Backup Your Google Analytics Data

Google Analytics is used by millions of businesses. Many of these businesses rely exclusively on Google Analytics for web analytics reports, yet don’t keep a backup copy of their GA data. This isn’t a very smart strategy.

It’s easy to keep a backup copy of your Google Analytics data. You simply configure your GA tracking code to make a copy of the tracking data sent to Google – the copy is stored in your web server log file.

The primary reason to keep a backup copy of anything is to be able to recover from unexpected issues. Google Analytics is no different – consider the following:

1) Business Continuity

Let’s be honest: data loss isn’t a major concern with Google Analytics because Google’s redundant, geographically distributed datacenters will (probably) not simultaneously explode. But consider the following:

  • What happens if Google deletes your historical data?
    (see Data Retention Policy, below)
  • What happens if your agency locks you out of your account over a billing dispute?
    (it happens, unfortunately)
  • What happens if your company can’t use Google Analytics anymore?
    (see Privacy Regulations, below)

The easiest way to prepare for (and overcome) the above scenarios is to start keeping a backup copy of your GA data.

2) Verify Data Collection

Google Analytics is a SaaS (Software as a Service) product. The data shown in the reports is collected from website visitors across the world, and the only time you see the data is when you view the reports. Here’s why this is a problem: you might be violating GDPR / privacy regulations and not know it, because you aren’t seeing the data sent to Google Analytics.

If you have a backup copy of the tracking data sent to Google, you can verify it doesn’t contain any PII (Personally Identifiable Information).

Referrer spam is another issue you’ll encounter when verifying data. This happens when companies send bogus traffic to your Google Analytics account. It’s a cheap promotional stunt – the hope is that you’ll notice a strange Source or Event and ask “what website is this?” and visit it.

One of the fun things about referrer spam is that it generally originates from a single IP address. When you have a backup copy of your GA tracking data, you also see IP addresses…which you can use to Filter out future referrer spam.

3) Data Retention Policy

Google announced a new Data Retention policy in 2018. Once a month, old data is deleted from your Google Analytics account. Once this data is gone you still have aggregate reports (i.e. session totals), but you lose the ability to view ad hoc reports on the data, like segments and custom reports.

If you have a copy of your GA data, you can process it with an on-premises web analytics software solution and keep it around as long as you want.

4) Privacy Regulations

Internet Privacy is a hot topic among legislators. In addition to GDPR in Europe, there are broad usage restrictions for Google Analytics in industries like healthcare, finance, education, and government/military. Looking ahead, Internet Privacy regulations are expected to increase in the coming years.

We can have an exhaustive discussion about this topic but we’re going to keep it brief. Here’s the salient point: if a new law restricts your company from using Google Analytics, you will be better prepared if you have a backup copy of your GA data.

5) Fix Mistakes

C’mon, admit it – you (or someone you know) created an incorrect filter and didn’t realize the mistake until a big chunk of new data was missing. It’s ok – we’ve all done it. 🙂

Google Analytics applies configuration settings before your data appears in the reports. If you make a mistake, you can’t fix any data that was previously processed. But if you have a backup copy of your Google Anaytics data, you can reprocess the data in another web analytics software program and eliminate the mistakes for reporting purposes.

6) See Details Not Shown in GA

Google Analytics reports don’t provide many details. You can use segments and filters to isolate blocks of traffic, but you can’t see details about individual visitors. Plus, the Google Analytics ToS (Terms of Service) doesn’t allow you to store PII (Personally Identifiable Information).

If you keep a backup copy of GA data and process it in a different web analytics product, your reports won’t be governed by the same ToS. This means you can see visitor details like IP address, individual clickpaths, usernames, and PII.

What Next?

Hopefully you now understand the value of keeping a backup copy of your GA data.

But once you have the raw data, there’s another question to answer: how are you going to get the data into the hands of your business users in a format they can actually use? Specifically:

  • Where to store it?
  • How to sessionize it?
  • How to visualize it?

We recommend using Angelfish Software to make sense of your Google Analytics backup data. Angelfish can process this data and create detailed reports. Easy!