How to Use AdWords’ Customer Match: The Ultimate Guide


how to set up adwords customer match

Perhaps it’s a testament to how nerdy I’ve become throughout my four year tenure at WordStream, but I went BANANAS last month when AdWords announced that it was officially launching Customer Match. Luckily, I was in great company—it seemed like the entire office was abuzz with the big news. In fact, we tweeted about it so much that people on #ppcchat were commenting about the WordStream team’s obsession over the new feature. Larry Kim even went so far as to say that Customer Match “is, without a doubt, THE most exciting AdWords update in the history of the platform.” Pretty bold statement, right?

 office celebration

Just another day at WordStream HQ.

So, what’s all the fuss about? We have been waiting ages for Google to take the plunge and offer identity-based targeting – now that day has finally arrived! In a nutshell, Customer Match gives advertisers the ability to create and target (or exclude) their very own user lists simply by uploading prospects’ email addresses. They can then apply these lists to Search, Gmail or YouTube campaigns and create customized experiences based on the users’ attributes/stages in the purchase journey.

If you’re as pumped as I am about Customer Match, and chomping at the bit to get started, here’s a step-by-step guide to get you up and running.

But First, the “Fine Print”

Google is notorious for being a customer-centric company and it’s committed to maintaining that reputation. Customer Match is AdWords’ foray into the identity-based targeting sphere, which could be alarming to many of its users. Therefore, it’s put rules in place to ensure they continue to have a positive experience on the SERP.

For example, Google has mandated that advertisers can only upload customer information that they’ve obtained in the “first party context.” This includes emails collected through website forms, apps, physical stores and in-person events; essentially, instances where the user has demonstrated interest in the advertisers’ business. 

UPDATE: In November 2017, AdWords expanded Customer Match to include targeting by phone number and address.

Setting Up Customer Match for Search

Step 1: Head to your Shared Library. From there, select the View option under the Audiences section.

customer match setup 

Step 2: Click on the Remarketing List dropdown and select customer emails from the menu.

customer match setup remarketing 

Step 3: Create a new list for customer emails. Be sure to use a descriptive title to name your list, based on the prospect attributes (believe me, you’ll be grateful you did this!). Then, upload the file containing your list. This should be in .csv format and no larger than 17MB (approximately 500 email addresses).

customer match setup email upload 

Keep in mind that these addresses do NOT have to be Gmail-only. Google will try it’s best to match non-Gmail addresses to specific users and, thus far, we’ve seen that the match rates are excellent.

 email match rates by platform

 Slightly higher than Facbook's and WAY higher than Twitter's!

Step 4: Paste in your email opt-out link. Remember, this is mandatory!

customer match setup opt out 

Step 5: Set your membership duration. The default for this step is 180 days and, while this should be dependent on your average sale cycle, we generally recommend setting it on the longer side to ensure you are capturing any lagging leads.

customer match setup duration

Step 6: Upload and save your list. Keep in mind, if you’re working with a large list, this process could take up to 12 hours.

customer match setup processing 

Step 7: When it’s complete, your upload status will change from ‘In Progress’ to ‘Successful’ and you will have the opportunity to review your list details.

 customer match setup successful

Step 8: Remember, Customer Match must be layered on top of keywords, much like RLSA’s, since it is operating on the Search network. To do this, navigate to the ad group in which you wish to implement it, head to the audience tab, then select the remarketing button. You can then select the list that you wish to target directly from the Interests & Remarketing drop down.

customer match setup search 

Step 9:  The final step is to set your targeting. AdWords offers two targeting options for this program.  You can use “target and bid” to show your ads exclusively to the people on your selected lists and bid on them. Or, you can select the “bid only” option to show ads to people on these lists, as well as others who fit the criteria of additional targeting cities.

customer match setup targeting 

Be mindful that any targeting that you already have set up for a given ad group will be layered in with this list. You’ll want to be careful that you don’t go overboard with your targeting, as it could whittle down your overall list size significantly.

The Future of Customer Match

Customer Match provides endless opportunity to paid search advertisers. We’re eager to see how Google will expand on this offering in the future and to learn more about the creative ways marketers are leveraging this feature. If you’re seeing success with Customer Match, please don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comments section below!

