Google Signals in Analytics – Tracking users across devices without login

Introduction to Google Signals

Google Signals is an upgraded version of Google Advertising reporting features through which Google Analytics can collect cross-device data from those website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts (Gmail, Google+, YouTube, etc) and who have turned on ads personalization:

The cross-device data collected via Google Signals can be used to achieve the following objectives:

  1. To understand the cross-device behaviour of your website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts and who have turned on Ads Personalization.
  2. Remarket to more website users across devices.
  3. Optimize users’ experience across devices
  4. Optimize ad spend and deliver ads based on cross-device usage.

Limitations of the data collected by Google Signals

At present any additional data (i.e. the data other than the one which is already collected by Google Advertising Reporting features) collected by Google Signals can not be:

  1. Exported to BigQuery.
  2. Used in GA dashboards.
  3. Used in custom reports
  4. Used in custom tables.
  5. Accessed in user id views.
  6. Segmented via the GA ‘segments’ feature.
  7. Accessed in mobile app properties.
  8. Accessed via GA reporting API
  9. Used in Google Data Studio reports
  10. Used to generate a smart list.

How to Activate Google Signals for a Google Analytics Property

Follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to the Google Analytics property for which you want to activate Google Signals. Make sure you have got ‘edit’ permission for the property.

Step-2: Navigate to the ‘Admin’ section by clicking on the ‘Admin’ link:

Step-3: Click on the ‘Tracking Info‘ drop-down menu under the ‘Property‘ column:

Step-4: Click on the ‘Data Collection’ link:

Step-5: Click on the ‘Get Started’ button:

Step-6: Read the benefits of activating Google Signals and then click on the continue button:

Step-7: Select the properties for which you want to activate Google Signals. You can activate Google signals for all properties (within your GA account), current property, or specific properties:

Step-8: Once you have selected the properties for which you want to activate Google Signals then click on the ‘Activate’ button.

Step-9: Click on the ‘Done’ button as shown below:

You should now see a screen like the one below:

At this point, if you want to disable Google Signals just switch the toggle button to ‘OFF’.

Step-10: Click on the ‘Save’ button.

 

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Once the Google Signals is activated for your GA property, you should now be able to access the cross-device reports under the ‘Audience’ menu:

Google Analytics starts collecting cross-device data from the day, you first activated Google Signals for your property. GA cross-device data does not work retroactively.

Google Analytics applies a fixed system-defined (and unknown) threshold to cross-device data to prevent you from viewing the cross-device activities of an individual user. So unless your reporting view has collected enough cross-device data to overcome this threshold, you may not see any data in your cross-device reports.

Instead, you may see the following notification bar:

Depending upon the volume of traffic your website gets, it may take days or even weeks before you can see data being populated in your ‘cross-device reports’.

Note: If your website gets a very low volume of traffic, say 3k-4k visits a month, you may not be able to see any data for your cross-device reports regardless of how long you wait.

Activating Google Signals for Roll-Up Properties

A roll-up property is a special type of GA property whose hit data comes from other GA properties (also known as source properties). In other words, a roll-up property is made up of two or more source properties.

A roll-up property is used to implement roll-up reporting in Google Analytics.

Google recommends that you should activate Google Signals for your roll-up property and all source properties.

When you use the roll-up reporting with Google signals activated, users are deduplicated across devices and across the domains of your source properties.

Cross-Device Tracking, Users’ Privacy, and GDPR

Google Analytics display only aggregated and anonymized data from your website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts (Gmail, Google+, YouTube, etc) and who have turned on Ads Personalization.

Google Analytics applies a fixed system-defined (and unknown) threshold to cross-device data to prevent you from viewing the cross-device activities of an individual user.

If you are collecting cross-device data via user ID then you need to make sure that it does not include any personally identifiable information (like user name, email address, etc).

Collecting PII (personally identifiable information) data in GA is against the Google Analytics Terms of Service and could result in account suspension.

If you are using user ID to personally identify a person away from Google Analytics (like in a CRM) then you would first need, prior affirmative consent of your website visitors.

In fact, if you are using the user ID feature of GA then at the time of sign up, you should get prior affirmative consent from your website users that you are going to track their activities across different devices and browsers. This is required in order to comply with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

By default, Google’s signed-in data expires after 26 months. If you do not want Google Analytics to retain user-specific data (i.e. data that is associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers) for this long then you should change your data retention setting associated with your GA property.

The ‘Data Retention’ is one of the settings you see in the section named ‘Tracking Info’ under the ‘Property’ column in your GA admin:

Through the ‘user and event data retention’ feature, you can set the amount of time for which Google Analytics retains user-specific data for an inactive website user, before automatically deleting it.

You can set the amount of time setting to 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, 50 months, or ‘do not automatically expire’:

The period of time, for which Google Analytics retains user-specific data for inactive website users is called the ‘retention period’.

The user-specific data is automatically deleted on a monthly basis i.e. (once a month) unless your retention period is set to ‘do not automatically expire’.

For example, if you set the ‘User and event data retention’ to ‘50 months’ then any user-specific data older than 50 months will be automatically deleted, during the next monthly deletion process.

Note: It is important to remember that not all GA data older than 50 months will be deleted. Only user-specific data (i.e. data that is associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers) older than 50 months will be automatically deleted. In other words, you won’t see empty GA reports for data older than 50 months.

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If you want the retention period of your website users’ data to be renewed (i.e extended) with each new event from that user then turn the ‘Reset on new activity’ to on:

For example, if you set the ‘user and event data retention’ to ‘14 months’ and turn the ‘reset on new activity’ to ‘ON’ then every time a user’s visit your website, the data retention period associated with the user, will be extended for another 14 months and thus never reaches the 14 months expiration date.

Turn the ‘reset on new activity’ to ‘OFF’ if you do not want the retention period of your users’ data to be renewed (i.e extended) with each new event from that user.

Frequently asked questions about Google Signals

What is Google Signals?

Google Signals is an upgraded version of Google Advertising reporting features through which Google Analytics can collect cross-device data from those website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts (Gmail, Google+, YouTube, etc) and who have turned on ads personalization.

How do I activate Google Signals?

Follow the steps below to activate Google Signals:
#1 Navigate to the Google Analytics property for which you want to activate Google Signals.
#2 Navigate to the ‘Admin’ section by clicking on the ‘Admin’ link.
#3 Click on the ‘Tracking Info‘ drop-down menu under the ‘Property‘ column.
#4 Click on the ‘Data Collection’ link.
#5 Click on the ‘Get Started’ button.
#6 Read the benefits of activating Google Signals and then click on the continue button.
#7 Select the properties for which you want to activate Google Signals.
#8 Once you have selected the properties for which you want to activate Google Signals then click on the ‘Activate’ button.
#9 Click on the ‘Done’ button.
#10 Click on the ‘Save’ button.

What is the advantage of using Google Signals?

The advantage is that you can understand the cross-device behaviour of your website users who have signed in to one of their Google accounts and who have turned on Ads Personalization. You can re-market to more website users across devices.

Where I can see data from Google Signals?

You can see the data from Google Signals via the cross-device reports found under the ‘Audience’ menu.

 

Related Article: GDPR for Google Analytics. Find out how to prepare via Checklist

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