This is a fairly long and complex article – if you want a quick overview and action plan, we have summarised everything in the top section.
There is much talk in the industry at the moment about website user consent and what companies need to do to ensure your website adheres to GDPR and other regulations. It is highly recommended to set up a reliable Consent Management Platform (CMP) which gives you control over cookies and other tracking technologies that collect data from users.
As Google moves towards cookie-less browsing and tools like Google Analytics away from third-party data, website owners need to keep up with the latest advances in data privacy. This is where Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Google Consent Mode come into play:
According to a study conducted by the University of Virginia in 2021, 97% of websites based in the European Union “still fail to comply with at least one requirement of GDPR”. Consent is listed among the top violations, particularly when it comes to users being able to withdraw their consent at any time.
With consent being central to data and privacy guidelines, companies need a reliable Consent Management Platform (CMP) that removes the complexity of adhering to GDPR and other regulations.
In this article, we discuss the importance of consent management platforms and their role as governments and technology companies rethink their approaches to data privacy.
We’ve broken this article up into the following five sections:
Above all, we want to highlight the consequences of not using a CMP and how to deal with key issues like data loss. We’ll also discuss how Google is dealing with the challenges and why you should be using tools like Google Analytics 4 and Consent Mode alongside your CMP.
A CMP gives website owners control over cookies and other tracking technologies that collect data from their users. When you install tools like Google Analytics on your website or use technologies like remarketing, these solutions collect user data to collate traffic insights and deliver ads to previous visitors.
Changing privacy laws, including GDPR, require website owners to get consent from users before collecting any personal data. Instead of collecting data from all users, by default, these regulations require website owners and other data handlers to get consent from any individuals before capturing any personal data.
A CMP helps you capture this consent and blocks tracking scripts from running until you obtain it. Once users provide consent, your CMP will automatically update the relevant tags to allow tools like Google Analytics to collect the data they’ve opted-in to.
An example of a consent popup that you can implement on your website using consent management platform, CookieYes.
Choosing the right CMP makes it easier to adhere to GDPR and other data regulations while minimising key issues like traffic loss. Later, we’ll take a look at the most important features you should look for in a CMP but, first, let’s discuss the issues you could run into by not using a consent management platform.
One of the biggest concerns ahead of GDPR and consent requests was the potential loss of traffic. After the initial adjustment period, users in the EU and UK will be used to consent requests on every website they visit so, in theory, the impact on traffic should level out over time (not accounting for traffic from outside of the EU).
That being said, there are many reasons you could lose more traffic than you need by poorly implementing consent systems:
A good consent management platform will help you avoid or minimise the other issues. We use a system called CookieYes for our customers, allowing them to create and customise unintrusive consent banners and popups that adhere to GDPR guidelines in the most intuitive way possible.
Data loss is the bigger problem for companies with GDPR and consent requests. This refers to sessions where users refuse to provide consent and continue using your website. In these instances, Google Analytics can’t track important metrics like visits, unique visits, referral sources, bounce rates, goals or conversions, leaving a black hole in your reports.
To help you fill these data gaps, Google Analytics 4 uses behavioural modelling and conversion modelling to estimate key insights:
This is one of many reasons why it’s so important for companies to migrate over to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible – and use a consent management platform that integrates with Google Consent Mode (more on this later).
GDPR guidelines require you to inform users about all of the cookies and tracking technologies your website is using to collect their information. This includes any cookies third-party services place on your website and, potentially, any placed by malicious parties (ie: spyware).
Before you can do this, you need to identify all of the cookies your website and any third parties can place on a user’s browser when they visit your site.
“If you are a web publisher or website owner, you should be aware of all the cookies set by your website, especially third-party cookies. Often, websites are not aware of all third parties permitted to create and store cookies on a user’s browser.” – A Guide to Tracking Cookies, CookieYes
Most reputable consent management platforms include a cookie scanner that automatically audits your website to identify cookies. The best of these tools categorise cookies to help you identify third-party and any potential harmful trackers so you can remove anything unwanted.
This is one of the most important features of a consent management platform and we’ll discuss the other features you should look for later in the next section of this article.
Maintaining GDPR compliance is a challenge and this is merely one of the many data and privacy guidelines modern businesses have to deal with. The complexities of lawfully managing data make it worryingly easy for a company to make mistakes and the fines resulting from breaches can seriously hurt businesses, especially smaller ventures that can’t soak up the losses.
At the start of this article, we referenced a US study that found only 3% of all websites in the EU fully adhere to GDPR guidelines. The study highlights the complexity of the guidelines themselves as a key issue:
“However, most privacy policies are verbose, full of jargon, and vaguely describe companies’ data practices and users’ rights. Therefore, it is unclear if they comply with GDPR.” – Automated Detection of GDPR Disclosure Requirements in Privacy Policies using Deep Active Learning
A consent management platform isn’t going to solve all of your privacy challenges but it will simplify adherence to one of the most important aspects of GDPR and other regulations.
