Is FLoC switching from cohorts to topics?

With the rollout of FLoC delayed until 2023, there may be an indication that Google is adjusting how the privacy-focused ad-targeting system may work.

“A lead engineer helping guide Google’s Privacy Sandbox development has revealed signs of what may be next for the firm’s most advanced cookieless ad targeting method. The potential update of the Federated Learning of Cohorts targeting technique detailed at a recent engineering research event would involve assigning topic categories to websites and people rather than assigning opaque numerical cohort IDs to them,” wrote Kate Kaye with Digiday.

This may be a response to evidence that the previous method of FLoC (which did not pass muster with GDPR) might enable fingerprinting, which means bad actors could still track individuals — something FLoC is expressly created to prohibit. “Topics have a number of advantages over cohorts. Users can see what’s being said about them and understand it,” said Josh Karlin, a tech lead manager of Google’s Privacy Sandbox team in its Chrome browser division at an Internet Engineering Task Force meeting. 

“We are always exploring options for how to make the Privacy Sandbox proposals more private while still supporting the free and open web. Nothing has been decided yet,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land.

Why we care. While Google is buying itself more time (testing for the latest version of FLoC ended July 13 and it’s taking feedback from the advertiser community into consideration too), this pivot could potentially be better for everyone involved. “Adopting a topic-based approach could give advertisers, ad-tech firms, website publishers, and people a clearer understanding of how ads are targeted through the technique,” said Kaye. 

The SEO Periodic Table: HTML success factors

These elements encompass the HTML tags you should use to send clues to search engines about your content and enable that content to render quickly. Are you describing movie showtimes? Do you have ratings and reviews on your e-commerce pages? What’s the headline of the article you’ve published? In every case, there’s a way to communicate this with HTML. 

Search engines look for familiar formatting elements like Titles (Tt) and Headings (Hd) to determine what your page’s content is about, figuring that these cues to human readers will work just as well for them. But search engines also utilize particular fields like Schema (Sc) markup and Meta Descriptions (Ds) as clues to the meaning and purpose of the page.

 As Google has removed the AMP requirement, we’ve gotten rid of that element and added two new ones: Image ALT (ALT) and Content Shift (CLS). ALT text for images improves accessibility and image SEO. Screen readers use ALT text to help those with visual disabilities understand the images on the page. ALT text for images can also help with image search — surfacing your site in image search results. Content Shift (CLS) focuses on the elements of visual stability. 

Cumulative Layout Shift, which is part of the Core Web Vitals and overall page experience update, refers to unexpected changes in a page’s layout as it loads — it’s annoying for users at a minimum and can cause real damage depending on the severity of the shift and content of the page.

Read more about the HTML success factors or download the whole SEO Periodic Table.

Search Shorts: Get more GMB photos, remote working SEOs and automation advice

Google My Business ‘Photo Updates’: A new way to get customer pics. Another solid local SEO piece by one of our faves, Claire Carlile. “It is now possible to add a photo update without leaving a review if you click… on ‘Add a photo update.’”

Remote forever? Kelvin Newman asked his SEO and digital marketing Twitter followers if they were back in the office yet. Over 60% said no (with 19% saying they’d always been remote). Many replies and QTs expect that trend to stay for a while. 

“Definitely don’t do this.” That’s what Kenny Hyder said in response to a Google Ads tweet about Smart Bidding. Just another case of ads automation vs. ads consultant.

What We’re Reading: Reddit’s new round of funding will go toward driving new users and expanding advertiser options

Reddit announced that it raised $140 million in venture capital which increased the company’s valuation from $6 billion to $10 billion. While initially not planned, the fresh capital gives Reddit more time to figure out how to IPO eventually.

“The company makes most of its money selling advertising, which appears in the feeds of users who browse the many ‘subreddits,’ or topic-focused forums, across the site,” said Mike Issac for The New York Times. But this also means “Reddit must compete against digital advertising giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, as well as other ad-based social networking sites, including Twitter, Snap, and Pinterest.”

But the company has been steadily improving its metrics, according to the NYT article: 

  • Reddit surpassed $100 million in revenue in a single quarter for the first time this year, up 192 percent over the same period in 2020.
  • More than 50 million people now visit Reddit daily.
  • The site has more than 100,000 active subreddits.

