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Google Will Stop Selling Ads Based On Browsing History

By Tony Capetola on March, 4 2021

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Tony Capetola

SVP, Partnerships + GTM - One of the original founding members of the S&O team, Tony oversees strategic partner development and go-to-market planning for our Channel, Technology, and Agency partnerships.

In a move that has been long in the making, Google has officially announced that it will stop selling ads (via Google Ads) based on one's browsing history from website to website.

Just published yesterday, Wednesday March 3rd 2021, Google's Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust David Temkin made it very clear that Google's move towards a Privacy Sandbox is just around the corner:

"If digital advertising doesn't evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web. That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies, and why we’ve been working with the broader industry on the Privacy Sandbox to build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers. Even so, we continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers. Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products."

The phasing out of third-party cookies has been long discussed for some time now in the digital marketing industry.

A "privacy-first" web has been the proverbial talk of the town as we've seen new regulations such as GDPR in the EU and CCPA in California come to pass over the years.

Another, more recent example of how our world is moving faster towards the privacy-first web was seen when Apple updated its privacy practices for iOS14 and how that change was expected to impact advertising on Facebookbut more specifically in relation to when relying on the default tracking tool - the pixel.

While this, at first at least, created a slight panic in the community - many of our merchants leveraging Facebook Dynamic Product Ads have actually seen strong revenue growth over time. 

What This Means For Ecommerce Merchants

First of all, we are still a year or more out from these changes going into effect at Google. What merchants and advertisers alike MUST key in on here is the "fine print":

"Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web"

While we cannot make any broad stroke assumptions here we do know that ecommerce merchants rely so heavily on Google Ads campaign types that are not entirely based on search behavior tracked from website to website.

Google Shopping campaigns and ads - the bread and butter of ecommerce advertising in Google Ads - are rooted in a far more "1:1" experience wherein:

  • Shopping ads are served to searchers based on search term or query matching to what is typed into the search field by a would-be consumer
  • A click on a Shopping ad directs the potential shopper to the merchants ecommerce website where they can complete their purchase

Google Shopping

With respect to that pathway, Google Ads by default employs auto-tagging using UTM or Urchin Tracking Module which can report back not only which campaign a conversion (website purchase for example) originated from, but also other core details that do not reveal any personal information about the visitor.

Though Google Ads has its own native conversion tracking tag or code which can be added to one's website, most merchants today rely almost entirely on Google Analytics based conversion tracking which communicates directly with Google Ads.

The same can also be said for Search Ads (also known as Text Ads) which rely almost exclusively on keyword targeting and not targeting based on personally identifiable information.

BOTTOM LINE: We, at least at this point, do not see Google's recent announcement as something that will impact a merchant's ability to continue to drive traffic and garner sales with these campaigns.

In fact, direct traffic advertising like Shopping campaigns will become even more important when considering the impending future of a "privacy-first" web.

How this is to impact advertising in other formats, such as Display and Remarketing remains to be seen...

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