AdWords Customer Match: Advertising to your e-mail database
Since October 12, 2015, Google AdWords has been offering the ability to target ads based on an e-mail address.
This feature, called Customer Match, allows you to show very specific ads to searchers who are logged in with their e-mail address in the Google search engine, YouTube or Gmail.
This is very useful when you have an e-mail database and want to show highly targeted ads to leads or existing customers at a specific moments.
Setting up marketing campaigns is beyond the scope of this article. For this it's best to download two remarketing guides.
Example of Customer Match use
Suppose you're selling clothes. The keyword "clothing" is most likely too expensive to advertise for, because it's very broad and the competition is big.
With Customer Match you could show ads to searchers who have made a purchase in your store before and now search for "clothes". The cost for this keyword will not be lower, but the interest of searchers is likely to be higher.
Returning visitors are often also better converting customers. We see time and time again that customers who previously made a purchase, are more likely to make a purchase again at the same store (provided the experience was good and the product allows for it). The conversion rate for repeat customers is almost 1.5 percentage points higher, as shown below.
More uses and ideas for Customer Match
Customer Match is similar to Remarketing, with the difference that you can target based on e-mail addresses and not only based on a previous visit to your website. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages.
Here are some ideas on how you can put your e-mail database to good use:
Converting leads: Do you have leads that have downloaded a whitepaper or have subscribed to a newsletter? You can then show ads for that group specifically. This is interesting, because they have already shown interest in your product or service. It's more likely that you can get them back.
Persuading uncommitted participants: Do you organise free training courses, seminars or webinars to persuade customers to sign up for a paid version? You could then specifically target the group that completed the free version.
Getting (annual) customers to return: If your product or service often gets purchased in a recurring manner, you can reach out to existing customers at the right time. Suppose you have a carnival shop, you could then reach out to everyone who made a purchase for carnival the year before, based on highly competitive keywords that would normally not be profitable to you.
Offer similar products: A daily competition website or ticket/holiday auction website could show similar offers a few weeks/months later, to people who like to buy certain types of deals.
Retrieving offline customers: This method is very useful for retrieving customers of a restaurant, theatre or spa when they are again looking for a nice restaurant or a relaxing day out. These customers could even be shown a special ad with an extra perk.
Notifying about new offers: Suppose you come up with a new offer, and you want to get more attention for this. You can do so via an e-mail sent to customers and at the same time to the same group through Customer Match. Or, for example, to only the group that opened the e-mail within 24 hours (because they showed interest), or to anyone who has not opened the e-mail within 24 hours.
Excluding existing customers: You can also decide to not advertise to all customers you already have, for example when you know that people purchase your product/service more often. If someone has already booked a holiday for the summer, then you probably don't need to show summer ads to that person anymore.
The grey area of Customer Match
One can think of a number of scenarios that Google doesn't like to see and also cannot stop.
It is impossible for Google to find out whether e-mail addresses that you upload have actually been obtained legally. Especially because the addresses can be uploaded encrypted (see next header, step 3).
The following theoretical scenarios come to mind:
Approaching customers that have unsubscribed: if you have a large list of e-mail addresses, you will most likely have to deal with unsubscribers. Anyone who has unsubscribed can also be uploaded and approached via Customer Match without getting the impression that they are being approached "personally".
Using purchased e-mail lists: You can purchase e-mail addresses from a relevant target audience, and approach these people via this method instead of via e-mail.
Approaching customers/leads that have not given permission: Similar to above two scenarios; as long as you have an e-mail address, you can approach customers or leads that explicitly have not given permission to be e-mailed.
Targeting employees at certain organisations: Are you looking to connect with employees in certain industries or organisations, you could guess for e-mail addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org) to show ads to employees of these organisations.
Using LinkedIn addresses: It's possible to download e-mail addresses of all your contacts in LinkedIn. You could show specific ads to these people.
PLEASE NOTE: Google does not allow to use e-mails that have not been directly collected by you. Directly means, information you have gathered through your websites, apps, physical stores or in other situations where customers have shared their details directly and explicitly with you.
How do you set up a Customer Match list?
A Customer Match campaign is very similar to a remarketing campaign. Below are the steps to set up a Customer Match list.