The company has also been working on moderating subs recently, as well, including banning ‘The_Donald’ and other subreddits that degraded into forums of hate speech and violent conspiracy theories. Many of the other major players competing in the space (Facebook, Twitter) have been trying to do the same.

So what’s next for the cash? The latest round of money means that the forum/social media platform can figure out new ways to garner more users and continue to build its business, especially internationally. Plus they plan to explore more options for video ads and opening their system up to be easier for small businesses looking to take advantage of the niche and targeted advertising. 

[Source: This article was published in By Carolyn Lyden - Uploaded by the Association Member: Daniel K. Henry] 
Published in Search Engine

Google has positioned its third-party cookie replacement squarely between advertisers and users, and both sides are worried.

FLoC is coming — Here’s what we know so far

Earlier this month, Google announced that it would not build or use alternate identifiers to track users for advertising purposes. Instead, the company reiterated that its ads will be driven by one of its Privacy Sandbox initiatives, called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).

Advertisers have been anticipating the shift away from third-party cookies for years, but now, we have some understanding of the technology that the industry leader will be backing to replace it. Google has positioned FLoC squarely between users, who have grown increasingly privacy-conscious, and advertisers, who view it in the shadow of the third-party cookies they’ve become accustomed to. This has generated questions and concerns from both sides, many of which are unlikely to be addressed until further testing occurs. Here’s what we know so far.

What is FLoC

FLoC is a method for browsers to enable interest-based advertising. It works by gathering data about a user’s browsing habits and then clustering groups of users with similar interests into cohorts. The algorithm used to develop those cohorts may look at the URLs of sites that the user visited and the content of those pages, among other factors, according to the FLoC proposal on GitHub. Information about the cohort is then shared for advertising purposes.

Individual user data is kept locally, in the browser, and the browser only exposes the cohort ID. Cohorts would ideally include enough people to make it difficult to identify any particular individual within the group, but also be specific enough to enable effective ad targeting. Users are assigned into new cohorts on a weekly basis, based on their previous week’s browsing data.

Google has announced that it expects to start testing FLoC-based cohorts with advertisers beginning in Q2 of this year. “Our tests of FLoC to reach in-market and affinity Google Audiences show that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising,” the company said. And, at the time of publication, FLoC will only be rolling out to Google’s Chrome browser.

Why it’s such a big change. Advertisers are used to targeting via third-party cookies, which enable them to reach specific individuals. With FLoC, individuals are put into a cohort-based on their interests, adding a layer of anonymity that may help increase user privacy.

Another distinction is that the assigning of cohorts is all done within the browser, which means users’ information is kept locally. With third-party cookies, a third party may be storing user data on one of their own servers.

The challenges that lay ahead for FLoC

In response to users’ demands for greater privacy, Safari and Firefox stopped supporting third-party cookies. Google, however, owns a massively profitable ads business as well as the Chrome browser, which means that its third-party cookie replacement has to satisfy advertisers and users, and advocates for both sides are anxious about how FLoC will affect them.

Privacy concerns. Grouping users into cohorts help hide individuals within a crowd, but that may not be enough to stop motivated actors from extracting individual user data.

FLoC’s biggest selling points (the cohorts of thousands of users) might actually facilitate browser fingerprinting, in which many pieces of data from the browser are compiled to create a unique identifier. This is because the cohort ID lumps users into a group of perhaps several thousand people, which would greatly decrease the number of browsers a tracker would have to distinguish between to establish an identifier. Google has proposed a “Privacy Budget” to combat fingerprinting, but at the time of publication, it remains an early-stage proposal and does not yet have a browser implementation, despite having announced that FLoC will be open for advertiser testing within a few months.

The FLoC proposal itself also highlights a number of user privacy concerns. “Sites that know a person’s PII [personally identifiable information] (e.g., when people sign in using their email address) could record and reveal their cohort,” the proposal reads. This may enable trackers to learn about a user’s browsing history or the demographic information of members of particular cohorts, which could enable advertisers to discriminate against audiences.

