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Google Abandons FLoC for Topics API - What this Means for Advertisers

Elizabeth Kennedy
April 8, 2022

If 2022 passes as quickly as the past two years have, it’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. Advertisers are paying close attention as Google is under pressure from regulators to meet its 2023 goal for deprecating tracking cookies. 

After drawing criticism from privacy advocates, Google recently walked back FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), a form of interest-based tracking that identifies users based on their shared interests, or “cohorts”. The concern from critics around FLoC was that it could make it easier for advertisers to identify users with “browser fingerprinting”, which shares information about user devices, browsers, and potentially demographic information. 

Topics API is the latest proposal from Google for replacing third-party tracking cookies. Per Google, under Topics the browser identifies a user’s top interests for that week (things like “Fitness”, “Travel & Transportation”, etc) then shares them with participating sites and advertising partners. Topics are kept for three weeks on user’s devices and removed after that time. Google makes it clear that user’s Topics information will not be stored on external servers, including Google’s servers. 

A bonus for user privacy advocates: in Chrome, Google is giving users the ability to view the topics associated with them, remove topics if they wish, and even the ability to disable Topics altogether.

Google goes into more detail about how this works in their recent announcement.

While most would agree that this is a good move by Google for user privacy, where does this leave advertisers?

The general consensus is (justified) concern from advertisers, especially those who confronted Facebook’s deprecation in targeting capabilities post iOS14.5 adoption. Broader targeting inevitably means more challenges in reaching the intended users, so growing pains should be expected. 

In particular, marketers have raised concerns about Topic availability as a hurdle to targeting accuracy. The Topics API Github page lists only 350 “topics” so far, which some feel might not contain enough nuance to accurately target customers. Google maintains that this list is in an early stage of development, so this issue may be addressed in the coming months.

As compared with FLoC, Topics gives users more control and flexibility over how they receive targeted advertising. Both FLoC and Topics represent a step down in precision targeting, so advertisers will need to adapt.

Despite the uncertain future for Topics API and Cookie deprecation, there are steps advertisers can take to prepare:

  • Prioritize First Party Data - Advertisers should maintain focus on collecting first party data which can be used to target customers directly or create lookalike audiences. Prioritizing strategies for developing brand-customer relationships can help with this.
  • Leverage Cross Channel Audiences - Marin Software also offers proprietary audience targeting options such as Social Intent for Search, which seamlessly integrates social audiences to power search campaigns. Options like this that leverage existing intent will be valuable to adaptation.
  • Keep Clients Up to Date - Nobody likes unhappy surprises, especially not advertising clients. Start communicating and developing a plan of action now and stay flexible as Google releases more information around Topics API in the coming months.

Test Marin Software for More Performance Power - MarinOne’s bidding algorithm consistently outperforms publisher bidding AND gives advertisers greater visibility into bidding. Advertisers will appreciate the transparency we offer as so many publishers reduce available optimization levers.

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