Unveiling the Depths: Exploring Shifts in Google Signals and Reporting Identity in GA4

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Introduction to Google Signals

Google Signals is a feature within Google Analytics that collects and uses session data from websites and apps. This data is specifically gathered from users who are signed into their Google accounts and have enabled a setting called ‘Ads Personalization.’ By associating this session data with signed-in users, Google Signals enables several important functions:


Cross-Device Reporting:

Cross-Device Reporting in Google Analytics is a powerful tool designed to track and understand user activities across various devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and computers. It addresses the modern reality of users interacting with websites and apps on multiple devices, often starting a task on one device and completing it on another. This feature provides a comprehensive view of the user journey, allowing for analysis of behaviours like purchasing, content engagement, or service sign-ups across different platforms.


However, it’s important to note that Cross-Device Reporting primarily includes data from users who have opted into Google’s Ads Personalization. This means the analytics are based on information from Google account holders who have consented to their data being used for personalized advertising.


Cross-Device Remarketing:

It helps in creating targeted advertising campaigns that recognize users on various devices, offering a more personalized marketing approach.


Cross-Device Conversion Export to Ads:

This feature tracks how users move from seeing an advertisement to completing an action (like a purchase) across different devices.

How it affects the User Data Privacy?

Google Signals handles user data by aggregating it, which means the individual’s personal information is made anonymous. This approach keeps it generally outside the direct regulations of GDPR, a set of rules designed to protect personal data.

It also aligns with older privacy laws, like the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

Activating Google Signals

Taking advantage of features such as tracking the user journey across different devices and improved remarketing capabilities is highly beneficial. However, to access these features, it’s essential to activate Google Signals in your GA4 property. Let’s walk through the steps to enable Google Signals in GA4:

  1. Go to the Admin panel of GA4.
  2. Select the property that you want to enable Google Signals for.
  3. Under the property go to Data Collection and Modification –> Data Collection.

4. Under the Google Signals data collection box click on “Turn on”.

5. Again Click on “Turn on” on the Acknowledgement popup. After this step, the Google data signals will be enabled.

Benefits of Using Google Signals


Enhanced Privacy Controls:

Google has strengthened privacy measures in its products, including Google Signals, to address privacy concerns and comply with regulations like GDPR. This involves anonymizing and aggregating user data.


Cross-Device Capabilities:

Google Signals offers better cross-device tracking, aiding businesses in understanding user interactions across multiple devices, essential for omnichannel marketing.


Ad Personalization:

Google Signals enhances ad personalization using aggregated, anonymized data from users who opt-in for Ads Personalization in their Google account.


Data Retention Policies:

Google has tightened data retention policies, allowing businesses to set their data retention periods within limits to adhere to privacy laws.


Transparency and Consent Requirement:

Google Signals usage requires businesses to be transparent about data collection and secure user consent, especially for advertising.

What is Changing with Google Signals & How it will affect your Data?

Google recently declared that as of February 12, 2024, “Google signals” will no longer be part of the reporting identity in Google Analytics 4 properties. This update will affect various reporting features across GA4. Let’s discuss how it affects your data:


Reduced Data Thresholds:

With the upcoming changes, expect to see fewer thresholds in your Google Analytics reports. This should lead to more comprehensive data visibility, particularly in cases where smaller data sets are involved and Google Signals is in use, enhancing the overall quality of your reports.


Reduced Demographic and Interest Data:

Although Google Signals will continue to be gathered in GA4, its contribution to reporting identity will cease. This change will affect the depth of insights related to demographic information and user interests, including age and gender. However, detailed analyses of user behavior, conversions, and campaign performance can help bridge this gap, providing valuable data for informed decision-making.


Challenges in Cross-Device Tracking:

The removal of Google Signals from reporting identity in GA4 might lead to difficulties in tracking users across different devices. Although this could affect the tracking capability, it’s worth noting that the use of anonymous signed-in Google user data in reports is generally limited. The impact of this change might be minimal, especially for smaller-scale sites or those with fewer users opting in to share such information.

