As we get closer to July 1st 2023 (when Google finally sunsets Universal Analytics), it becomes more evident that GA4 is here to stay, which brings us to the question that gets asked about GA4 data retention.
The question is about what happens to your data after you’ve elapsed the retention period.
If you are wondering what will happen to your data after the retention period expires or are curious about the technicality regarding data retention in GA4, keep reading to get answers to your questions.
In this article, you’ll also learn how to store your data higher than the specified retention period in GA4.
What Is Data Retention In GA4?
Data retention is a feature that exists both in GA4 and Universal Analytics. It makes it possible for you to set the duration of time you want to have your data stored in Google Analytics servers, after which it gets deleted.
For standard customers, the GA4 data retention period is set to 2 months by default, with 14 months being the highest you can have the expiration period be.
While for 360 customers, the highest duration is 50 months, with options of 2, 14, 26 and 38 months retention period.
For both standard and 360 customers, the user and event-level data are what gets stored for your selected expiration period.
One technicality about data retention in Google Analytics is if the user is inactive for two months, certain user-keyed data (such as age, gender, and interests) gets deleted by default.
Where Configure Your Data Retention In GA4?
It’s simple to do this, following these easy steps;
- Navigate to admin by clicking on the gear icon.
- Under your GA4 property, click «Data Settings» to expand the options available, and select «Data Retentions».
- You should be able to change your retention period.
According to Google’s documentation, when you increase the retention period for Google Analytics 4 property, it is applied to data that you have already collected.
What Happens To My GA4 Data After?
You might ask, what happens to my precious data after the retention period expires?
Here is the answer to that question;
After the expiration period, your data won’t be accessible in the GA4 exploration reports of any type, though it will be available in your GA4 standard reports (events, conversion, etc.), data studio (if it’s connected), data segmentation and comparison widget.
It means you can go beyond the 14 months or the two months data retention settings.
The screenshot below is from the Google merchandise demo GA4 property, which displays data for over 14 months.
You can see that the GA4 property has its retention period configured to 14 months.
But we can still pull data of over 14 months in Google Data Studio
I know this won’t sit well with analysts as the exploration feature in Google Analytics 4 helps with ad-hoc analysis such as funnels, pathing, cohorts, etc.
In the Measure Slack community, This is what Charles Farina has to say about why Exploration data only gets affected.
Going Beyond The Retention Period
To keep historical data beyond the 14 months, you’ll have to integrate your GA4 data with BigQuery (it’s free for both standard and 360 customers).
With this approach, you can keep your data for as long as you want in Big Query, but it requires knowledge of SQL to query your data in Big Query.
These articles on how to integrate Google Analytics 4 with Big Query and how to use SQL with BigQuery should help.
Now you understand the technicality of GA4 data retention and what really happens after the storage period expires.