Questions for Avinash Kaushik, Analytics Evangelist at Google

Avinash KaushikAvinash Kaushik is a passionate advocate for Web site testing, analytics, and research. A consultant at Google until a few months ago, he’s now with the search giant full-time as analytics evangelist. Before joining Google, he published a book, “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day,” and he writes a blog, Occam’s Razor, which he says is read by over 60,000 people a month.

Kaushik’s personal projects also extend to Market Motive — a company he founded before he joined Google — and sitting on the board of three companies.

He says there is a “core group of people that have been put through the fire to make this work.” Kaushik himself is perhaps the leading voice of that select group.

Q: What is your role at Google?

A: I work with seven or eight different teams that all provide data back to Google customers. Most closely I work with the Google Analytics team and Optimizer team. I work with competitive intelligence tools.

A lot of my focus at Google is everything that happens after the click… My focus is a lot more on once you have the visitor, what are the things you can do to create better Web sites and improve ROI.

Q: You were a consultant at Google until two months ago, and you still continue some of your own work. How do you manage your time?

A: About 70 percent of my time is at Google, and 70 percent on other projects, I know that doesn’t add up.

Q: What are some of your outside activities?

A: I am continuing to work with Market Motive, focusing on online marketing education, developing curriculum. I’m on the board of advisors of three companies: iPerceptions, Commerce360, and Cordiant.

I do other things I find interesting in life. The blog, 60,000 people a month read that. I also do professional speaking engagements, paid speaking engagements not tied to Google.

Q: Where do you see the state of Web analytics today?

A: I think it’s a three-year-old baby, a child at best. We’re just finding our feet, learning to walk. It’s beginning to scratch the surface.

Q: How has it advanced in the last six to 12 months?

A: Analytics used to be about measuring click stream data. Now we’re stepping into analytics 2.0 — the why, the very important why people do the things they do. Using data people have on their Web sites, but combining [that] with survey data.

We have a long way to go, the amazing thing is looking back at the last 12 months, I am super-excited about the even more amazing ability to access information.

When you take out an ad in Fortune magazine… it’s a faith-based initiative. You know nothing about it [except the circulation]. Imagine that ad on Yahoo.com, a display ad. You know so much more about that — how many people saw it, how many people clicked on it. That already beats the hell out of Fortune Magazine. Advertising needs to be a lot more accountable. Whether you’re Omniture, Google, Commerce360, we’re moving away from faith-based initiatives.

Q: Where does it need to go?

A: I think the next six to 12 months is too short a timeline to radically revolutionize… Fortune 500 companies will finally be able to measure the impact that traffic has on a Web site.

In six to 12 months, the quality of analysis will be more mainstream. Observing technologies like surveys, quality analysis, and multivariate testing, involving customers in testing and decision-making. Beyond [12 months] I think we are going to see new and different ways of collecting data, with no personally-identifiable information required. Distribution channels [have evolved to include] widgets, mash-up Web sites. I think we’re going to have to come up with new and interesting ways to collect data; that is where we have to come up with new and innovative [technologies].

Q: What is deficient in the Web analytics space?

A: The lack of really good analysts in the space who can make sense of the space and full actionable items in this data. In my book I wrote about the 10/90 rule. I created it when working at Intuit. If you have $100 to spend on decision-making, you should spend $10 on tools and $90 on people. There are companies that get it and are able to use the data; and companies that don’t get it and aren’t able to use the data. The one singular factor that determines success is to have the right analysis, and I think that will remain the key area of focus for companies that will determine success. It is not the tools, not the data. It is the people.

Q: How far does Google get a company in analytics, versus where an outside analytics provider needs to pick up?

A: At the moment all three search engines — Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google — all provide very good analytics. Search engines realize the best thing that can happen for them and their bottom line is that the customers are data-driven. Because in the past analytics tools’ starting price was $500,000, all search engines decided the barrier was too high and provided [tools] for free. In the long term it provides value back to the search engines.

The most wonderful thing now [is] there is no barrier for entry to get involved. You can start using Google analytics, or the tool from Yahoo. In a year or two when you hit the limit, you can intelligently go buy a tool. You are going to find a tool that will fill a gap, and happy birthday to everyone.

Q: What’s the next step?

A: Tools like Google Analytics, WebTrends, can only help you understand what is happening on your Web site. What they are not good at, especially any Web sites of any decent size, is understanding the behavior… For that reason, people are starting to use surveys. “Why are you here? Were you able to complete your task? And why not?”

…It’s great to throw up an A/B multivariate test, and let your customers decide instead of your HIPPO [highest paid person’s opinion]. There are excellent paid tools from Offermatica (acquired by Omniture) and Optimost (acquired by Interwoven). That is not an excuse not to involve your customers.

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