Google’s Switch From FLoC to Topics: What Does it Mean for Advertisers?

02.03.2022 Angela Kozlowski5 min

As third-party cookies have come under fire for their privacy infringements, a number of major tech brands have promised to move away from cookies in the coming years. At the top of that list was Google, which had committed to phasing out third-party cookies and coming up with alternative solutions to providers.

Those alternative solutions were key, since so much of Google’s ad business is dependent on third-party cookies for user tracking. But when Google unveiled its new tracking solution, dubbed “Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC),” data privacy and ad tracking experts were quick to voice their skepticism over this solution.

Although FLoC replaced individual tracking by grouping users into “clusters” with shared interests, a wave of objections from key stakeholders convinced Google to change its course. In January, the company announced that FLoC was getting replaced with a new targeting proposal called Topics.

These changes are sure to have implications for digital ad strategies large and small. Here’s an overview of what small business owners need to know about Google Topics and the future performance of their ad campaigns.

Why Google Was Pressured Into Dropping FLoC

Despite Google’s attempt to position FLoC as a user-friendly, privacy-minded replacement to third-party cookies, critics quickly accused Google of simply repackaging individual user tracking into a different solution—while still enabling targeted ad capabilities which, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, be “used for exploitation, discrimination, and harm.”

Others pointed out that FLoC would continue to collect massive amounts of data on individual users—largely without their full understanding of what is being shared, and what purpose. Some of FLoC’s detractors argued that this volume of data was not necessary for ad campaigns to reach a relevant audience through cost-effective digital advertising.

Ultimately, the success of FLoC would require a widespread embrace of this tracking technology by other popular web browsers. After leading rival platforms like Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge were determined to be against this tracking solution, Google was forced to shift gears and develop Topics.

How Google’s Topics Solution Will Work

Instead of collecting massive troves of user data, Topics will use your weekly browsing history to identify key topics that you are interested in, based on your online activity.

Topics will be specific to each hardware device, rather than connected to your user profile across all of your devices, and will restrict its topic identification to your user activity within the past three weeks. Web domains can choose whether or not to opt into Topics tracking through the Topics API, although if your business doesn’t share information through this API, you won’t be able to leverage this information in your own ad targeting.

The main difference between FLoC and Topics is that, while FLoC used collected data to group individual users into larger “cohorts,” Topics simply tags certain topics to individual users. Businesses then target users through those topic categories, rather than through a cohort ID representing a group of users.

How Will Topics Affect Your Advertising Strategy?

Eager to know whether Google’s rollout of Topics should be forcing a change to your advertising strategy? The short answer is no—or not yet, anyway. It’s too early to tell whether Topics will be adopted broadly and supported by the web browsers that rebelled against FLoC, and overall adoption of Topics will determine how valuable this new targeting solution will be to your small business advertising strategy.

There’s also work to be done to demonstrate the audience targeting capabilities of Topics compared to alternative targeting solutions. While Google’s strategy makes sense in theory, it must also hold up to real-world use cases to prove to small businesses and advertising agencies that this new solution is worth the investment.

Until more concrete information is available to help you better understand the benefits and potential ROI of Topics, your best strategy is to maintain your current strategy while paying close attention to headlines regarding the future of cookie-based tracking and Google’s Topics API.

As these changes to digital advertising continue to unfold, it helps to have a digital advertising partner by your side to make sense of these changes and adjust your strategy accordingly. With the help of a trusted partner, you can quickly respond to these changes and continue to drive strong advertising ROI.

Contact us today—we’re here to help.

About the Author

Angela Kozlowski

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