Google Topics API is the latest addition to the Privacy Sandbox to replace third-party cookies.
Similar to the now-abandoned Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposal, Google has designed Topics API to preserve user privacy while showing relevant content and ads. The new proposal was based on feedback from the FLoC origin trials last year.
Now that Google has laid the groundwork for how the future of audience targeting will look, advertisers will need to evaluate how it measures up against third-party cookies and adjust your paid search marketing strategy accordingly.
Let’s take a look at the key features of Google Topics API, how it will affect your digital advertising strategy, and what to expect in the coming year as Topics API takes the place of third-party cookies.
What is Google Topics API?
Google Topics API is a new system for interest-based advertising that aligns with the Privacy Sandbox initiative. This is a collection of technologies that protect users’ privacy online while providing companies with the digital tools they need to reach the right audience and build a thriving business.
Unlike FLoC, which places people into cohorts or buckets based on their browsing history, Topics allows Google to pick up to five interests – like sports, travel, rock music, or fitness – that represents the interests of a user based on participating websites they’ve visited in a given week.
The browser stores a user’s interests for three weeks before deleting them. When a person visits a website, Google shows only three of their interests, consisting of one topic from each of the three weeks. Currently, there are about 350 topics available, though Google plans to add anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand in total.
Google Topics API uses on-device machine learning—none of the data processed comes from external servers, including Google servers. The specific sites a person visits will no longer be shared across the web, like they were with third-party cookies. And no sensitive information, such as race or gender, is tracked or provided to paid search marketers.
For those using Google Chrome, you will be able to view and delete topics as well as disable the feature entirely in Chrome Settings.
How Does Topics API Affect Digital Advertising?
Digital marketers used third-party cookies to track users and build profiles to help them understand what topics users may be interested in, often to the detriment of the end user’s privacy. On the other hand, Google Topics API allows a browser to share a brief list of advertising topics that correspond to users’ interests.
This means less data for targeting and said data expires much more quickly. But, it also means a more transparent approach to paid media and display advertising.
Google Topics aligns with the growing desire for increased user privacy. This may seem restrictive for paid advertising, but it does help eliminate fingerprinting. It also provides an opportunity for more human-centric advertising.
Topics API is Interest-Based
The focus for Topics API is interest-based, which provides a more nuanced approach than contextual targeting. Context offers a limited perspective, while interests are longer-term. Since Topics API refreshes every three weeks, it will offer more than one interest over time.
Privacy is Still a Concern
Many companies took advantage of third-party cookie data with increased fingerprinting techniques disregarding active privacy regulations. Third-party cookies will cease to exist. But Google Topics API does provide at least some degree of targeting of users’ interests based on website activity.
Limited Targeting Means Increased Creativity
Topics API provides coarse-grained advertising topics. With only 350 topic interests, the current content taxonomy is tiny. If a user’s interest comes up as ‘sports,’ that’s a broad topic. Does this person like ‘hockey,’ ‘team sports,’ or ‘table tennis’?
There is no way to narrow these broad interests to provide more targeted advertisements. Digital advertisers have an opportunity to get more creative with how they interact with customers and approach interest-based advertising.
Changes in the Coming Year
Third-party cookies are going away, and with that will come growing pains. Paid search marketing practitioners must evaluate what they consider ‘accurate targeting’ and come to terms with the fact that the robust targeting we’re used to is no longer available.
Keep in mind that Topics API is a concept at this point that will inevitably change. Still, there are ways you can prepare your clients for Topics API and updates to the Privacy Sandbox.
- Collect Your Own Data. Curate your own first-party and zero-party data. Start to utilize platforms that help you market directly to these contacts. You can even create ‘lookalike’ personas.
- Clearly Communicate Changes. Display advertising is about to change. Make sure you communicate updates to all stakeholders to ensure they adjust their expectations accordingly.
- Stay Up to Date with Topics API. Google will be making changes to Topics API as data comes in from their developer trial. Keep up with changes to ensure you correctly align best practices as you begin to reimagine digital marketing and advertising strategies.
Learning about a future without third-party cookies is a significant first step in preparing for new ways to advertise and reach your target audience digitally. If you’re looking to take things to the next level, consider working with New Path. We have a team of digital advertising experts ready to help you attract, engage, and delight your potential customers.