You may have heard that third-party cookies, which have been marketers’ prime way of tracking online behaviors, are on their way out.
Though the future may not have cookies, it will have Topics.
Google Topics is the proposed privacy-friendly alternative to third-party cookies. Though it’s still early and there are many questions to be answered, wise marketers can begin to familiarize themselves with how the cookie alternative will work. Here’s what we know now.
What is Google Topics and How is it Different than Third-Party Cookies?
To put it (very) simply, Google Topics will change ad targeting from specific to something more broad. It’s an attempt to achieve compromise between competing interests for user privacy and ad personalization.
Topics proposes to create a system that assigns a user a handful of interests according to the websites they have visited recently. These interests determine the content of the ads they are shown.
This is far less granular than the third-party cookie system, which can track the specific websites a user visited. Advertisers had been able to use third-party cookies for highly targeted ad strategies such as retargeting. Retargeting enables marketers to show consumers ads for products they searched for on completely different sites – or, as some describe, when a Google search “follows you around the internet.”
How Will Topics Work?
With Topics, Google will label each website with a high-level topic (for example: sports, autos and vehicles, women’s clothing). The current proposed list has 350 topics to prevent user information from getting too detailed, but Google has said the list could expand to into the thousands. Google has said the list won’t include sensitive categories such as race, religion, sexual orientation, and potential others.
At any given time, a user’s browser will associate itself with up to five topics that reflect browsing behavior within the last three weeks – plus one random topic. Evidently, the random topic is meant to throw off companies that may try to attempt to discern a user’s identity from their topics list.
The topics are shared with advertisers to help them target ads without knowing the specific sites a consumer has visited. But, there will be more control on the user’s end. They will be able to see the topics associated with their browsing behavior and remove any they don’t like, or completely disable them in Chrome’s settings.
How Can Marketers Prepare?
Change has become the norm in the fast-paced world of digital marketing, and the phase-out of third-party cookies is yet another example. Making a successful pivot first will involve moving to a first-party data strategy.
First-party data is the information about your customers you directly collect and own. It can be acquired through a variety of channels, both online and offline, including first-party cookies on your website, an app, social media, your customer service department, or surveys.
So, how much first-party data do you have? If there are gaps, it’s time to amp up your data collection. Remember, this is a long-term strategy – so start now!
Increase direct access to customers by building traffic to your digital channels. Over time, you’ll be able to decipher trends in behavior, engagement, preferences, and topics of interest. You can layer in online forms and surveys to continue expanding your universe of useful data.
As website traffic increases, you might notice that a large percentage of visitors are anonymous – that is, you haven’t yet captured information about them. But, with increased web traffic, it’s possible to leverage additional techniques to profile anonymous web visitors and glean more detailed data that’s incredibly valuable in your marketing efforts.
At the end of the day, Google is the market leader in online advertising, and it is in marketers’ best interest to adapt to its changing model. There’s still much to learn, but being open and flexible to change in the world of digital marketing is always a solid strategy. If you’re considering a refresh for your digital advertising plans, schedule a complementary conversation to learn how we can help.