Gmail Advertising & Customer Match: Google’s Next Generation of AdWords

Gmail users are not unfamiliar with seeing ads in their inboxes. In 2013, Google was using Gmail Sponsored Promotions to advertise to their email users. However, after many years of beta testing, Google AdWords launched two new tools in September 2015 that are available to all advertisers: Gmail Ads and Customer Match. Both of these new tools use email to target audiences. Let’s not confuse the two; they have completely different functions. In fact, Customer Match doesn’t have anything to do with the Gmail inbox, unless of course you decide to use Gmail Ads as a placement for your Customer Match email list. Confused? It’s okay if you are … we’ll start with the basics.

What Are Google Gmail Ads?

Similar to email marketing services, Gmail Ads are ads that appear in email inboxes. These ads look like emails and are always displayed first in your inbox. Although this is exciting news, these email ads can only be seen in the Promotions tab of the Gmail inbox. People rarely peruse the mostly spam-like content of the promotions tab, so why did Google decide to show the ads there? According to Google, the reason they have a tab dedicated to ads and promotions is to reach users who have a commercial mindset. That way, advertisers can reach users who are most likely to convert. Through beta testing, studies have shown an open rate of about 6.6%, which is better than the average click-through-rate in AdWords, 2%. That’s a great CTR, but the open rate for email marketing services average 21.93%, which is significantly higher than Gmail Ads.

The disadvantage of Gmail Ads is that they only appear in the promotions tab of a Gmail inbox. Despite the Gmail Ad open rate being much lower than open rates from email marketing services, Google AdWords will only charges you when someone clicks on your Gmail ad.

gmail ads

Key Features of Gmail Ads

  • Google has Gmail Ad specific metrics so that you can see what people do after clicking your ad.
  • These ads can be targeted based on age, gender, device, topic/affinity audiences, language, geo-targeting, and keywords.
  • Unlike other email marketing services, you don’t have to pay a monthly fee to use this tool. Instead, you pay whenever someone opens your ad email.
  • Google provides 4 different templates for you to choose from: Gmail image, Gmail single promotion, Gmail multi-product template, and Gmail custom HTML upload.
  • Contact forms are permitted in these email advertisements.
  • Gmail Ads are available on all devices.

Restrictions & Requirements

  • Keep in mind that Gmail Ads are only part of the Google Display Network.
  • Gmail ads are not compatible with in-market audiences, remarketing lists, or placements other than Gmail inboxes.
  • Javascript, stylesheets, flash, HTML5, audio, iFrames, and GIFs are not allowed.
  • Gmail ads can only be shown to an individual Gmail user up to 4 times.


What is Customer Match?

Customer Match is basically another form of remarketing. By collecting the email addresses of customers who’ve already shown interest in your product or service, you can narrow your targeting specifically to this audience. “This is without a doubt, the most exciting AdWords update in the history of the platform,” according to Wordstream’s co-founder Larry Kim. However, Customer Match isn’t exactly the same as email marketing.

How Customer Match Works

  1. Using a list of email addresses that your customers have given you, create a new target audience in Google AdWords.
  2. Create a “Search Network only” campaign that specifically targets the people on your list.
  3. When your customers are signed in to their Google accounts, they will see your ads while using Google Search.

Key Features of Customer Match

  • These ads can be targeted based on age, gender, device, topic/affinity/in-market audiences, language, geo-targeting, and keywords.
  • Pixels can be a mess if it they aren’t added to a website correctly. Luckily, Customer Match does not need a pixel to generate the audience you want to target.
  • These ads are available on cross devices.
  • Email addresses don’t have to only be Gmail addresses.
  • Like RLSA, email lists can be layered on top of other forms of targeting.

Restrictions & Requirements

  • You can only run campaigns using Customer Match if you have at least 1000 email addresses.
  • Only email addresses collected in first-party context can be used.
  • You must include an “opt out” link.
  • A privacy policy disclosure stating that you share customer information with third parties to perform services on your behalf must be provided along with consent from the customer.
  • The only time Customer Match works is when a user is logged into Google Search, YouTube, or Gmail.
  • Customer Match is only available in Google’s Search Network.
  • Only about 500 email addresses can be uploaded in bulk at a time.
  • Email lists only last for 180 days.


Using Gmail Ads and Customer Match Together

Now that we have a full understanding of Google’s email targeting tools, the question is, “Can we use these tools together?” The answer is, “Yes.” Google does mention that Gmail Ads do not allow remarketing lists, so how does this work? After speaking to a Google representative, he explained that Customer Match, although similar to a remarketing list, is not considered a remarketing list. You can combine Gmail Ads and Customer Match email lists to create an email campaign. Essentially, you’ve got yourself a non-subscription based email marketing service with the option to target both people on your email list and new audiences. That sounds like a good match to us!


What This Means for SEMs

No, Gmail advertising is not for everyone, but it’s worth doing some A/B testing to see if you can connect with an audience you were previously disengaged with. Gmail Ads are great for special deals and promotions, especially because they can be shown to a Google user up to four times, and you can reach out to new audiences or Custom Match remarketing audiences. With Customer Match, you already know people on the email list have shown interest in your product or service, and you can create custom experiences based on their attributes. You can also take comfort knowing that your Gmail ad will have that coveted position of “First Email” in the promotions tab, regardless of when you set up the add or when competitors send out email marketing campaigns through a provided service.