With so many CMPs now available, it’s getting more difficult to choose the right system. So let’s discuss the most important features you should look for:
That last feature is particularly important as it helps you manage consent across Google Products (Analytics, Google Ads, etc.) and minimise data loss – one of the biggest issues companies and marketing teams are experiencing.
The key players in web technologies are pushing towards cookie-less browsing and this includes Google, which plans to remove third-party cookies in its Chrome browser by 2024.
The search giant has already removed third-party cookies in the latest version of Google Analytics (GA4).
Most website owners and marketers rely on Google products (Analytics, Google Ads, Search Console, etc.). As Google itself moves towards cookie-less browsing and tools like Google Analytics away from third-party data, website owners need to keep up with the latest advances in data privacy.
Earlier, we discussed how Google Analytics 4 uses behavioural modelling and conversion modelling to fill in the data gaps left by users who opt out of consent. Companies need to understand that data privacy doesn’t end with GDPR; tech companies like Google and Apple are pushing the web towards a more privacy-centric experience for users.
Google Analytics 4 is a key step that removes tracking via third-party cookies and helps companies to deal with data loss. The platform puts greater emphasis on predictive analytics and marketers will need to get used to working with anonymised data as the web moves away from cookies and traditional tracking methods.
This raises obvious questions when it comes to advertising, particularly with remarketing and cross-device targeting. To help deal with these challenges, Google has developed an API system called Consent Mode that respects users’ consent options across Google products.
Consent Mode is a cross-platform consent system that allows you to adjust how tags in Google Analytics, Google Ads, etc. behave, based on the consent choices of users. The tool first launched in September 2020 to help website owners handle the challenges of managing data consent post-GDPR.
It communicates with consent management platforms to ensure user choices are respected across Google products. At the time of writing, four products support Consent Mode: Google Analytics, Google Ads, Floodlight and Conversion Linker.
Crucially, this includes support for Google Ads conversion tracking and remarketing. According to Google, Consent Mode recovers more than 70% of ad-to-click conversion data that is otherwise lost through cookie consent choices.
Let’s imagine two different users: one who opts in for all of your consent options and another who allows website tracking but opts out of advertising cookies. For the user who opts in for everything, Consent Mode applies all the relevant tags and tracking performs as usual.
For the user who only opts out of advertising cookies, Consent Mode adds the tracking tags for all consent options but blocks the ad cookies. This means you’re still collecting website data in Google Analytics 4 (visits, unique visitors, etc.) but you’re not tracking conversions in Google Ads.
In this case, Google uses its behavioural and conversion modelling systems to fill the gaps in your reporting.
As Scott Herman, Senior Product Manager for Google Tag Manager, explains about Consent Mode:
“If a user consents, conversion measurement reporting continues normally. If a user does not consent, the relevant Google tags will adjust accordingly and not use ads cookies, instead measuring conversions at a more aggregate level.”
We’ve written a more in-depth explanation of Consent Mode and its impact on Google Analytics where you’ll find more information.
A Google Ads feature that isn’t getting as much attention as it should in this discussion is something called enhanced conversions. Combined with Consent Mode and Google Analytics 4, enhanced conversions can further reduce the data loss caused by user consent choices.
Enhanced conversions can increase the volume of conversion data you capture in a privacy-safe manner. This works by replacing your existing conversion tags with hashed, first-party conversion data from your website. For example, if a user submits their email address upon conversion, Google can hash this data into an alternative string and, then, use this non-identifiable version to attribute conversions, without using any personal information.
“When a customer completes a conversion on your website, you may receive first-party customer data such as an email address, name, home address and/or phone number. This data can be captured in your conversion tracking tags, hashed, sent to Google in its hashed form and then used to enhance your conversion measurement.” – About enhanced conversions; Google Ads Help
Implementing enhanced conversions with Consent Mode and a Consent Management Platform will improve Google Ads reporting and performance across the board:
As a relatively new feature, Google is still testing the full impact of enhanced conversions but it’s already got plenty of data on the short-term impact. Crucially, Google insights show that enhanced conversions can make an immediate impact on reporting and campaign performance.
Across search, Google is seeing an average increase of +5% in reported conversions with a significantly higher increase of +17% for customers spending on YouTube.
If you’re struggling with consent management and implementing a CMP with Google Analytics and other tools, our team can help. We provide a service that instals a CMP on your website and implements Google Consent Mode and Google Analytics 4, complete with enhanced conversion tracking.
If you want to find out more about this service, or you have any other questions, you can call us on 023 9283 0281 or fill out the contact form and we’ll be in touch.
Callum is a PPC Specialist and joined Vertical Leap in early 2019. He believes the future of commerce and business will continue to innovate online and no other industry is as exciting or changes as much day by day.
Already in his career Callum has worked closely with many of the UKs top institutions, from a range of industries and successfully managed large projects from inception and nurtured throughout.
Callum holds a Biology Degree from the University of Exeter where he’s worked with many of the country’s leading ecology, developmental and marine biologists. Now he applies his analytical and scientific approach to the digital industry.
Callum is also Swindon born, obsessed with running, Tottenham Hotspur and the world of craft beer.
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