How to track more data in GA4 in the world of data privacy and adblockers.

Published by
Oct 31, 2022

If you have implemented cookie policy on your website to be compliant with GDPR you have probably notice that you started automatically to see less data reported in your Google Analytics reports. Luckily Google consent mode and server side tracking can increase the amount of data you measure by up to 100% compared to the standard implementation of GA4. 

For many years we were used to track most of the traffic on our websites. World was simpler for marketing industry but of course not for user privacy. But situation changed. Websites currently must be compliant with GDPR, CCPA or other privacy regulations. Additionally, number of internet users using ad blockers is constantly growing(stats). Big players like Apple turned on own solution like App Tracking Transparency. All these actions lead to less data tracking.

We can accept this situation or do whatever it takes (but legal) to keep track as much data as possible. Here we will focus on the second approach. I will show you examples of tools and solutions that can help us track more data in Google Analytics.

How to track more data in Google Analytics(GA4)?

In European Union because of GDPR you are not allowed to track data using cookies if users do not accept analytics_storage. It does mean that users from UE can be tracked by Google Analytics only if they consciously agreed for that. Because of that we see currently so many cookie banners on the websites we visit.

If you have implemented cookie policy on your website to be compliant with GDPR you have probably notice that you started automatically to see less data reported in your Google Analytics reports. It is because not all users want to accept cookie banner. Number of users who do not accept cookies may differ but in most cases it is significant part of the traffic.

For other regions like US the regulations are less restricted but also when user decide to decline analytics_storage you are not allowed to track him in GA using cookies.

Another reason we see less data in our analytical tools is because of adblockers. It can also bring significant drop of tracked data. Most of ad blockers have option to block Google Analytics. They block attempts from the GA JavaScript library to send or retrieve data from analytics servers.

A significant number of users do not want to accept cookie or block our GA scripts by adblockers but are we really not able to measure and report their traffic and behavior on our website?

How to minimize the impact of GDPR and other privacy regulations?

Situation is quite difficult because we actually cannot track users using cookie data if they do not agree for that. What to do with this significant part of the traffic? The solution is Google Consent Mode which allows you to track this data but in an anonymous way. This anonymous way of tracking will be used by Google to do behavioral modeling and model attribution conversions. How it works? Google will use data from users who accept cookie and anonymized data from users who do not accept cookie and use machine learning to estimate behavior of this users.

For example, final number of users will be calculated on number of users which accept cookie + number of users estimated by machine learning based on anonymized tracking and non-anonymized tracking. This will allow Google to offer more accurate reporting, optimize advertising campaigns, and improve automated bidding.

As we established if you want to have in GA reports information about users who do not accept cookies you have to implement Google Consent Mode. Consent Mode enables you to optimize for business goals while respecting the privacy choices of visitors. When visitors deny consent, instead of storing cookies, tags send signals (or pings) to Google. For GA4, Google fills the data collection gaps with Conversion Models. Correctly implemented Google Consent mode will adjust behavior of Google tags based on consent state. You can read how to configure the Google consent mode in your Google Tag manager here: How to configure Google consent mode in Google tag manager

Of course, because Google use machine learning you will not see the impact on your result immediately. You have to wait until Google has enough data to learn the algorithms. Find out here: Prerequisites of [GA4] Behavioral modeling for consent mode - how long you have to wait to see the impact on the results and how much data you need.

How good will be Google in minimizing privacy issue impact on your data using Google Consent Mode and machine learning?

As examples show, Google is quite good at it. I will show you results before and after applying modeled data on GA4 property comparing it to GA3 results which does not use Google Consent Mode. In this example, Analytics is estimating all possible data that is missing due to factors like cookie consent using Google Consent Mode from Jul 13, 2022. The information about the exact date you will find in GA4 reports as as shown below:

GA4 Estimated user data.

The results show that after applying Behavioral modeling for consent mode (Jul 13, 2022) significant growth in reported data will be noted. Thanks to this modeling GA started to report up to 100% more users, sessions, or revenue. As you see result between GA3 and GA4 before applying modeling were similar.

Data GA4 behavioral modeling

If you want to deliver good quality data to machine learning algorithms besides Google Consent Mode you should implement also User ID, and activate Google signals. Do not forget to activate as well as data blending option for Reporting identity in you GA4 panel.

Reporting identity

If you are curious how much data is exactly affected by cookie consent you can do that in BigQuery, where thanks to the Google Consent Mode all anonymized data is stored and it is independent from Behavioral modeling and machine learning. So even if you do not meet the requirements with Google restrictions about volume data to train behavioral modeling you can see anonymized data from users who did not accept cookie will be available for you for statistical purpose if you link your GA4 to BigQuery. Make sure you have implemented user_id for users who login to your website to reduce the amount of anonymous data in BigQuery.

As you can see on the screen, data with analytics storage="no" are stored in your data base and thanks to that you can get information for example how much revenue and how many transactions are generated by users who do not accept cookies. As real-life example shows even 50% of you transaction if you implement GDPR policy, can be generated by users who do not agree for analytics_storage.

Bigquery results with no analytics_storage consent.

How to minimize impact of Adblockers?

AdBlock technology works based on shared lists called filter lists. These lists are lists of URLs that belong to either allowed lists or blocked lists. Most ad blockers blacklist for example by default and block any attempts by the Google Analytics JavaScript library to send or retrieve the data from its analytics servers.

There is one solution for it. You have to implement your Google Analytics using server-side client. Server-side tracking, apart from hindering the work of adblockers, the solution has several other benefits. More about this solution you will read here: server-side tagging.

When you decide to implement server-side tracking and you want to use its full potential when it comes to adblockers it is important to remember to use your own custom server domain for GA scripts and – if you are using GTM – also for GTM scripts.

If you implement server side you still have to take care about users consent. Please be aware that you cannot use cookies for them if they do not accept analytics storage and the fact that it is server-side tracking does not change anything here.

How big impact could have server side tracking on results in GA?

I mean how many more users, sessions, revenue you will see with server side tracking? It mainly depends on users profile of your website and how eager they install adblockers and already applied privacy regulations. When for example most of your users come from UE and you have implemented GDPR the impact will be less visible because part of results are already blocked by privacy issue, but if your users for example mainly come from US the impact will be bigger.

As example I will show you website which operate for clients coming from EU and have implemented GDPR. The table reports metrics for both: GA4(client-side) and GA4SS(server-side). Example shows that server side tracking is able to track 13,16% more users, 10,95% more sessions, 14,8% more orders and revenue. Difference is quite significant.

Difference in results between GA4 Client and server side tracking

To sum up.

Google consent mode and server side tracking can increase the amount of data you measure by up to 100% compared to the standard implementation of GA4. This is a must have if you are serious about data measurement and its impact on your business.

Published Oct 31, 2022 by Piotr Ulacha

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