Marketing tracking: Google relies on topic-based ads instead of clustering


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The FLoC project launched by Google as a successor to marketing tracking via third-party cookies has been stopped due to privacy concerns. In its place, subject-related ads, so-called topics, should appear.

  • Google launched its “FLoC” project shelved. In its place, subject-related ads, so-called topics, will appear in the future.
  • Smarketer as a long-term partner from Google in DACH will test and evaluate the technology. There are already initial recommendations for customers.

After Google presented a successor to marketing tracking via third-party cookies with FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) to publishers and the advertising industry, the project was stopped in Europe due to data protection concerns. Thorsten Abrahamczik, Senior Manager SEO & Web Analysis at the Google Ads agency Smarketer, explains this decision: “With FLoC, Google had a data protection-compliant solution for marketing targeting from the company’s point of view. This should divide users into groups based on their surfing behavior. But there were concerns about compliance with the GDPR right from the start, which is why the planned tests didn’t even start in Germany.”

Topics: Individual topic suggestions based on the browser history

At the end of January, Google presented the successor “Topics”, which is part of Google’s privacy sandbox. Instead of relying on cohorts or clusters, as with FLoC, Google analyzes the browsing history of the last week and suggests individual topics to the user. In this way, users can choose which topics they are interested in – browser-specific if they are not logged in with a Google account. “Whether the Topics strategy works or not also depends very much on whether the advertising industry, and especially Google, succeeds in building user trust for it. Because the question is still open as to how many people will use the opportunity to actively opt out of the interest-based approach – not so much because they do not want to disclose their interests, but rather because they are unsure,” explains Abrahamczik.

A plus point of Google Topics is that any discrimination based on gender, health or similar is excluded. In addition, the entire process takes place on the user’s end device and not on servers in the cloud. “Google wants to take data protection into account and create more trust. We welcome this approach and are excited that there will be a successor to FLoC. As the largest pure Google Ads agency in the DACH region, we will of course be involved in the tests and are excited about the results,” says Abrahamczik.

Reorientation required for reliable marketing tracking

Advertising companies should now set the course for a future of marketing tracking without third-party cookies – because this has been around for a long time in view of the technological changes in the browser market and due to possible EU laws. An agency that not only follows market developments, but also helps to shape them, can be of great help and the decisive sparring partner who helps companies to identify long-term trends and to adapt to upcoming changes with a suitable, individual strategy.

“On the one hand, we advise our customers to continue to operate their well-established advertising and marketing tracking with third-party cookies as long as this strategy works for them,” explains the online marketing expert. “However, a certain percentage of users can no longer be reached in this way for retargeting – for example because appropriate browsers are used that already exclude third-party cookies – and the trend is rising.”

Marketing tracking without cookies and personal data

Smarketer has already developed a technological alternative for this in the past, which enables effective marketing tracking even without cookies and personal data. Thanks to the company’s own technology “Smarketer FAST”, a reliable success control with simultaneous pseudonymization of the data is ensured for advertisers. “We clearly see a trend towards alternative tracking methods – and with FAST we also have an easy-to-implement technology that does not require marketing cookies, but still ensures reliable advertising success monitoring for advertisers,” explains Eric Hinzpeter, content marketing expert at Smarketer.