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Google Signals: One Step Closer to the Holy Marketing Grail

A recurring burden of somebody working with Google’s online marketing tools is explaining that a ‘user’ is not actually a unique internet user, but a user’s device. Unless you force your website users to login to your website, there’s no way to unify their behavior across their smartphone, tablet, home desktop and work laptop. These four devices would be counted as four users in your Google Analytics reports - or any web analytics application whatsoever. In a post earlier this year, we explained that Google is closing that gap by identifying a user based on their trusted devices. Recently, Google announced a new way of unifying a user’s online behavior: Google Signals.

It’s in the default setting, stupid

For marketers, Google Signals is simply a setting in Google Analytics than can be enabled or disabled. But behind the scenes, it’s quite revolutionary. As of this year, Google Analytics users will be able to view cross-device reports without burdensome technical changes to their configuration, and without tricking their users into logging in or identifying themselves. Every Google user that has Ads Personalization enabled, will be identified in Google Analytics as a single user, across devices. That means marketers will be able to run remarketing campaigns across devices and will have access to more user dimensions and demographics for reporting and segmentation purposes. In other words, if a web user searches for ‘white socks’ in a company webshop on their mobile phone and buys a pair of ‘bermuda shorts’ on their desktop computer, this user can now be added to a remarketing audience called ‘40 year-old male singles’. Through DoubleClick (now also part of Google Ads), this user can be approached through advertisements across a huge network of publishers with other products, such as wallet chains in this case.

Ads are the internet’s favorite business model, and ad personalization is its number one excuse for collecting numerous amounts of personal data points. Conclusively, Google’s Ads Personalization setting is turned on by default. Even better, Google Marketing Platform will extrapolate -- make a statistical guess -- the behavior from these users to the complete user base. Nevertheless, to guarantee privacy, none of Google Signals’ data will be able in custom reports, Data Studio or BigQuery… yet.

Closing the gap between online and offline behavior

In 2012, in parallel with the usual criticism, Google merged user profiles across all its services. It was the first big step in building user profiles that are not scattered across Google’s wide range of online and physical products and services. Since then, profiling has become much easier within the Google ecosystem as users’ YouTube viewing behavior, search queries, Google Play downloads, location history, etc. are linked to one and the same person. Google has slowly been releasing tools that benefit from profile unification for users of its marketing products, now rebranded as Google Marketing Platform. For example, the attribution reports that I mentioned earlier enable marketers to attribute value to different marketing channels, wherever they are in the customer journey. And then there’s the store-visit conversions, a conversion in Google Ads that, when linked with Google MyBusiness,tracks if users that click on your ad actually visit your brick-and-mortar store.

The current features that become available with Google Signals appear to be rather modest in the vast web analytics and advertising product ecosystem offered by Google. But don’t be mistaken, the consequences are huge. It opens the door to the holy grail of marketing: unification of online and offline behavior. If this trend continues, in the near future, marketers will be able to answer if their marketing efforts (across the whole Marketing Platform) are driving people to stores, cinemas and events. With these features, Google will be able to distinguish itselves from competitors that offer corporate web analytics solutions such as the increasingly popular Adobe Analytics Cloud.

Of course, we’re enthusiastic about this upcoming feature. But to get us really thrilled, we want to see Google close the existing gap between online and offline user behavior, once and for all. Given the current trend, we can expect that gap to be closing further in the near future.

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