Google ads alternatives
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 shady data practices, and overall ditching these Web 2.0 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, and which platforms offer solutions that brands can use right now.
Google: the biggest ad platform in the world
Google is the biggest and most powerful advertising platform in the world, offering ad units across its various platforms and web apps—all designed to serve users the information they’re looking for. 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.
With roughly seven billion searches per day, Google search ads 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 $209 billion in 2021 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 shift to a private Web
Fed up with hacks, violations of privacy, 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.
Some users are going a step further and joining the Web3 movement. Web3 puts users in control of their own data—a welcome change from the Web 2.0 model where users are forced (or tricked) into trusting Big Tech companies. With blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, and decentralized applications (DApps), users are now able to bypass Big Tech altogether. Tech-savvy users have led this charge, but Web3 is becoming more widely adopted.
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 Web 2.0 companies. 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.
All this adds up to a major shift to a more-private Web. And with their bottom lines affected, tech companies are taking notice.
Advertising without tracking
Some companies are 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% are opting out.
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 has been a long and complicated one. 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 is now trying a new approach called Topics. 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. Third-party tracking will become much harder, and could become a thing of the past. 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.
Best Google Ads alternatives
With this privacy-centric shift in the digital ad landscape, many brands and advertisers are looking for alternatives to Google Ads. While advertisers won’t find an ads platform with larger reach than Google (it is, after all, the most visited site on the Web), they can find more efficient platforms that cost less and bring better ROI.
In general, there are two kinds of alternatives to Google Ads:
- Web 2.0 ad platforms (like Facebook and Microsoft) that still rely on tracking, but can reach users who might not use Google
- Privacy-preserving ad platforms (like Brave Ads) that usher in Web3 and are more likely to be viable long into the future
Facebook, the world’s second largest digital ad platform, is the closest competitor to Google—but they take very different approaches to ad targeting. Facebook mainly relies on its vast social and psychographic insights to target users, rather than direct user queries. As such, Facebook’s ad units focus heavily on visual advertising with pictures and videos that are more likely to capture attention and spark emotion.
Facebook might know, for example, that a user has fifty friends who kayak, and show that person ads for kayaks. But Facebook’s insights aren’t all just inferences. It also knows which pages users like, what content they share or interact with, and what they send in private chats. Combining these insights lets advertisers target users who are more likely to interact with an ad or buy a product.
Like Google, however, much of Facebook’s insights come from data collection. This makes Facebook susceptible to the same market forces as Google, and advertisers will (over time) see the same problems on both platforms. As we shift toward a more private Web, these platforms will likely lose footing in the digital ad space.
Microsoft Advertising offers a wide variety of ad units like display ads, product ads, video ads, and text-based ads. Like Google, Microsoft also offers search engine marketing (in Bing), and other ad types across its partner sites (like Yahoo! and MSN) and apps (like Cortana and Office). While Google dominates the search engine market with well over 90% of market share, Bing comes in second place. Bing’s ~900 million searches per day may seem small in comparison to Google’s seven billion, but it’s still a significant volume for advertisers to target. Bing is also home to an audience that Google can’t reach (estimated by Microsoft to be about 44 million searchers in the US alone).
Similar to keyword targeting in Google Ads, Microsoft Ads leverage search intent to target users—making it a good intent-based ad alternative. The average cost-per-click on Bing is about 70% cheaper than on Google (although it varies across industries). Microsoft Ads work a lot like Google Ads, but with a slightly different demographic and much smaller reach—and a lower price tag to match.
But despite Microsoft Ads’ lower cost, the average conversion rate is much lower than Google’s—which means ad campaigns may be cheaper, but you’ll need to run more of them. And, ultimately, Microsoft Ads are fueled by the same type of data collection as Google Ads, making them susceptible to this same trend away from data collection.
Brave Ads: Web3-friendly ad units
In contrast to the Web 2.0 ad model that entails scraping every bit of user data to sell ad space, Web3 advertising is all about trust and consent. It’s about enabling users to make their own decisions about what types of tracking, cookies, and other things they’ll allow, and how their data can be used.
Brave Ads is an entirely new ad model that’s tailored for the privacy-first world of Web3. In the privacy-focused Brave browser, users can opt in to view different types of ads, and earn rewards for their attention. Brave’s ad units vary from full-page New tab takeovers in the browser, to image-and-text cards in the Brave News feed, to push notifications. And because Brave users have to opt in to earn rewards, they’re significantly more engaged and more likely to click through on ads. Advertisers generally see much higher ROI with Brave Ads:
- 8% CTR on push notification ads
- 17% average lift in purchase intent
- 28% average lift in brand perception
- 64% average lift in brand/promotion awareness
Most importantly, Brave Ads don’t require data collection to achieve those better metrics. The Brave Ads server creates a catalog of ads and targeting parameters, which is downloaded to the Brave browser on a user’s device. The ads are then locally and privately matched to users in the browser. This method of targeting doesn’t send any personal data back to Brave servers, or to third-parties. All Brave receives is anonymous and aggregated data about ad confirmations.
Today, the Brave Ads audience is unique: they’re less active on Web 2.0 platforms like traditional social media, and they use ad blockers, VPNs, and privacy browsers. They’re the “unreachable” audiences that Web 2.0 ad platforms are losing by the millions. But they’re just the vanguard—already, everyday users are switching to private alternatives like Brave, too. Brave Ads give brands a chance to reach these audiences in a privacy-preserving way—and build new lines of business in a more-private Web.
Diversifying ad strategies for the privacy-first future
The Web is changing. From a Web 2.0 world where user data gets harvested for Big Tech’s profit, to a Web3 world where users actually own their data. And have a say in what happens to it. The shift to a privacy-first Web is well underway, but that doesn’t mean brands should abandon Web 2.0 platforms immediately. Savvy advertisers will start ramping down their ad spend in the Web 2.0 model, and shift their focus to privacy-respecting models. Users will notice, and respect the brands that do. Diversifying is just smart business.
To get started building ad campaigns that reach the “unreachable,” check out https://brave.com/brave-ads/.
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