How Google’s Customer Match and Instagram Ads Are Rewriting the PPC Playbook

It’s a whole new ballgame with these ad feature releases from Google and Instagram. Image source.

Recently, Google announced Customer Match, a new method of ad targeting that allows marketers to upload a list of email addresses — which they’ve been collecting in a CRM or a mailing list — and target ads at those users and audiences similar to them.

If that doesn’t really sound so new, well, you’re right. Facebook and Twitter have had this functionality for quite a while. Facebook’s offering in particular is extremely powerful due to the immense amount of information it knows about each user. In this aspect, Google is playing catch-up.

But it doesn’t really matter. The power of being able to target ads across YouTube, Gmail, and Google search cannot be understated. As long as the email address is associated with an account on any of those services, your ads can reach them.

And it’s not just users whose emails you already have. Google is also allowing advertisers to target similar audiences based on a Customer Match list. However, they can be targeted on YouTube and Gmail only. Search, at least for now, is excluded.

You can even exclude email lists from campaigns, welcome news to anyone who’s had clicks from existing leads and customers eat into their PPC budget during a new lead generation campaign.

Despite these advantages, there’s one limitation to Google’s Customer Match that doesn’t exist in its more social-oriented competitors: to target (or un-target) a matched list, it needs to have at least 1,000 valid entries. Since the likelihood of all of your leads having Google accounts is pretty low, you’ll likely need a larger list than this in order to run a Customer Match campaign.

With most of the major digital advertising providers now accepting email lists, the trend line is clear: businesses that prioritize collecting information early and nurturing a prospect into converting are at a huge advantage when it comes to remarketing.

Get a head start on collecting leads to match: Check out Unbounce’s free 7-Day Lead Gen Landing Page Course →

Instagram campaigns now available to all Facebook Power Editor users

While Customer Match is an obvious and belated shot across the bow in Facebook’s direction, the social media behemoth has a big announcement of its own. Instagram ads are finally available to all, and better yet, they’re accessible through the same tool you use to run campaigns on Facebook: Power Editor.

Power Editor, Facebook’s self-serve advertising tool for managing many active campaigns at once.

That means all of Facebook’s targeting options — including Custom and Similar Audiences — can be used to target ads at Instagram’s 400 million (and counting) monthly active users.


Instagram ads come in a few different formats, all of which allow clickable calls to action that lead to links or apps.

  • Image ads, which look like a standard Instagram post, except for the CTA.
  • Video ads autoplay in the feed and can be up to 30 seconds long — double the length afforded to regular users for their own video uploads.
  • Carousel ads allow you to attach multiple images to the same ad, which can be swiped through by the user. It remains to be seen if they’ll follow in the footsteps of web carousels, which users generally don’t explore beyond the first slide.

One of the benefits of advertising on social networks is that the advertisements are native; they’re presented largely in the same way as user-generated content, within the stream of content that the user is already viewing.

On mobile devices, the impact is amplified further by the fact that these ads take up the whole screen. While this is hugely beneficial — directing attention towards your advertisements is significantly easier — it’s also a double-edged sword.

Check out this tweet from developer Marco Arment:

A tweet from celebrity developer Marco Arment (Tumblr, Instapaper, Overcast) reacting to seeing ads in his Instagram feed.

This is the perception you’ll be fighting at every turn.

Perhaps more than any other social network, the Instagram feed has a cadence, a unique feel all of its own. Users have spent years curating their feeds into the perfect digital magazines, tailored around who and what they love.

This means your ads should ideally be beautiful, genuine photographs. And in fact, Instagram has taken steps to enforce that: ads on Instagram can’t have overlaid text (which naturally betrays the expectation of a photograph) nor a logo — although a logo printed on a product is A-OK.

More than in any other channel, crafting ads that are carefully tailored and targeted at specific audience segments will be crucial. It’s great then, that Facebook’s Custom and Similar Audiences allow you to do just that.

