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Google’s Topics API provokes a range of reactions



Google's Topics API provokes a range of reactions

Earlier this week, Google announced the Topics API, its latest ad targeting proposal aimed at replacing third-party cookies. This leaves Federated Learning of Cohorts dead in the water while marketing and adtech platforms and advertisers try to make sense of the new proposal.

Topics may be a more realistic option than FLoC, marketers say

“Topics seem more likely to be acceptable to the broader ecosystem as they address several FLoC privacy concerns head on,” said Aaron Levy, head of paid search at Tinuiti. “It’s odd to call this an advantage, but I view anything that launches with a higher likelihood of stability and lesser likelihood of mass opt-outs a win.”

The other practitioners seemed to concur. “On their face, Topics seem like they should be less personally identifiable, which would be a plus for privacy,” said Julie Friedman Bacchini, president of Neptune Moon and managing director of PPC community PPCChat.

“I like that Chrome users will be able to see their topics and delete them if they wish,” said Christine Zirnheld, digital marketing manager at Cypress North. While this feature can make life harder for advertisers, options for users will help to appease privacy advocates and regulators, which increases the chances that Google will eventually be able to launch Topics.

Topic diversity and other potential hurdles for advertisers

The Topics API’s initial design includes approximately 350 topics, according to its GitHub page. Advertisers are concerned that this quantity won’t be sufficient enough to provide relevant targeting.

“Google’s current interest list [of topics] doesn’t offer the level of nuance most marketers need to target people who’d actually want to see their ads,” said Ashwin Balakrishnan, head of marketing at Optmyzr. “If Topics is going to be a success, Google needs to provide more detailed options.”

“Advertisers (at least as of now) would have few interests to actually target, and broader targeting does not usually lead to better performance,” Zirnheld said. “An interest in cars & autos doesn’t tell me if that’s luxury, rental, new, used, SUV, etc.,” Geddes added, “That means there will be more competition for less targeted ads,” noting that, at this point, it is still too difficult to predict how Topics will work in practice.


For reference, the IAB Audience Taxonomy contains approximately 1,500 audience segments. “One of the most popular drinks in the U.S. is Coffee,” Zirnheld provided as an example. “The IAB Taxonomy has ‘Coffee,’ ‘Coffee & Tea,’ ‘Coffee Creamer,’ ‘Coffee Filters,’ and ‘Tea/Coffee – Ready-to-drink.’ The closest topic Google has (at the moment) is ‘Food & Drink.’”

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

Despite the relatively low number of topics designed into the initial proposal, Google may already be aware of this issue: “This is a starting point; we could see this getting into the low thousands or staying in the hundreds [of topics],” said Ben Galbraith, Chrome product director.

In addition to the potentially limited topics, “The limited timeframe could be concerning for advertisers, as they are used to much more persistent inclusion of an audience than one to three weeks,” Bacchini said, caveating that it remains to be seen whether keeping interests more current might also yield benefits. Levy also touched upon this concern: “It feels more directionally accurate than truly precise,” he said. “I hope for some sort of a boolean setup longer term where we’re able to combine, expand or narrow topics, but of course time will tell.” 

As a privacy measure, there is a 5% chance that a random topic is returned, according to the GitHub page. This is to ensure that each topic has a minimum number of members. “While I understand that this helps ensure anonymity and privacy for internet users, this is obviously not a good thing for advertisers,” Zirnheld added.

Chrome might be the only browser to adopt, but that might not matter for some

“Chrome is still the big boy in the browser war,” said Steve Hammer, president and co-founder at RankHammer, “I do think Edge will matter as more people get Windows 11, but that’s the lone one I’d worry about for clients.”

“While Chrome’s market share is (slightly) shrinking, I don’t anticipate this’ll change our usage at all,” Levy said, “Rather, it will all fit into a broader theme of treating the data as directional rather than ‘right.’”

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“If it’s limited to Chrome, we’ll see how that affects iPhone users,” Geddes said, noting that, “The lack of cross-browser support is a bit worrisome, but it won’t affect anyone’s budget if they are getting good returns from their marketing dollars.”

If Chrome claims enough of the browser market, that might empower Google to continue with the Topics API without having to go to the bargaining table with its competitors. That independence can help the company stick to its Privacy Sandbox timeline, which shows that all associated initiatives are slated to be launched in Chrome sometime in Q4 2022.


