TOPICS by Google : what to expect from this new targeting method?
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Remember: at the end of 2020, Google announced the creation of its FLOC targeting method, a new feature that would stop the use of third-party cookies in ad targeting.

This FLOC targeting had then launched many debates, not only about the use of personal data, but also concerning the relevance of the solution for advertisers. 

To address these debates, Google recently announced the targeting solution that could replace the FLOC project: TOPICS API.

What is it? What would this targeting method consist of? What can you expect from it? Our experts break down the situation for you, to help you see what the future of your advertising campaigns will possibly look like.

What is TOPICS by Google?

TOPICS is the new proposal of the famous search engine to target users in their programmatic advertising campaigns without using third-party cookies. This proposal, which should fit into Google's Privacy Sandbox, follows the announced disappearance of third-party cookies, scheduled for mid-2023, which forced the AdTech giant to review its targeting capabilities. 

TOPICS API would replace the FLOC  (Federated Learning Of Cohorts) project, which was very controversial until now. This targeting method consisted in creating cohorts of at least 5000 users, who share the same online behavior, that advertisers could then target.

Cookies are replaced by centers of interest.

How would the TOPICS API work?

As Google explains it today, the TOPICS API would assign centers of interest (called “TOPICS”) to each user, determined according to their browsing history on Chrome.

The API would analyze the URL of the domain or sub-domain to determine centers of interest that would potentially interest the user. 
Those TOPICS would…  

  • Be kept for up to 3 weeks
  • Change every 3 weeks, based on the user’s new browsing history
  • Be stored on the user’s browser, not on a third-party server

On the advertiser’s side, it would then be possible to target users according to these interests (Sport, Travel, Beauty, News…) without having to use third-party cookies.
On the users’ side, this new feature would allow them to manage their TOPICS quite finely. According to Google, it would be possible to delete TOPICS directly from the browser. 

What would be TOPICS’ benefits?

For the time being, this new targeting feature appears to be especially advantageous for Internet users. 
Google’s TOPICS would enable users to… 

  • Get more privacy. The data being stored on the user's browser itself would limit the amount of information available to advertisers, which would not allow third-parties to identify him or her precisely. In addition, the TOPICS created by Google would have a limited lifespan, ensuring a little more privacy.
  • Have more control over their data, in particular thanks to the possibility of managing the list of TOPICS that would be associated with them. 

What should we be aware of concerning TOPICS?

At the moment, on the advertisers' side, Google's TOPICS solution is mainly raising points of attention. Here are the ones that our Gamned! experts have identified and point out to you. 

“While Google's TOPICS API is still under development, it already raises many questions about the performance of the ad targeting that will be offered. However, the solution is still to be subjected to numerous tests and debates with other market players. So there's nothing to worry about. That said, we at Gamned! are still keeping a close eye on the development of this solution, as well as on alternatives that will allow the brands we support to keep a good level of performance in their programmatic campaigns.” Fenitra Raz, Data Strategist

How precise would it be possible to target an audience thanks to TOPICS?

Today, Google's solution offers about 350 TOPICS. For comparison, the IAB has no less than 1500 themes. 

The question arises as to what kind of targeting granularity can be achieved with Google TOPICS. Therefore, advertisers can legitimately ask themselves how the relevance of this targeting method will impact the performance of their advertising campaigns.

Indeed, at the moment, Google announced that a site can only be linked to a maximum of 3 TOPICS. The AdTech giant is currently discussing with the market to be able to overpass this limit, which would present a rather important blocking point. 

What kind of targeting could be set up for advertisers with long sales cycles?

Some advertisers, such as those in the travel, banking or insurance sectors, have sales cycles that are much longer than the 3 weeks in which the Google TOPICS would be retained

Faced with this limitation in terms of time, we can therefore wonder how Google will be able to adapt the targeting and the lifespan of TOPICS for these industries.

Is it still possible to end third-party cookies by mid-2023?

Finally, the global testing period of this new Google service potentially questions the previously announced deadline of mid-2023.

Indeed, Google has announced that a new proposal will soon be submitted to comments. Thereafter, patching, then testing, then release (if all goes well) phases will still take time. And the development of this API is not finished yet. All of this could jeopardize the mid-2023 initial deadline.

In the end, it's a whole new timeline that's being put in place. According to our experts, it could take at least 18 months before Google's TOPICS appear in the Privacy Sandbox... and that's without counting the complaints from the competition that are already starting to come in!

In short, TOPICS API seems to be a kind of backward step, which at the same time questions Google's real ability to permanently delete third-party cookies...

Need help with your programmatic advertising campaigns? Contact a Gamned! expert now, and let's talk about your needs. 


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