How to change data retention settings in Google Analytics

Tom Telford

Managing Director

Over the past few weeks, you may have seen some notices from Google about ‘data retention controls’. With all the frantic news about GDPR, you could be forgiven for ignoring this as ‘just another compliance request’. However, there is more than meets the eye on this one and we’ll explain now why ignoring this will seriously affect your ability to analyse your website’s historic performance.

The notes you have received should look like this:

But what does it all mean, and what do you need to do about it?

Put simply: after 25th May, Google will remove your ability to meaningfully analyse historical data. Basic reports won’t be affected, however, if you want to dig a little deeper (as your digital teams and agencies should do on a daily basis) into data older than March 2016, you’ll find it’s gone. Worse still, it will remove data on a rolling 26 months.

“If you do not review these settings and confirm the changes before May 25th, 2018, the default setting will be set to 26 months. This will mean that all advanced analysis capabilities of your historical data (collected before March 2016) will be deleted on May 25th, 2018.” 

Google is automatically opting you into this change, however, do not despair,  there is good news: you can easily change this if you act now.

How to adjust your data retention setting in Google Analytics?

You’ll need administrative access to do this. So if you are reading this and don’t have that level, we suggest you speak to someone in your organisation who does.

To access the area where you can review these settings, navigate your way to the following section:

Admin > Property > Tracking Info > Data Retention

You will be presented with five different options on how long Google Analytics retains data before automatically deleting it:

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

When data reaches the end of the retention period, it is deleted automatically on a month by month basis.

We recommend setting this to:

  •         Do not automatically expire

A subset of the data retention controls is the “Reset on new activity” option. When enabled, this will “reset the clock” for that user’s data retention period. This subset should only be considered when selecting any of the other options i.e. 14-50 months. It’s recommended to leave this set to ON:

Importantly, the full process should be repeated for ALL unique analytics properties that you own.

Are you thinking that 25th May is a GDPR coincidence too?

There is a huge amount to think about with GDPR looming and Google’s timing is interesting. Regardless of ‘data retention’ changes, you should consider the impact of cookies in line with your broader compliance. Whatever your ‘data retention’ settings, GA is dropping cookies right now, has been for the past 26 months, and will do after 25th May.

We recommend reviewing your website’s privacy policy with the help of a legal representative to ensure that this change, as well as other data collection on your website, complies with new GDPR guidelines. This is, of course, something that should be considered by your legal counsel as part of your wider GDPR compliance.

Please contact us if you have any questions about this and we’ll do our utmost to help.


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