Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), Google’s internet-based targeting proposal, is no more. In its place is a new user-profiling initiative called Topics API.

The announcement came on Jan. 25, hailing Topics the new Privacy Sandbox proposal to build a more private, healthier open web. 

The idea here is that your browser will determine your interests as you navigate the web, topics like “Travel” or “Fitness.” Topics will store browsing data over the last three weeks, and anything older will be deleted.

Google says it is limiting the number of topics to 300 but may extend the list over time.  

So, how does it work? When you land on a participating website (that is, a site that supports Topics API for ad purposes), your browser will select three topics, one from each week. It will then share these topics with the site and its advertising partners.

The goal of this new system is to create a more private way of determining which ad to show users. Users will also be able to review and remove topics from their lists, giving them far greater visibility and control of how they are being tracked than ever before.

But with this enhanced privacy comes a caveat. Compared to FLoC, Topics appears to be more general, giving websites and advertisers fuzzier data about individual users. 

One marketer told Search Engine Land, “Google’s current interest list [of topics] doesn’t offer the level of nuance most marketers need to target people who’d actually want to see their ads.”

When FLoC was announced as the solution to unsafe third-party cookies, it raised some privacy concerns regardless – precisely for the specificity of data it was projected to share with advertisers.

Here’s how FLoC would have worked: 

A FLoC-enabled browser would collect information about the user’s browsing habits and use that data to assign the user to a “cohort” or group. Users with similar browsing behaviors would be lumped together in the same cohort. 

Each user’s browser would share a cohort ID, indicating the cohort they belong to, with participating websites and advertisers.

The problem with that, again, is it comes across still pretty specific. Moving on from shadowy, disreputable third-party cookies, FLoC appears to be just another way to surveil people’s browsing histories, only this time it’s wrapped up in a nice Privacy Sandbox bow.

Or at least, that’s what many privacy-conscious communities believed. 

Enter now Topics, which, sacrificing nuanced, precise targeting, limits advertisers to fuzzy details and general information, thus giving them less control over who sees their ads.

However, the majority agree that Topics is a step up from FLoC. From a broader perspective, it’s more privacy-friendly and provides more transparency. It’s a step towards a safer, healthier web that benefits everyone. 

As for marketers? They just have to get more creative with their targeting initiatives.

More SEO News You Can Use

Google’s Core Web Vitals Badge No Longer Happening: If you’ve been holding out hope that your site will get a Core Web Vital (CWV) badge, Google’s John Mueller has got some news for you. And it’s not good. Though never confirmed, the idea of a potential CWV badge came up several times, and now it looks like Google won’t be following through. The idea was to add a badge next to web pages that meet all three CWV metrics in search results. In a Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout last week, Mueller expressed that he feels “it will not happen.” He didn’t say it never will in the future, but he pointed out that if Google wanted to show the badge, it would’ve done it already. But who knows, right?

Data Suggest Marketers Should Focus Less on Featured Snippets: People Also Ask (PAA) appear 10 more times on Google’s search results than featured snippets. That’s what data from Shopify SEO director Kevin Indig reveal. The study analyzed data from 2018 to 2021, looking at more than 100,000 keyword samples and their search performance on both desktop and mobile results. Indig’s study found that as featured snippets decrease, the number of PAA boxes increases. And PAA boxes appear 10 times more in search results than featured snippets (65 percent vs. 6 percent). If you’ve been busy optimizing for featured snippets, it’s time to sort out your priorities. The study doesn’t suggest abandoning your efforts entirely but rather being mindful of the time you spend trying to win featured snippets.

Google Says Outages Are Inevitable but Promises More Transparency: Google can’t make the promise that there will be no (or fewer) outages this year but will be better at informing the community when it detects issues. This was revealed in the latest episode of the Search Off the Record podcast with Mueller, Gary Illyes and Martin Splitt. Fact is, outages will happen, Illyes confirmed, but Google will continue to be better at communicating issues as they crop up. This move towards greater transparency means the tech giant will announce outages even if they are only felt internally and do not affect the community at large.

Poll Reveals 78 Percent of SEOs Agree Full Access to Algorithm Information Could Skew Results: Google has never been fully transparent about how its search algorithms and ranking factors work, claiming unreserved access to this information can lead to poor search results – and the majority of SEO specialists seem to agree. On Jan. 17, digital marketer Azeem held a Twitter poll asking, “If Google were to be 100 percent transparent about how to rank organically and its ranking factors, would the SERPs be better or worse?” A little over 78 percent of 443 votes answered “worse,” agreeing that full transparency about the inner workings of Google algorithms would have spammers abusing the information and dirtying up the search results. But what do you think?

YouTube Dislike Counts Will Never Be Coming Back: Like it or not, the removal of YouTube dislike counts will be staying for as long as Susan Wojcicki remains seated as company CEO. Wojcicki, outlining YouTube’s priorities for 2022, said she believes it’s what’s best for the company moving forward. Dislikes, according to Wojcicki, were unreliable metrics – often an indication of people’s subjective perception and not of the video itself and its quality. She added that reasons for disliking could be completely unrelated to the video, making dislikes not the most accurate way to find videos to watch. Removing them is also YouTube’s way to protect the creators, who receive “dislike attacks” or viewers actively increasing the dislike-to-like ratio on videos. With so many reasons to give and so much conviction behind each one, it’s safe to assume YouTube won’t be putting back dislike counts anytime soon.

Editor’s Note: “SEO News You Can Use” is a weekly blog post posted every Monday morning only on SEOblog.com, rounding up all the top SEO news from around the world. Our goal is to make SEOlog.com a one-stop-shop for everyone looking for SEO news, education and for hiring an SEO expert with our comprehensive SEO agency directory.