Data Thresholding Issues

Google Analytics implements data thresholds to limit the visibility of information in your reports when the dataset is small. This means if you’re looking at a report for a short time frame, and the number of users involved is below a certain minimum (like fewer than 50 users), Google Analytics might withhold some of the data. This is done to prevent any possibility of identifying individual users from the data, ensuring user privacy and anonymity. In essence, if your website or app traffic is low during a specific period, you might not see all the detailed data in your reports. This has the following repercussions:


Loss of Report Detail:

Granular data in reports may be omitted, leading to a significant loss of insights, especially in demographic and geographic information.


Inaccurate Analysis and Decision-Making:

The lack of detailed data can result in strategies that are not fully optimized, affecting marketing and operational effectiveness.


Difficulty in Tracking Small Campaigns:

Thresholding can hide the impact of small-scale campaigns or tests, making effectiveness measurement challenging.


Challenges in Personalization:

Limited data due to thresholding can restrict the ability to personalize marketing strategies for specific user segments.


Impact on Long-Term Trends:

Data continuity is interrupted, especially for less trafficked sites or apps, complicating accurate long-term trend analysis.

Strategies for Avoiding Data Thresholds in Google Analytics


Extend Reporting Date Range:

To counter data thresholds, consider analyzing data over longer periods instead of short intervals. This increases the dataset size, potentially avoiding thresholds.


Switch to Device-Based Reporting Identity:

Change from the default ‘Blended’ to ‘Device-Based’ reporting in GA4. This avoids using Google Signals for identifying users, which can reduce data threshold instances.


Utilize Big Query:

For advanced users, exporting data from Google Analytics to Big Query and using SQL queries for analysis can circumvent data thresholds.


Disable Google Signals:

As a last resort, disabling Google Signals prevents data linkage to individual Google accounts. However, this impacts the ability to use GA data in Google Ads for remarketing and access to certain demographic data in reports.


Google Signals, a key feature of GA4, has been essential for enhancing session data from signed-in users, enabling cross-device reporting and detailed remarketing. It has been crucial for businesses to understand user behavior across multiple devices and tailor marketing efforts. However, it posed challenges like data thresholding, where detailed insights in small data sets were limited to protect user privacy, affecting strategic decisions.


Now, Starting February 12, 2024, Google Signals will no longer be part of GA4’s reporting identity, a move expected to reduce data thresholding issues, leading to more complete data in reports. However, this change may impact the depth of demographic data and cross-device tracking, necessitating an adjustment in how businesses utilize GA4 for data analysis and reporting.


  • What are the main changes coming to Google Signals in GA4, and when will they take effect?
    As of February 12, 2024, Google Signals will no longer be part of the reporting identity in Google Analytics 4 properties. This change will primarily affect cross-device tracking and the depth of demographic data in reports.


  • How will the removal of Google Signals from GA4’s reporting identity affect data reporting?
    The removal is expected to lead to fewer data thresholds, enhancing data visibility in reports. However, it might impact the level of detail available in demographic and interest data and pose challenges in cross-device tracking.


  • What strategies can be implemented to address data thresholding issues in GA4?
    To mitigate data thresholding, you can extend your reporting date range, switch to device-based reporting, utilise BigQuery for advanced analysis, or disable Google Signals to avoid data linkage to individual Google accounts.

About Author

Aditya is a Web analytics professional with experience in the Overall journey of a digital business from frontend development to creating digital marketing campaigns and implementing complex tracking on the website through GTM including server side mechanisms. He has a vast expertise with the analytics tools such as GTM and GA4 and thus is able to give insights about what all is happening in the user journey. He has conducted many CRO and Analytics Audits, extracting actionable insights from large data sets and thus providing strategic recommendations for improving conversions and user experience.

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