On January 25, Google announced a major evolutionary change to its privacy sandbox campaign to eliminate the use of third-party cookies for its digital ads and analytics solutions. Until then, Google had developed a data privacy management framework, called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which was intended to help deliver digital advertisements while preventing unwanted advertisements and covert online tracking from third-party solutions.
Google has now replaced FLoC with an algorithmic API framework called TOPICS for its privacy initiative. The tech giant believes TOPICS will offer the right combination of personalized advertising information and consumer privacy protection.
How Google TOPICS improves interest-based marketing and privacy
Given its market dominance in browser usage and online search, Google has worked to position itself at the forefront of the industry’s transition away from third-party data generated by browser cookies. . His first attempt resulted in FLoC.
FLoC was designed to replace cookie-based advertising signals by applying machine learning modeling to browser history. Models note the topic of a website visited through a browser, associate the topic with a category, and then allow personalized ad campaigns to appear based on the category. Categories are simple descriptions that are relevant to consumer activity, such as “travel” and “fitness”.
The original plan was to deploy FLoC, allowing marketers to gradually adjust ad campaigns and search strategy. But early industry feedback on early trials with FLoC raised potential concerns about the model’s performance.
In an API documentation for TOPICS on GitHub, comments from FLoC trials included concerns about identifying clients based on cohorts. The clearest reaction concerned fingerprinting, a technique in which information about the software and hardware of a remote computing device is collected for identification purposes.
Any information collected without explicit permission online is increasingly challenged, and identifying mobile devices can sometimes be akin to identifying a person without permission.
Related article: Why did Google abandon FLoC for topics and what is the marketing impact?
Google’s reinvented approach
With TOPICS, Google has incorporated lessons learned from FLoC into a reinvented approach. The machine learning model for ad boards remains, but with a revised framework that incorporates time block functionality.
When analyzing topics from a user’s browser behavior history, TOPICS identifies the top three categories based on a three-week history period. Google TOPICS also provides user controls within the search engine to allow users to periodically review categories and remove those that are likely to send them irrelevant ads or those that they simply don’t like.
Categories in TOPICS started at 350, relating more to everyday consumer interest. But that’s sure to change – the majority of B2B professionals rely on Google search, so it’s likely categories will play a little more into business needs when TOPICS rolls out for wider use. Thousands of categories are expected to be added soon.
Potential benefits for marketers and consumers
The impact that Google TOPICS brings to analytics becomes as profoundly multifaceted as the analytics itself. Behavioral systems and strategies measured by analytics will get clearer signals related to page visitor behavior through Google TOPICS, improving the quality of the measurement applied.
Here are three potential benefits:
Merchants and consumers more confident
One of the impacts of Google TOPICS is a potential increase in consumer and marketer confidence – a rare opportunity given the well-known difficulties with attribution and cross-channel messaging these days. With a user-selected limit for browser behavior history, consumers will have the confidence that they can control which advertisers discover their interest while browsing websites casually.
Marketers will have better choices to understand how personalized ad campaigns are influenced. This influence often determines where advertisements are placed in online content through networks that were not originally the subject of an advertising plan. Marketers demand a tool to prevent ad campaigns from appearing on online networks hosting the wrong customer audience. Google TOPICS aims to be that highly desirable tool.
Behavioral Cohort Analysis Boost
The second impact is an orientation delay for data to be used in a behavioral analysis. For example, an SEO keyword analysis might reflect search queries or conversions from customers who likely viewed a given campaign within a three-week period from the campaign launch date. Integrating TOPICS into an analysis also serves as a starting point to guide campaign planning.
This scenario gives marketers a reasonable assumption about how long customers are interested in content, which strengthens the behavioral analysis of cohorts. By associating the data with a defined retention period and a known set of user interests, TOPICS brings consistency in the type of cohort that will be identified from the data.
Focus on device-driven search behavior data
A third advantage of Google TOPICS is that ads are organized without involving data being sent to a server, which solves a major privacy issue. First-party data that eliminates forwarding ensures compliance with privacy regulations that involve data residency – the application of laws based on where the data resides relative to a given territory.
Google and other tech giants have struggled with court rulings over data privacy. My privacy article explains the recent court ruling declaring Google Analytics non-compliant due to sending its data to servers outside the European Union. TOPICS eliminates this server residency issue by focusing on device-focused search behavior data within a client rather than across servers.
App development will also see the influence of Google TOPICS
Google TOPICS is not only important from an analytics solution perspective. Developers learn to provide services through browser extensions. The extension provides another level of data that can improve the customer experience, especially when an application is at the heart of that experience. Naturally, ads are also used in many apps, so developers also share the same concerns as marketers to keep ads relevant and protect customer privacy from third parties.
Developers will see other technical options to address these concerns. Google has announced that the TOPICS framework will become available for Android apps. Also, a developer trial is coming where Google will learn more about marketers and developers accepting user controls. Developers will also see a second API framework, PLEDGE, designed for remarketing and custom audience needs, while avoiding third parties that track users’ browsing behavior across sites. Google will reveal more about PLEDGE later this year.
Marketers working alongside developers will need to better understand what devices customers are using when seeing ads and content. This has always been available through the Analytics Solutions Technical Reports, which I explain in this article:
Related Article: How the Google Analytics Technical Report Can Inform an App Launch or Marketing Strategy
What will Google bring next for marketers and app developers?
Google is confident that TOPICS will provide a better customer experience with advertising campaigns while protecting consumer privacy. In the meantime, marketers can prepare their data analytics adjustment for first-party data strategies.
Consumer browser privacy is about having a choice about your exposure to advertisers when searching online. People still accept ads, but demand better privacy measures to ensure relevance. Google strives to respect these choices, emphasizing a machine learning strategy that incorporates first-party data and priority privacy needs.
Therefore, Google TOPICS may be the best opportunity yet to strike a balance between personalized convenience for consumers who want privacy and information for marketers who want to serve relevant personalized ads.
Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business digital analytics consultancy. It reviews data from web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides web development recommendations and actions that improve marketing strategy and business profitability.