The Google Analytics Setting You Must Change Immediately

I went into Google Analytics recently to look into results for a campaign and noticed this banner at the top:

Anything that impacts my data is a big deal, so I clicked the Learn More link to understand what these changes are.

Understanding the Data Retention Change

Basically, Analytics is letting you decide how long it will retain your data before automatically deleting it. You have five choices:

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

The default setting is 26 months.  That means, if you don’t change the setting, you will lose data after 26 months. To quote Google directly, “When data reaches the end of the retention period, it is deleted automatically on a monthly basis.” If you don’t change this setting BEFORE May 25, 2018, you’ll lose data more than 26 months old.

Which Reports Are Impacted?

In the link explaining the changes, you find this:

To clarify, standard aggregated reports are your preconfigured reports in the left side toolbar in Analytics under Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. You might be tempted to think that you’re reporting needs are safe because the reports you typically use aren’t being impacted. To know for sure, we have to look into the “non-standard” reports, also known as “ad-hoc” reports, which are impacted.

Ad-hoc Reports

Analyics describes Ad-hoc reports in the following way:

“If you modify a default report in some way, for example, by applying a segment, filter or secondary dimension, or if you create a custom report with a combination of dimensions and metrics that don’t exist in a default report, you are generating an ad-hoc query of Analytics data.”

This is what started the red flags waving violently in my mind. I add secondary dimensions to my standard reports ALL THE TIME!  Not just here and there, not just sometimes, always. I love them and they make or break how I personally use Analytics.

I use segments often. They are a helpful way to see a layer of your data.

I found three other reports that I use from time to time that are also ad-hoc reports:

  1. Multi-Channel Funnel Reports
  2. Attribution Reports
  3. Flow-Visualization Reports

Now, I don’t use these often, but they are all useful when I need them.

Why the Data Retention Change is a Big Deal

If you do nothing before May 25, any data after 26 months will be purged and you will no longer be able to run any of the above reports, segments or secondary dimensions for data past 26 months. That means you could not do any long-term history analysis ever again. Once the data is purged, it’s gone forever. I look at all-time data from time to time. Maybe you don’t look back historically that far often, but why lose that data when you don’t have to?

How to Change the Data Retention Setting

Thankfully, this is an easy setting to change. Here are the steps.

  1. Select the Admin Gear section at the bottom of the left side toolbar.
  2. Select Data Retention under Tracking Info in the Property column
  3. Click the drop-down and select “Do not automatically expire”
  4. Decide if you want the “Reset on new activity” on or off. This setting impacts how retention data is captured for repeat users. If it is on, the  Basically, if you leave this on, the retention period starts over with each new event from the user. If it is off, then data is not reset after each new event. It’s up to you how to set this, but I’m choosing to leave it “on” for now.
  5. Click Save.

Note: You must do this for each property separately in an Analytics account.

For example, one of my clients has three separate properties (sites) in their account, so I had to make the change in each one. When I switched from one property to another, I stayed in the Data Retention section of Analytics, so I was able to make the changes for all three in less than a minute.

For the short amount of time it takes you to make this change, I recommend you go do it immediately so you don’t forget.

While you’re at it, you might want to check out some other Google Analytics Settings to make sure they are properly set as well.

Disclaimer: I have to believe that the timing of these changes is linked to The General Data Protection Act which goes into effect on the same date, May 25th, 2018. You must decide how to make your Analytics account compliant. Here is a link to the most helpful article I’ve found surrounding the GDPA and Analytics.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this change in the comments.