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How Google, the digital marketer, is adapting to cookie restrictions and data privacy


Google is a marketing platform, but it’s also a digital marketing company that sells its own hardware, software, services and smart-home products. In that context the company is confronting the same privacy and data-constrained challenges that all digital marketers face: GDPR, CCPA, ITP.

Google has written a post that explains how the company itself is dealing with cookie-data and tracking challenges, trying to balance personalization and privacy. It’s designed to be instructive for other digital marketers.

Three marketing challenges Google faces. There are three fundamental challenges Google outlines in this new privacy-sensitive environment:

  • Audience targeting and list creation, with greater cookie and third party data restrictions
  • Ad frequency: ensuring that ads are not shown too many times despite the lack of cookie data
  • Ad performance and attribution with less available data

In response to these issues, Google says that it’s relying more heavily on firs- party data. “When people show interest in certain products by visiting the Google Store’s website — and have given us consent where appropriate — we can use that data to inform the ads we show them in the future.”

Machine learning and predictive modeling. It’s also using machine learning and predictive models to avoid over-exposing users to ads. The company explained in another blog post that it uses “traffic patterns where a third-party cookie is available, and [analyzes] them at an aggregated level across Google Ad Manager publishers . . . to create models to predict traffic patterns when a third-party cookie isn’t present.”

And when Google can’t “accurately determine someone’s interests and preferences to help personalize an ad,” it will use context to match ads to content. However, it says this isn’t like the AdSense of old; it’s more sophisticated.

Google contextually targeted ads

How Google, the digital marketer, is adapting to cookie restrictions and data privacy 1
Headlines in ads for the Googe Home Mini adapt to the content on the page.

The post uses the example of an ad for Google Home Mini on The Guardian’s website. Ads were shown in the food section. Google analyzed the text of articles and changed ad copy to match or respond to page content.

Google also says that it has formed an internal team to focus on privacy, regulation and how future changes will impact the company’s marketing capabilities and tactics. “This team’s focus is forecasting the impact of each scenario on our campaigns and developing a game plan for how we would respond.”

Why we care. In some ways, Google is in the same boat as everyone else. In its post, the company expresses the uncertainty that most digital marketers feel today: “We expect more changes are coming, and it’s not entirely clear to what extent our digital marketing practices will need to evolve.” However, Google is also the largest digital media company in the world and has a wide range of scale, data and technology advantages, not shared by others, to weather the coming privacy storm.

About The Author

How Google, the digital marketer, is adapting to cookie restrictions and data privacy 2

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.

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