Google Ads is best known for its powerful Search Ad engine that can help advertisers reach cold audiences at scale. The focus is on new audience members. But what about when you want to reach users who have already interacted with your business before?

That’s where Google’s Customer Match comes in. This feature allows you to target specific users from an individual list with your ad campaigns across multiple different placements in Google’s Ad inventory.

In this post, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about Customer Match for Google Ads, including what it is, how to use it, and when brands would want to consider leveraging the feature for themselves.

What is Customer Match for Google Ads?

Google’s Customer Match lets you utilize list-based retargeting for Google Ad campaigns.

You upload a list of contacts for your business– which can be leads, customers, or a specific customer segment— and Google will “match” the user’s name and email with their Google ID. You can then create Search and Display Ads that are shown exclusively to these audience segments.

Customer Match is easy to set up, and the ability to reach members of warm audiences with highly-targeted ads that are created with them specifically in mind can help increase conversions dramatically by ensuring that warm, interested audiences don’t slip between the cracks and “forget” to purchase.

The right offer and message at the right time can be powerful, and Customer Match can help with that.

Google’s Customer Match Guidelines & Regulations

Want to use Google’s Customer Match?

First, know that the user’s email address is the most important personal information you can get. Name, phone number, and address are all great, but email is the most important for Google to fill in the blanks.

Your lists must meet the following criteria:

  • Have 1,000 matched users. Note that this does not mean 1,000 names— it’s 1,000 users that Google was able to successfully match. If your list is 1,000 names, it’s unlikely ads will be able to run, as the average match rate is closer to 80-90% for a good quality list.
  • A strong history of account policy compliance and good payment. Haven’t had many ads reported for violating Google’s ad policies? You’ll be in good standing.
  • You need to have 90 days of Google Ad history, and over $50,000 USD lifetime spend for certain features. This combination allows you to use customer match in “targeting” and “observation” settings, manual bid adjustments, and exclusions. All policy compliant accounts can use Customer Match in the observation setting as long as they meet the other requirements.
  • Your list must have been obtained following Google’s practices. You can only upload customer information that you’ve collected in a first-party context. This includes users creating a login on your site, opting into an email list, or making a purchase. You can collect the information across your site, app, or physical stores.
    It does not allow you to target users whose information you’ve obtained from a lead generation site or service.
  • You must obtain consent to share the data with third-parties to perform services on your behalf. This is important to have in your privacy policy, and make sure you’re up to date with Google’s EU User Consent Policy, too.

Also important to remember: You can’t advertise products relating to sensitive information, like pharmaceutical products, or create ads that imply that you have personally identifiable information about the customers.

How to Set up Customer Match in Google

To create an audience in Customer Match, you’re first going to start in your Audience Manager. Click on “Tools And Settings” in the top navigation bar in your Google Ads dashboard, and then find “Audience Manager.”

tools settings audience manager

Next, click to “Segments,” and then find the blue plus sign icon. Click on that to create a new segment, and then choose “Customer list.”

customer list setting your data segments

You’ll first be asked to name this customer list. Choose something descriptive and consider dating it so that you’ll know exactly which segment this is.

Then, you’ll see the option to upload data.

upload customer match segment audience

You can either upload plain text data lists (which is the method we’re going to use), or upload hashed data. Hashed data is more complicated, so downloading and formatting a list from your CRM is the option we’re going to look at.

You can see above that there’s a link to a template hyperlinked. You can download this file and use it to format your own data downloaded from your CRM. We’ll talk more about formatting in a later section, but make sure that your file aligns with the template to ensure higher match rate success.

Choose the right CSV file and upload. Then click on the compliance acknowledgement at the bottom of this section.

Underneath this, you’ll see two options. The first is membership duration. You can determine how long customers will stay on your list for retargeting. We typically don’t use this feature, but you could if you, for example, had special offers that were time sensitive for specific lists.

customer match membership duration

You can also add a detailed description of the audience segment. If you’re creating multiple segments for different campaigns, use this if needed.

That’s it! Your list is ready to go. It will take a few minutes for Google to upload, and then they’ll tell you your match rate. If you have at least 1,000 matched contacts, you can start running ads.

your customer list has been successfully saved

After your audience segment is created, you can view it at any time. See how many users you can reach, and which platforms you’re eligible for in Google’s Ad Inventory.

customer list insights

You can also view different data about people within the audience, including demographic, location, and device breakdowns. This can help you learn more about this specific audience you’re targeting and potentially improve ad relevance with more targeted messaging.

customer list demographics

How to Format Your Customer List

When formatting your CSV customer list, you must do the following:

  • Include “Email,” “Phone,” “First Name,” “Last Name,” “Country,” and “Zip” as headers. You can also add additional headers for multiple email addresses, phone numbers, or postal codes.
  • Must provide the first and last name if you want Google to create a country and zip match.
  • You need to include the country code for phone numbers.

