What does 2022’s change to online tracking mean for digital marketing?

When it comes to digital marketing, change is coming

The way that digital marketing works will change forever from 2023, with the end of cookies and the introduction of a (potential) new system – Topics API.

In a continuously privacy-focused world, advertising platforms like Google & Microsoft are having to change the way that they track users online. In 2023, Google will be deprecating the current 3rd party cookie format and replacing it with a more user friendly, privacy-focused method.

The question on every digital marketer’s mind is exactly what that will look like and how it will work.

Introducing: Topics API

Originally, Google proposed FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). However, after several concerns were raised around what this would mean for users’ privacy, the FLoC proposal was scrapped in January 2022 and replaced with Topics API.

So what is the Topics API?

As the name suggests, when introduced, the Topics proposal will allow Google Chrome to store some of a user’s most searched interests (or topics) on the user’s device, not external servers.

When a user visits a site, a select number of topics are shared with the site and their advertising partners. Only topics from the previous 3 weeks can be shared, with Google choosing 1 topic from each of the 3 weeks to be shared with the site.

The challenges it provides for digital marketers:

  • Google stands alone: Unless other browsers buy into the idea, the tracking will only be relevant to activity in Chrome. So if a user researches cyber security on Safari, Chrome won’t recognise the historic research and therefore won’t show your cyber security ads to that user.
  • User’s gain, marketers loss: Users will have almost complete control over their own topics (which is becoming increasingly important to consumers), which includes being able to see and delete their own topics. However, they’re also given the option to disable this feature altogether, with the high number of consumers who decline cookies post-GDPR, we can expect a large portion of consumers to disable topics
  • It’s short lived: Similar, Topics will only be determined based on the user’s previous 3 weeks of activity. As we know, the buying cycle for most B2B products/ services can be far longer than 3 weeks, so this poses a challenge, as we will essentially lose visibility of a user if they don’t search for your services for over 3 weeks. Even if they search for your services again after the 3 week period, as things stand, this will be viewed as new activity, rather than returning to their research from over 3 weeks ago
  • A light touch: The topics available are very light (at least to start with), Google is starting the trial with ~300 topics being available, which doesn’t provide enough of a breakdown for B2C advertising let alone B2B (B2B isn’t currently a part of any topic, so it’s not possible to tell the difference between B2B IT services and B2C IT services, for example). It’s important to note that Google expect the number of topics to expand into “the low thousands”, but based on the lack of detail in the topics so far, this is likely to become a challenge

What remains to be seen is how other platforms will react to these changes, it may mean a heavier reliance on B2B-focused channels such as LinkedIn, as targeting is based on firmographic data – although this may mean even more competition on the platform.

In the meantime we recommend you:

Work on your user personas, to build a detailed understanding of who your target audience are and how you can target them

  • Ensure the messaging on your site closely relates to your target audience & personas, as this will make it easier to build your brand awareness, trust and engagement from your relevant audience
  • Trial other advertising methods, outside of Google Ads, such as LinkedIn (this can also help you to better understand your target audience)
  • Work on your 1st party data! Consider trialling several ways of collecting prospect info so that you can nurture them through your sales funnel – one way of doing this would be to promote high quality, gated whitepapers or eBooks to your audience and collect email addresses.

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Author: Sam Tuckey, Head of Digital Marketing, Seeblue Marketing

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