If your list entry count doesn’t equal about twice the required matches, keep building your list. 

Even if you have all of the above, you may not be ready to go. If your list is old or full of people who are no longer in need of what you sell, you can run the campaign but you may not get the results you want. Try to generate lists of people who are close to your brand (fans, loyal customers, etc.) or are likely to buy due to information you have about them. Update your audience lists frequently, which we’ll discuss later.

It’s also worth mentioning that Google has a list of guidelines for customer match. Familiarize yourself with them here.

Why Should You Use a Customer Match? / Use Cases of Customer Match

There are many ways you can use customer match. Your unique business model will guide you to the right strategy. Here are some examples, though, of how you might benefit.

1. Retention Marketing

Retention marketing has the main goal of maximizing repeat purchases from the business’s customers. The lifetime value of your customers increases as their loyalty increases. A study by Adobe found that returning customers account for 41% of a business’s online sales while they only represent about 8% of site visitors. You can see why retention is important, so don’t rely on email newsletters with low open rates to keep retention up.

Retention revenue by visitors
source: Adobe study

Customer match gives businesses another way to reach out to specific people to try and convert them into loyal customers and to motivate already-loyal customers to make another purchase or renew a membership. The precision with which you can segment your audience improves the effectiveness of such campaigns.

Guitar Center, a musical equipment store, achieved 60% higher click-through rates and 50% higher conversion rates by using customer match. They attributed improved customer lifetime values to the targeting method. Here are the basics of the process they used:

  • Asked customers if they wanted to sign up for a newsletter and gradually built a list that included purchase information, like items purchased.
  • Segmented newsletter subscribers into product categories such as guitar, drums, and tech (DJ) equipment.
  • Further segmented the subscribers into high-value (frequent purchases) and low-value (infrequent purchases) groups.
  • Set up campaigns to show ads to the right segments at the right time, such as when high-value customers in the “drum” segment search for drum equipment in Google.

For more about Guitar Center’s campaign, click here

2. Make the Most of Your Segmentation

Google and other ad platforms have  some options that allow you to reach people who interact with your business in different ways. None of them allow you to target exact segments like customer match (or Custom Audiences, in the case of Facebook). You may already be super familiar with your segments, so why not target them precisely? You should write your ad content or scripts to speak to each segment as best you can. You can also set bid adjustments based on what you know about your segments (which can be done right inside StackTome) and their behavior. 

3. Expanding with Similar Audiences

Similar audiences (lookalike audiences in Facebook) are audiences that behave like other audiences.  Google uses machine learning to find people who have a lot in common with a particular group, which can be your customer match audience. Similar and lookalike audiences are surprisingly useful and they become even more useful when you use your lists to find them. 

The better the original group, the better the similar group that Google will locate. If you have a list of loyal consumers, you can expect most of a “similar” group to at least give your product or service some consideration. Often, they jump right in and make a purchase.

4. Excluding Your Customers

This one’s pretty straightforward. You can use audience lists to target people, but you can also exclude the users in a list so that you don’t spend money on people who are unlikely to buy. When you’re expanding to new audiences, for example, you can prevent your ads from displaying to your old customers.

5. Targeting Customers for Upgrades, Cross-selling or Converting 

Let’s say you sell a product that needs to be updated or replaced in intervals. You may also have phone numbers or email addresses of everyone who has each version of your product. It follows that customer match can be used to target those who could benefit from an upgrade. If they don’t open emails, target them with ads.

Likewise, you can use match to promote product accessories that relate to something that has already been sold to a customer. You can even use it to make a final push to convert customers who just didn’t make it to checkout. Maybe they created an account and entered their email address but decided not to buy yet. Reach out to them one last time. They could end up being your most valuable customers!

Why Can’t I just Email or Call These People?

You could just call or email your targets, in most cases. However, there are some clear downsides to doing so. Email open rates are around 20% for most industries, according to MailChimp. That’s not very high. A big part of your mailing list won’t even notice your email in their inbox. 

As for phone calls, you’ll need to have extra manpower to make them, which could be expensive. It’s not a very scalable option since you’ll need a group of representatives to fit your list size. Your conversion rate is bound to be low unless you have an exceptional relationship with the people you’re calling. In many cases, phones aren’t the best choice.

Customer match is another way to get the message across to your targets, and it’s a rather non-intrusive way, at that. You can even exclude customers who don’t open emails from your customer match list, if you want to try emailing first. That means send the emails, find out who didn’t open them, and then add those people to your customer match list. You can potentially reach the 80% who don’t open your emails.


Creating Your Customer Match Audience

Before you set up a customer match campaign, you’ll need a list of customer data. There is no step-by-step process for this part because every list is different and most will need a little bit of formatting. It’s best to create a list using a spreadsheet. 

You can use a list of email addresses, phone numbers or mailing addresses. You can also use a list that includes a combination of those. Most lists that you might have, from emailing apps or other sources, are close to being ready to use. A little bit of editing will prepare them for upload. See this page to learn the specific formatting Google needs. When you upload a list, Google will tell you how many rows are in the correct format. You can edit the list if the success rate is too low.

You should create separate lists for different segments instead of uploading all of the customers at once. See the use cases above for examples of how you can do this. Basically, your ads should speak to a specific segment of customers. If you own an art supply store, for example, you could create a list of customers who buy a lot of painting supplies and create ads just for them. You could do the same (separately) for weavers, sculptors and knitters. You wouldn’t want to show ads for painting supplies to customers who have only purchased sculpting materials in the past, on the other hand.

