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What does Google’s Ad Disclosure Schema mean for your business and will it catch on?

When Google releases an update, tweaks an algorithm or adjusts the way that they do things the digital marketing community has no choice but to react. The changes that Google makes can have a direct affect on businesses and brands and can lead to a fluctuation in search results


Recently the search giant announced that they were making changes to the way they inform users about how they see ads. They said that there would be a new type of schema markup and that there were also some updates to the Privacy Sandbox which looks at managing and serving ads, other measurements and proceeding without third party cookies.

This development looks pretty significant and shows that alongside the traditional emphasis on organic search, Google takes paid opportunities seriously also. This blog will look at the impact such an update might have on your business, whether the schema will catch on and hope you can stay ahead of the competition.

Let’s begin…

What is schema markup?

The best place to start is with a quick definition of schema markup and, indeed, structured data as a whole. When the search engines are trying to fulfil a user query they need to efficiently and effectively find the data that most closely matches the search, process it and return their results. We’ve used many analogies, but the below from our Beginner’s Guide to structured data and schema is my favourite, it expresses the need for a framework and the building blocks that form the bigger picture. We therefore describe schema and structured data as follows:

“Rather than being a subset or variety of data, when we refer to ‘structured data’ we are talking about an organisational construct of data. While prose may convey information, it tends to do so in an organic way – conveying information in a looser, more conversational manner. However, if you were to study the prose, and distill its meaning into, for example, a table – this would represent ‘structured’ data – essentially the same information in an easier-to-digest format.

“Where search engines are concerned, it is easier for an algorithm to parse information if it is offered within a scaffold or framework of structural information. This tends to be done using HTML, microdata and JSON-LD cues that provide the search engine with additional pointers that it can use to determine the nature of the data it is processing.

“The result of collaboration between Yahoo, Bing and Google back in 2011, was a site called schema.org, this site seeks to unify the language used by webmasters to provide metadata on pages which can be easily read by search engine spiders and parsers.

“Schema markup is how we refer to the microdata or JSON-LD code that provides this metadata. If structured data is, to extend the metaphor, the scaffolding that allows for better understanding of information, then markup is the individual scaffolding poles. With hundreds of varieties of possible markup types, the aim is to create a machine readable internet. The main aim of which to establish a uniform vocabulary for this structured data – essentially creating a schema for data anywhere on the web.

In the words of the creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, he calls for a semantic web:

“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analysing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A “Semantic Web”, which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The “intelligent agents” people have touted for ages will finally materialize.”

So what is Google’s Ad Transparency Spotlight and what schema does it use?

This communication between human input and machine driven results has never been more important and maybe that’s why Google is testing an Ads Transparency Spotlight tool that relies on what it calls Ad Disclosure schema to show users information about the ads served on web pages.

Google says: “Our new Ads Transparency Spotlight(Alpha) extension for Chrome is part of our ongoing initiative to give people more visibility into the data used to personalize ads and more control over that data. Ultimately, we hope this will lead to better, industry-wide ads
transparency and control for users.

“This first version of the extension is an early-stage proof of concept that displays the data used to tailor the ads you see, who is serving the ads, and companies with a presence on the web page. We are currently exploring other controls for users.

“At the time of this alpha release (July 2020), the extension only shows information about those ads purchased through Google Ads that have implemented the Ads Transparency Spotlight (Alpha) Data Disclosure schema. As additional ad tech providers implement this schema, information about these ads will also appear in the extension.

“Over time, we hope the industry will incorporate the Ads Transparency Spotlight(Alpha) Data Disclosure schema into their ads.”

The Ads Transparency Spotlight tool is available now as a Chrome extension and at this point the tool only shows data on ads purchased through Google Ads that have implemented Data Disclosure schema. Google is however hoping the schema catches on with other ad sellers.

The aim is to let users see “detailed information about all the ads they see on the web,” but it will need to get broad buy-in and implementation of Ad Disclosure schema to get there.

When the extension can’t detect any ads on a page, you’ll see this message: “Currently can only show information about display ads purchased through Google Ads. These ads have implemented a new Ad Disclosure Schema. As others implement the Ad Disclosure Schema into their ads’ HTML, they will appear here, too.”

