If your nonprofit uses Google analytics to track activity on your website then you’ve probably been getting emails about their new data retention controls that looks something like this.

If you have been putting off looking at these settings then now is the time to stop procrastinating because the defaults will go into effect on May 25th (that’s this Friday) if you don’t update the settings.

To help you decide which settings are best for you we’ve put together a quick overview of what you need to know.

Why Has Google Created These New Data Retention Controls?

In short these new controls are going into effect because of the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) coming out of the European Economic area. Google wants to make sure it’s products are compliant with these regulations and it wants to make sure it’s users have the tools they need to remain compliant. At the end of the day the settings that are ideal for your organization will depend on your specific organization’s needs as they relate to GDPR compliance. (We’ve written a quickstart guide for making sure your nonprofit is GDPR compliant, you can get it here for FREE).

What Data Is Impacted By These Controls?

Especially in this day and age data is the key to running successful marketing campaigns so when you see a message like this we recommend to take note.

You can see from the notice that this only impacts data associated with “user identifiers” and most of your standard reports will be unaffected. If you’ve done any searching around to see what this really means you’ll find that Google has left this information vague enough that no one has been able to definitively pin down what is going away. What we do know is that this is going to impact “Event Data”, “Custom Segments” and “Custom Reporting” these are really the 3 main areas that let you drill down and organize your data in meaningful ways.

Events – Events in Google analytics are a custom function that allows you track the important actions that users take on your website. These can include anything from watching a video or downloading a podcast to making a donation or subscribing to an email list. Without event data it is nearly impossible to compare traffic sources to know which ones are reaching your target market and keeping them engaged.

Custom Segments – Custom segments allow you get really granular when comparing traffic sources as well as conversion data. When you’re promoting your fundraising event would it help to know if people who watched your promotional video are more likely to register for the event? This can easily be tracked through custom segments.

Custom Reporting – Do you track any KPIs (key performance indicators) that you report on regularly? Things like content engagement, email subscriptions or new donors? If you answered yes to any of these, you have probably created a custom report or two (or 20). If you answered no, then you should probably start, because it’s almost guaranteed you are leaving money on the table with your marketing efforts. The length of time you retain this data could directly affect your visibility to this critical data.

As this change impacts cookies and advertising ID’s this will in all likelihood impact your attribution models (ensuring that your conversions and events are attributed to the correct traffic source) as well as any Account Based Marketing campaigns you are running.

This is a long explanation to say that when reviewing these settings you want to make sure that you choose the greatest length of time you are able to while adhering to the GDPR regulations.

Beyond Selecting The Data Retention Length

Within these new controls you only have the ability to make 2 choices,

  1. How long to retain your data.
  2. If you want the retention period to renew on the next interaction.

If you are limited in the length of time you retain the data Google has added an additional feature that lets you extend that time out for your most engaged users. This is done by enabling the “reset on new activity” feature. You can see Google’s explanation below.

It looks as though this setting is turned on by default, and it should help with some of the cross device tracking and attribution issues associated with short retention times. You can check this setting in your account under Admin -> tracking info -> Data Retention.

The Bottom Line

Now that we’ve gone through the nitty gritty of what data is at stake here it’s time to get down to the bottom line, which is:

Save as much data as you can!

If you are not sure if your organization is impacted by GDPR we highly suggest you check out our guide for a quick easy summary of how you can assess your organization’s risk level. Remember, we are living in the data economy, so don’t take this decision lightly.