The following is the transcript of an interview of Brett Crosby, Senior Manager of Google Analytics, conducted in several sessions in January, 2007. He has been shaping the Web Analytics industry for ten years as the co-founder of Urchin Software Corporation and more recently as a senior product leader at Google. He is currently responsible for product positioning, feature roadmap development and all external product communications. Brett holds a degree from USC in Political Science and International Relations.
Eric Enge: That was a major announcement that came out in late October (2008), and certainly a very significant change in Google Analytics.
Brett Crosby: That’s correct. This was a major announcement for us. We launched seven new enterprise-class features, and we are pretty excited about it because it went over fairly well.
Eric Enge: Why don’t we take a moment and talk a little bit about each of them?
Brett Crosby: The interesting thing about this launch is that when we first started with Google Analytics it was to a relatively niche market. The whole web analytics industry was much smaller than it is today. But then it very quickly went from the backroom to the boardroom and every room in between.
Suddenly everyone wanted access to these reports, and what we recognized in the process of launching the version we launched about a year ago was that we really had a much broader audience than we had before. We needed to redesign the reporting interface, the way the information was displayed, and the accessibility of the entire interface.
Last week’s launch was really about bringing depth to our entire customer base. It was about going out and tackling some of the most advanced features in the analytics space like Advanced Segmentation, Custom Reporting, Advanced Visualizations and features like that. We took those things that were still very niche and only available to very few in the analytics space and made them easy to use, free, and accessible to everyone. That’s what this entire launch is about, and why this particular kind of enterprise-class feature bundle is a very significant launch for us.
Eric Enge: How long has it been in the works?
Brett Crosby: We’ve had these features in mind for a long time. We have been developing them for a while, but it wasn’t clear that we were going to necessarily launch them all at once. But then, all the stars came into alignment and it became a perfect launch to do altogether, and also great timing for the eMetrics Conference in Washington, D.C..
It was great because we have historically liked to launch things there, and it remains to be seen when and where we do our launch. It’s more about when the product is ready then trying to time it to any particular tradeshow or anything like that.
But, it was a nice coincidence for us, because that’s when we launched the major upgrade last time. We’ve launched other things, like Google Website Optimizer at that show too. So it worked out very well for us to be able to launch there.
Eric Enge: Let’s talk a little bit more about the features in the release.
Brett Crosby: First, we updated UI in admin interface. We added things like Advanced Segmentation and Custom Reporting, so this became increasingly important. We decided not to just highlight those things, but to highlight everything else that allows you to change the look of your data.
Let me get into Advanced Segmentation. Advanced Segmentation is, I think, one of the most significant parts of this launch. It allows you to look at a segment of traffic without having to setup a profile to do this, as you used to have to do with GAGoogle Analytics.
You can setup a new segment and look at data historically as well. And, it’s not just for a single report. Say you just want to see customers who came in through Google AdWords versus all the other customers on your site, for example.
You can see that for all of your reports as you go through your interface. If you set that advanced segment up it remains, so when you log in next time you can enable and view it very easily. We actually have pre-populated several Advanced Segments we think people will want to look at. And you can use that Advanced Segmentation to do whatever segment you want to view.
Eric Enge: So, these default segments are some of the obvious things like paid traffic versus non-paid or direct traffic or search traffic as a category, and things like that. So, there are about nine or ten of these that are predefined, and then right here from the very same screen you can go ahead and setup a new Custom Segment and define it the way you want.
Brett Crosby: That’s correct. There are a lot of options in there. You’ll notice when you are setting up a segment that it’s drag & drop. It’s very easy to use because you don’t have to go and manipulate HTML, or play with any code to do anything. It’s very, very user friendly, and obviously that was intentional so it can be for everyone, not just for web analytics experts.
Eric Enge: Right. So, you could define a Custom Segment and that would propagagate te though the interface for you?
Brett Crosby: Yes.
Eric Enge: I also like the fact that when you setting up an advanced segment, that it tells you right there out of all your visits how many of them match up with the segment you defined. Can you talk a bit about Custom Reporting?
Brett Crosby: We worked on Custom Reporting for a while with user experience folks within Google. We did eye tracking studies, where we are watching them behind a one-way mirror and we can see what they are doing. Obviously, they know we are doing this within usability test and it’s great, because you can see if the designs you’ve done are actually things that people can figure out or not, and how long it takes them to figure them out.
What we found is that when you show people, you can actually test it. You’ve set this up and you are showing people a funnel of what’s happening as we are setting up these Custom Reports. So, if they are going to get zero results at the end of it, they are going to know this before they save it, and then have to go look in the interface and find out there is no data.
