How to save your
GA4 data beyond 14 months

In the digital age, data is the backbone of any business. It fuels decision-making and drives growth while helping business owners improve their online presence and user experience.

Google’s transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) marks a significant change not just in tracking website performance and customer engagement, but also in data retention policies. While UA allowed indefinite data storage, GA4 caps the maximum data retention period at 14 months, posing a new challenge for data-driven dealerships.

This means that to maintain historical insight into your dealership’s virtual showrooms and customer shopping journeys, the GA4 settings you choose will directly impact how much data you can retain and access over time.

GA4 data retention basics

GA4 data retention periods refer to how long GA4 stores event and user data. There are two levels of data retention:

Login to GA4 to access your data retention settings

Admin → Data Collection & Modification → Data Retention

Event-level data retention

Event-level data retention tracks individual interactions or events, like page views, clicks, and conversions. This data is crucial for understanding how users navigate your dealership’s website and interact with specific features.

GA4’s default event data retention period is 2 months. If you have a Dealer Inspire website, the event data retention is automatically set to 14 months. For other website providers or if you have multiple GA4 properties, you may need to manually adjust the retention settings to the maximum 14-month period to analyze trends comprehensively over time.

User-level data retention

User-level data retention encompasses information tied to individual users, such as user IDs, device identifiers, and demographic attributes. This data helps dealerships understand customer behavior and preferences.

GA4 offers a retention period ranging from 2 to 14 months. It’s recommended to select the maximum 14-month period and enable the “reset user data on new activity” toggle. This setting resets the retention period with each new event tied to the user, ensuring data remains available for up to 14 months from their latest interaction.

14 months isn’t enough

If you find the 14-month data retention limit too short, you’re not alone. This is especially challenging for dealerships that rely on year-over-year comparisons to analyze performance and engagement trends. For instance, in April, a dealership might want to compare its Q1 performance with the previous year’s Q1 results. Even at GA4’s maximum retention period, some data will have already expired, making such comparisons impossible.

While Google no longer supports indefinite analytics data retention, there are still effective strategies to navigate GA4’s new data constraints. We encourage you to revisit the specific reporting needs for your dealership or automotive group to understand how you could be directly impacted by the reduced retention period. From there you can develop a strategy to regularly export and securely store your data. This proactive approach will help ensure long-term access to the insights that matter most.

Your options for exporting and storing data

So what can you do to ensure you have access to data beyond GA4’s set retention period? Here are some of our recommended options:

Exporting reports directly from GA4

Though it requires manual effort, ensure the availability of your historical data for analysis by exporting your preferred reports. When exporting data from a GA4 out-of-the-box report, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the desired report
  2. Select your time-frame
  3. Select the share icon (located beneath the date selector)
  4. Click the ‘Download File’ option 
  5. Choose between ‘Download PDF’ or ‘Download CSV’

Consider how you want to access your data before deciding on your export format to your preferred viewing platform. For example, in your GA4 custom exploration reports, you’ll get extra flexibility with formats like Google Sheets and TSV.

GA4 Magic Reports (a Google Sheets Add-on)

Want to capture your chosen data but don’t have coding expertise? GA4 Magic Report is your solution. This scalable data export and storage option is an extension you can add to Google Sheets. It enables you to choose the dimensions, metrics, and time frame of the data you choose to retain. 

Once GA4 Magic Reports retrieves the selected data, you can leverage the benefits of Google Sheets or transfer the data to your preferred visualization platform. However, keep in mind that you need to run the report each time you change the date range.

For scalability purposes, this approach is our top recommendation for exporting data.

Export to BigQuery

BigQuery is another option that used to only be available to Universal Analytics users who also had GA360. With GA4, it’s now an option for all properties. However, you do need some level of coding knowledge — specifically SQL. 

BigQuery is a data warehouse, which means it’s well-equipped for storing your historical data. Although there could be a charge for using BigQuery, it should be minimal.

Plan how to export and store your data now

Whichever export and storage method you decide is best for you and your business, put a plan in place to regularly export your data. This will ensure you always have access to the historical data you need to gauge your success and reach your future business goals.

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