Over the past couple of years, one of the big stories in digital marketing has been the slow demise of third-party cookies. Most major tech companies, including Google, have been gradually phasing out their reliance on third-party data collection, in response to growing concerns about individual privacy.
This process will reach a kind of culmination mid-way through 2024, when Google will officially be 100 percent cookieless for all users. Naturally, this has brought up a number of questions and concerns among advertisers, who want to have some good cookie alternatives lined up.
One of the solutions that’s been floated is a new concept called Google Topics. In the coming year, you can expect to hear a lot more buzz about this innovative cookie alternative. But what is Google Topics, exactly? And how can advertisers prepare?
Google Topics at a Glance
Google Topics is one of a few alternative ad targeting solutions that the search company has rolled out in recent months. It’s been heralded as a meaningful substitute to the third-party cookies of old, allowing advertisers some new tools for targeting customers in a more privacy-sensitive way.
Basically, Google Topics allows advertisers to target their content to certain audiences, without necessarily knowing who’s in that audience. Meanwhile, consumers can see meaningful, relevant ad content without having to share information about who they are or which sites they’ve visited. That’s because Google Topics determines ad relevance based on app and website usage.
Crucially, Google Topics includes a number of measures that safeguard consumer privacy. These measures include:
- On-device data processing
- Data noise
- Exclusion of sensitive topics
How Does it Work?
What are the nuts and bolts of Google Topics? Here’s a quick rundown of how the program actually functions.
Google Assigns Topic Labels
Google Topics basically works by gauging consumer interests, then sharing them with advertisers. But instead of chronicling each user’s online activity verbatim, Google Topics creates a more general user profile, highlighting specific interests.
The process begins when individual websites are assigned to different topics, summarizing what the site is about. Right now, Google has 350 total topics, but there are plans for there to be thousands more introduced down the road. At the moment Google is excluding sensitive topics such as religion and sexuality, but that too is likely to change in the not-too-distant future.
Browsers Determine Top Interests
Your browser will then process your web and app history (all on-device, not via cloud), using that data to determine your top topics for the week. This data is stored on your device for three weeks, then automatically deleted. Your topics will reflect the main interests you’ve exhibited in your recent online activity, creating a basic profile of your Internet behavior.
Advertisers See Your Three Top Topics
Any time you visit a website, Google chooses your top three topics from the previous three weeks, sharing them with the site and its advertisers. Advertisers can then target their ads based on consumer interests, without needing to see a lot of personally identifiable information.
How Advertisers Can Prepare for Google Topics
Once cookies are completely gone, it’ll be a whole new world for advertisers. There are a few things that can be done right now to begin preparing for Google Topics’ ascent.
- Ensure a strong reporting foundation. Take the time to ensure you have some good, bedrock reporting numbers (accounting for seasonal shifts and other fluctuations). This will provide a baseline for understanding your numbers once you make a full shift to Google Topics.
- Review the available topics. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the topic labels that have been introduced thus far. Think about how they might map onto your buyer personas and consumer journey. And be mindful of new topics that are rolled out in the future.
- Test a wide range of targeting solutions. Google Topics isn’t the only targeting solution to be proposed as a cookie alternative. In fact, it's not even the only one in Google Sandbox! Take some time to test different options and to get a sense of which solutions work best for you.
- Seek publisher partnerships. There may also be some value in forging publisher-direct deals, gaining access to major publishers’ data and core demographics. If there are publishers closely aligned with your own ad strategy, it doesn’t hurt to reach out.
- Expand your ad horizons. Finally, remember that there are plenty of advertising venues that can be added to your media mix, including options that don’t rely on cookies. CTV is just one example worth considering.
A final tip: As you contemplate the post-cookies landscape, seek guidance from an agency like enCOMPASS. We’d be happy to talk further about optimizing your ad strategy for a post-cookies’ world. Reach out to us any time you want to discuss Google Topics or whatever else!
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