Understanding Reporting Identity in Google Analytics 4


Do you want to report by device or consolidate users?

Reporting identity is an important part of your Google Analytics 4 property. You’ll need to select a default reporting identity to gather data about your users and have it applied to your reports.

So, what is reporting identity in Google Analytics 4? Your default reporting identity is how Analytics identifies and categorizes users throughout your reports. You can choose between “by device only” or “by user-ID, Google signals, then device” in the Admin section of your GA4 property.

Selecting your desired reporting identity is technically very easy, but there are a lot of factors to consider when configuring your choice. So come with today us to learn all about setting up your default reporting identity in GA4.

What is Reporting Identity?

Your GA4 reporting identity is the method Analytics uses to identify your users. There are three different ways Analytics can identify visitors on your site and mobile apps:

  1. Device ID: First, Analytics can identify users with their device ID. This is also known as client ID. This ID is set as a random integer stored by a first-party cookie, so it’s set automatically. It’s stored on the user’s first visit and set to remain for two years. In the original version of Google Analytics, this was the only way visitors were identified.
  2. User ID: User ID was first introduced with Universal Analytics. This ID is set by you with a unique identifier. With user ID, after the user has logged into your site, your authentication system can assign them this ID. This should be consistent across your mobile apps and website for the same user.
  3. Google Signals: This is the newest option. It was previously available in Universal Analytics, and you can enable Google signals in GA4 too. Note that Google signals is only available for users who have turned on Ads Personalization. With this feature, Google develops a holistic view of how those users interact with your GA4 property from different browsers and devices.

In your GA4 property, you can set your default reporting identity to “By device only” or “By User-ID, Google signals, then device.” Let’s discuss these two options in more detail.

  • By Device Only: With this option, only the device ID will be used. This method is becoming increasingly problematic, though, as many users are now opting out of using cookies.
  • By User-ID, Google Signals, then Device: This is the more comprehensive of the two options. Here, you tell Google to move through the various identifiers and use the best one for your data collection. Analytics will first look for a user ID, as this is the most accurate way to track them. If they haven’t been authenticated, Analytics will look for Google signals data. If the user hasn’t permitted Ads Personalization, Analytics will then use device ID.

As you can see, the latter of the two options is more robust. So, why would anyone choose “by device only”?

This has to do with user privacy, which is an ever-evolving matter.

We recommend enabling the “By user-ID, Google signals, then device” option, as Analytics will move through all three available reporting identities to find the most accurate one. For more information on Google’s adaptation to an increasingly private-centric world, see our post here.

Setting User ID

As we mentioned above, user ID must be set by you. To make sure you’re able to use the full “By user-ID, Google signals, then device” reporting identity option, you’ll need to generate your own unique user IDs and assign them through your user authentication system (usually your website log-in).

For your website, you’ll need to set the user ID with every hit. However, using Google Tag Manager makes this much easier, as you can just add the “user_id” field to your configuration tag. For your mobile apps, you only need to set the user ID once per session.

Remember that your user IDs must be compliant with Google’s terms of service, which means you have to inform your users how you use identifiers. Additionally, the ID can’t contain personal information that a third party could use to identify an individual, like their name or email address. Full terms of service are available here.

To make things easy, Google provides instructions on how to set up user ID for your websites and mobile apps:

For Websites: To set up user ID in your website tags, you can use gtag or Google Tag Manager. If you’re using gtag, follow the instructions seen here.

If you’re using GTM, go to your configuration tag, and set the user ID under “Fields to Set.” Your field name should be “user_id” with the value set to {{User ID}}.

For Mobile apps: To set up your user ID within a mobile app, follow the instructions seen here.

Once you have user ID set up in your tags, you’ll need to set up your default reporting identity to “By User-ID, Google signals, then device.” We’ll discuss this in the next section.

How to Set Default Reporting Identity in GA4

To set your preferences for default reporting identity in Google Analytics 4, follow these steps:

1. Log into your GA4 property and click “Admin” on the bottom left.

2. Under “Property,” click “Default reporting identity.”

3. Select between “By user-ID, Google signals, then device” or “By device only.”

Note: If you select the “By user-ID, Google signals, then device” option, you’ll need to enable Google signals data collection and acknowledge user data collection.

To enable Google signals, follow these steps:

1. Go to “Admin,” and click “Setup assistant” under “Property.”

2. Click “Activate Google signals.”

3. Toggle the switch at the top and acknowledge user data collection.

Finally, note that if you’re using the “By user-ID, Google signals, then device” option as we recommend, you’ll also need to set up a custom dimension in your GA4 property. To do this, follow these steps:

1. Click “Custom definitions” in the bottom left of the main menu.

2. Click “Create custom dimensions.” You’ll see a window open on the right.

3. Enter “user_id” for the dimension name and set the scope to “User.”

4. Click “Save” on the top right.

How is GA4 Different and What Are The Benefits?

Even though Google signals has been available in Universal Analytics since July 2018, GA4 comes with an exciting change. Whereas previously, you could only use Google signals for certain reports, in GA4, Google signals can be your default reporting identity as part of the “By User-ID, Google signals, then device” option.

This means Analytics will apply the collected data to all your reports in GA4, giving you a more accurate view of your users.

Google signals protect user privacy, but it still allows Analytics to recognize users even when they’re not logged in. With Google signals, you gain two main insights into your user:

  1. Google signals provide some demographic information based on the user’s interest cohort. This allows you to create user segments for advertising and remarketing purposes.
  2. You’ll also see how often users access your website and mobile app from different devices. For example, you can see habits like when users browse your store from their phone and then come back to make a purchase on your website.

These insights are essential in an increasingly privacy-centric world. Using Google signals, Analytics can fill in some of the gaps left by new privacy laws and a resulting lack of cookies.

Reporting Identity in Google Analytics 4

Setting up your default reporting identity in Google Analytics 4 is quite easy, but it’s important to understand exactly what each option means to know what kind of data you’ll be collecting.

If you select the “By device only” option, Analytics will only identify users using their device ID. If you select the “By user-ID, Google signals, then device” option, Google will move through the various identifiers and use the best one for your data collection.

How do you like the updating reporting identity options in GA4? Let us know!

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