What Is Google Consent Mode? (And How To Implement It)

 

Google Consent Mode is a new way to ensure a website’s use of cookies and visitor data is compliant with GDPR and other data privacy regulations.

This short guide will take you through how Consent Mode works and how to implement it on your website. We’ll also look at the pros and cons of Consent Mode from a marketing perspective.

What is Google Consent Mode?

Consent Mode configures the Google tags and scripts on a third-party website to modify how they use each visitor’s data, based on the visitor’s consent status. It can enable a website to treat certain users’ data anonymously, while processing other users’ data as normal. The Mode consists of two settings, which customise how Google tags behave before and after a visitor accepts or declines cookies and processing of their data.

There’s a good chance that your brand’s website has some Google tags and scripts, deployed via global site tags (gtag.js) or Google Tag Manager. These pieces of code enable applications like Google Analytics and Google Ads to measure how visitors interact with the site, including which pages they visited, and whether or not they converted into customers.

Google tags have been a fundamental piece of digital marketing infrastructure for many years. However, the tags have lately come into tension with data and privacy regulations such as the GDPR, which specify that websites need users’ consent in order to process data and issue cookies in certain contexts. In recent years, regulators and browsers have cracked down on potentially privacy-breaching technologies such as third-party cookies, leading to an industry-wide conversation around how digital marketing can better respect users’ privacy preferences.

This doesn’t mean to say that brands can no longer benefit from web analytics, ad retargeting and other user-data-driven marketing tactics. But they do need to use tech which can differentiate between consenting and non-consenting users, and which handles each user’s data in a way that fits their consent status.

Consent Mode, which launched in beta on 3 September 2020, is one of Google’s solutions to this requirement.* The feature currently works with tags and scripts for Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Ads, Floodlight and Conversion Linker.

How to implement Google Consent Mode

Consent Mode can interact with a website’s Consent Management Platform (CMP). This type of software collects and manages each visitor’s consent or non-consent to the installation of cookies on their browser, and to the processing of their data.

CMPs are not the only solution for meeting legal requirements relating to cookies, consent and data processing – but they are widely considered the most convenient tool for the job.

Let’s go through how a CMP interacts with Consent Mode to facilitate GDPR-compliant use of Google tags and scripts.

Setup: The website owner edits their source code to specify how Google tags should behave before a visitor sets their consent status, and also how the tags should modify their behaviour according to the visitor’s consent status once it has been set. Here’s the technical detail on how to do this. During Consent Mode setup, the website’s CMP is integrated with Google’s services. For an example of how this can be done, read this documentation from Usercentrics, a popular CMP.

Step #1: When a visitor arrives at the website, they are prompted to confirm their consent or non-consent to the website’s intended use of cookies and their user data. The visitor confirms their preference by clicking one of two buttons, usually labelled ‘Accept’ and ‘Decline’, which are delivered as part of an information banner with copy explaining the website’s intended use of cookies and user data. In some cases, the CMP gives the visitor options to toggle on/off their consent to specific uses of cookies and data processing, e.g. for advertising, or for analytics.

Step #2: The CMP ‘pings’ the visitor’s consent status to Google.

Step #3: Google configures how the user’s data is processed, according to their consent status.

  • If the user has given full consent, Google tags will interact with the user’s data in the traditional way.
  • If the user has declined to consent, the tags will capture the user’s data in an anonymised form, without an associated client ID. In this case, some data is still collected – such as whether the visit converted to a sale – but the visitor’s data is not used to deliver personalised services such as ad retargeting.
  • If the user has consented only to one type of cookies use – either for advertising or for analytics – Consent Mode responds appropriately.

This Google blog post contains a technical specification of the data communicated to Google in each Consent Mode state.

What are the benefits of Google Consent Mode for marketers?

From a marketer’s perspective, the main benefit to Google Consent Mode is that it equips your Google tags and scripts to operate in a GDPR-compliant way.

What’s really smart about Consent Mode is that it enables the website to continue measuring crucial visitor metrics. This includes data relating to users who consent to cookies, whose data is processed in the usual way; and also data relating to users who do not consent to cookies, whose data is processed in an aggregated form. So, you can carry on gathering valuable performance data, while respecting each user’s privacy preferences.

The obvious downside to using Google Consent Mode is that it means some of a website’s visitors will be opted out of processes which use cookies and personal data processing. Consent Mode is a way to respect those visitors’ personal choice – but it does mean that the opted-out visitors will no longer benefit from optimally personalised marketing. We see this as a fair price to pay in order to respect customers’ wishes and regulators’ rulings.

*Google launched an alternative user consent solution, based on an integration between Google Ads and IAB Europe’s Transparency and Consent Framework, in November 2020).

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