Learn how Google Signals can enhance your marketing strategy – especially as the web moves towards cookieless browsing (updated July 2023).
Google Signals enhance cross-device tracking in Google Analytics 4 (GA4). It helps you measure the total number of users – rather than devices – as people progress through the customer journey.
As Google moves away from cookie-based tracking, these signals can help plug in some of the data gap as you migrate from Universal Analytics to GA4.
First announced in July 2018, Google Signals were launched as an integration for GA4. The latest version of Google Analytics steps away from identifying and tracking individual users. Google Signals is one of several methods available in Google Analytics 4 to enhance cross-device tracking, in adherence with privacy regulations like GDPR.
Here’s Google’s own summary of the feature in GA4:
“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.”
Google Analytics 4 uses a combination of four methods to unify data from multiple devices and sessions into a single user journey:
Each identity space in GA4 has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, User-ID is the most accurate way to track users across the customer journey but you have to gain their consent to adhere to privacy regulations.
Google Signals don’t require the same consent settings but they rely on users being signed into their Google account and having Ads Personalization enabled.
When Google Signals are available, existing Google Analytics features are upgraded to include more information from Google users in four key areas:
In Google’s own words, “when users have Ads Personalization turned on, Google is able to develop a holistic view of how those users interact with an online property from multiple browsers and multiple devices.”
Here are some practical examples of what you can do with this additional data:
Essentially, Google Signals act as a backup to User-ID when users decline consent, allowing you to track them across multiple devices using anonymised data. The caveat, of course, is not all users are signed into their Google account on every device or browser and not all of them have Ads Personalization enabled.
Luckily, GA4 modelling acts as the next backup when neither User-ID nor Google Signals are available.
The short answer to this question is yes.
Google Signals use aggregate data, meaning personal data is anonymised and never exposed. This places the technology outside of the scope of GDPR regulations, which aim to protect the personal data of individuals.
That being said, using Google Signals still comes with certain privacy considerations. By activating the feature, you enter into an agreement with Google that states you must have all the necessary privacy disclosures in place to ensure users are aware their data is being collected and they consent to it being collected, stored and used for advertising purposes.
This relates to another set of privacy regulations that predate GDPR, called the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
On another note, the retention of data collected through Google Signals is limited to 26 months although you can set the retention period to a shorter time frame. Whether you’re already running ads or you’re looking to run ads for the first time, our team can offer you PPC services for better ads performance.
Above all, keep in mind that Google Analytics 4 is a GDPR-compliant product but you – the data handler – are responsible for collecting, storing and using data in adherence to GDPR and other privacy regulations.
You can read Google’s documentation on activating Google Signals for a step-by-step guide and access to more information about the tool. However, we’ve compiled a quick setup guide based on Google’s documentation for you right here, so you can get right to it.
To activate Google Signals, log in to Google Analytics and click on the ADMIN tab at the bottom of the left-hand menu.
With Google Analytics, you can manage multiple accounts and each account can have multiple properties (website, storefront, blog, mobile app, etc.). Now, Google Signals are applied to individual properties, so – if you have multiple properties on Google Analytics – you need to choose which one to activate them on.
Once you’ve selected the correct property, click on the Tracking Info tab in the same column and then click Data Collection. Next, you’ll see a blue notification banner at the top of the page with a Get Started button – give that a click and follow the prompt instructions until you see the following screen:
Make sure you read and understand the text on this page before clicking Continue or click the Learn more about Google Signals link if anything is unclear. Next, click Continue and you’ll see the following screen:
Again, read through this and make sure you understand everything before clicking the Activate button. Also, make sure you confirm which property you want to apply Google Signals to before activating it. By default, this is set to “all properties” in the account you selected (a little counter-intuitive) but you can change this to “this property” or select specific properties assigned to that account.
As long as all the properties are for the same company, there shouldn’t be an issue with enabling for all, but if you are an agency that has other companies’ data in your account, you may have to be more specific with this setting. You will need to have admin access to the account level (or you’ll get “Access denied”) in order to set this. If you don’t have account-level access, you will be able to set it for the properties for which you do have admin access.
If you have not enabled Data Sharing in your Google Analytics account, you will see a different second paragraph asking you to turn this on, as Google Signals only work if you have this enabled.
Google also asks you to make sure you are letting your users know.
Finally, click the Activate button and you’re all done.
If you read the information about Google Signals, most of it pertains to the additional information you get for your Google Ads campaigns. However, the cross-device reports work for all users, whatever source or medium they used (as long as they have Ads Personalization enabled), so this information is available, even if they came from organic. This is the Device Overlap report:
And this is the Channels report:
However, there doesn’t appear to be any cross-device information in that report that we can see. Perhaps there’s more to come, as the product is a beta, after all.
If you need help with anything covered in this article, call us on 02392 830281 or send us your details and we’ll get back to you.
Chantelle is a PPC Specialist at Vertical Leap.
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