Welcome November! Here’s what’s been going on in digital marketing analytics, search, and paid media in the past month.
Update by Nico Brooks
Is Google Analytics 4 Getting Better?
It’s hard to believe that GA4 just celebrated its 3rd birthday. This milestone got me thinking about the trajectory of GA4, and what we can expect in the future.
I have yet to talk to someone who likes GA4 better than the previous version, Universal Analytics. I wonder sometimes how much of this comes from unfamiliarity. Any time a piece of software goes through a major overhaul, users tend to gripe at first. But when I think about my own complaints, they seem pretty legitimate.
Many of them have also been addressed by fixes and updates Google has released over the last three years. So I thought it would be interesting to look at how many improvements and new features Google has been making over time. Google’s What’s New page keeps track of all significant updates, and I compiled them into a graph showing the number of updates made each month since initial release.
I was curious in particular about the pace of improvements. Has it been steady, increasing or decreasing? I’ve heard some pundits say that they think Google’s heart is not in it. Regular GA is free, and GA365 has to be pretty far down the list of money-makers for Google, so was this just a half-hearted attempt to keep the product limping along? That would be supported by a steady trickle or decline in updates, but contradicted by an increased investment over time. Looking at my graph, the latter appears to be the case.
There have been 36 updates so far this year, compared to 32 last year. At the current pace, we can expect about 43 by the end of the year. And quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, but if anything I would say that their updates have been getting more impactful for users.
So overall, yes, Google Analytics is getting better.
Is Google Analytics GDPR Compliant?
We’ve had a few clients ask us this, and some people have expressed opinions that it is not.
The short answer is that from our POV yes, Google Analytics is GDPR compliant. The long answer is a lot more nuanced. It is more accurate to say that Google Analytics can be compliant, but how it is configured and implemented matters a lot. And regulators’ and courts’ interpretations of what constitutes compliance are likely to evolve over time.
If you are not familiar, GDPR is the EU General Data Protection Regulation, and it dictates fairly strict and comprehensive rules about how personal data can be collected, stored and used.
There was a bit of a fuss in July when Sweden fined several companies and told them that they needed to stop using Google Analytics. The basis for the fines was the fact that Google transfers data to US-based servers and the US does not have an “adequate level of protection for personal data that corresponds to that within the EU/EEA.” Specifically, there were concerns regarding US intelligence agencies’ ability to access personal data.
Shortly after the fines were announced, the EU Commision ratified the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework, which defines standards under which organizations can transfer data to the US without violating GDPR. Almost immediately after it was ratified, Google announced that they are in compliance.
So, in theory, when Google Analytics is configured properly, it can be GDPR compliant. In practice, data privacy is hard to implement correctly. It is very easy to make mistakes in how tracking tags are implemented on a website, and how user consent is managed and integrated with tracking tools, and in the configuration of Google Analytics, Tag Manager and other platforms.
It has been reported that TikTok is set to offer an ad-free subscription for $4.99/mo, in a bid to diversify revenue sources. “Influencer marketing one-offs” will still appear, only ads served by TikTok will be excluded.
Meta will be offering ad-free Instagram and Facebook in the EU to comply with EU regulations. This seems unlikely to come to the US unless regulations force it, but will be interesting to watch the impact to advertisers.
Meta Ad Improvements
Instagram Reminder Ads are now easier to create using ads manager instead of based on organic posts only. Reminder Ads are good for events; users sign up & receive up to 3 reminder posts.
Reels capabilities have been updated and expanded onto Facebook. Collections ads, available on Instagram, are now being tested in Facebook (but not yet available to all advertisers). In addition, they’ve announced multi-destination Reels carousel ads, capability to swipe left to find out more about products, and music to use in Reels ads.
Google Anti-Trust Trial
The Google anti-trust trial has unveiled some juicy bits, although many confirm general wisdom. This month, how ad ranking is determined generated some interest. In a Google Ads auction, bid price plus Ad Rank (or LTV as it was called during the trial) work together to determine which ad wins the bid. New details described the concept of Randomized Generalized Second-Price ad auctions: there is some randomization in which similarly-scored ad ranks. The Department of Justice claims that Google’s use of Ad Rank as a factor instead of just bid price (as in a traditional auction) is designed to unfairly make Google more money. Search marketers have long understood that not all factors that go into Ad Rank are knowable, but some key factors are ad quality, context, and predicted click through rate. In our view, Ad Rank helps ensure that ads shown are relevant to the searcher’s query instead of predatory to it. If you searched for a new car model and were inundated with ads for auto insurance, you might view the overall quality of results poorly, and not use the search engine as much.
A Google exec also revealed that they occasionally raise prices 5-10% without sharing that information with advertisers, which honestly just seemed like more of the same in an environment where advertisers have so little transparency and control.
In our view, it’s critical to have a team managing your Google Ads account, even as its ad management tools improve in their ability to offer insights and recommendations, because the bottom line is that Google is out to make Google more money.
Update by Randy McFadden
Use Google’s Rich Results Test Tool For Your Paywalled Content
You can now test whether your paywalled content is recognized by Google with their Rich Results Test tool. This helps confirm if Google perceives it as paywalled content instead of cloaked content – the latter violating spam policies.
We suggest proactively testing if your paywalled content is properly recognized by Google to ensure your content isn’t categorized as cloaking. If you find that it doesn’t have the proper paywalled structured data, follow these instructions to implement it properly.
Google Provides New Vehicles Listings Structured Data
Google announced new vehicle listings structured data that allows a new way for car dealerships to display their vehicle listings on SERPs. While the current feed that allows for vehicle listings to be displayed on SERPs remains to be a good option, any dealership that hasn’t created a feed may find this new method to be a simpler solution.
Additionally, Google is providing new reporting in Search Console to help monitor the vehicle listing structured data.
Anyone utilizing this schema markup should regularly monitor this report, as errors can cause the vehicle listings to become ineligible for SERPs.
Search Trends Research
We’ve long advocated the value of search query data for marketing. Brett Woodward’s latest trends research for the bike industry is a good example.