When Google launched GA4 in 2023, one show-stopping feature was data deprecation. Gak!
You might have scrambled to save data from your Universal Analytics account or simply followed the best practice guidance of setting your user and event data retention to 14 months—one of the defaults. But now you’re finding you need additional historical data to make viable decisions for your firm.
What’s a marketer to do?
I’m here to tell you there are some options.
User-Level and Conversion Data
Unfortunately, the default for user- and conversion-level data are 2 or 14 months. If you chose the two-month default, user-activity event and user-level data stored for certain user-keyed data (such as age, gender, interests) is deleted when there is inactivity for that user after the two-month period. At the minimum, set it to 14 months. Here’s how.
Pro Tip! When setting up the data retention defaults, be sure to turn on the “Reset user data on new activity” button below the drop-down options. That feature restarts data retention whenever a user returns to your site, as long as the user returns within 14 months.
For example, Bobby Jones visited the site in February 2023. Bobby doesn’t visit the site again until January 2024. If you have the 14-month default, Bobby’s data retention will restart for another 14 months.
If you need to extend your data retention time, consider utilizing BigQuery. It’s only partially free for the first 10 GB of storage and 1TB of data processing every month. Be aware, if you use the free version the data expiration will be set to 60 days. Before setting it up and paying, go to the pricing section to learn about your options.
What is BigQuery?
According to Google, “It is a fully-managed enterprise data warehouse that helps you manage and analyze your data with built-in features like machine learning, geospatial analysis, and business intelligence.”
What does that mean for me?
It’s an online storage space to house data, which is presented in tables and rows—great for creating views. You can set up a BigQuery sandbox for free to see how it works and to determine if it’s right for your firm.
How to set it up.
Before you can connect BigQuery to your analytics account, you need to set up a project in Google Cloud Console. Once the project is prepared, you can connect BigQuery to your analytics account form the left navigation Product Links > BigQuery Links.
What are the advantages of using BigQuery?
Here are some of the advantages of using BigQuery, especially for smaller websites, including:
- Means to save user-specific data from being deleted
- Access to unsampled, raw events (e.g., submits, download, clicks, etc.) and user-level data
- Data is not subject to cardinality limits (the number of unique values in a dimension)
- Data is owned by you (in Google Cloud as a project)
- Integration with other data sources
- Ability to work retroactively on GA4 data
- Easily filter out or modify incorrect GA4 data
- Unlock millions of new organic keywords
- Scalability to handle large volumes of data
- Custom reporting and dashboards for dimensions, metrics, and aggregations for deeper insights
- Cost control (if you go beyond the free version)
- Easily exports into common tools like Excel and Google Sheets
- Real-time data insights for timely decision making
GA 360 Option
You could also consider the Google Analytics 360 option, which is a paid feature and is best for larger sites. At its base, it costs $150,000 per year for websites up to 500 million hits per month.
It provides higher limits for Google Analytics 4 property data collection, reporting, retention, and export to BigQuery. Plus, with GA 360, you can set retention to:
- 2 months (default, free)
- 14 months(default, free)
- 26 months (360 only)
- 38 months (360 only)
- 50 months (360 only)
What are the benefits of GA 360?
Over and above the free version options, GA 360 users get:
- Increased data limit—great for high-volume website traffic or if you want to collect more detailed data about users.
- Unsampled reports—in the free version, you may not see all of the data that is collected. With unsampled reports you can see all of the data that’s collected.
- Customized dashboards and reports.
- Advanced segmentation for deeper insights into users and their behavior.
- Integration with other Google products, such as Google AdWords, Google Search Console, and Google Cloud Platform for a holistic view of your customer data.
- Technical support.
Which will you choose?
At the least you should implement the pro tip. If you want additional data options, storage, and flexibility consider one of the other two data retention options.
If you’re still on the fence, play around with the BigQuery sandbox to see if it meets your needs.