Google Consent Mode: What It Is and Why It Matters

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As marketers prepare for the end of third-party cookies and adjust to new consumer privacy expectations, Google’s consent mode offers a smart way to gather behavioral data without crossing any lines. The shift toward complete user privacy has accelerated in recent years, pushing brands to explore new ways to collect accurate and actionable data from websites and apps.

What Is Consent Mode in Google Analytics 4?

Google lets organizations integrate their GA4 property with a Consent Management Platform. CMPs are typically pop-ups or consent banners that offer users the option to accept, decline or personalize the type of third-party cookies associated with that site. If the user consents to standard tracking, Google associates a user ID with the session as usual. If they don’t consent, Google adjusts data collection methods – let’s look at how!

What Does Consent Mode Do?

When users deny consent, consent mode prevents Google Analytics (and third-party tags) from generating a user ID for that user or attaching third-party cookies to the site session. Instead, Google will record pings, which are events that are not associated with the user. The platform can then compare those pings to actual behavior of similar consenting users to “fill the gap” of missing user data and provide marketers with a more accurate look at site metrics without impugning a user’s privacy preferences.

Hold On – Why Was This Created?

When Universal Analytics finally rode off into the digital sunset on July 1, 2023, organizations turned their full attention to its replacement. Google Analytics 4, or GA4, introduced several new metrics and expanded the already voluminous lexicon of analytics reporting. The platform also included some important updates to support the eventual end of third-party cookies, scheduled for some time in 2024. Without cookies, even smart, professional marketing analytics pros can be hard-pressed to provide valuable reporting for brands. Consent mode provides a solution.

Just Checking: Compatible Consent Mode Checks

Several CMP and Google products have built-in consent checks that automatically adjust data collection based on the user’s preferred mode: 

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Ads
  • Floodlight
  • Conversion Linker

Even when built-in consent checks are available, developers can still customize tag settings.

How to Implement Google Consent Mode

Depending on local privacy laws, brands may choose between advanced and basic implementation of consent mode.

  • Advanced implementation loads Google tags before the consent dialogue appears, or before your banner or pop-up is served to the user. It will send pings to Google’s reporting tools for all users who decline consent.
  • Basic implementation blocks Google tags until cookie consent is granted.

Why Advanced Implementation Is the Way to Go

We recommend advanced implementation whenever (and wherever, since most privacy laws are regional) you can. This allows you to tap into Google’s behavioral modeling and conversion modeling features. These tools leverage the cookieless pings from consent mode, plus the reams of data generated by users who do consent, to mitigate gaps created by cookieless users.

Is Consent Mode GDPR-Compliant?

Not necessarily. Crucially, the GDPR requires clear instruction about the use of consumer data and how users can control access. Marketers need to align their CMP functionality, language and integration with consent mode to stay within GDPR regulations. It’s important to note that consent mode can only be guaranteed to impact Google products; domains may utilize other tracking tools that violate regional privacy law and are unimproved by consent mode. We recommend working with an experienced digital marketing agency to see on which side of the line your website stands.

Modeling in Google Analytics

With Google Analytics 4, consent mode generates anonymous data to power two of Google’s most important (and underrated) new capabilities: behavioral modeling and conversion modeling. Using machine learning (ML) and data generated by users who consented to cookies, the analytics tool fills in the blanks to provide a fuller picture of all users.

Here’s what both tools can do.

What Is Behavioral Modeling in Google Analytics?

Behavioral modeling estimates core user and session metrics that would otherwise be lost due to non-consenting users. It provides a “best guess” number of users and events for various behavioral dimensions to make your reporting more precise. But it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it solution. It’s only functional when Google’s ML models have adequate data sets; small sites may not feed the algorithm enough data to provide accurate estimates.

To use behavioral modeling, you’ll need to hit:

  • At least 1,000 events per day with at least 7 days of historical data
  • At least 1,000 daily users for at least 28 days

How to Activate Behavioral Modeling in GA4

Behavioral modeling is activated by:

  • Enabling consent mode through the advanced implementation method
  • Reaching the quotas for events per day and daily active users (which takes at least 28 days)

After that, you can view modeled data in GA4 by selecting the blended reporting option if you have admin permissions:

  1. Head to the Admin panel in GA4. 
  2. Select “Property” (and make sure you’re in the right one!).
  3. Select “Blended” under Reporting Identity.
  4. Select “Save.”

You can change the Reporting Identity setting anytime. It doesn’t affect data collection, only your view of the data!

What Is Conversion Modeling in Google Analytics?

Modeled conversions from Google Ads have been extended to Google Analytics 4. Like behavioral modeling, conversion modeling identifies user conversion trends to estimate conversion events that aren’t observed due to privacy settings. Modeled conversions provide fuller reporting, which may lead to improved advertising campaign optimizations while maintaining user privacy.

Google’s ML-driven conversion modeling is always on; marketers cannot toggle this feature on and off. Reports that use conversion modeling aren’t distinguishable from those that don’t.

Modeling Is the Future

Data modeling in Google will play an increasingly important role in digital marketing. Browsers like Firefox and Safari have long since abandoned third-party cookies, and when Google Chrome makes the switch, it will put between 85-90% of the search market into the post-cookie world. The result? Data will eventually be classified in two ways:

  • Observed data – Behaviors observed by first-party, on-platform metrics
  • Modeled data – Extrapolated measurement based on data shaped by machine learning

Work with a Model Marketing Agency

Data is our thing. For more than 25 years, Oneupweb has worked with clients across a range of industries to make sense of the numbers and shape marketing strategies. Stay ready for whatever Google and privacy regulators dream up next; connect with our fully integrated team of experts by contacting us here or calling (231) 922-9977.

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