Save your list as a .csv (comma delimited) file.

Here are the next steps.

1. Click tools and settings (located at the top of the interface), expand the shared library section and then click audience manager.

Google custom audience menu

2. Make sure audience lists is selected and then click the big “+” button.

Google customer audience lists

3. Click customer list.

Adding Google new custom audience

4. Name your audience something descriptive, so that you know what it is and who is in it.

5. Select upload emails, phones, and/or mailing addresses. You can use user IDs and mobile device IDs to target ads as well, but those options are not considered customer match.

Uploading custom audience file for customer match

6. You can hash your list or let Google Ads do it. This is to protect user data from potential interceptors. Unless you’ve hashed your data already, select upload plain text data. Click choose file and choose your .csv file (that’s the format your spreadsheet should be saved as). If your list meets Google customer match policies, select the checkbox that states it.

Configuring uploaded audience file for customer matching

7. Set a membership duration if you’d like. This limits the timeframe during which customers can remain on your list. 

8. Write a description for the list so you can remember the details about it.

9. Click upload and create a list. It may take up to 48 hours for the list to become available in your audience lists.

Selecting permissions for customer audience

Creating a Campaign Using a Customer Match Audience

Once your audience is available in your audience lists (it may take a while to show up), you can use it in the targeting of your campaigns.

If your campaign is already set up, click audiences on the left-column menu (or in the tabs if you’re using an older version). If you’re setting up the campaign, wait until you get to the audiences section. Then follow the instructions below.

1. Select either targeting or observation. Targeting is the option for you if you want to actually use your list to target people.

Campaign configuration using Google custom audience and customer match

2. Click browse and then click remarketing and similar audiences.

Finding custom audience in campaign configuration

3. Select your audience and click save (for a campaign that’s already set up) or continue to the next section (for a campaign that’s in the middle of the setup process). Then, set up the rest of the campaign around that audience. See the next 2 sections for some highly practical tips.

Setting a Bid Adjustment for an Audience

Bid adjustments are percentage increases or decreases on bids in a particular group. You can set bid adjustments for many groups, such as age groups, genders, locations, devices and audiences. You can reduce the bid by as much as 90% or raise it by as much as 900%, in most cases. 

For example, let’s say you are selling a product that is more popular among men than women. You set a +20% bid adjustment for males. Your bid will then be 20% higher for men in the campaigns or ad groups you apply the adjustment to, which will usually result in more ad impressions to male consumers. Click here for more information about bid adjustments.

Here’s how to set bid adjustments for audiences. 

1. Click audiences on the left-hand column and locate the audience in the list. Make sure you’re in the right campaign or ad group. You won’t see the audience if it’s not applied to the campaign or ad group you are in.

2. Hover over the bid adj. icon that corresponds to the audience and click the pencil icon to edit.

Setting custom bid adjustments for customer audiences in Google Ads campaign

3. Select increase if you want to increase the bid for the audience, or decrease if you want to decrease it. Enter a number (which will be interpreted as a percentage) and click save.

updating custom bid adjustment for customer audiences in Google Ads campaign


Sync or Update Audience Lists for Best Results

For the best results, you should update audience lists regularly. It can be a time-consuming task to do this manually, but StackTome does it automatically. You just need to connect your eCommerce site with StackTome for syncing your sales/orders data. Then, use StackTome to segment your customer list, using a number of variables. StackTome will automatically upload your lists to Google Ads afterwards.

Syncing Google Ads custom audience with StackTome

Let’s say you run an online sporting goods store. You segment your lists by sport and by purchase frequency. Potentially, a bunch of your customers could shift from being low-frequency shoppers to high-frequency shoppers each day. If you only update your lists each quarter, you could be missing out on sales. StackTome will update your lists daily for Google Ads, Facebook and Email platform (e.g. Mailchimp) all in one place. Plus, you can set your audience bid adjustments in StackTome as well, for extra convenience. Click here for details.


How Is Customer Match Different from Facebook Custom Audiences from Lists?

So what’s the difference between Google’s list-based targeting and Facebook’s? Well, the biggest difference is the places ads are shown. In other words, Google’s network includes its own search pages, Gmail, YouTube, and the Google Display Network (GDN). Facebook’s network includes Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook’s Audience Network. While most Facebook ads are shown in your news feed, Google ads show up on SERPs (search engine results pages), on web pages across the internet, and on YouTube.

A key advantage belongs to Google because it’s the clear leader among search engines, with a 90% share. If you want to reach people while they search for specific things, Google Ads is your best bet. Google’s display network is also useful for putting your ads on relevant pages and in relevant videos.

On the other hand, Facebook owns ad space on Instagram, where users love following brands and influencers. This provides an opportunity to reach out to fans ahead of a product launch. You can even tag products in your posts with Instagram Shopping. You can’t promote such posts (use them as ads), however. You’ll have to instead tag your influencers and fans in the post to reach them. 

Final Thoughts

Customer Match and Facebook’s Custom Audiences from Lists are valuable tools for marketers who need a granular approach to targeting. There are still downsides to these tools, however. An example is the lack of automatic, regular updating and syncing of lists, which can lead to decreased performance. Luckily, applications like StackTome will sync lists for you. StackTome can also use your eCommerce sales and orders data as source. If you have lists, you want to improve your bottom line, and you meet the qualifications to use customer match, there’s no reason not to use it. Get started today!

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