About the Author

Erin Sagin is a PPC Evangelist and Community Manager at WordStream. She was recently named the 3rd Most Influential PPC Expert of 2015 by PPC Hero. When she’s able to take a break from paid search, you’ll find her practicing her hula-hooping skills or planning her next trip to Latin America. You can follow Erin on Twitter and Google+.



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Nov 03, 2015

It's probably worth clarifying that the uploaded lists need to contain at least 1,000 usable emails in order to show, and to protect users' privacy. So if there is an average match of 50% you'll need to upload a list of at least 2,000 to allow for this.

Erin Sagin
Nov 03, 2015

Yes--thanks for pointing that out! Luckily, we've seen pretty high match rates thus far ! :) (You can check out the details here:

Nov 03, 2015


if you want to call it an ultimate guide, wouldn't it be nice to include Gmail and Youtube set-up as well, not only search?

Also, you didn't include any practical use. Yeah I can exclude them or bid a little more, but if you want to call it "the most exciting..." I would expect that you back it up with some damn good practical us?

Cheers Filip

Erin Sagin
Nov 05, 2015

Thanks for commenting! We can definitely make an update with instructions for GSPs and YouTube and we'll certainly be doing plenty of posts with recommendations and case studies once the feature has been out longer and we have a strong data set on it :)

Nov 05, 2015

I'll throw a party once we can use a "similar audience" type feature with customer match.

Erin Sagin
Nov 05, 2015

I believe it has finally launched :) !

Jan 07, 2016

So - has the similar audience feature for Customer Match launched? I'm trying to figure out how to do this, and Google tells me it can only be done on Display.

Nov 05, 2015

Is this only applicable to the Display Network?

Erin Sagin
Nov 05, 2015

Right now, you can use it for Search, GSPs and Youtube. Nothing for Display, yet!

Chris @ TrafficHacks
Dec 12, 2015

Great blog guys! I just learned about this and have been eating up all the information I can get on it. I liked it so much that I referenced it on my latest blog post:

Jan 07, 2016

Thanks a lot for sharing things in detail. I have uploaded the customer email ids and it is in progress as if now. Will start campaign once it completes and will share my experience too.

Jan 19, 2016

Thanks for your article. I think the product is extremely exciting too. Indeed it might change the way B2B marketers use AdWords.

Two questions:
1. I uploaded a list of ~4.5K emails and under list size > google properties it now says 100-200? Do you think that means those are the only ones it can show ads to?

2. Setting it up in the way you've described only makes it eligible to be used on the search platform? So no display ads whatsoever? I seemed to have thought its a display/RMKT product?


Jay Ratkowski
Jan 22, 2016

Anyone know if the opt-out page must be on your domain? e.g. ESPs like Bronto allow you to easily create a preference/opt-out page that is hosted on their end...

Jan 23, 2016

Hello Erin,
Your description is so clear as simple to understand for the beginners.

Jan 26, 2016

Thanks for the article.

Are you sure that 17MB would only allow for 5000 emails?

I would think it would be closer to 500k

Mar 01, 2016

What should be the limit of file size in terms of filesize as well as email id's while uploading? Also, "12 hrs to upload" - I've list of 8000 email ids, how much time it should take?

Thanks for sharing this article. And thanks in advance for the answers of my queries :)

May 20, 2016

such a shame that the opt-out link displayed on those screenshot doesnt work. I would really like to see one solid example how companies deal with this requirement...

Sharif Sayfulloev
Jun 28, 2016

This blog post should be updated, since some information is outdated.
1. There is no max 180 days membership anymore.
2. Email opt-out link is no longer required when creating an audience based on emails list. Confirmed with official AdWords support.

As usual advertisers should note that they may collect emails for remarketing on Privacy Policy page.

Erin Sagin
Jun 28, 2016

thanks! the post has been updated :)

Aug 31, 2016

Question, so the email lists uploaded can ONLY be used on the search network?
What about the gmail ads in users' gmail inboxes? Is there a way to use the email lists with gmail ads in the display network?

Raushon Uddin
Oct 09, 2017

Very good article and so easy to follow!

Just one question, does "Customer Match must be layered on top of keywords" mean that this must always be used on top of keywords? Or can Customer Match lists be used on their own as well without adding any Google targeting such as keywords?

Allen Finn
Oct 10, 2017

Only if they're being used to adjust bids on the search network; you can also use Customer Match as a standalone targeting method on the display network.

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