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Marketing agencies, e-shops, and other online businesses need to monitor their website traffic as closely as possible to understand the website users' activity and to make informed marketing strategies. Google Analytics is the industry leader for tracking and analyzing individual user behavior on a website in a detailed manner.
However, in Europe, website users have a right to data privacy through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Under the GDPR, an IP address is Personally Identifiable Information, which is considered personal data. It is required to get website users’ consent to collect and process their data. There are also other privacy laws like CCPA, LGPD, and other, that require to get users’ consent to collect their personal data.
The most common way to get users' consent is by using cookies. Businesses must obtain Cookie Consent before running any type of cookie which collects the data. When businesses use products, developed by third parties like Google, Facebook, and others, third-party cookies are set up on users' computers or phones. However, Third-Party Cookies are going away. Some browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Safari, or Brave are already blocking Third-Party Cookies by default. Google announced that it will also block Third-Party Cookies in 2024, after some delay.
So, what is the alternative to Third-Party Cookies for user tracking in a GDPR and other privacy laws-compliant way?
Google introduced Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which focuses heavily on data privacy, and offered several alternatives to the cookie-less future to use with GA4:
- IP-anonymization function
- Google Privacy Sandbox with the functionalities of trust token API and FLoC technology.
Google also introduced Google Signals. All of these technologies have their niche and help get a comprehensive view of users' online behavior while being compliant with the privacy laws simultaneously. Read more about Google Signals.
What is Google Signals?
Google Signals beta version was first announced in July 2018. Now it is a standalone Google product, integrated with Google Analytics 4, that enables cross-device tracking and remarketing. Google Signals allows you to understand how users interact with your website across multiple devices and sessions. With Google Signals you can implement improved advertising and reporting strategies across different devices.
The main advantage of Google Signals over Third-Party Cookies is that it uses aggregate data, so personal data is anonymized and never processed by third parties. It means that the technology protects the personal data of users in a way that is GDPR and other privacy laws compliant.
The summary of the feature could be expressed in Google's own words: “Google signals are session data from sites and apps that Google associates with users who have signed in to their Google accounts, and who have turned on Ads Personalization. This association of data with these signed-in users is used to enable cross-device reporting, cross-device remarketing, and cross-device conversion export to Ads.”
It is important to note that Google Signals could be used only for those users who have turned on Ads Personalization. When Ads Personalization is turned on, Google can develop a holistic view of users interacting with an online product or service from multiple browsers and multiple devices.
When the Google Signals feature is activated, more information could be gathered in the following areas:
- Cross-platform reporting. Google Analytics connects data about devices and user activities from different sessions using Google Signals or User ID data, which allows understanding of user behavior at each step of the conversion process, from initial contact to conversion and beyond.
- Remarketing. Google Analytics data allows creating of remarketing audiences that could be shared with your linked advertising accounts.
- Advertising reporting features. Google Analytics collects information per your tracking-code configuration, which includes data from Google Signals and Google advertising cookies if they are present.
- Demographics & Interests. Google Analytics collects additional information about demographics and interests from Device IDs and from users who are signed in to their Google accounts and who have turned on Ads Personalization.
What is Google Signals used for?
Google Signals allows understanding users' online behavior. For example, you can see how users discover your website, browse some products, do they use a computer or a mobile phone if they buy a product instantly, or do they return to your website later to complete a purchase.
Here are some practical examples you can do with when you activate Google Signals:
- Cross-device user accounts report. You can accurately collect and report the number of users instead of devices, which include 1-Day, 7-Day, 30-Day actives.
- Audience targeting. You can understand and target different groups of users based on the different device combinations they use, which allows you to focus resources on the most valuable set of users.
- Funnel analysis. You can understand the customer journey across devices by analyzing user-based reports, including active users, funnels, and paths, which allows you to optimize the user experience through the path of completing a purchase.
- Allocate budgets. You can understand cross-device marketing performance, including different channels and campaigns, and optimize ad spend for the most valuable choice.
- Cross-device remarketing. It allows the offering of highly relevant ads based on cross-device usage.
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Google Signals
Google Analytics 4 is the latest Google Analytics service that allows you to measure traffic and users' engagement with your websites and apps. GA4 gives marketers and site managers many benefits while being GDPR and other privacy laws compliant since it focuses heavily on data privacy. If you haven’t switched to GA4 yet, we strongly recommend migrating to GA4.
Once you’re set up with GA4, you’ll find that Google Signals is among one of three users' tracking options:
- User ID
- Device ID
- Google Signals.
Device ID also works well only in combination with cookies. Without cookies there are some issues like the same user is reported multiple times due to cookie duration limits in some browsers.
Google Signals collects aggregated user data, so this is a GDPR and other privacy laws-compliant feature. It does not replace the full tracking capabilities of cookies, but it provides aggregated data from a single session of a user, describing his behavior. When Google Signals is activated, existing GA features are upgraded, so you can receive merged users' behavior information. Remember that Google Signals work only for those who have turned on Ads Personalization.
When the User ID isn't available, GA4 will automatically switch to Google Signals for data collection. You can change the default order of the users' tracking options. For example, you can set Google Signals as the second option.
To activate Google Signals, you can read Google’s documentation on activating Google Signals for a detailed guide. Aggregated data is not shared with other Google products as a result of activating Google signals. If you want to share the data with other Google products, set up your data-sharing and product-linking settings.
Google Signals and GDPR compliance
Once activated, Google Signals collects aggregated users' data, meaning that personal data is anonymized and not collected or processed by third parties. So Google Signals is a GDPR and other privacy laws-compliant feature.
However, by activating Google Signals, you sign an agreement with Google that states you must have all the necessary privacy disclosures to inform users about their data being collected.
In summary, when you are using Google Analytics, Google Signals, or any other GA advertising features, you have to inform users and get their consent to their personal data being collected, processed, and used for advertising purposes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Google Signals?
Google Signals is a standalone Google product, integrated with Google Analytics 4, that enables cross-device tracking and remarketing. Google Signals allows you to understand how users interact with your website across multiple devices and sessions. It uses aggregate data, so personal data is anonymized, so it is GDPR and other privacy laws compliant.
Is Google Signals GDPR compliant?
Google Signals, integrated with Google Analytics 4, allows cross-device tracking and remarketing. It uses aggregate data, users' personal data is anonymized, so it is GDPR and other privacy laws compliant.
What is Google Signals used for?