“Ultimately, this is Big Tech crushing the little guys in the industry.” Jon Waterman, CEO of advertising marketplace Ad.net.
“We’re going to have a scattered market of policies and regulations across countries and states – that’s already happening. You’re going to have a scatter of different browsers, not all saying the same things. That’s a reality we should all just be prepared for and have our eyes open to.” Michael Zacharski, CEO of Engine Technology and digital marketplace EMX Digital.
“We’re beholden to what the walled gardens – Google, Apple, Facebook – are going to decide to do. Part of being able to combat that is this whole third-party data story. They can’t take it away if you own it.” Sam Ngo, Director, Product Marketing at BlueConic, the CDP.
Three players in the advertising and data spaces reacting to the profound uncertainty in the advertising space which has been growing since the significance of a brief statement issued by Google on March 3 has begun to sink in.
Google set to become another walled garden
Identity and data vendors like The Trade Desk, LiveRamp, Neustar and others have spent months scrambling to devise alternative identifiers which will allow advertisers to re-target effectively once third-party cookies vanish from the Chrome eco-system by 2022. These solutions essentially work by associating behavioral signals with consensually obtained first-party identifiers — hashed emails or phone numbers. Probably the best-known is Unified ID 2.0, developed by The Trade Desk but now under the stewardship of open source alliance Prebid.org.
But did Google’s announcement that “we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products” (emphasis added) undermine this whole approach?
Waterman fears the worst. “Google are saying, if you want to use The Trade Desk, great, use the Trade Desk, but you’re going to be limited to the publishers that they have access to, and that have a unique identifier like an email address or a phone number.” Advertising on Google will be restricted to advertising to Google’s own FLoC audiences; cohorts grouped by behavior at the browser level.
“They’re rebranded the concept of a walled garden as their Privacy Sandbox. It’s kind of a more public-friendly term for their walled garden” added Ad.net’s VP, Business Intelligence, Justin Nakamura.
“They’re creating this mess for their own gain,” said Waterman.
Zacharski was prepared to entertain several possibilities. “I read it as, Google’s going to be building cohort audiences for you. One interpretation is that Google is becoming the arbiter of who is in which audience, with or without visibility into the recipe of how they make up that audience. One interpretation is that, through FLoC, Google is becoming the ultimate data broker for the space. That makes a difference for how a lot of companies have been thinking about building audiences, and being able to customize audiences and have differentiation of audiences.”
Alternatively, he pondered, they might be saying: “If you’re using first-party it won’t be available through FLoC, but it will be available outside as long as there’s one-to-one consent. That’s the big debate, whether Prebid single sign-on and hashed email or phone number matching is or is not going to be blocked by Chrome. There’s not great clarity about that yet.”
Worst case scenario, Google becomes a version of Facebook, building its own audiences to sell to advertisers, and offering little or no visibility into how it’s done. Best case scenario, Google will do that for sure, but won’t outright prohibit the deployment of first-party data-based audiences.
“You have varying degrees of certainty, uncertainty, doubt – because the reality is that although there are positions and frameworks out there…there’s still a lot that’s unknown.”
And then there are questions the consumer will ask, said Zacharski: “Which of my data signals are being used to have me qualify for this audience, and by the way can I opt out of being in a cohort?”
The advantages of first-party data
Whatever Google’s position ends up being, there’s little doubt that brands will double down on first-party data — and also little doubt that that won’t fix everything.
“For us, it’s not about a one-to-one replacement for third-party cookies, but really about how we help companies continue to build first-party data assets,” said Ngo. “The point getting rid of third-party cookies was always to be able to put customers at the center.”
Building trust and loyalty can’t be done, said Ngo, if brands are using unreliable, low quality data. Third-party cookies were not a good solution to start with. “There was a lot of jumping on the bandwagon: oh, we can advertise to a segment of customers we never had access to before. Now it’s time to rethink that strategy.”
Blueconic supports its clients by helping them collect and manage first-party data. “We work with publishers where Blueconic powers their paywall. They’re not necessarily asking for a subscription right away, but after the second time a user visits the site, they’ll ask them to sign up for a newsletter. During COVID, some publishers decided to take down the paywall completely for COVID coverage, because that’s the type of relationship they want to have with their customer.”
When it comes to agile collection of third-party data, one size does not fit all. “One of our customers, Belgian Cycling Factory, instead of asking for email addresses, what they actually ask for is a bike registration number because that’s a unique identifier – but at the same time, they’re offering them extended warranties; so it’s about creating that value exchange,” explained Ngo.
“Blueconic is the technology that enables them to be able to design that experience, and then on the back-end helps them manage all that first-party data, ensuring that it stays high quality, and that we’re merging profiles as we recognize that someone is the same person – whether it’s across brands or within one website.”
Ngo views first-party data as a way of stepping off the Google treadmill. “If you haven’t been building your first-party data, it’s getting to the point where it’s too late to do it. It’s more important than ever, or you’re perpetually in this chase of, what’s Google going to do next?”
