Google has risen to become one of the most powerful tech companies in the world with an almost unbelievable level of control in shaping how we access the internet. Most people first became familiar with Google as the go-to search engine to find whatever they need on the web. Google has since expanded into cloud computing with their Drive platform (formerly Google Docs), they have revolutionized the way people find video content online with YouTube, and have shown people the world from their laptops with Google Earth. But the reason that Google could afford to expand into all of these other areas goes back to the business that earned Google its fortune: advertising.
Google AdWords has now evolved into the company’s main source of revenue. In 2012, Google made over $40 billion on advertising. AdWords allows advertising clients to input specific keywords into their campaign and display ads for their business in the ads section of the search results when users make related searches. The filters in AdWords allow clients to cast as wide or as narrow of a net as they need—they can target entire countries, regions, or cities with their keywords. One of the most popular features in AdWords is the Pay-Per-Click option, where customers only pay for ads that people click on to take them to the website. AdWords has been extremely popular with businesses of all sizes due to its flexible budget options and its specificity in targeting customers.
Now, AdWords clients can be even more specific in their customer targeting. On Monday, September 28, 2015 Google unveiled something called Customer Match that will allow AdWords clients to reach a precise target audience of individuals on lists uploaded to AdWords. Customer Match will allow advertisers to reach specific Google users with ads in the search results, on YouTube, and in Gmail ads. This level of precision in audience targeting has been something advertisers have been asking Google about for a long time, and now they have it.
Here’s how it will work: advertisers will upload a list of email addresses to AdWords, either manually or through the API. Google will match those email addresses to Google login accounts, which will be anonymized. AdWords had previously provided a limited amount of audience browsing patterns, and customers could always look at Google’s Search Console to see where searchers were coming from to get to their website. But being able to target specific individuals with the power of Google is a game-changer for advertisers.
George Michie, Chief Marketing Scientist for Merkle RKG, spoke to Search Engine Land earlier this year about what the changes will mean for advertisers. “The ability to fold in real customer insight, understanding all the brand’s interactions with a person online and offline going as far back in history as you want is a gigantic leap forward,” Michie said. “Understanding which customers prefer to buy online or off, which physical location they prefer allows for a level of personalization we just haven’t had in the walled-garden of Google.”
This new ability to find “real customer insight” begins to chip away at the “walled-garden of Google” that Michie refers to, which could be a move to satisfy advertisers becoming used to the ultra-personalized level of marketing on one of Google’s competitors: Facebook. The social networking giant possesses a huge amount of data on their users. More importantly, this user data is willingly submitted to Facebook, as opposed to some of the data Google gleans from browsing habits.
Still, Google holds a competitive edge here, because they know precisely what their users are searching for at any given moment. Having access to Google users’ shopping habits is also a huge advantage for advertisers. Google also suggests that Customer Match isn’t just a great way to find new customers, but a simple way to keep in touch with the customers you already have. If you have a list of email addresses for your current customers, you can make sure they are kept up to date about your latest advertisements and promotions online. Google provides the example of a travel company keeping in touch with customers who have opted into to their rewards program:
Let's say you’re a travel brand. You can now reach people who have joined your rewards program as they plan their next trip. For example, when these rewards members search for “non-stop flights to new york” on Google.com, you can show relevant ads at the top of their search results on any device right when they’re looking to fly to New York. And when those members are watching their favorite videos on YouTube or catching up on Gmail, you can show ads that inspire them to plan their next trip.
But Customer Match doesn’t limit you to the users that you have uploaded to AdWords with your list. You can ask Google to extrapolate that data and use the Similar Audience feature to find more users that have the same browsing habits as the specified audience you uploaded to AdWords. With any luck, these users will become part of the same rewards program or newsletter subscription and you can add them (albeit in an anonymized way) to a revised list for precise targeting in the future.
There is one obvious limitation to the Customer Match feature, however. In order to put your advertising in front of specific people, those people need to have a Google account. Your customer list doesn’t necessarily need to be full of Gmail addresses to be effective, as many other emails will be linked to Gmail accounts and/or Google sign-ons, but your targeted people need to be in the habit of singing in to Google for them to receive the targeted ads. Google is making it more and more difficult to avoid signing in when using YouTube or searching on Google, so it could be just a matter of time before everyone is logged in and available for targeting. But until that happens, Customer Match will only target loyal Google account users.
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