Have you been “FloCed” by Google? 3 Ways to Prepare for the Shift to FLoC

In January of 2020, Google announced that it would end support for third-party cookies in the Chrome browser within two years. It also reiterated that its web products will be driven by the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) API, which groups people with similar interests into cohorts so that advertisers can still serve relevant ads while providing a degree of individual privacy.

FLoC is a new strategy that shifts the work of profiling from third-party trackers to your own web browser. Instead of gathering highly customized data about a unique user, FLoC works by boiling down a user’s browsing activity into behavioral labels, called cohorts, which are then shared with websites and advertisers. Individual user data is kept locally, and cohorts would include enough people to make it difficult to identify any particular individual within a group – but will also be specific enough to enable effective ad targeting. Users will be assigned to new cohorts on a weekly basis, all based off of their last week’s previous browsing data.

For those that don’t quite understand how third-party cookies work, FLoC represents a major change – one that will benefit users with more privacy while making it harder for marketers to reach a targeted audience. Third-party cookies allowed advertisers to reach specific individuals and they could also store that data on one of their own servers. With FLoC, a user’s browsing information is stored locally in a browser. Depending on the way you look at it, this change is a win for user privacy and a bump in the road for advertisers.

While this may sound like a blow to digital marketing initiatives, there’s still plenty of legroom to execute successful campaigns. When considering FLoC, remember that you have the same ability to reach relevant audiences and your targeting options will remain the same, but you’ll now be targeting cohorts instead of individual users.

3 Ways to Prepare for the Shift to FLoC

Despite the uncertainties surrounding Google’s replacement for third-party cookies, there are ways that you can position yourself and your clients to hit the ground running when the changes finally occur.

  1. First and foremost, acquaint yourself with Turtledove. This is Google’s way to give advertisers a strategy to retarget audiences. Turtledove API uses information (all stored on the browser) about advertisers the user has expressed prior interest in, along with information about the current page. For example, a user visits a website for a local coffee shop. Turtledove would then request two ads: one based on local coffee shops, and another ad based on contextual data – perhaps an ad for a local bookstore. Both of these requests are independent so ad networks cannot be linked together. Fledge is also another prototype from Google to keep an eye on, as it builds on Turtledove. It will include a method for on-device bidding algorithms to use additional information from a “trusted” server.
  2. Communicate the changes to your clients and stay updated with news as it comes out. As with any major change, workflows may be impacted, which can result in inefficiencies and wasted money. Preparing a simple overview of the changes can help to reframe client expectations. You’ll also want to follow this new rollout as it happens, because Google plans to conduct various tests of this new targeting method. The findings from those experiments may inform their final implementation but may also be valuable to your own campaigns. Stay up to date with how FLoC and the move away from third-party cookies unfolds so that you can better prepare your business and/or clients for the change. And remember, while Chrome will be implementing FLoC, other web browsers will be taking different paths to protect user’s privacy.
  3. Collect your own first-party data. This can be accomplished by growing your email lists and enticing people to come to your domain and engage with you. This strategy may sound a bit burdensome, but this old-school approach is a foolproof, time-tested method. Compiling and maintaining first-party data enables you to upload your customer lists to platforms that can help you market directly to those customers. This is also something you should already be doing, especially with the current uncertainty surrounding FLoC.

FLoC will be replacing decades-old technology, and the slow rollout means that questions will linger for some time. Nobody knows for sure how this will impact the effectiveness of campaigns and workflows. This change away from third-party cookies is something that everyone will have to get used to but shifting strategies and fine-tuning an approach is nothing new in digital marketing. At the end of the day, digital marketers will find strategies to deliver results that clients have come to expect – but it may require some patience.

We will continue to follow this development and share information on how best to take advantage of this new technology.

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