Why First-Party Data is Important for Your Google Ads Strategy

When we work with new clients or audit the Google Ads accounts of prospective clients, we often find those accounts don’t have customer match lists, a.k.a. first-party data.

As defined by Google, first-party data is “information you collect from your customers, site visitors, and app users during their interactions with your products and services”—as opposed to third-party data, which is “information that you purchase or otherwise obtain from other sources.”

The absence of first-party data might seem surprising, considering that Google has been moving away from third-party data and towards greater user privacy for years. Google has been talking about phasing out third-party cookies since January 2020, and recently announced that they will phase out third-party cookies by the end of 2025.

This shift away from third-party data makes first-party data even more critical for Google advertisers.

So why aren’t more advertisers collecting first-party data and using that data in their Google advertising?

For one excellent reason: it can be very hard to do.

First-party data and Google advertising strategy

Even when advertisers proactively seek first-party data, many barriers can stand in their way, from tech issues to internal dynamics. First-party data may reside in different information silos, making the coordination, extraction, and cleaning of that data difficult and time-consuming. Advertisers may face a lack of internal support—in terms of authority and resources—that they need to make it happen.

If you’re an advertising agency working on behalf of a client, the barriers can be even higher. Sometimes, clients are reluctant to share their first-party data, citing privacy concerns, even though the data will be hashed before they share it, rendering it unidentifiable.

In short, getting first-party data can be like asking for a third arm—so I completely understand why some accounts don’t have it.

3 benefits of incorporating first-party data into your Google Ads strategy

But even with the challenges of obtaining first-party data, first-party data is worth fighting for because of all the benefits it brings, such as:

1. More personalized and targeted messaging

    When you have first-party data, you understand your audiences better, which means you can craft messaging that’s more relevant to each segment. More relevant messaging will improve performance and create new efficiencies since more of those leads will be qualified.

    It’s funny that when people talk about Google Ads account optimization, they rarely talk about the role that personalized, targeted messaging can play in reducing the proportion of unwanted clicks.

    2. Improved signals and machine learning

      First-party data is an important way to improve signals and machine learning in your Google Ads account. The data educates the Google machine about your audience, from demographics to interests, which helps it tailor its automation for those audiences.

      3. Greater ability to compete

        When you layer keywords over your first-party data, such as lead and prospect lists, you’re less likely to get sucked into a losing competition against bigger brands.

        You’re unlikely to beat Salesforce in a keyword battle if you’re a small tech company. But layer those keywords over a list of people who’ve attended your webinars—and suddenly, you have the upper hand.

        How to segment your first-party data in Google Ads

        Hopefully, I’ve convinced you of the importance of first-party data and demonstrated that it’s worth fighting for.

        Now, the question is how to segment your audiences once you have that data so that you can personalize your messaging and improve conversions.

        Some of the most common audience segments we use are:

        • Past purchasers. People who have bought from the advertiser before.
        • Past purchase by product category. People who have made a purchase, narrowed by product category, such as flagship products, emerging products, new products, new versions of products, etc.
        • Event attendees. People who have attended live events sponsored by the advertiser.
        • Webinar attendees. People who have attended webinars sponsored by the advertiser.
        • Qualified leads. People who have demonstrated an intent to buy (as defined by the advertiser’s sales or marketing team).
        • Newsletter subscribers. People who have subscribed to the advertiser’s email newsletter.

        You can layer these segments to get even more targeted, such as newsletter subscribers who have attended a webinar or past buyers who have attended a live event.

        Focus on the customer journey

        When you’re figuring out how to segment your audience, the best place to start is the customer journey.

        If you’re a bio-research company, your customer journey might be:

        Webinar → Event Attendees → Sales Call → Engagement

        You can start by segmenting your first-party data by these stages, creating personalized messaging for each.

        The ad messaging you create for someone who just attended a webinar will be different than the messaging you create for someone who has spoken to your sales team.

        To give more examples, here are some of the audience segments we’re using for different types of clients:

        A life science client:

        • App notes download
        • MQLs

        An online auction client:

        • Product category buyers, like farming equipment and construction equipment
        • Registered users

        A medical device client:

        • Downloaded content
        • Past purchasers

        While you should put the customer journey at the heart of your segments, don’t forget that the customer journey is rarely static. Check in with sales and marketing regularly to uncover any changes that could impact your advertising.

        One of our clients is in the corporate events space, and their customer journey changed pre- and post-pandemic. Pre-pandemic, buyers booked their services months and months in advance of events. Post-pandemic, buyers booked their services at the last minute, aware that a surge could delay their plans. Today, our client is getting bookings many months in advance again.

        Keep testing and refining

        Once you have your first-party data and have defined your audience segments, don’t stop there. Keep testing and refining your approach.

        Try putting multiple segments into a single campaign and then compare how each performs. You may learn that email subscribers never buy, but previous purchasers often do. Use these insights to refine your segmentation further. Also, you don’t have to actively target all segments—observation mode is also valuable.

        When you have a segment that’s performing well, try getting even more granular. If past buyers of construction equipment are converting well, try segmenting the construction equipment category into sub-categories, such as pavers, dump trucks, and cranes. Create personalized messaging for each and see which performs better.

        You can also layer timeframes onto your segments, limiting the segment to “people who attended a demo in the past six months,” for example.

        Another approach is to consider the typical lifespan of your products and use that as your timeframe when reaching to past purchasers.

        Put your first-party data to work

        First-party data is the way of the future in Google advertising.

        The sooner you bring it into your Google Ads account, the sooner you can start testing messaging and improving signals and machine learning.

        It may take some perseverance to get it done, but it’s well worth the effort.

        And with third-party data on the way out, you may not have a choice if you want your Google Ads program to succeed.