(1-2) Create an "e-mail" target group
Step 1: Log into AdWords, go to "Shared Library"  on the left side. If you do not see the left bar, look for a ">>" icon on the same level as [A] on the left side. You probably need to search for "Shared Library" in the left lower corner, just above "Bulk Operations" [B].
Go to shared library
Step 2: Click "+ List for remarketing"  and select "E-mails from customers" .
You now have a summary where you can upload a list. Google offers an option to upload e-mail addresses encrypted, which hides the e-mail addresses from Google. For this we use Customer Match SHA2 converter, which is not mandatory.
(3-4) Encrypt the e-mail addresses
Step 3: go to Customer Match SHA2 converter and paste the e-mail addresses you would like to use  and click "Convert to SHA256" .
Step 4: Download the list of encrypted addresses by clicking on "download as file."
(5-11) Fill in all details and upload the list
Step 5: Enter the name of the list , a good name for example could relate to how the list was obtained, so that you keep your audience specific.
Step 6: At  leave "Upload e-mail addresses of customers".
Step 7: At  select the file you downloaded in step 4.
Step 8: At  you must specify a URL where the searcher can unsubscribe from the list. That is similar to an unsubscribe URL in an e-mail.
Step 9: At  you can specify how long the people on this list can be targeted. Maximum is 180 days. If you prefer a shorter period of time, you can also go for 30 or 90 days. It also depends on whether it makes sense to still offer people something after 90 days. It could be that your service or product is no longer relevant.
Step 10: At  can you describe what the list is about in a little more detail. For example, a date on which it was obtained or what the target audience was.
Step 11: Save the list .
It will take 2-3 hours before your list is processed
4) Use this target audience as with remarketing
This target group can now be used in the same way as with a remarketing campaign. The exact steps are outside the scope of this article.
Will you be doing Remarketing? Google explains how Remarketing works.
We have found two useful guides for you: One Guide to Remarketing by One Net Marketing and Remarketing Design Handbook by Octos. Download two guides.
Google’s Custom Match, Facebook’s Custom Audiences or Twitter Tailored Audiences?
The possibility to use e-mail addresses for targeting is not new. Facebook has Custom Audiences and Twitter has Tailored Audiences. They all work similarly, with the major difference that Facebook and Twitter can reach out to people on their respective platforms.
According to Wordstream, Customer Match performs better than Facebook's Custom Audiences and Twitter's Tailored Audiences. Of over 350,000 addresses that they've uploaded to all three platforms, Google appeared to be performing better than Facebook and much better than Twitter.
It is of course also very dependent on where your target audience is. Are they consumers or business users. Testing is, as with most things, the answer.
Requirements for Customer Match
Please note that your Customer Match campaign must have at least 1000 active users or visitors and the list membership duration cannot be longer than 180 days.
When using Customer Match, you may only upload customer information that you collected in the first-party context—i.e., information you collected from your websites, apps, physical stores, or other situations where customers shared their information directly with you.
You collected an email address from a customer who had purchased an item from your website.
You collected an email address from a customer who registered to receive marketing messages through your apps.
You collected an email address from a customer who signed up for your loyalty program in your physical store.
You must also:
Only use Google’s approved API or interface to upload customer information; and
Comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including any self-regulatory or industry codes that may apply.
You are prohibited from:
Running ads that collect personally identifiable information;
Uploading information for any customer who is under the age of 13 or that was collected from any site or app directed to children under the age of 13;
Creating ad content which implies knowledge of personally identifiable information or sensitive information about your customers (see below for more information);
Advertising for products related to sensitive information, such as pharmaceutical products, in a Customer Match campaign (see below for more information); or
Running any ads that are prohibited by our AdWords policies.
Customer Match offers new opportunities to be able to target leads and customers without having previously been on your website or even searched for your product. This is now possible purely based on their e-mail address that you received earlier. This method has a downside and can be abused if the e-mail address was not legally obtained.
If there are people with experience with Google's Customer Match, Facebook's Custom Audiences or Twitter's Tailored Audiences, let us know.
Need a Remarketing Guide?
Download two remarketing guides: "One Guide to Remarketing" by One Net Marketing en "Remarketing Design Handbook" by Octos.