When asked about how cohorts may be used to target certain demographics or reveal sensitive information, Google provided the following statement:

“Google Ads has long-standing policies against the targeting or exclusion of people based on sensitive categories. FLoC IDs will follow similar principles. Chrome’s FLoC analysis will evaluate whether a cohort may be sensitive without learning why it is sensitive. So cohorts that reveal sensitive categories like race, sexuality, or personal hardships are blocked or the clustering algorithm will be reconfigured to reduce the correlation. In addition, it is also against our policies to serve personalized ads on these sensitive categories.”

Targeting. “We [currently] have this pie of available targeting options, what percentage of that pie is going to go away?” Julie Friedman Bacchini, president of Neptune Moon and managing director of PPCChat, said, sharing a common concern for advertisers in the wake of Google repeating its support for FLoC and proclaiming that it would not build or use alternate identifiers to track users.

This is one worry that Google may be able to put to rest: “It is best to think of FLoC as advertisers will have the same ability to reach relevant audiences, only instead of being able to do this on an individual basis, it would be based on cohorts (i.e., thousands of users),” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land. Essentially, the company is saying that the targeting options that are currently available won’t change — what’s changing is that advertisers will be targeting cohorts composed of thousands of people, as opposed to specific individuals.

Turtledove is Google’s retargeting solution

Google has also introduced Turtledove, another Privacy Sandbox initiative, to give advertisers a way to retarget audiences while approaching user privacy similarly to FLoC.

The Turtledove API uses information, stored on the browser, about advertisers the user has expressed a prior interest in, along with information about the current page. It then sends two requests for ads: one to retrieve an ad based on an advertiser-defined interest, and another to retrieve an ad based on contextual data. These requests are independent so ad networks can’t link them together to learn that the requests are from the same browser.

Next, the browser conducts an auction to select the most relevant ad using JavaScript code provided by the advertiser. The code can only be used to determine ads; it cannot make network requests.

Fledge is Google’s early prototype that builds on Turtledove. It will include a method for on-device bidding algorithms to use additional information from a “trusted” server. “To help early experimentation before the new trusted servers are available, we propose a ‘Bring Your Own Server’ model and expect to ship this first experiment during 2021,” Google said in a blog post.

What you can do to prepare for the change

Despite the many uncertainties surrounding Google’s replacement for third-party cookies, there are still ways that you can position your agency and your clients to hit the ground running when the changes finally occur.

Collect your own data. “Put some real thought and effort into creating your own first-party data,” Friedman Bacchini said, adding, “Build your email lists [and] you’re going to want to have people coming and engaging and doing something on your web property so that you can capture that information.”

Compiling and maintaining first-party data enables you to upload your customer lists to platforms that can help you market directly to those customers, or create lookalike audiences.

Communicate the changes to your clients. As with any major change, workflows may be impacted, which can result in inefficiencies and/or wasted spend. Preparing a simple overview of the changes can help your staff get ready for them and help to reframe client expectations. You should also provide updates as more information becomes available.

Keep up to date with the news. As previously mentioned, Google plans to conduct various tests of this new targeting method. The findings from those experiments may inform their final implementation. Stay up to date with how FLoC and the move away from third-party cookies unfold so that you can better prepare your business and/or clients for the change. 

Questions remain about Google’s third-party cookie alternative

FLoC is replacing a decades-old technology, which means that it may be some time before all our questions about it get answered. For example, at the time of publication, Chrome is the only browser set to adopt FLoC, so how will advertisers on Google’s platform reach users on Safari, for example, which accounts for over a third of the U.S. browser market, according to Statcounter. Additionally, will Google only allow advertising to FLoC-derived cohorts on Chrome, turning it into a walled garden?

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to how this is going to impact my ability to deliver the results that my clients expect and the kinds of results that I’ve been able to deliver up until now,” Friedman Bacchini said. At this point, we don’t know the extent to which advertisers’ campaigns and workflows will change as we move away from third-party cookies, and although Google is sure to make more announcements over time, the entire picture is only likely to get clearer once we’re able to test out the technology ourselves.

[Source: This article was published in By George Nguyen - Uploaded by the Association Member: Jeremy Frink]
Published in Search Engine


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