Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) is chock-full of features to organize, promote and sell a product or service. It also has a few nifty tools that allow you to leverage data your customers have given you to re-engage, re-market, and increase your conversion rate.

Remarketing is a clever tactic to boost customers. It involves getting in touch with previous visitors to your site who hadn’t made a purchase, placed an inquiry, or done much more than just browse around. It means positioning more refined ads before them as they browse anywhere else on the web, so they’re more likely to come back. One tool aimed at successful remarketing is the Customer Match feature.

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Case studies show that Customer Match was a much-awaited update to Google Ads campaigns as, until then, the company didn’t offer identity-based targeting as many other platforms did. Facebook and Twitter already had identity-based ad targeting in place, in the form of Custom Audiences and Tailored Audiences respectively, but this update made marketers start with Google, too.

How to Use Customer Match List for eCommerce Business?

The update allows you to use online and offline customer data to reach out to past visitors and potential customers across Google platforms- Search, YouTube, Gmail, and Google Shopping. This is information you have already collected through newsletter sign-up forms, gated whitepapers, Google Analytics, or other email collection methods, so as long as you have stock of these contact details, you’re set.

Customer Match goes beyond targeting past visitors. Using customer data and user behavior, the tool also targets ads at potential customers like the one you have on your list. If you’ve ever come across a personalized tab on the top of your Gmail inbox that sounds uncannily personal, then chances are that you’ve been targeted using Customer Match.

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Is it possible to create a customer list in Google Ads?

Yes, it is! This is where the Customer Match feature comes in. Putting together a customer list for ecommerce is easy and is the first step to building a successful Customer Match campaign.

All you need is customer data in a CSV file that you can upload onto Google Ads to add as targets in your ad group. This customer data file is very important and needs to be formatted just the way Google likes, or else the upload won’t work. But before getting into the ‘how’, it’s best to discuss the ‘why’.

Why do you need to create a customer match list in Google Ads?

Need for customer match list in Google Ads

To be able to show the right ads to the right customers, Google Ads requires a customer match list for ecommerce with customer data. Here’s why uploading the right data and, in general, using Customer Match is crucial for an eCommerce business.


Need # 1: Target similar audiences

As mentioned earlier, Google Ads not only targets customers from the customer list, it also places list-based specific ads before a similar audience. How does Google generate these similar audiences? By comparing profiles of Google users in your customer list with that their own list of Google users to find matches. The tool does it all for you- which is why an accurate list is critical. Your ad reaches effectively doubles, which means more potential conversions.

Need # 2: Bypass email marketing

While email marketing is still used by many as a content dissemination and lead generation technique, Customer Match gives you an opportunity to bypass it while still using email addresses. Most customers have a low tolerance threshold for sales emails and, unless they’re very interesting, may leave them unopened. If you don’t catch them in their inbox, you may well convert them through a targeted ad elsewhere.

Need # 3: Bid on generic search terms

Some search ads and terms have a lot of competition, especially if they’re generic. Safe marketers tend to stick to bidding on niche or semi-niche search terms to avoid losing leads to other competitors on the generic front. With Customer Match, you can afford to bid on generic search terms because you’ll be using them on a custom audience anyway, so the risk is lesser.

Need # 4: Touch base with existing customers

A large factor in eCommerce businesses and marketing is customer retention. If someone has already made use of your product or service, there’s no harm in touching base with them again to see if they are interested in anything else. This is a subtle way of giving customers a budget to make the leap- a lot more nuanced than calling and emailing them after they make a purchase. You can use this to further segment your audience when creating campaigns.

Need # 5: Sign up for unlimited membership

With Customer Match, you can set a membership duration but the default setting is ‘unlimited,’ which means your customer data and target audience will stay on that shared library until you remove it. This is what sets Customer Match apart from other remarketing tools and software, which usually have a limited membership duration of, say, 180 days.

How to create a Customer Match list for ecommerce in Google Ads

To create this list, you must have a Google Ads account. This is because your audience will be incorporated as targets in your existing and new ad groups and campaigns.

  • Step 1. Click on the ‘tools’ icon in the top right corner.
  • Step 2. Navigate to ‘Shared Library’ and click ‘audience manager’.
  • Step 3. Click on ‘Audience lists’ in the menu and navigate to the button to create a new audience list.
  • Step 4. Choose ‘customer list’ and upload your data in either plain text or hashed format.

    Plain Text data: private customer data will be hashed by an algorithm on your computer before sending it off to Google for use. This is to keep data secure with you.

    Hashed data: customer data will be hashed by Google using the standard SHA256 algorithm as long as it meets the company’s formatting guidelines.
  • Step 5. Choose your file, upload it, and check the box regarding Google’s privacy policies.
  • Step 6. Set a membership duration, or leave it as default which is ‘unlimited’.
  • Step 7. Select ‘upload and create list’, and wait for up to 48 hours for the process to complete.
Customer Match List - Step 2-Shared Library and click audience manager

Once this has been uploaded, Google will match your data with those of Google users on their record by creating a key for each. If the keys match, then the Google users’ accounts are added to your Customer Match audience for targeting.

