YouTube update: Contextual Targeting is gone—what now?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last couple months, you probably heard about the latest YouTube update being implemented in 2023:

Google is officially removing all “contextual” targeting options from their platform. And as a Youtube ads agency collectively with all other marketers - we went: "oooooooh nooooooooooooooo"

In other words, advertisers won’t be able to leverage targeting options like keyword or placement targeting to drive conversions any longer.

Now, if you happen to use contextual targeting to run your video ad campaigns on a daily basis, this coming change must sound like nothing less than a poor joke to you.

“What am I supposed to do now?”, you might think.

And that is a valid reaction.

We ourselves leverage contextual targeting to run our client’s campaigns quite a lot. So when news dropped, they too came as a shocker at first—but we’ve managed to find a workaround.

So if you’re still interested in using keyword or topic targeting for your Ads in 2023, be sure to read until the end of this article to discover how to adjust to this new change coming at the horizon.

Why is Google even making this change in the first place?

For the same reason Google implements any change in their platform: performance.

Google thinks that contextual targeting “limits” the performance of your campaigns. They claim that video campaigns made to drive conversions usually perform better without a keyword, topic, or placement targeting.

So simply put: Google is convinced that an algorithm is better at determining who should see your Ads than you, so they take the ability to have a choice away from you. This is moving towards Google’s plans to take over all of the targeting responsibilities on the user’s behalf… so advertisers can focus more on making great Ad creative instead.

Now whether or not Google is right in this regard is irrelevant—what we care about here is finding how this upcoming change will affect the immediate performance of our campaigns (if at all…), and coming up with the best course of action based on that.

For what it seems, smaller brands will experience the shorter end of the stick with this new rulebook. They naturally target micro niches, and need to pay closer to attention to who their Ads get shown too since they don’t have much budget to play around with.

Larger brands wouldn’t experience this issue since they have deeper pockets, and since their brand is more established, they can afford to appeal to a broader audience with their targeting instead the micro-niche(ing) route.

But nevertheless, this is merely an assumption. The only way to truly know how this change will impact your campaigns is by testing, testing, and testing.

So rather than waiting until contextual targeting is removed from your existing conversion campaigns to find out what's up…

We suggest that you start to test brand new Ads without keyword/placement targeting to get ahead of the curve.

Set aside a bit of your budget strictly to test Ads that don't leverage contextual targeting at all, and start to get a direct pulse of how this new change might impact the ROI of your advertising.

You don't need to shut down your existing campaigns in order to do this though. Let them run profitably for you until the actual change gets implemented, don't get ahead of yourself.

But it is a good idea to start to put a conscious effort into figuring out how to make your campaigns work without your habitual targeting features.

After all… as time goes on Google is moving more and more towards this agenda. And its only a matter of time until they can take control of the entire targeting process.

But that being said… we shouldn't blow this upcoming YouTube update out of proportions either.

If we read Google’s fine print in minute detail, we’ll find that there is really nothing to worry about just yet. You can still leverage contextual targeting in your favor — as long as you don’t run “drive conversion” campaign types because Google isn’t actually removing targeting options from ALL video ad types; it's just doing so with "conversion-based" campaigns. You can still use keyword or placement targeting in anything that falls outside of that range.

And that's what we'll be showing you how to do!

The Workaround: how you can still leverage Contextual Targeting for your campaigns

Note: This strategy should only be utilized when you’re 100% convinced that the keywords/placements that you’ll use will drive conversions. Otherwise… you’ll just be flushing money down the drain.

This strategy basically consists of launching your campaign without a “specific objective”. In other words, you will create it in the dashboard without a set goal for the campaign.

This will allow you to still leverage contextual targeting in your campaigns without a problem.

Click on the video below to get a full tutorial of how to set up this type of campaign (it's stupid simple.)

Now, this strategy will look very different depending on where you're at with your Ad account.

If your account is new, you can still use placement targeting with CPV bidding, but make sure that your placements come from your direct competitors, while trying to ensure that the people watching that Ad are the most likely to convert.

If we were you, we would start with a low budget. The goal being to validate your Ads with your most ideal customers (and not to get conversions or a ton of sales.) 

If the important metrics are performing well — AKA your CTR, conversion rates — then double down. You will get a bigger bang for your buck this way than with Target CPA or Max Conversions.

If your account is already established however — and has plenty of data to work with, you should only use “proven placements”. 

In other words, look up for your best-performing placements & keywords (aka, those that are bringing a great cost per conversion rate/positive ROI) and only leverage those.

The easiest way to do this is using your previous keyword & placement campaigns; but if you weren’t running any, go into your campaigns and check where your Ads were being shown. Take a look at what sort of videos are bringing in repeat conversions at a great CPC. Take those placements that are working well and throw them in this new CPV campaign; and only add 2-3 new placements or 1-2 new keywords into that CPV campaign if you wish to add new ones.

Unfortunately, the CPV bidding method is not the sharpest for optimizing your campaigns, so you need to be extra careful with your placements or you’ll just dedicate your entire budget to a singular placement—and it won’t convert! So be sure to check these CPV campaigns regularly, and you'll be good to go.

There you have it—this is how you can still utilize contextual targeting in spite of the upcoming update coming in the YouTube platform.

Truth be told, keyword or topic targeting can help you to:

  • Be ultra-specific on who you want your Ads to be shown to
  • Capture top of funnel prospects
  • Focus on the exact prospects who are most likely to be interested in your offer
  • Land a higher ROI from your advertising efforts

P.S. Update as off 2024 - everything is OK, as a Youtube ads agency we figured it out and are successfully running campaigns to this date.

So if you'd like to learn more about how you can best navigate through this update in the coming months, be sure to schedule a free strategy call with us to see how we can help you out!

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