You can access the template here, and it should look like this:

As a note: If you don’t have ALL the info for every contact, that’s okay. Google will often be able to match what they need to. Email is easily the most important.

How to Run Ads with Google’s Customer Match

You can use Customer Match on different types of Google Ads, including your Search Ads and Display campaigns.

To do this, you’ll create your ad campaign as you normally would. (You can see how to create Google Search Ads here.)

Once you’re on the Campaign Settings tab (after Budget & Bidding), you’ll want to find “Audience Segments” at the bottom. Click on the narrow to open this section, and find your customer list.

choosing audience segment google ads

Underneath this, you can choose one of two options: Targeting or Observation.

choosing a targeting setting for campaign

Observation is the recommended default option. It won’t narrow the reach of your campaigns (meaning anyone who still searches for your keywords within other set parameters are eligible to see it), but you can adjust the bids on your customer lists. You may want to pay more, for example, for high-value leads.

You can choose targeting if you exclusively want your customer list to see a specific group of ads. This can work if you’re working with exclusive offers for existing leads or customers.

The Customer Match Best Practices We Use

Like most features with Google Ads and PPC marketing in general, you’re really only going to get solid results with features if you’ve got a decent strategy behind them.

Let’s take a look at the best practices we use for our clients.

1. Use Customer Match to Teach Google Who Your Audience Is

This is the most important and essentially the sole reason that we want our clients to use Customer Match.

When you upload a list of your high-value customers to Google and create campaigns around it (even as an optional audience layer), you’re telling Google who your ideal audience is.

This is essentially feeding the machine learning with internal customer data that it never would have had without a customer match list. It can start finding higher quality clicks faster instead of taking the time to use trial and error, which can increase your quality score and results right off the bat. It also can improve Smart Bidding so that you can pay more for the types of customers you want.

Want to learn more about audience layering? Check out our Hub chapter about audience layering for Google Ads.

2. Use it to Learn More About Your Target Audience

You likely have plenty of data on who your audience is, but actually getting detailed information about specific lists can be incredibly helpful.

If you upload a list of your highest-value clients (whether it’s frequent purchasers or those who spend more than average on each order), Google will show you the core information about that individual audience.

You can see demographic information, like age, gender, and parental status. You can also see where most members of your audience live, and what devices they’re using.

This information is invaluable. You can use it to improve your copy, creating more relevant offers based on the information that you see.

If, for example, you’ve got a large number of users entering your landing page through mobile devices, you might decide to create a mobile-specific landing page to increase the odds of conversions.

3. Exclude Your Customers from Specific Campaigns

This whole post is all about reaching users who you’re already connected with.

Retention and re-engagement campaigns are great… but sometimes you also just really need to focus some of your campaigns on acquisition.

You can use Customer Match to exclude entire lists of customers from seeing an ad.

In the example below, you can see that different meal prep kits are offering free meals to new customers. It would make sense to exclude existing customers from seeing these ads since they aren’t eligible for the offer.

google ads search for meal prep kit

4. Test Similar Audiences to Your Customer Match List

For anyone familiar with Facebook Ad’s lookalike audience, Google has something similar.

You can actually reach audiences similar to your Customer Match list. Google will take all the information they have about the list you’ve uploaded and find users that are similar in terms of demographics, interests, and buying behavior based on their internal data.

This can expand your reach significantly, and is a great customer acquisition strategy.

Final Thoughts

Google’s Customer Match is the only way to retarget users from a list, and there are so many different ways to consider using this feature.

You can:

  • Retarget leads who are actively in the research and consideration stages with too-good-to-resist offers, reducing the odds they’ll go to a competitor instead
  • Bid more for existing customers in high value audience segments in Shopping Ads or Performance Max campaigns to keep them purchasing from you
  • Run re-engagement campaigns with users who haven’t used or purchased from your business in over six months, with the goal of bringing them back into the fold

There are plenty of options, and considering that CRMs allow you to create segmented lists already based on factors like purchase behavior, stage in the sales funnel, value, demographics, and more, the sky is the limit here as long as you abide by Google’s guidelines.

Want to get help taking your Customer Match campaigns to the next level? We can help. Learn more about what makes our Google Ads agency unique here.