Test Before You Import Contacts to Gmail

It’s not uncommon for me to use multiple email programs. However, I don’t particularly like re-entering the names and email addresses, so I rely on some sort of import feature. Imagine my surprise when I discovered how mistake-prone the process is. If you want to learn how to import contacts to Gmail, you can learn from my failed attempts. The bottom line is you’ll need a CSV template file with the correct headers.

Attempt 1: Total Failure

My first attempt met with total failure. What was worse was there was virtually no help. I thought this would be a simple mapping.

Error message from Google
Error message from Google

It was annoying. Was I supposed to try again later because Google was having problems? Or was something wrong with my records or headers?

In this case, it was my imported source CSV file. I had a column that was unknown to Google. Most systems I’ve dealt with allow you to do field mapping. That helps when column names are different or don’t exist. Google didn’t have this feature.

Attempt 2: Remove the Suspect Column

My next move was to delete a column I knew Google Contacts didn’t have. I had one called P#. While I didn’t get any import errors, I was missing data for each contact. Where were my email addresses?

Attempt to import Google contacts.
Partial contact data

Drilling Down Into a Contact

Since I didn’t get any import errors like before, I was curious how a record showed. I clicked Abe’s record. Within the Contact Details, I could see Abe’s email address. But, it was categorized as a Note, not an email. That would make it difficult to correspond with people.

email came in a note type
Abe’s email shows as a contact note

It appears Google isn’t mapping this field the way I expected. The most likely reason is my column heading name. The interesting thing is my CSV column label was Email, and it looks like Google’s label in the application is Email.

Different Fields for Different Folks

When you think about importing, you realize that some fields have “one to many” relationships. For example, how many email addresses do you have? The same goes for phone numbers, mail addresses, and other fields. And each one of these instances probably needs a descriptive label like “work,” “home,” or “mobile.”

Also, Google tries to anticipate fields from other popular services. When you add this all up, you’re looking at more fields than what Google Contacts displays. There were some I never heard of, such as Yomi Name.

The bottom line is you need to do a little translation between Google and your contact source. For example, that column header field I called “Email” needed to be renamed to “E-mail 1 – Value.”

How to Import Contacts to Gmail

  1. Create your source contacts file in a CSV format.

Most contact programs will have an Export menu option with this file format. You might use the name source.csv

  1. Find your most complicated contact record in your source file.

A good example is one with multiple phone numbers, multiple emails, birthdate, etc.

  1. Manually add that record in Google Contacts by typing your values.

Click the More fields link in the bottom left to see additional fields.

  1. Save your example record. We’ll use this contact record for field mapping and creating our CSV template.
  1. Open the example record and click the three vertical dots towards the top right.

The More actions drop-down list appears.

  1. Select Export from the drop down-menu.

This will be our template record. Save the file as template.csv.

export contact to get field mappings
Export single record
  1. Open your saved download file – template.csv

There will be lots of column headers. I prefer to transpose them in Excel so I can see the field names going down the 1st column.

  1. Open your source file from Step 1. This is the source.csv.
  1. Change your source column names to match the Google field names shown on template.csv.

For example, I needed to change my Email column name to Email 1 – Value.

  1. Go back to the Contacts page.

From the left navigation pane, select the More option.

Open the more section on Contacts page.
Navigating to More section
  1. Click Import. This menu option appears after your labels (groups).
Navigation panel with menu with import option.
  1. On the Import contacts panel, click the Select file button. Don’t worry about vCard files.
Import contacts pop up with Select file button.
  1. Find your corrected source CSV file and click Open.

This is our source file with corrected column headers.

  1. You should now see your source file listed.

In our example, source.csv shows to the right of the button.

Import dialog with file name showing.
  1. Click the Import link. This link is in the bottom right.
  1. Check your results.

You should see a number of records showing with a label showing Imported on date. These items do not show under Contacts yet.

  1. From the left navigation panel, click the Imported on label. The date will vary based on when you imported the file.
Imported records with a group label date.
Automatic date label for imported records
  1. Select the records you would like to add to contacts. You can do this individually or select all.
Click add to contacts menu item.
Add selected imported records to contacts
  1. Click the Add to Contacts item. The button has an image of a person’s head with a + sign to the left.

These items should now show on your Contact list.

My Sample Contact Map

To illustrate how this process might look, I’ve included a mapping I did from my sample Abe Lincoln record that I manually entered into Google Contacts. You can download it from the Resources section below. Google also provides a CSV template file.

I should also mention that I did transpose my columns on this sheet. When you initially open the contacts.csv file from Google, Column A will show across Row 1. For my purposes, I found it easier to look at those fields as a column.

  • Column A is the name Google needs for import.
  • Column B is the values I entered on the Contact record. In some cases, Google derives certain values.
  • Column C is the field label you see on the web.
csv file with column headings for Google
My sample map

Using this table, you can see that even though I entered “Lincoln” in the “Last Name” field on the Contact page, Google is calling this field “Family Name” for import purposes.

Additional Import Restrictions

Once you get past the header and template issues, there are two other restrictions you might encounter.

  • You can’t import more than 3000 records at a time. If you have more than that, create multiple CSV files.
  • Google Contacts has a record limit of 25,000 contacts.


Sample CSV file with Google Mappings