Customer Match List -Step 4 -  Choose customer list and upload your data

Google is quite strict with its privacy policy and aims not to reveal personal information about clients to third parties or even within their own departments. Further, Google will only accept customer data that was collected by a business through first-party methods, including email lists, newsletters, gated whitepapers, free trial sign-ups, and webinar registrations.

Once this is done, you’re ready to target. Create an ad with impressive ad text to target the customers from your list- these are customers who are also Google users. Once they sign in to their Google accounts on a browser or mobile app, they will begin seeing your targeted ads on Google products like Gmail, YouTube, and the general Search network. This feature is currently unavailable on third-party displays.

Similar audience targeting is available for YouTube and Gmail currently. These lists are created when the original Customer Match data meets the minimum eligibility criteria maintained by Google. To manage ads and target similar audiences, all you have to do is add it to an additional group in a campaign or campaign.

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Best practices for creating a Customer Match list for ecommerce

Best Practice # 1: Follow Google’s format

Since Google carries out a secondary back-end search before adding users to your similar audience list, it requires that data be uploaded in a particular format. Any deviation from this format could halt the upload process. Use Google’s template or make a CSV file with the headings Email, Phone, First Name, Last Name, Country, Zip, and Mobile Device ID.

Best Practice # 2: Don’t hash country and zip data

When uploading hashed data, take care not to hash the country and zip code as Google needs this information for relevant targeting. If you upload un-hashed data, Google will also not hash the zip code and country for the same reasons.

Best Practice # 3: Have more than 1000 matched users

Google doesn’t have a maximum matched limit, but the minimum is 1000 matched users. This means that 1000 people on your customer list must be Google users, too, for them to make it to your target audience list.

Best Practice # 4: Try to exclude customers

You don’t need to use this list to only include customers; you can exclude them too. This works particularly well in the case of one-time sales where these customers have already bought your service, so now you want to reach similar people while excluding this set. This not only narrows down your audience, to be more precise, but it also doesn’t serve ads to people who won’t be interested in a second buy at all.

Best Practice # 5: Update your lists

Customer Match lists are only as good as the data you provide. If these lists aren’t updated, your campaign will get stale, and you’ll waste a lot of money targeting people who may not convert for a variety of reasons. Google sends reminders if you haven’t updated in a while, but consider maintaining a regular schedule to add new email addresses to your list and broaden your target audience in terms of numbers.

Best Practice # 6: Remove users who revoke permission

To collect email addresses, you will obviously have to ask permission to use them, but users can revoke this at any time. To maintain trust and avoid legal loopholes, you can manually remove email addresses or use the AdWords API. Find the marketing list in your shared library, click on the ‘pencil’ icon, and remove addresses from that list.

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Things to consider while creating customer lists for ecommerce in Google Ads

The Customer Match update was quietly rolled out in late 2015 and has gone through a few upgrades ever since- the most significant being allowing targeted ads based on phone numbers. However, there are still some factors to consider that may support or hinder your experience of Customer Match, depending on how you plan to use it.

Consideration # 1: Emails should be collected through first-party methods

Google’s privacy policy strictly maintains that only emails that are collected through first-party methods like website sign-ins, newsletter subscriptions, gated whitepapers, seminars, or discount unlock methods can be used in their customer match lists.

Consideration # 2: Ads only reach Google users

Even if your customer list has non-Gmail email IDs, they’ll only see ads if that ID has been linked as a primary account on one of Google’s services. Google accounts can be targeted if matched, but non-Gmail emails will need to be linked to YouTube, Gmail, or Search as a primary email to be able to see targeted ads. To be safe, always have more than 2000 addresses in your list so that even if a 50% match, you’ll be able to successfully use them in ad campaigns.

Consideration # 3: Users need to be logged in

Following on from the previous point, users need to be logged in to their Google accounts to be able to see targeted ads. This goes to say that when they’re logged out, they don’t see these ads. It doesn’t appear anywhere else on the internet either; Google currently only allows targeted ads through Customer Match on Gmail, YouTube, and Search. Third-party display networks also don’t count, which limits the exposure.

Consideration # 4: This is a cookie-less form of advertising

To monitor preferences, site visits, and browsing history, websites collect cookies when a user visits for the first time. However, Customer Match doesn’t need cookies to display targeted ads. What’s more, you can reach customers even if they clear their browser cookies, which almost always affects cookie advertising campaigns adversely.

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This customized segmentation becomes more crucial by the year as customers get more tech- and product-savvy and the eCommerce landscape becomes more competitive. It goes without saying that Customer Match enables digital marketers to effectively and directly target the right customer subtly and at the right time without pushing them away or harassing them.

This is a long way from where marketing was a few years ago- calls upon calls and sales emails piling up and an important change in the way Google, indeed other big companies, look at and support advertisers.


CEO and co founder of AdNabu. Exploring the intersection of data and marketing