Problems with Google Ads in the privacy-focused future
Google is a pillar of the modern Web, with a brand so big that its name is synonymous with “searching the Internet.” Google.com is the most popular site on the Web, and the most widely used search engine; Google is also home to the biggest digital ad marketplace in the world.
But users are waking up to Google’s data collection, and overall leaving this—and similar—Big Tech platforms for new, privacy-preserving alternatives. Google’s grip on the digital ad space won’t loosen overnight, but a major shift is underway. A shift that’s leading brands and advertisers to seek future-proof alternatives to Google Ads that will survive the transition to a privacy-first Web.
Here we’ll cover why this shift is happening, how advertisers can prepare for a future without invasive tracking.
Google Ads: an overview of the platform and its capabilities
Google is the biggest and most powerful advertising platform in the world, offering ad units across its various platforms and Web apps. A large portion of Google Ads target keyword searches, and focus on user intent. Brands can use Google Ads to strategically target certain keyword phrases like “how do air fryers work?” or “what’s the best air fryer?”—with each phrase tied to a different point in the customer journey.
Google Search ads leverage Google’s massive search volume (roughly seven billion searches per day) to make up the vast majority of Google’s ad sales—enabling brands to target millions of keywords and audience segments. But text-based search ads are far from the only ad units Google offers. Other types of Google Ads include:
- Display ads (images on websites, Search, and YouTube)
- Video ads (video content on websites, and various kinds of video ads on YouTube)
- Shopping ads (sponsored product listings)
- Local ads (for stores and venues to appear in places like Search and Maps)
Google captures nearly 30% of all digital advertising revenue in the world—they earned about $224 billion in 2022 alone—and sets the standard for user tracking, advertising metrics, and keyword targeting. But as more users demand privacy online, and more governments legislate it, even platforms as big as Google are being forced to adjust their ad models.
The impact of privacy on the digital advertising industry
There are a few key privacy-driven trends that are changing the way the Web works, and impacting digital advertisers along the way.
The rise of ad blockers and private browsers
Fed up with hacks, privacy violations, and general data mismanagement, a huge group of Internet users are taking steps to protect themselves. They’re using ad blockers, VPNs, privacy browsers like Brave, and other tools to cover their tracks online.
Government legislation on data privacy
Governments are also supporting users in their demands for digital privacy rights. With recent legislation like Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA, governments are reining in the data harvesting practices of websites and ad tech companies alike. Now websites in many countries have to ask permission via cookie consent forms before collecting any “non-essential” data, and users can opt out with the click of a button. These legislative advancements put data privacy controls in the hands of users, and many users (unsurprisingly) choose to block Big Tech’s data collection.
But users aren’t just opting out of data collection, they’re actively choosing to use products and services that are more private by default. They’re switching from Chrome to Brave. From Gmail to ProtonMail. They’re using the built-in privacy features on iOS devices. And more.
Companies’ efforts to reduce data tracking and the implications for advertisers
Some companies are now using privacy as a selling point.
Apple, for example, is giving iOS users a choice to accept or reject cross-site tracking via its new App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature—and 95% of users are choosing to reject.
Even Google—one of the worst data-theft offenders—is taking some limited steps toward eliminating data tracking in Chrome. The plan to remove third-party cookies in Chrome is a long and complicated saga. Google’s approach continues to shift after missing the original cookie removal deadline of January 2022 (a goal originally set in January 2020). First Google tried to implement Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) in place of third-party cookies, and then tried a different approach called Topics (i.e. the ability to show ads based on browsing history).
Now, Google plans to deactivate 1% of third-party cookies by early 2024 as part of its “Privacy Sandbox” plan. Google’s Privacy Sandbox combines a bit of its previous approaches, including Topics. The Privacy Sandbox also entails restricting ad blocker extensions (via Manifest V3) and letting sites group up to track you (via First-Party Sets).
It remains to be seen what Google’s cookie-alternative will ultimately be. In any case, Google’s action against third-party cookies is bound to have a big impact on the digital ad landscape. Either way, privacy-conscious users will continue switching to private alternatives like Brave. Overall that will reduce Google’s market share, their ad inventory, and thus the ROI for advertisers.
To prepare for the privacy-focused future, learn more about the best alternatives to Google Ads. You can also easily launch your first privacy-driven Brave Ads campaign today.