We thought that wasn’t a very good experience, so we allow people to see what’s happening as they are creating these funnels. If it returns no data, perhaps I need to make it a little more general than specific.
So those are some of the steps you can do within Custom Reporting, along with Drag & Drop. The other thing that is cool is that there is also some auto-fill capability. Say you cared about traffic from Rio within its geography, and you pull that down.
You start typing it in, and as you type “RI,” you will see RIO and you also see Riverside if you’ve had traffic from both places based on your actual data. But it won’t suggest it if you don’t have traffic for it. We found this to be very helpful. Otherwise, you can have a typo or something like that that throws you completely off.
Eric Enge: Right. And, in the case of the Custom Reporting you have right in the Custom Reporting menu, the reports you create or save are the same as the segments are?
Brett Crosby: That’s correct. One of the interesting things is talking about both of these things together. You can setup an Advanced Segment of traffic that you want to look at, and then you can also setup a Custom Report. And, within that Custom Report you can look at their traffic segment.
So, if you wanted your Custom Report to list people who visited three pages, and were using the Chrome browser, and perhaps they had to be sent to the site from Google. Then you can say that’s your Custom Report. Then you can look at this special Advanced Segment, to see if your visitors visited a certain page on your site for mainly that segment.
Each of them is very powerful by itself, but when you combine them they’re even more powerful. This is in my opinion very, very significant.
Eric Enge: Yes. Well, in my view the things that you are addressing here are what have been the longest standing weaknesses in Google Analytics, and this is a big step forward.
Brett Crosby: Great. I am glad you feel that way. I think that has been a definite perception of a need out there, and we are glad to get these features out there and let people start using them.
Eric Enge: Let’s talk about Data Visualization.
Brett Crosby: Motion Charts is something completely new. It’s sort of an advanced version of the Data Visualization we launched that came out of the Trendalyzer acquisition. These are reports on an x and y axis that are essentially bubble charts that will animate overtime. You get to chose what’s on the x axis and the y axis, and you also get to chose what determines the size and the color of the bubble.
Once you set up those four dimensions, you can watch the fifth dimension over time. And, it’s fascinating, because it really brings the data to life. You can see anomalies in your data that otherwise might be obscured in typical spreadsheet-style reporting.
Eric Enge: So, how do you set it up?
Brett Crosby: You can set it up from any report that has columns and rows within Google Analytics. These all have a visualize button. You can click that button and go onto the Motion Charts, and you basically get to select your parameters as I described before. You can see things like time on site, bounce rate, conversions and even repeat buyers, and play that overtime. As the bubbles move around you start noticing things that you didn’t realize, perhaps that people who bounce end up coming back and buying on your site. Things that wouldn’t be obvious start to become obvious.
In our help center we have created some pre-suggested settings that you might want to see within Motion Charts to find certain details. There is a great SEM Motion Chart setting that you can do, and by setting all the five dimensions properly you can see great SEM information, for example.
We’ve also done one for SEO, and there are somewhere around fifteen or twenty of them that we’ve pre-suggested. This is our first interaction with Motion Charts. Eventually you can see us pre-baking some of these suggestive things into the product, and there are a lot of directions we can take this.
Motion Charts will continue to be developed as they are today, and those developments will continue to be rolled out within the GAGoogle Analytics Motion Charts as well. I think of this as the first major step in the direction of these visualizations, but there is a lot more that can happen with Motion Charts, so that’s a pretty exciting thing for us.
One of the reasons we don’t have too much pre-configured in this is that a lot of this is about data exploration. It’s about being able to explore data in new ways and discover things that you might not have known if we showed you your data in a table format, for example.
This is something that as people start to play with they are going to find some really fantastic things. We think that people all over the place will start posting in our forums things they have discovered that they like.
We think this is something that has potential to generate a lot of user community involvement.
Eric Enge: Next up, let’s talk about the API.
Brett Crosby: The API (Application Programming Interface) is currently in a private beta, meaning that if you let us know that you are interested in trying it out, we will put you on a list and invite you in if we have capacity. It’s also to let people know that the API does exist, and that we are working towards getting a full launch.
The reason that it’s beta is that there may be some changes and updates as we go based on the feedback that we are getting. . The reason the API is so significant is that people have already been out there trading a whole bunch of tools around Google Analytics.
Third- party developers have come up with really interesting things like an iPhone app that renders your Google Analytics data. There is a desktop application that someone created for Adobe Air. There are approximately about 26 Greasemonkey scripts out there where people have created some sort of hack into our interface or pull data out of Google Analytics.
They have done all of this without the benefit of an API. Now that we are providing an API we believe that you will see a lot more interesting things come out of these third party developer ecosystems.
