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FLoC is off the table as Google switches to targeting by Topics

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FLoC is off the table as Google switches to targeting by Topics

Google will replace Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) with a new interest-based targeting proposal called Topics, the company announced Tuesday.

The Topics API will share a limited number of topics of interest, based on the user’s recent browsing browsing history, with participating sites without involving external servers. Users will be able to review topics assigned to their profile and remove them. There are no plans at this stage to allow them to add topics. Google says it will have a process in place to exclude potentially sensitive topics like race and sexual orientation. The final iteration of the user controls, as well as other technical aspects of how Topics works, will be determined based on the trial and feedback, Google said.

We reported in the Daily Brief last August that this change was being contemplated.

Google had no news to announce with respect to its Privacy Sandbox Timeline for deprecating third-party cookies, although it conceded it might change depending on trials and feedback.

How it will work. “With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like ‘Fitness’ or ‘Travel,’ that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history,” Google said in the announcement.

Up to five topics are associated with the browser. Topics are stored for three weeks and the processing occurs on the device, without involving any external servers, including Google’s own servers.

Google is starting this initiative with about 300 topics “that represent an intersection of IAB’s Content Taxonomy V2 and also our own advertising taxonomy review,” said Ben Galbraith, Chrome product director, “This is a starting point; we could see this getting into the low thousands or staying in the hundreds [of topics].” 

When a user goes to a participating website, the Topics API selects three topics (one from each of the past three weeks) to share with that site and its advertising partners. If a site does not participate in the Topics API, “Then it doesn’t provide a topic nor does it receive a topic,” Galbraith said. The site itself or its advertising partners can opt in to the Topics API.

Google has also published a technical explainer containing more details about the Topics proposal.

The difference between FLoC and Topics. One of the main distinctions between Google’s previous targeting proposal, FLoC, and the Topics API is that Topics does not group users into cohorts. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out, fingerprinting techniques could be used to distinguish a user’s browser from the thousands of other users within the same cohort to establish a unique identifier for that browser.

Additionally, under FLoC, the browser gathers data about a user’s browsing habits in order to assign that user to a cohort, with new cohorts assigned on a weekly basis, based on their previous week’s browsing data. The Topics API determines topics to associate with the user on a weekly basis according to their browsing history, but those topics are kept for three weeks. They are shared with participating sites and advertisers rather than a FLoC cohort ID.

The difference between contextual advertising and Topics. Galbraith confirmed that, unlike traditional contextual advertising, users can be targeted by topic even on sites that have nothing to do with the topic. In other words, someone that had showed interest in camping equipment in the previous three weeks might be targeted with ads for tents on a sports website.

“Time will tell” which browsers will adopt. Google is in the early phases of implementing the Topics API, so other browsers likely won’t have had a chance to evaluate it. But, Chrome was the only browser to adopt its predecessor (FLoC), so it’s unlikely that Firefox, Safari, Edge or other browsers will adopt Google’s proposal this time either.

“We’re sharing the explainer, which is the beginning of that process to discuss with other browsers their view on the Topics API, so time will tell,” Galbraith said.

Why we care. Google is currently set to deprecate third-party cookies in Chrome sometime next year and now we have a better idea of what audience targeting options will be available. Although FLoC is now officially off the table, the remarketing solution FLEDGE is still under consideration.

Prior to the Topics API, Google ran into a number of challenges with FLoC, including lack of adoption, industry pushback and regulatory issues. The company has likely addressed some of those challenges with this new proposal, but adoption among other browsers remains unlikely, which could impact how big of a user base advertisers are able to get in front of.

Galbraith declined to make explicit comment on the alternative identifiers being developed within the adtech industry, only saying that Google believes that the days of tracking consumers are over.

Additional reporting by Kim Davis.


About The Author

1640838256 758 Inclusive marketing resources to strengthen your brands messaging

George Nguyen is an editor at Third Door Media, primarily covering organic and paid search, podcasting and e-commerce. His background is in journalism and content marketing. Prior to entering the industry, he worked as a radio personality, writer, podcast host and public school teacher.


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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

2. Understand topical authority: Keywords vs. entities

Google has been talking about topical authority for a long time, and in Discover, it is completely relevant. Traditional SEO includes the use of keywords to position your web pages for a specific search, but the content strategy in Discover should be based on entities, i.e., concepts, characters, places, topics… everything that a Knowledge Panel can have. It is necessary to know in which topics Google considers we have more authority and relevance in order to talk about them.

3. Avoid clickbait in titles

“Use page titles that capture the essence of the content, but in a non-clickbait fashion.” This is the opening sentence that describes how headlines should be in Google’s documentation. I always say that it is not about using clickbait but a bit of creativity from the journalist. Generating a good H1 is also part of the job of content creation.

Google also adds:

“Avoid tactics to artificially inflate engagement by using misleading or exaggerated details in preview content (title, snippets, or images) to increase appeal, or by withholding crucial information required to understand what the content is about.”

“Avoid tactics that manipulate appeal by catering to morbid curiosity, titillation, or outrage.

Provide content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights.”

Do you think this information fits with what you see every day on Google Discover? I would reckon there were many sites that did not comply with this and received a lot of traffic from Discover.

With the last core updates in 2023, Google was extremely hard on news sites and some niches with content focused on Discover, directly affecting E-E-A-T. The impact was so severe that many publishers shared drastic drops in Search Console with expert Lily Ray, who wrote an article with data from more than 150 publishers.

4. Images are important

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at your Discover feed, you’ll see most of the images catch your attention. They are detailed shots of delicious food, close-ups of a person’s face showing emotions, or even images where the character in question does not appear, such as “the new manicure that will be a trend in 2024,” persuading you to click.

Google’s documentation recommends adding “high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover” and notes important technical requirements such as images needing to be “at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting.” You may also have found that media outlets create their own collages in order to have images that stand out from competitors.

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

One of the most important parts of having a website is making sure your audience can find your site (and find what they’re looking for).

The good news is that Google Search Essentials, formerly called Google Webmaster Guidelines, simplifies the process of optimizing your site for search performance.

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Salesforce rolls out new edition of Marketing Cloud for small businesses

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Salesforce summer 2023 release: The business executive's guide

Today Salesforce announced Marketing Cloud Growth, an edition of Marketing Cloud designed specifically for small businesses.

With help from AI, this edition makes it easy for marketers to segment audiences, create and execute email campaigns from text to image, optimize campaign performance and create unified customer profiles. It also has a prompt builder that can store and manage known reliable prompts for organizations.

Dig deeper: 70% of SMB marketers willing to pay more for tools with AI or automation

Salesforce developed the new edition by looking at the most common use cases for which small businesses frequenty don’t have the people or resources. This includes things like personalizing campaigns and advanced testing.

The company is also letting small businesses (those with fewer than 200 employees) that have Sales or Service Enterprise Edition “get started with Data Cloud at no cost.” Marketing Cloud Growth will initially be available in the U.S. and Canada and is expected to roll out to Europe, the Middle East and Asia by the end of the year.

Why we care. First of all, small businesses need all the help they can get. This creates an opportunity to start using AI within a centralized marketing workflow rather than importing content from independent generative AI tools. Perhaps it’s also a sign of Salesforce moving to compete with platforms (can we say HubSpot?) that more overtly court SMB clients.

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