Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? It turns out that Google Consent Mode was released to the world in beta form back in September 2020, which feels strange to say for a number of reasons. The main one being that it still feels, at least partially, like it is still in beta form.
Firstly, it suffered the recent trend of Google’s semi-informative yet semi-puzzling support guides, going heavy on the developer-and-hardcode angle and considerably lighter on the marketer, analyst and Tag Manager side of things. Perhaps even more indicative, is that the Consent Overview companion feature within Google Tag Manager (GTM) is still very much flying the (BETA) suffix.
More recently, Google has announced ‘Consent Mode V2’, likely in direct response to the EU Digital Markets Act which comes into full effect in March 2024. Due to this, Consent Mode is no longer a ‘nice to have’, and marketers will need to have at least a basic implementation in place with the V2 additions included, or face having their activity suspended for those tracking users in the European Economic Area (EEA). There is also believed to be a related impact to analytics tracking later on in the year.
Similar to the first iteration, the official guides available at the time of writing leave a lot to be desired, which hopefully will become more ironed-out closer to the March 6th deadline.
What is Google Consent Mode?
Due to the ever-growing scale and complexity of the digital analytics and marketing space, you would be forgiven for not already being familiar with Consent Mode.
To put it in less productised terms, it allows you to send basic information to Google’s servers on a cookieless basis, where previously nothing would be sent at all in instances where a user has opted-out of non-essential analytics and marketing cookies via your site’s cookie banner.
This cookieless information, once received and processed, can then inform the proportion of users not being tracked via traditional, cookie-fuelled methods, and can be used to model their activity in reports. This effectively helps to fill the gap that would previously have been created by users opting out.
Whilst this modelling all happens within a ‘black box’, Google has revealed that modelling, specifically the modelling of cookieless conversions, is powered by various aggregate signals such as device type, browser time, country, time of day and the broad category that the conversion action in question is grouped under.
Is it the same as ‘Cookie Consent’?
Google Consent Mode is not quite the same as ‘cookie consent’ – it doesn’t replace the functions handled by your Consent Management Platform (CMP) or cookie banner, and these are still required to comply with the growing list of territories with user privacy regulations.
What it does is observe whether analytics or marketing cookies have been allowed by the user, and if not, will switch all compatible tracking tags and functions to a cookieless operation.
What is it compatible with?
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Consent Mode is directly compatible with Google’s most popular platforms and tag types:
Google Analytics 4 (GA4):
- Configuration Tag (more recently consolidated into ‘Google Tag’)
- Event tags
- Conversion tracking
- User-provided data events
Google Marketing Platform:
- Floodlight counter
- Floodlight sales
- Google conversion linker
Most surprisingly, Universal Analytics (UA) tag types were natively compatible with Google Consent Mode – or at least appeared to be, however this wasn’t ever hooked up in the back end on Google’s side. This was likely interrupted by the sudden announcement that UA would be sunset and replaced by GA4.
Whilst non-Google platforms (analytics, marketing, or entirely separate) can also be tied into the logic and functionality, this does not grant them cookieless abilities – it simply acts as an alternative to the logic your CMP outputs already.
What changes does V2 bring?
Running alongside the established control for ads-related tracking and the setting of cookies in a user’s browser, granular controls have also been added for the processing of user data for ads purposes, along with the ability to serve personalised advertising. In Google Ads-native terms, these relate to the use of Enhanced Conversions and Remarketing functions (respectively).
It also brings a change in terminology from Google, with the introduction of the ‘Basic’ and ‘Advanced’ implementation differentiators.
- Basic refers to an implementation where cookieless data is not sent to Google when a user opts out of non-essential cookies, but the Google Consent Status is provided alongside the traditional, cookie-tracked hits when a user allows them.
- Advanced is essentially the fully functional version of Google Consent Mode, with the cookieless tracking aspects active for opted-out users.
In order to be compliant with Google’s new terms for Q1 2024, a Basic implementation would be required at minimum. Unless there is a technical reason preventing it, an Advanced setup is recommended, particularly to benefit from the automated modelling capabilities on offer for both ads and analytics enhancements.
The days of simply putting a tag on every page of a website to enable comprehensive tracking are long gone, with added considerations and granular complexity applied for those implementing, managing and analysing alike.
We’re currently in something of a transitional phase, where supplementary ‘band-aid’ solutions such as Google Consent Mode are being released and then subsequently amended to allow us to make the most of what is available, enhancing our ability to make informed actions from the data we collect. Each, of course, comes with their own nuances and pitfalls whilst more unified and robust solutions are in the works, behind the scenes.
It can certainly feel daunting, especially for both industry veterans and those just starting out, to keep track of each and every new development. However, becoming well versed in the now and the ‘just around the corner’ may just be the edge you require; be it in achieving ambitious year-over-year gains or in outsmarting your closest competitors.
Get started by implementing Consent Mode today.