Google Analytics 4 and Consent Mode

Published: 14 March 2023

Updated: 17 July 2023

Google Analytics 4 and Consent Mode

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google’s analytics platform, and it comes with an important new feature called “consent mode.” GA4 was designed to make it easier to understand how users interact with your website or app. This article will explain consent mode and why it is important for digital analysts and marketers.

Table of Contents:

  1. What is Consent Mode?
  2. Benefits of Consent Mode
  3. Modeled Data vs. Observed Data
  4. How Does Consent Mode Work with GA4?
  5. How to Enable Consent Mode in Google Analytics 4?
  6. Do You Need to Use Consent Mode in GA4?
  7. What Is Consent Mode?

    Google Analytics has long been criticized for not properly protecting user privacy, especially in the European Union (EU). To address this issue, Google introduced a new feature in GA4 called “consent mode.” It requires website owners to obtain explicit consent from their visitors before collecting any data about them. This consent must be given each time a user visits the site or app. If the visitor doesn’t consent, no data will be collected. As a default, there’re five default types of consent mode, but you can add your own on top as well. They include the following:

    Consent type - Google Analytics 4

    Benefits of Consent Mode

    The introduction of the consent mode has several benefits for digital analysts. First, it helps ensure that all data collected complies with user privacy regulations. This means that website owners can rest assured that they are doing their due diligence when protecting their users’ data.

    Additionally, by knowing that only those who have given consent are being tracked, digital analysts can focus on more meaningful metrics, such as conversion rates, rather than overall traffic numbers, which non-consenting visitors can inflate.

    Finally, having a clear understanding of which visitors have consented to also allows digital analysts to better target marketing campaigns based on specific user preferences and interests.

    Further Reading: How to Preserve Google Analytics’ Historical Data?

    Modeled Data vs. Observed Data

    When site owners enable consent mode, users can deny the consent for analytics. However, this doesn’t mean a hole in the data set due to the absence of directly observable data. Google instead uses an anonymous ping as a basis for machine learning and modeling to approximate the unobserved data as accurately as possible. This means that users with denied consent don’t result in parts of their analytics and data being missed. Instead, website owners blend both directly observed and modeled data, which results in far more accurate results even when a user has declined consent.

    At this point, let’s make a distinction between modeled and observed data in GA4. Both types are generated by users but can differ in their tracking approaches.

    Observed data is generated when users accept to be tracked through cookies, user IDs, or IDFAs on a web platform or app, while modeled data uses machine learning to estimate behavior based on relevant user data that have been chosen to be tracked. It’s possible to generate detailed information on the behaviors of people who use certain types of platforms or apps with different degrees of granularity depending on which kinds of data are observed and modeled.

    Modeled data in GA4 is created through a machine learning process consisting of three main aspects. Accuracy, reliability, and separation are all essential components in creating high-quality modeled data. It starts with accuracy — the estimated data are compared with a part of the observed user data and used by the model to verify its validity and accuracy.

    Reliability is also key; modeling won’t be triggered if there isn’t enough traffic useful to the model. Lastly, separation ensures that the modeling algorithm is applied separately to each set of observed data.

    The key features of modeled data include greater accuracy when looking at conversion paths across multiple devices or browsers and improved cross-device attribution models such as U-shaped attribution, which takes into account users who convert after visiting a website more than once before finally making a purchase. It also allows for more comprehensive reporting on things like assisted conversions to understand how different channels contribute to conversions over time.

    Finally, it offers more accurate predictions based on past performance so that businesses can plan more effectively for the future by understanding trends in user behavior over time.

    How Does Consent Mode Work with GA4?

    Generally, each tracking tag will have a consent dependency. For example, you’ll need ad_storage to be true to fire the Facebook Pixel. However, when it comes to Google tags, consent mode is slightly different. In Google Analytics 4, it’ll track all events with or without consent. There’re a few variations of consent as GA4 uses both the analytics_storage (for the core tracking) and ad_storage (for Google Signals) consent. What is collected in GA4 depends on what the user consents to. The table below reflects what happens in each situation.

    analytics_storage and ad-storage in GA4

    How to Enable Consent Mode in Google Analytics 4?

    Before you enable consent mode, you need to ask for the website’s consent using a consent banner. Banners can be added to websites through a custom HTML tag deployed in Google Tag Manager (GTM) or third-party programs. You can learn more about it in Google’s specifications.

    Once you have added a banner to your website, enable consent mode through Google Tag Manager (GTM). Just take the following steps:

    1. Go to the Admin tab from the top menu
    2. Tag Manager menu

    3. Click the Container Settings button in the container section
    4. Container settings

    5. Choose the Enable consent overview option
    6. Container editing

    7. When you enter the Tags section of your container, you’ll find the consent overview icon
    8. Consent overview icon

    9. By clicking on it, you’ll see a list of tags and whether the tags have in-built consent and additional consent
    10. Consent overview

    Further Reading: How to Connect and Export Data from GA4 to BigQuery?

    Note: When enabling consent mode, it’s better to utilize a GTM template provided by the CMP provider. Customers that don’t use GTM can still take advantage of consent mode, but it’ll require the use of gtag.js or a custom HTML snippet as an alternative. However, these methods require adding new code to every page on the website, that’s why we don’t recommend this approach.

    Here’s an example of a consent mode report built in Looker Studio using GA4 data from BigQuery:

    Consent mode purchasing analysis report

    Do You Need to Use Consent Mode?

    Google Analytics 4’s consent mode is an important new feature that ensures website owners are compliant with EU regulations while also giving digital analysts more meaningful data to work with. With its ability to track only those visitors who have provided explicit consent, digital marketers now have more accurate information, which can help them better target marketing campaigns and increase conversion rates. For these reasons, any website owner should ensure they take advantage of Google Analytics 4’s consent mode if they operate in regions where user privacy laws exist.

    Full audit of GA4 configurations

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