And the disadvantages
“For marketers, the notion of I have my first-party data, maybe I’ll be able to activate that –that’s great, but maybe that’s not the best type of data to acquire new customers,” said Zacharski. And that’s if you get buy-in from consumers in the first place.
“We still don’t know how comfortable consumers will feel putting their personal information into these systems. Maybe they’ll feel great about it, maybe it’ll be mixed. As an industry I don’t know if we’ve done enough work to build that bridge to the consumer so they really understand what they’re agreeing or not agreeing to,” said Zacharski.
Even the aggregation of huge volumes of first-party data by enterprises (think Procter &Gamble or Starbucks) doesn’t solve that problem. “With P&G, they have a lot of brands and a lot of people coming to those websites,” said Waterman, “but those are the only places at which they can capture that audience. If they’re already on their site, they’re already probably interested in buying something relevant. The value add that they had before – or they have now but won’t have in the future – is being able to re-target the user that came to their brand and buy that impression on a display of their video ad when someone is on, say, ESPN. That’s what they’re going to lose.”
Then there are the unanswered questions about what FLoC will allow. “It’s a matter of how compatible [first-party audiences] will be with the mix of technologies that will be available. You may have the regulatory consent, but does the plumbing in each environment, despite your verifiable legal standing, allow you actually to connect with those audiences?”
Engine Technology and Ad.net are preparing for the future in different ways, the former by focusing on CTV, the latter by relying on intent data.
CTV: Cookie-less and authenticated
“You have a new class of advertising with CTV,” explained Zacharski, “where the big screen in the living room is now the device you’re consuming content through. It’s like an app in its technical format, but it’s also a consented format.”
That’s part of Engine’s strategy, but it’s also committed to providing multi-channel opportunities to advertisers; it’s participating in industry-wide discussions on the future of addressability; and finally, said Zacharski, “we’re going to watch and respond.”
The multi-channel offering is based around Engine’s Device Graph+ solution. This combines data from Engine’s own SSP with data from Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) providers and attribution metrics from a third party. “We’re not targeting individual consumers, we’re getting to the household level,” said Zacharski. By associating devices with a household, Engine can provide options like advertise on CTV, re-target on mobile.
Zacharksi will say no more than that this will offer clients cookie-less targeting capabilities for the next 18 to 24 months.
A search space outside Google and Bing
“Three years ago, four years ago,” said Waterman, “we decided to focus purely on intent and contextual targeting. We use a level of audience targeting, like geography, but we focus primarily on intent for this reason: there’s no way to capture audience targeting at any scale with just Unified ID 2.0.”
This approach relies on the presence of Ad.net’s technology across a very large number of publisher websites, and in particular their search engines. “We define intent as a keyword search,” said Waterman. “We sell search intent outside of Google and Bing. We go out there into the marketplace, which is a very fragmented space without Google and Bing, and we capture that audience to drive to our clients, our advertisers.”
This aligns well with content marketing – articles or advertorials written with the express purpose of getting readers to reveal their intent or interest through their clicks. “We’re going to capture that and drive that user towards our particular advertiser who’s selling that particular product.” In effect, it’s analogous to a B2B funnel strategy, but scaled.
“We market ourselves purposefully as an extension outside of Google and Bing,” said Waterman. “We sell diversification of your ad spend, and that is lately resonating more with clients and advertisers, because they don’t want to give all the spend to one or two companies. They don’t want to give all their data to one or two companies. They want to keep it open.”
Bigger and bigger monsters
“The politicians have no understanding of what this is essentially doing; it’s creating bigger and bigger monsters,” said Waterman. We all love Google and we all love Amazon and we all use Facebook, but crushing the other competition that’s our there – that’s small, but keeps these guys honest – that’s the fear that I have. This is going to kill companies for sure, and unless you adapt and pivot very quickly, more of the wallet share is going to go to the big guys.”
Waterman continued: “What Google has effectively done is build its own walled garden. You go to Facebook, it’s a walled garden, you go to Amazon, it’s walled garden. You go to Google.com, it’s a walled garden; but now, everywhere Google sits within the eco-system, all the tentacles they have out there, is all part of that walled garden.”
Zacharksi is more tentative. “We’re not in the final inning. There’s going to be more ideation and more collaboration to come. There’s multiple storylines happening as we watch this movie. The storylines are going to start to interconnect.”
This article first appeared on MarTech Today
Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech Today. 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.
How to Write For Google
Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.”
I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story.
I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner, or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content—every time.
Items to review before you start your SEO writing project
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?
Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.
If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!
Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.
— Do your keyphrases match the search intent?
Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position.
— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power.
Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.
Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.
–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?
A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.
Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.
Items to review after you’ve written the page
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.
– Is the content interesting to read?
Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.
– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?
“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?
Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.
Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.
– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.
Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.
Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful.
And finally — the most important question:
– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics?
If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job.
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