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Big changes on the horizon as YouTube puts mobile first

27.03.2017 - by Haley Stewart


The phrase ‘Year of Mobile’ has been getting thrown around for, well, several years now. But recent announcements from Google suggest we might finally be there.

In this blog post we summarise some big changes that are coming to YouTube and discuss how Google is differentiating YouTube from sites like Facebook; investing in the longevity of the platform by striking a balance between what users and advertisers want.

What’s the background?

The Guardian reported in 2015 that by the end of last year, people would be watching online video for an average of one hour a day, and half of that viewing time would take place on mobile devices. The predicted growth of both multi-screen browsing and video consumption has certainly been born out, and companies are responding in various ways. In January 2017, Google rolled out expanded text ads to keep their results pages consistent across all devices; and social and content platforms like Snapchat, Facebook and Hulu are investing massively in the development of their mobile video offerings.


For a minute, it was starting to look like YouTube might get left in the dust. But Google is embracing a ‘new year, new me’ attitude, releasing a statement in January detailing the improvements they’ll be rolling out over the next year to keep the platform relevant.

The biggest news is that Google is adapting to a changing technological landscape by shifting away from traditional cookie-based targeting to using their own first party data.

YouTube will offer much improved measurement across campaigns, especially those targeting multi-screen users.

As well as working to address the barriers of cookie and pixel based tracking across devices, they’re also getting rid of ad formats that people don’t like. Google seems to recognise the importance of holding on to users in the long term, and they’re keeping good experiences front and centre as they develop the platform.

Insights and targeting

Google’s decision to migrate away from the use of cookies and pixels on YouTube in favour of their own first party data is a big announcement, and we’ll be delving into some of the wider implications in a future blog post.

Going forward, advertisers will be able to tap into Google’s rich database of first party data and reach users in relevant ways across search, display, and video. YouTube will also be rolling out Google’s Customer Match targeting, which allows advertisers to target users based on their collected customer data. For example, a brand could use a promotional video on YouTube to target users who signed up for their newsletter.

Google has made it clear they will continue to work with MRC accredited vendors, including comScore, DoubleVerify, IAS, MOAT, and Nielsen in the development of this solution to ensure marketers are still able to independently measure and verify their campaign performance.

On this point once again, Google stresses the importance they’re placing on protecting the privacy and security of users across YouTube and other Google platforms.

Migrating away from third party data and putting users first

This move away from cookies and pixels is feasible for YouTube, with its massive database of logged in user data. It will allow Google to solve the tracking issues that plague online campaigns in a world where users constantly move between disconnected devices. And Google is also promoting the benefits this change offers users, who have more control, choice and transparency in how they experience ads on Google platforms than when they’re served ads based on cookie data.

While this was buried at the bottom of the press release, it’s arguably the most interesting part for two reasons. Firstly, Google is signalling that it will be putting users first and advertisers second – investing in changes that aim to keep users happily using the platform long term. We’ll be watching over the next year and beyond to see whether this approach pays off for Google.

Secondly, it’s interesting to consider what these changes might tell us about the direction of digital marketing more broadly. Mobile has already overtaken desktop, so it’s likely we’ll see significant further developments as advertisers adapt to a new mobile-first landscape. Whether this will include other platforms shifting away from cookies is just one possibility to watch closely.

Starting in 2018, Google will stop serving 30 second unskippable ads and will instead focus on pushing more user friendly ad formats.

This tid-bit was not included in the original blog post, but was released shortly after. The shorter formats YouTube will be focusing on in future include the newly introduced 6 second unskippable bumper and 20 second spots.

This is a logical move considering many users did not like the unskippable ads, and it further reinforces Google’s overall goal to provide a better experience for users. We expect this will be the first of a few changes we’ll see rolled out over the next year that provide for a better user experience.


Bottom line, YouTube is making changes that put the user first. However, they’re not ignoring advertisers completely and will be rolling out much needed improvements to both their targeting and reporting capabilities. It will be interesting to see how this affects the marketing landscape over time and which platform will emerge as the leader in mobile advertising.

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