Eric Enge: Right. There are also people who have gaGoogle Analyticsdgets and widgets, right?
Brett Crosby: Yes, that’s correct. Gagadgetsdgets, and widgets, and all kinds of things. I know some people in the media have been calling for us to create the capability for you to report your own GAGoogle Analytics data completely publicly. And, you could imagine that someone could create a widget that will do that and you could put in your own website. This way you’ll be able to see how many visitors you have on your website on a given day or whatever other kind of data you may want to see.
Eric Enge: Or, it could show the most common referrers for the day.
Brett Crosby: Yes, exactly. The interesting thing is that there are so many things like that that are not necessarily at the core of web analytics that we would traditionally build. The idea is to be able to open this up to developers worldwide so that other people can create things that we might have never dream of. Then they can make them available to the rest of the Google Analytics community.
Eric Enge: Right. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?
Brett Crosby: Exactly, that’s correct. And, you may find there will be things that are more popular than Google Analytics that come out of this. So, I find it really exciting to get the development out of our hands a little bit and putting into the hands of the community and letting people start working on what they want to see. And we have such a large customer base that I think the possibilities are almost endless.
Eric Enge: Are there any limits on the API, like a limit on the amount of usage you can get overall or at one time?
Brett Crosby: You should be able to pull virtually 100% of the data out of GAGoogle Analytics currently. Whatever limits we might set is still being figured out. The goal is to put as few limits on this as possible, but it depends on how actively people are using this.
Eric Enge: Right. You could imagine somebody creating an application that became extremely popular somehow, and that would place a fairly large demand on your infrastructure.
Brett Crosby: Right. As long as the data is useful to people we are on the right track. But, we also want API developers to develop applications in a responsible and efficient manner.
Eric Enge: Right. Of course an application that comes to my mind as something to dynamically pull out of the interface when you have a new referrer.
Brett Crosby: Right. That would be great; someone that you’ve never seen before.
Eric Enge: Yes. Most likely it means you get a new link. You’ll know that long before any search engine would report that link to you as it is pulling that data right out of GAGoogle Analytics, and I think that’s a nice SEO type tool.
Brett Crosby: Yes, exactly. I am sure there are dozens and dozens of things like that, that are not at the top of our development list, because we want to create bigger things like the API.
Eric Enge: Can you talk about the Google AdSense Integration?
Brett Crosby: This is something that we’ve wanted to push out there for as long as I have been at Google, which is about 3 and a half years now. We are really excited about getting this going, and it’s something that will be rolling out overtime. The bulk of these features that we have been talking about are rolling out over the coming weeks, and are already are active in a lot of our customers’ accounts.
The AdSense Integration and the API are things that we’ll be rolling out a little more slowly. The main reason for that is that we want to ensure that we don’t overwhelm support so we are always able to help clients who need help. We don’t want to overwhelm people or leave people wanting support and not getting it if our expert researchers are overwhelmed, right?
Eric Enge: Right. What will it actually mean for a publisher?
Brett Crosby: This is really great for publishers who are using AdSense on their site to monetize, because now they can finally see which pages and which referrals are monetizing best. You can imagine also if there is segment of traffic that a publisher really wants to look at to see their repeat visitors. . For example, they can see if people that have been to their site more than three times within the month monetize better than one-time visitors do.
Or, they can see if the people that come in once and click out on an AdSense ad actually make them more money. And so, you can determine which ones you should be targeting and if you are going to do any outreach, or advertising, or something like that.
These are the sorts of questions that people can start to answer with the GAGoogle Analytics- AdSense Integration. It’s obviously very powerful, and it’s basically going to allow people to start finding segments of traffic that they weren’t aware of or didn’t know how important they actually were.
Eric Enge: Right. So, let’s say you have a site that’s organicorganic- centric, and you find out that a certain class of pages has twice as high a CPM of another class of pages.. You might not be linking to that better converting class of pages from your homepage and you might now choose to do so. Or, do other things to raise their visibility and increase the amount of traffic on those pages.
We could probably come up with twenty of these without a lot of difficulty. A lot of tuning possibilities end up opening up.
Brett Crosby: Yes. Depending on the kind of site you have, what your goal is, and the type of content you are pushing, there are different things you are going to look at, like different authors potentially. There are all kinds of things that might suddenly become interesting to look at. The idea is that as we are getting this out there, people could start to find these things. If Google AdSense is the way you are driving revenue on your website, it couldn’t have happened in a better time, considering this economy.
The timing on the Google AdSense Integration and really all of these launches couldn’t be better for people, because now you can start to really hone in on the traffic that’s working for you, and look at how you can best monetize that traffic.
Eric Enge: Thanks Brett!
Brett Crosby: Thank you Eric!