Google Analytics Data Retention – What Does it Mean?

This week many of our clients have received an email similar to the one below, and they've emailed us asking what it means, what they need to do (click that link if you don't care what it is and just want to know what to do), and how it impacts their overall online strategies.

First, here's a screenshot of the email from Google:

As is with most Google correspondence, it's written in verbiage that caters to nerds like myself but maybe not the average business owner.

So let's break this down.

Over the last few years, Google, Facebook, and all the big players online have been continuing to push towards anonymity for their users. This means they're providing visitor data and demographics to their users (mostly advertisers) but in a more generic way.  This means you can't directly target individual people and see their specific data, but you can use general data to see trends, specific demographics, etc.

In other words, you can see that most of your visitors are females between 25-40, but you can't tell exactly who they are.

As part of this push, these companies are becoming more sensitive to the data they're keeping.  And when it comes to Google Analytics, they're keeping that data specifically for you.  Things like user-IDs, cookies, advertising identifiers, etc are kept in Google Analytics and could be used to help you better advertise, segment, etc.  And even though it's generic in nature, some people (rightfully so) don't like the idea of their data being stored somewhere long term.

So now to the email - here's the gist - Google has introduced a new feature in Google Analytics that automatically deletes your data after a specified time.  This data, as I mentioned, is anything related to users and their identification.

The email is to let you know that they've added this feature, and that you need to go in and make a decision on how long you want them to keep it before they automatically delete it.

The options are

  • 14 months
  • 26 months
  • 38 months
  • 50 months
  • Do not automatically expire

They want you to choose one of those.

The email (nor the support website) mentions how long your data will be saved if you do nothing about it. I'm guessing they'll default your account to somewhere in the middle. But I'm completely guessing.

So Why Should I Care?

The big reason you should care here is that once the data is gone, you can't go back and get it. So if you're segmenting your visitors by certain things, as that data deletes it will skew those overall numbers.  If you're deleting data after 14 months, for instance, you may miss trends because you don't have data from the last few years.

Even if you're not currently doing any online advertising or PPC, this is still important. This data could affect the offers you build, the demographics you think are relevant, etc.

So What Do I Need to Do?

I recommend taking a minute to log into your Analytics account and set the data to either expire in 50 months, or not to expire at all.  I see no advantage to deleting it earlier in the timeframe options.

To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Sign in to Google Analytics..
  2. Click Admin (bottom left of your screen), and navigate to the property you want to edit. In most cases there will be only one, your website.
  3. In the PROPERTY column, click Tracking Info > Data Retention.
  4. User-data retention: select the retention period you want. As I said, I recommend the furthest out - 50 months or no expiration at all.
  5. Reset on new activity: turn the switch on or off. I recommend ON

By the way, you have to have Edit permissions in order to do this. Since you're the business owner, you should have this. And if you don't, that means you don't own your own data, and you need to get that fixed right away.

This, by the way, all kicks in on May 25th, the same day that the GDPR kicks in.  (What's GDPR? My friends over at ActiveCampaign have the lowdown on that).

So you need to do this right away.

...and yes, if you're one of our clients, just let us know what setting you want and we'd be happy to get it done for you!

About the Author:

Will Hanke owns Saint Louis' top independent Internet Marketing firm, Red Canoe Media. In addition to helping some of St Louis' most recognizable brands with their online marketing strategy, Will also is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and teacher.

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