The final caveat: while Instagram has already become big business for #brands, it remains to be seen whether that same success will materialize for lead generation and non-ecommerce conversions. Instagram’s existing case studies focus almost entirely on ad recall — how likely a user is to remember an ad later — rather than hard conversions. And its unique cadence may make it a tough fit in for certain kinds of products and services.

In the war between Facebook and Google, we’re all winners

The success of Facebook’s advertising product for both Facebook and advertisers is largely due to the level of targeting specificity that Facebook offers, enabled by its rich user database. eMarketer is already predicting that revenue from advertising on Instagram will reach $2.81 billion in 2017.

Now that Google has responded with a nearly identical offering, the stage is set for volumes of the PPC marketing playbook to be rewritten. More than ever, building customer databases and crafting hyper-specific campaigns — in both their targeting and their creative direction — will be crucial to winning clicks and conversions.

About Brad Tiller
Brad’s a former writer at Unbounce, with a marketing background encompassing everything from community management to lead generation. He's obsessed with the little touches that take marketing campaigns from so-so to stellar. Find him on Twitter: @bradtiller
» More blog posts by Brad Tiller


  1. Geoffrey Wakeling

    Hey Brad,

    First, I’d love to thank you for sharing the article! This new Customer Match grabs more and more attention of marketers. So, we need more to learn how to use that.

    Second, there’s this question bothering me. Apparently, Customer Match allows to throw very personal ads. All the segmentation options are fantastic. I guess, PPC campaigns have never been more personalized. Now, having a limited budget (I run a startup) I’m thinking what’s best for me — CM, FB, or Insta.. Any suggestion? What should be prioritized?

    • Brad Tiller

      Firstly, I’m not certain that Customer Match can rival the personalization of Facebook’s campaigns; after all, they have a wealth of information about every single user. Google ultimately hoped to create a similar knowledge graph with Google+, but that didn’t go exactly as planned.

      That said, it would be impossible for me to tell you which network would work best for you since it would ultimately depend on what you’re promoting and what you’re hoping to get out of the campaign.

      What kind of startup do you run?

  2. Joe

    I wrote about customer match the other day, it is a powerful tool that is really behind the times so to speak.

    IG ads are interesting but not as powerful as the new offering from Google. The big looser here is Twitter. Their platform has no scale-ability… what else can they offer?

    What this really means is… targeted landing pages are now more important than ever. If you are using a custom list of highly actionable customers you want to give them the best ad/lp experience possible.

    • Brad Tiller

      Great appraisal. :)

      Twitter has been floundering for a while, and there must be a billion thinkpieces written about its failures — my favourite being this one from Ben Thompson at Stratechery, which rings weirdly true considering it’s from 2013:

      (All of his pieces about Twitter are great though!)

      Of course, Dorsey is back in at Twitter now, so anything could happen.

      What makes you think that Facebook/Instagram’s offering here isn’t as powerful as Google’s? I think it’s really going to depend on the kind of campaign.

  3. Eetu

    One point that you did’t mention above. Customer Match feature is really welcome for lead gen campaigns as now we can finally exclude existing database from lead gen advertising in Google. This one is a huge upgrade as we don’t pay any more for existing customers’ clicks when trying to get new ones.

    • Brad Tiller

      Eek! Definitely meant to mention this, sincere thanks for the reminder. I’ve updated the post to mention this, since it’s definitely a huge deal!

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  5. Joe Bavonese

    One question: you wrote “Facebook long ago surpassed Google in revenue collected from advertising.” I would love to see the data supporting this – I’ve always seen research saying Google had 3 or 4x the ad revenue that FB has.


    • Brad Tiller

      Thanks Joe — you’re actually correct, and I just woefully misread one of my sources. I’ve updated the conclusion to reflect this. Thank you!

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  7. Deepak Kanakaraju

    Facebook’s custom audiences have worked well for me so far – especially with the conversion optimized campaigns. Need to test out google’s customer match. It would be great if you can lay out the steps involved in running a customer match campaign.

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