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How privacy changes affect B2B paid search marketing

Everyone talks about privacy. When Google announced the discontinuation of third-party cookies in early 2020, privacy became a hot topic.The loss of

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Everyone talks about privacy. When Google announced the discontinuation of third-party cookies in early 2020, privacy became a hot topic.

The loss of third-party cookies affects all advertisers and poses a particular challenge to B2B marketers, who struggle to reach the right audience even with third-party cookies turned on.

Let’s review how the privacy changes came about today — and then look at what it all means for marketers.


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How did we get here?

In the early days of the internet, it was the Wild West. Nobody cares about privacy.

As with anything new, consumers were fond of going to a website and ordering what they wanted and having it displayed at their door.

Sure, mail order has been around for a long time. But it wasn’t exciting to fill out a form, write a check and send it – only to wait 6-8 weeks for the order to arrive.

The internet changed buying habits forever.

Almost anything could be found and purchased online with ease. However, the internet has also provided a trove of user data that marketers can make use of to gain insights into buyer behavior.

Somewhere in the mid-2000s, reorientation was introduced.

I remember being at a search conference in 2005, watching a demonstration of a new technology that would dynamically display ads based on users’ search activity and the sites they visited.

My mind stunned. You mean we can show different ads to different users based on things we know about them? Involve me!

No one thought about privacy then either. We were so fascinated by this new technology that we never thought about privacy.

Privacy becomes a thing

Fast forward to today.

Retargeting is everywhere. Everyone knows when they will be retargeted. And advertisers often do it poorly.

Every digital marketer can come up with a few of the bad retargeting they’ve experienced personally.

For me, it was an unforgettable moment after I made an online hotel reservation on a business trip to Seattle. I was instantly bombarded with ads – from the same hotel I just booked, saying, “Book your flight to Seattle now!”

Come here.

I think lazy marketers are partly responsible for the privacy changes coming later this year. People are tired of poorly targeted ads constantly following them.

How privacy affects B2B search marketing

B2B search marketing is challenging under any circumstances. Researchers do not identify themselves as B2B users when conducting a search.

Often the keywords they use are the same keywords a consumer might use, although they are each looking for two different things.

Terms like “insurance,” “security,” and even “software design” are vague. The researcher can search for services for themselves or for their business.

This is where third-party cookies came in.

Advertisers got excited when Google introduced audience targeting options like Affinity and Audience to Market. Finally, a way to layer audience signals based on search and browsing behavior!

However, audience targeting options are hopelessly focused on the consumer. Here are Google’s current affinity slides:

See anything remotely looks like B2B? me too.

Segments in the market are not much better. Here is one for business services:

The “Business Technology” category isn’t bad, but other categories, like “Business Printing and Document Services,” seem to be for small businesses, not organizations.

The death of third-party cookies

So what does all this have to do with privacy?

Targeting options such as affinity audiences and in-market audiences are generated from third-party cookies. Search engines use signals (for example, which websites users have visited) to aggregate audiences.

Google has announced that it will turn off third-party cookies from Chrome over the next year.

In other words, most of these targeting options will soon be discontinued.

First party fans to the rescue

First-party audiences are great for B2B. They remove many of the obstacles that B2B advertisers face: targeting that is focused on the consumer, or targeting too broadly to business needs.

But first-party audiences also pose challenges to B2B.

The biggest obstacle is creating the masses in the first place.

To use first-party audiences efficiently, advertisers need some way to collect audience data, group users into groups, and pass the data securely to advertising platforms like Google Ads and Bing Ads. Usually, this is done through a data management platform (DMP)

Advertisers who use DMP have a relatively easy time using first-party audiences in their PPC campaigns. DMP can be used to upload audiences directly to search engine platforms.

Unfortunately, even among our enterprise customers, surprisingly few have a good DMP setup. This means that most advertisers are not able to effectively use first-party audiences.

And even for advertisers with a proper DMP, we often find first-party audiences too small to target.

Unlike e-commerce, B2B is a smaller world. There are not as many people looking for business software for enterprises as the number of people who buy shoes on a given day.

There are fewer people than companies with more than 5,000 employees looking for ERP software for the organization.

See where I’m going with this?

Audiences that are too small to target don’t help much.

or they?

Search engines use audiences as a signal to target ads. Think of the audience as a way to tell Google and Bing who you’re trying to reach.

One way to amplify the signal of a small first-party audience is to use similar audiences (also called lookalike audiences).

Similar audiences are often 2 to 10 times larger than first-party audiences. This is an example:

The first-party audience is only about 5,000 members – which is big enough to target but won’t bring in a lot of traffic.

But a similar audience has anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 members to search and up to a million to view – which is a much larger reach.

Similar audiences are especially useful for B2B, which tend to have a low audience match rate). We have seen strong performance from similar audiences of our B2B clients.

Let paid social assistance

Another way to create B2B audiences is to use paid social media to inform paid search.

Paid social networks are typically used for top funnel activity – awareness and consideration. But we have used paid social media to create audiences for paid search retargeting.

The great thing about paid social media is that we know a lot about our target audience. We can target based on employer, job title, company size, education, skills and other factors that indicate a user is a good B2B target.

Create a custom paid social traffic landing page for B2B audience goals and tag it for retargeting. Then target the people who visited that page with Google Ads.

We’ve done this with YouTube videos, too. People who watch a 30-60 minute keyword from a B2B conference make a great audience to follow with RLSA or retargeting.

And don’t forget to target LinkedIn in Microsoft Ads. The ability to use LinkedIn profile attributes for targeting is a huge distinguishing factor for Microsoft advertising, and is especially useful for B2B advertisers.

Use small conversions as cues

Another way to create target audiences is to use micro conversions as signals of intent.

B2B has a long sales cycle – usually 12-18 months or more. Nobody buys a six-figure business software system in one credit card visit.

The process usually involves a lot of searching, with multiple points of contact along the way.

Users can follow these steps in the purchase method:

  • Read article
  • Download technical document
  • Read an e-book
  • request for proposal
  • Sign up for a free trial
  • contact sales
  • buying

Each of these actions represents a small diversion.

You can create audiences for people who have downloaded the white paper. You can also break this down further by creating audiences based on the type or product of the white paper they downloaded if you sell multiple products or target multiple audiences.

Retarget users who have downloaded a white paper with a free demo or demo. Then retarget the users who signed up for a demo or trial, and ask them to contact sales.

If you sell to multiple business sizes, you can also start segmenting by small business versus large organization based on the content you consume.

Using first-party data is an investment – time and money

Audience selection days are numbered based on the attributes in the market or affinity groups. Lazy marketing will soon become a thing of the past.

Now is the time to start building first-party audiences and thinking about your buyer journey.

Get serious about creating small conversions and social driven audiences to reach your goal.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of the search engine. Staff authors are listed here.


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About the author

Melissa Mackie is the Associate Director of Paid Research at MerkleB2B. As a seasoned PPC marketer, she helps clients get maximum ROI from paid search. Mackey regularly contributes to numerous industry publications, and writes about PPC strategy. Mackie has spoken at industry conferences such as SMX Advanced, SMX Create, and HeroConf.

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