It’s long been known that Google wants to drop support for third party cookies on Chrome, and the day is finally coming. But what other changes are Google bringing in for 2021 and beyond?
On May 27th 2021, Google held their Marketing Livestream, which highlighted many of the changes coming to Google Ads in the coming months.
Most of these changes are well known to marketers, such as the end of third party cookies. In the nearly hour and a half long online presentation, there was a lot to take in.
In this post we’ll take a quick look at the important changes coming to Google Ads and how they affect digital marketers.
Cookies OUT, FLoC IN
The headline change is the end of third party cookies. Long touted as a major problem for preserving online privacy, third party cookies will be phased out by 2022.
But what about their replacement?
The Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short, has been presented as a new way to preserve user anonymity online, but to still allow marketers to target demographics by genuine interest.
FLoC works by putting individuals under a demographic umbrella, or cohort, as opposed to keeping individual information. The theory is that the anonymity of the crowd means that no unique identifiers are kept on a specific user, but that we become part of a collective.
Is FLoC an improvement?
There is a lot of controversy around the switch to FLoC, with many maintaining that actually, it’s more of the same, or, worse, it actually gives businesses more information about you.
Privacy focused browser, Brave, which already blocks third party cookies and embedded ads, is also blocking FLoC. The reason is that Brave feels that additional information is shared without the informed consent of the user. You can read their full press release on the matter of FLoC on the Brave site.
Additionally, Mozilla Firefox and Safari will also not use FLoC when it is introduced. But Chrome still has the majority market share, with 67% of users choosing Google’s browser.
The issue for most is that FLoC presents new issues, rather than dealing with the existing problem of privacy.
As an example, if you have an account with a website, your FLoC activity will be available to them, giving this company increased insight into your online habits. An issue referred to as cross-content exposure.
So, is FLoC a total fail from Google?
Well, it does seem that the overwhelming majority of tech publications and companies are not entirely enthralled by the incoming changes to tracking. From a user perspective it’s not looking too good.
For digital marketers, it pretty much means business as usual. Google Ads will continue to target your chosen demographic and location. In fact, Google reckons that ads will be at least 95% as effective as they’ve always been. So that’s good news, right?
During the Google Marketing Livestream 2021, there were a lot of interesting stats. Many of these highlighted how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how many companies do business, and how a lot of these changes are here to stay.
Some of the key ones related to the past year are:
- Online retail searches grew x3 during the last quarter of 2020
- Curbside pickups grew by 3000% during the pandemic
- Searches for ‘in stock’ have grown by 800%
- Local business searches have been growing 80% year on year
In short, more of us rely on the internet for our retail fix than ever before. And, perhaps tellingly, we want efficiency in our online transactions.
Of course, Google has been paying attention and announced an interesting new integration for ecommerce and retail.
During 2021, Shopify integration will be introduced to Google Shopping accounts. What this means is that if a business uses Shopify to sell their goods, shoppers can checkout from right there on Google’s results page.
Google will also be adding a ‘Deals’ section to their Shopping section, making it easier for searchers to find businesses offering discounts, offers and more.
In the hard hit travel industry, Google will also be introducing a more optimised experience for hotels, flights and travel experiences.
Hotel and flight booking extensions are already available on Google Ads, and the search giants will also be adding details about travel safety in the Covid era, such as whether borders are open or what precautions may be required by airlines/border agencies.
Video and image search results
Another change is that advertisers will be able to include images in their pay per click Google Ads, giving searchers an extra incentive to click.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, Video action campaigns will be rolled out to help advertisers convert more customers on YouTube. Although the TrueView for YouTube ads has been running for several years, Video action will be an upgrade with more space for text and options to integrate your video ads in more places.
With images and video being shown to be effective for grabbing people’s attention (just look at the growth of Instagram and TikTok), this looks set to be one of the good ideas coming out of Casa Google in the coming year.
Another new feature, and one that has actually been rolled out in beta since late 2020, is Performance Max. This offers marketers an easier way to maximise their ad reach, with multiple ad formats available from within one campaign.
Performance Max uses smart bidding, with the theory that the platform can identify the best opportunities for marketers across their ad portfolio. So, if it looks like display or video is a wiser choice right now, Performance Max will adjust to target those over search to maximise the ad budget.
Does it work?
So far the feedback is generally positive, although Google is tweaking some of the performance insights prior to rolling out the finished product.
Trust tokens to prevent fraud
The on-going problem of ad fraud has been addressed by Google, although it wasn’t mentioned in the Google Marketing Livestream 2021.
For those not in the know, ad fraud and click fraud are the challenges of preventing non-genuine or invalid clicks from negatively impacting ad spend. Factors such as bots or malicious human clicks can cost advertisers thousands of dollars a month, and it has long been a problem that markers feel Google could do more about.
So, are trust tokens the answer?
Strangely, trust tokens actually act like third party cookies, which are the very tech that is being retired by Google. These tokens are issued by ‘trusted’ websites, to users who perform verifiable activity. This can include completing captchas or even just completing a checkout or watching a video.
The jury is still out whether it will have the desired effect, as it hasn’t been unveiled yet. But, two experts in the field of ad fraud are unconvinced.
As Dr Augustine Fou, an independent ad fraud investigator says, “These changes to Google’s tracking methods won’t affect ad fraud. They certainly won’t decrease it.
“Although they’re experimenting with new trust tokens, success depends totally on the honesty of the trust token issuer.”
And Ilan Missulawin, co-founder and CMO of ClickCease, says, “The trust tokens initiative does nothing to stop repetitive clicks from business rivals, which is a large part of the click fraud problem that we see.
“Although there does need to be a wholesale change by the major ad platforms in the way they manage fraud filtering, I don’t think trust tokens will be as effective as they hope.”
A busy 2021 for digital marketers
There is a lot to take on board, but not to worry. Google is rolling out changes throughout 2021, with some of these not expected to happen until early-mid 2022.
With a lot of the new features in beta mode, advertisers are being given an opportunity to opt-in or to play with new features before they go live.
Some of the plans such as FLoC and trust tokens may yet see a delay or postponement before they go live. With such a big industry backlash, it shouldn’t be ruled out that we might yet see something else be presented as a solution.
However, many changes are already in place such as Performance Max. So it is definitely time to get used to the new features and changes coming to Google Ads in 2021.