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PMG Digital Made for Humans

YouTube Improves Audience Targeting

5 MINUTE READ | February 1, 2017

YouTube Improves Audience Targeting

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 2017 being the year in which marketers fundamentally change their approach to customer relationships, and outlined two key factors that will define whether we’re successful in that effort. First, do you gather clean and meaningful data? Second – and this is more challenging – do you know what to do with that data?

Last Friday, Google announced significant changes to YouTube audience targeting and measurement, largely unifying the platform with the rest of the Google ecosystem, and brought us one step closer to recognizing ‘consumers’ as real people.

tl;dr – Google is expanding ad targeting to include signals from search and other data sources and is improving the capabilities of first-party-based Customer Match. As they do so, Google also has to minimize the role that pixels and cookies play on YouTube. An added benefit here is that reporting and insights should be much more meaningful as they’ll be sourced directly from Google user data.

The news was cause for celebration at PMG, but was understandably met with mixed reviews among the larger digital community. Let’s break down the update, what it means for advertisers, and why we think it’s deserving of your favorite happy emojis.

Having built our business on the backs of analytics and transparent media investment, I can’t overstate just how important measurement is. PMG leads the industry in advocacy for our clients’ dollars through granular campaign infrastructure and advanced audience strategies. Without the ability to measure and report on those activities, we’d be nowhere. And as we bring this work-both-harder-and-smarter mentality into the next generation of media, based on the idea that your customers are – first and foremost – people, there are a few points about which we tend to be outspoken.

  • Number one: pixels suck. They’re necessary in a lot of cases… but they still suck.

  • Number two: the last click is not the only click.

  • Number three: your data beats that of any DMP, any day. Use it.

  • And number four: find any opportunity that enables you to act on numbers one through three and run with it.

The changes coming to YouTube represent just such an opportunity. Over the next year, Google will be building a cloud-based insights platform for YouTube that hints at the future for all digital campaigns across the Google stack. Rather than relying on pixels for a relatively two-dimensional view of performance, this will give advertisers a glimpse into users’ journeys across devices, as told through Google’s rich user data. At the same time, Google’s has left in place important safeguards to users’ privacy.



If you refer back to points one and two, we dislike pixels because they lead to advertisers inequitably discounting mid-funnel activities, regardless of how engaging the experience may be. This goes back to the concept of the customer relationship. That is, while bots may click on paid search ads in isolation, people generally do not. A last-click attribution model betrays the ethos of the customer relationship. To most of us, this isn’t a mystery, but when trying to justify campaigns to finance it can frequently feel that way.

That’s why something as simple as a shift from pixel measurement to a deterministic cross-device model means so much to us. It intrinsically improves the economics of all digital media.

Google figures show that more than half of all YouTube engagement now happens on a mobile device. Making a safe assumption that Google is correct (I hear they’re good at data), this means that our pixel-based audiences are likely missing valid opportunities for impressions about half the time, due to the failure of fragmented cookie pools to address cross-device browsing behavior. Pixels let me down again.

Fortunately, Google is addressing the shortfallings of cookie-based audiences by improving both first-party targeting with Customer Match and contextual targeting that will now incorporate signals from user behavior elsewhere on Google. In addition to applying original Customer Match lists to campaigns, advertisers will be able to model those segments out to the broader YouTube user base. Similar audiences may scale out to 100 times the volume of their parent audiences. As one of Google’s original Customer Match Uploader partners, PMG is well-equipped to work seamlessly with Customer Match on YouTube.

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In addition to improved first-party audiences, YouTube targeting will soon make use of signals from search and other Google behavioral data sources. While parts of this change have been called by some an effort to raise the walls around the garden, I look at it more in terms of lowering the barriers between Google properties and an affirmation that the industry is moving ever more quickly toward a pure deterministic world. Certainly, vertical integration on the part of any of the large media platforms causes consolidation in the broader market, but the pressure on firms that are incapable of competing in such a world will bring us to a healthier existence, both for advertisers and the people they want to engage.


Posted by Austin Denny

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