Search Updates: August 2021

Search Updates: August 2021
Photo by Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

Privacy Updates: Google Considers Updating FLoC Approach to Be More Topic Focused

For those of you who have been following all of the Privacy Sandbox updates and the tragedy of the “Death of The Third-Party Cookie,” it appears that there could be new information about Google’s FLoC Targeting. Because the Chrome Privacy Sandbox is looking to remove Third-Party Cookies by 2023, FLoC (the Federated Learning of Cohorts) is Google’s solution for replacing interest-based Third-Party cookie targeting. Cohorts, in a nutshell, are groups of browser activity that are combined based on mathematical segments - they are not people. Each segment has a specific number that becomes associated with a cohort - leading to this Cohort Interest-Based Targeting that makes up FLoC. More recently, a lead tech manager at Google mentioned that FLoC might be moving from Cohort Identification to Topics (FLoT?). The whole Sandbox Initiative is surrounding the theme of birds (“Sparrow,” “Pigeon,” etc) so FLoC fits the bill far as a naming convention – it would be hard to fit a theme with “T”.

FLoC has been attacked in the past as an infringement on people’s privacy because it could be used to piece together a specific person’s identity. Topic targeting would be a win for privacy advocates and would also reduce the number of digital touchpoints that can be used to follow a person on their digital journey.

Google has not yet said as to whether-or-not Topic targeting is officially going to be replacing Cohort Identifications, however, we will continue to stay abreast of the conversations surrounding FLoC as they are reported by the Worldwide Web Consortium (the body that is hosting the Privacy Sandbox).

Whether Google moves forward with Topic Targeting or Cohort Targeting, either way, this will impact Search Engine Marketing in a way where targeting segments will evolve. While it may not directly impact keyword targeting as that has specific match types as qualifiers, it will certainly impact YouTube Audience Segments and the Google Display Network.

The recorded meeting where Topic targeting was discussed can be found here.

Google Now Tells Consumers Why A Specific Search Result Is Appearing

Google is starting to enlighten consumers more as to why certain organic listings might appear for their specific queries. The “About This Result” section (which went into Beta in February of 2021) is being expanded to soon include more information about a person’s search input; the ultimate benefit being that it allows consumers to figure out which organic listing is most useful for solving their problems.

Screenshot of a Google search bar with the query “how to cook fish in the oven.” Below, a screenshot of an About This Result panel for a result for this query, including information about the source as well as factors (like search terms, language, and location) that connected the result to the search.

While this feature has not yet rolled out to all users, it can be found by selecting the three dots to the right of the organic listing. Several factors go into how Google might determine the listing, but with this expansion to the “About This Result” function, only the most important factors will show up. These factors may revolve around language, location, search terms that appear within the organic listing’s headline, related terms, and more. The “About This Result” function will also provide tips for narrowing down or broadening your searches with match types such as “+” (which for those of you familiar with this concept from SEM, yes they do work for organic listings as well).

This does not directly impact Search Engine Marketing as the “About This Result” function only appears organically currently. It is possible that this feature will get added to search ads in the future, however that still will not impact direct performance. This is a completely visual feature that helps better educate consumers.

For more on the “About This Result” expansion, please visit the following link.

Google Cracks Down on Advertising to Minors

With COVID keeping kids out of school, increasing the amount of time that people spend at home, children are online more than ever (and in greater numbers). Data from Safe At Last shows that 70% of kids encounter violence online while doing homework, and 75% would share personal information in exchange for goods. Because of this research, Google is getting proactive and making some changes to its policies on minors by letting people under 18 remove images from search. It should be noted that this will not scrape images from the internet entirely, but it does help keep kids safe as they browse the web. Additionally, videos uploaded by kids aged 13-17 on YouTube will default to private mode, kids will be unable to turn on location history, and Safe Search will be auto-enabled for them. Lastly, Google Ads will be expanding its safeguards as an attempt to block ads even further for people under 18. Currently, it is not possible to specifically target kids under 18, however, this expands the blockage to include category interests.

This will indirectly impact search initiatives, as it is possible that a child could fall under the “unknown” targeting demo. Generally, when the Search & Destroy Team targets specific ages, we unselect the “unknown” demo. However, for a client that may not be as selective on age targeting, we may find that the “unknown” segment begins to shrink because a child under 18 years of age may have somehow fallen into that demographic bucket. This also impacts YouTube and Google Display Network targeting because Google is blocking those targets based on the age, gender, or interests of people under 18. These changes will begin rolling out globally on Google and YouTube over the next few months. More information can be found here