Google Identity Data on YouTube

Google Identity Data on YouTube


With more than 50% of YouTube videos watched on mobile devices, Google recently announced a plan to make fundamental shifts in how advertisers can both target ads as well as understand their performance on YouTube. At the heart of this shift is the continued recognition on Google’s part that the cookie-based system that advertisers have relied on in the digital space is increasingly unsuited to a multi-device world, where cookies essentially measure browsers, not individuals.

As Google moves away from cookies in YouTube, it is also opening up new datasets to enhance how advertisers can reach relevant audiences, most notably with the first-ever inclusion of Google Search and Maps data to build on Google “interest” targets that were previously derived primarily from browsing behavior.

How it Works

At a high level, Google plans to remove the usage of cookie-based measurement and targeting in the YouTube ecosystem. This means that:

  1. Audience targets will no longer be cookie-based: Advertisers will be able to use either first-party CRM data for 1-to-1 retargeting or an enhanced set of Google proprietary segments (such as Interest or In-Market) to target audiences on auction-based YouTube inventory. Both 1st and 3rd party cookies that were previously used to match to users on YouTube will be sunset in May.
  2. Customer Match targeting will be enhanced, and will likely have greater reach: In addition to matching to signed-in Google users via email addresses, advertisers will now be able to upload physical address information (address, ZIP codes, etc.) as well as phone numbers. This will undoubtedly increase the scope and match rates of Customer Match. While 1-to-1 retargeting will only be available via Customer Match, Google is still allowing the usage of 3rd party cookie audiences to be uploaded to Google, which will then be used to create look-a-like audiences that can be used to target on YouTube.
  3. New intent signals will power Google audience segments: For the first time, Google is using its own Search and Maps search data to power its proprietary audience segments. So, existing Affinity and In-Market segments will be enhanced, and new segments called Consumer Patterns and Life Events will be available to use.
  4. This only affects YouTube, not Search. It’s important to note that these changes only apply to YouTube auction-based targeting, not on reserve buys or within Google Search advertising. Google’s Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) — which is reliant on Google cookies to build audiences — will not be affected, nor will the targeting changes that are occurring with Customer Match.
  5. Frequency controls will suffer: Advertisers buying YouTube inventory from DoubleClick Bid Manager (DBM) and other platforms starting May 1 will no longer be able to control frequency — or, the number of times an individual is shown an ad — across YouTube and non-YouTube inventory, as cookies had been the unifying mechanism to do so. It is our belief that the enhanced targeting capabilities that come with this change outweigh the drawbacks that come with less frequency control.

Resolution POV:

These announcements by Google represent a shift that has been gradual, but steady, in terms of helping to move the advertising industry towards a more future-proofed form of measurement and reaching audiences. We have seen similar shifts towards account and ID-based targeting in other “walled garden” ecosystems such as Facebook’s. In the end, the quality of targeting is better while still respecting the anonymity and privacy of the end user. Cookies have historically raised privacy concerns and even led to government action in Europe. Resolution and its advertisers are heavily invested in privacy-conscious yet more effective means of speaking to the most relevant audiences, whether through the proprietary audience targets that Google (and others) provide, or by strategically using advertisers’ first-party data to engage with audiences.


Google’s emphasis on “closing the loop” in a number of ways — across devices, between the online and offline worlds, etc. — has allowed digital marketers to continue to make smarter decisions about how they plan, execute, and measure their media. These measurements can be used to inform creative strategies with organic content as well. For example, understanding which intent data triggers engagement in an ad can drive what content should be prioritized and create the right experience. The inclusion of things like search and Maps data to power audience segments in YouTube are certainly a promising step in this direction. Finally, it is important for advertisers to begin to plan now for the upcoming removal of cookie-based targeting in YouTube, which is expected to happen in May. Reach out to your Resolution team to learn more.