Is Topics an improvement over FLoC?

As with all potential third-party cookie replacements, Topics must be evaluated from the user privacy perspective as well as the advertiser perspective. “FLoC raised privacy concerns and Topics seems more privacy-friendly and attempts to provide more control and transparency to internet users. In that way, Topics is ‘better,’” Zirnheld said.

“However, this means broader targeting for advertisers, meaning less control over who sees our ads,” she noted. “We might have to get more creative with targeting for our clients if this is the route Chrome is taking.”

“For advertisers, I expect that Topics wind up more restrictive with less options and less precision than we were hoping for from FLoC (which is already a reduction of current tactics),” Levy said. “It’s annoying, but also encouraging that Google is trying to come up with a solution that works for everybody.” 

Google is trying to address the significant pushback and concerns provoked by FLoC, said Yahoo CBO Iván Markman. “It is yet to be seen whether this next iteration is workable, given how high level and short-time-spanned it is. Google’s FLoC received negative policy and industry feedback, and there was concern that FLoC IDs could have been exploited for cross-site user tracking. With the release of Topics API, Google is providing a higher level of user obfuscation and localized browser storage vs. a centralized storage location.”

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Wayne Coburn, director of product at cross-channel marketing platform Iterable added: “Google’s pivot — from FloC to Topics — shows that consumers have lobbying power and a voice they are not afraid to use. People understand that their data is valuable, and they are moving to preserve the value of their assets. With FLoC, Google was trying to ensure their continued dominance in the advertising space, and both consumers and the ad industry responded with a resounding no. With Topics, Google is admitting they need to do more to preserve and protect consumer privacy.”

Ultimately, third-party cookies are going away, so expect growing pains

“The current conversations around FLoC Topics highlight one thing: Third-party (aka advertising) cookies are dead,” said Coburn. “It is more important than ever for marketers to have and maintain quality first-party data. Consumers have to be able to trust the brands they interact with — from the ethics of the brand through to the way it handles personal information — and if a consumer doesn’t trust a brand, they aren’t going to let their data anywhere near it. That isn’t going to change, so the way big tech handles data has to.”

However, “Anything that is a departure from cookies is going to feel like a step down in targeting, I think,” Bacchini said. “We are going to have to adjust our thinking about what ‘accurate targeting’ actually means and come down off of the sense of strong or accurate targeting that we feel like we have had up until this point.”

Additional reporting by Kim Davis.


About The Author

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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Marketing operations talent is suffering burnout and turnover



Marketing operations talent is suffering burnout and turnover

“It’s hard to hire; it’s hard to train; it’s hard to keep people from burning out. To make matters worse, these challenges have intensified so swiftly that leaders have hardly had time to digest them, let alone mount a defense.”

That’s the main takeaway from “The State of Marketing Operations: 2022,” a new report from junior marketing ops training platform Highway Education and ABM leader Demandbase. The findings were based primarily on a survey of 800 marketing operations professionals from organizations of all sizes, more than half from mid-sized companies.

The demand for talent. The vastly accelerated shift to digital marketing — not to mention sales and service — has led inflated demand for MOps talent, a demand the market can’t keep up with. Two results: burnout as too much is demanded of MOps professionals; and turnover, as it’s easy to find alternative opportunities. The outcome for companies is the growing burden of hiring and training replacements.

Use of marketing software has grown two and a half times in less than ten years, according to the report, and the number of marketing operations professionals, across organizations of all sizes, has increased by two-thirds. Use of marketing automation alone has grown 228% since 2016, and there has been a 66% growth in the size of MOps teams just since 2020.

Perhaps most remarkable, 93% of MOps professionals learned on the job.

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Why we care. Providing beginner MOps training services, Highway Education clearly has an interest in this data. At the same time, there can be little doubt that the demand for MOps talent is real and growing. If there’s a surprising figure here, it’s that use of marketing software has grown only two and a half times in the last decade.


AWS MOps leader Darrell Alfonso, quoted in the report, says: “There’s a disconnect between marketing strategy and the actual execution — what it takes to actually operationalize and bring a strategy to life. Leadership, especially the ‘old guard,’ will be more familiar with traditional methods like field marketing and commercials. But now, during the pandemic and post, there’s an entire digital world that needs to be
managed by people who know what they’re doing.”

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Read next: More on marketing ops from Darrell Alfonso

About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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