- The digital marketing industry has been dominated by discussions about privacy and cookie modifications.
- How will third-party cookies be removed and new privacy regulations affect paid search?
- Here’s what search marketers should expect and how they can prepare
Targeting, measurement, optimization, and optimization are all based on the ability to track and analyze user behavior and performance across the internet. As we all know, platforms such as Google and Apple have introduced privacy-focused initiatives in the last few years which make it difficult for advertisers to target and measure.
The most common topics when discussing the impact of these changes have been programmatic and paid-social, which undoubtedly feel the greatest impact. The impact of search marketing has been discussed extensively but not. How can advertisers adapt their paid-search strategies to meet these new realities?
Before we get into the action items, let’s review the most recent updates and how they will impact paid search campaigns.
Chrome privacy updates will have a greater effect than iOS
Two privacy changes are top of mind for search marketers in 2021. App Tracking Transparency, introduced by Apple’s iOS 14.5 update requires users to opt in before companies can track their data across different apps and websites. This update has minimal impact on search programs, which is good news for advertisers. Advertisers might experience fluctuations in universal campaign (UAC), volume, and some search properties that have a larger audience through mobile apps (e.g YouTube) may experience some reduction in measurement and targeting. The ATT update affects programmatic advertisers more than search marketers.
Google Chrome’s 2023 deprecation of third-party cookies will have a greater impact on paid searches. Remarketing lists for search ads will be less effective without data about users’ behavior across non-Google properties. RLSA accounted 20 percent of Google search adclicks for Merkle advertisers in Q3 2020 – this is a large segment of traffic. Companies that rely on proprietary reporting tech will face new measurement challenges.
Although iOS 14.5 is a reality for advertisers, it will take more than a decade to prepare for Google’s third party cookie removal. Search marketers have several options to improve performance in a privacy-focused environment.
1. To target, you can tap into first-party data audience solutions
Search will remain dependent on effective audience segmentation and targeting. Google provides several options for in-platform audiences such as affinity and in-market audiences that do not rely on third party data and can be used by advertisers indefinitely.
There is a greater chance for companies to stand out by creating a strong audience strategy with Customer Match’s first-party data. Although many advertisers use Customer Match in some way, the data may not get refreshed as often or may not be segmented in a detailed manner. The perfect opportunity to fine-tune a first-party data strategy is when third-party cookies are being phased out.
Advertisers should first assess the quality and reliability of their first-party data. What is the extent of the data? Is there too many duplicate records or a consistent record for every customer? If the data you are working with is flawed, all the slicing and dice in the world won’t help.
Marketers should also evaluate the potential for segmenting their customer lists in meaningful ways. A single list of “email subscribers” won’t cut it anymore. Smart segmentation is important as it allows Google to create more targeted audiences.
Once segments have been established, it is important to plan for frequent updates. Determine the appropriate frequency for updating customer match list and who is responsible. This can be done via the Google Ads API, or the Google Ads interface.
Once you have established a foundation for your audience strategy, it is important to revisit your approach every quarter to ensure segments are still aligned with the attributes that matter to your customers and business. This allows you to check in on the status of your lists and ensure that they are receiving traffic. Audience bid modifiers can be modified to reflect current performance if necessary.
Bidding is a topic that interests me…
2. To take advantage of Google’s exclusive signals, you can test Smart Bidding or switch to it.
Although we as advertisers will not have access to user data without third-party cookies anymore, Google will still have a lot of information about its users’ behavior on Google-owned properties. Google Ads Smart Bidding allows advertisers the opportunity to use audience signals to reach the right person at a specific bid using machine learning. Segmentation is still important in Smart Bidding. The bidder will look at all the audiences that a user belongs to, as well as customer match audiences.
Advertisers have the option to use custom audience segmentation via Google Analytics, Looker or Google Cloud Platform (Big Query). They should also automate the push of customer audiences to Google marketing activation in order to maximize business data using Google’s Smart Bidding.
No matter what your advertising goals are, Google Ads Smart Bidding strategies will likely suit them all. Search marketers who have not yet used Smart Bidding should start testing early in 2022 to get a better understanding of the process and to be able to implement a fully-fledged Smart Bidding strategy before 2023.
3. New reporting methods will make you feel at ease
While we’ve been talking a lot about adapting and coping with the changes that come with targeting, privacy updates can also pose challenges in reporting. Advertisers will need to address the measurement gap. Google Ads offers solutions to fill these gaps with enhanced and modelled conversions.
Enhanced conversions increase reporting accuracy by using advertiser’s hashed data first-party to tie a conversion event with an ad interaction. Enhanced conversions can be powerful because they create a one-to-1 connection between an impression, click or purchase. Modeled conversions on the other side have a lot of power because they can scale. Google has used them for years to report on cross-device converts. Combining them together gives advertisers the advantage of precise where there is a one-to-1 connection, and smartly estimates conversions where there is none.
The stakes of working with Google to fill in the gaps are greater as privacy regulations continue to muddy the waters. To get a better picture of your performance, if you rely on proprietary technology to report, Google’s measurement system may be a good option. It is crucial to understand the full impact search has on budget allocation and optimization. To accurately track conversions, Google’s global tag or tag manager must be used.
4. For performance improvements, monitor app campaigns
Advertisers who use UAC to drive app downloading via paid search need to closely monitor the performance of those campaigns. Merkle has seen a slow decline in track installs since Apple’s ATT update. Some advertisers are shifting their spend to Android in order to avoid the ATT effects. UAC can still be an effective channel for marketers. However, reduced visibility on iOS might require budget or bid shifts to achieve performance goals.
Privacy updates have changed the way marketers approach measurement and targeting. Do not panic, but make sure you have a plan. Search advertisers can pivot with the industry by making the right adjustments. To increase customer engagement, experience, and marketing ROI, search advertisers must now value first-party audiences. Using that first-party data, in conjunction with machine-learning-based bid strategies and modeled and enhanced reporting, will create a foundation to help future proof search campaigns for privacy updates in the years to come.
Matt Mierzejewski, SVP Performance Marketing Lab and Search at Merkle Inc.
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Search Engine Watch has the first article, Four Tips for SEM Teams to Adjust to a Privacy-focused Future.