If it does detect ads, at this point it simply lists the number of ads detected and the platforms used to buy them — currently just Google. The idea is to add information about why an ad was served. and include other controls in the tool.

How the schema works

In this initial release, the Ads Transparency Spotlight extension scans the DOM tree of a web page. It searches for the metadata in a DOM element with the following special characters:

<meta name=”AdsMetadata” content=”{{ADS_METADATA}}”/>

{{ADS_METADATA}} is a JSON message that conforms to ads_metadata.schema.json.

The Ads Transparency Spotlight extension then picks up the tag from the DOM tree and parses the JSON message to present to the end user.

Current targeting options include:

targeting_category/geo_location
targeting_category/remarketing
targeting_category/user_characteristics
targeting_category/user_interests
targeting_category/context
targeting_category/other

What information can you view in the extension?

The Ads Transparency Spotlight extension displays the following information about the
ads and other services that appear on a web page and have incorporated the Ads Transparency Spotlight (Alpha) Data Disclosure schema.

Ads tab

The “Ads” tab displays information about ads, including the ad technology providers whose services facilitated serving the ad and the reasons a user was shown the ad. At the time of releasing this first version of the extension, it can show information about many display ads purchased through Google Ads (these ads have implemented a new Ad Disclosure Schema). Over time, we hope that the industry will incorporate the Ad Disclosure Schema into their ads’ HTML.

You can view the following types of information about the ads on a web page:

  • Detailed information about the ads on the web page, including how many ads are on the page.
  • A list of ad providers responsible for serving the ads on the page. These companies serve ads or provide the ad technology to help ads appear on this page.
  • The reasons why ads are shown on a page. A combination of several factors that decide which ad will be shown on a page:
    • Your demographics: May include age, gender, and other information (provided by you or inferred).
    • Marketing Campaign: A visit to the advertiser’s website added you to a marketing campaign.
    • Your location: General: Broad location, such as country or city.
    • Your interests: Topics related to websites you have visited or interests you provided.
    • Context: Topics shown to anyone who visits this page.
    • Other information: All other reasons.
    • Your location: Specific: Your specific location.

Entities tab

The “Entities” tab displays information about other companies and services not already listed on the Ads tab that have a presence on web pages.

The companies shown on this tab are specific to the web page you’re viewing. These companies provide a wide variety of services, including cloud data storage, cloud computing, and analytics. Companies have different approaches to protecting your data and privacy.

An Entities tab lists all companies and services with a presence on the page — content delivery networks or analytics providers, etc.



How to install the extension

Complete the following steps to install the Ads Transparency Spotlight extension:

  1. Open the Chrome web browser. Ensure you aren’t in Incognito mode. You can’t add extensions to Chrome when you browse in Incognito mode or as a guest.
  2. Go directly to the Ads Transparency Spotlight extension page in the Chrome Web Store.
  3. Click Add to Chrome. The Ads Transparency Spotlight icon will appear in the extension toolbar near the address bar in your Chrome browser.

How to use the extension

To use the Ads Transparency Spotlight extension to learn more about the ads on a page:

  1. Click the Ads Transparency Spotlight icon in the extension toolbar near the
    address bar in your Chrome browser.
  2. In the Ads Transparency Spotlight flyout screen:
    • Click the Ads tab to view information about ads on the page.
    • Click the Entities tab to view all companies with a presence on the page.
    • Click Learn more at the top of the extension for more information.

Final thoughts

The thing about schema and adding markup to your website is that it is the best way to signal to Google and the other search engines what it is you are selling, promoting or offering. Businesses want to be ranked as highly as they can for relevant terms and they know that if they don’t they run the risk of falling behind the competition. This latest update and the way Google is looking at ad schema might not be essential for the customer or user but for your business it is a must.

Adding any information that can boost your ability to appear organically or to have one of your ads appear to the right person at the right time is a no-brainer. We suggest adding the extension, looking at your ads and building a digital offering that reflects both your offering and the needs of potential users.


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