Alden DeSotoWe had the opportunity to interview Alden DeSoto, Editor of the Google Analytics Conversion University and the Voice of Urchin (so named because Alden was the
narrator of the Urchin tour on, and asked him some questions about the move to Mountain View, the mission of Conversion University, and the importance of web analytics to sites large and small.

ROI Revolution: It’s been just over a year since the Urchin team moved from the former home of Urchin in San Diego, CA (due to Google’s purchase of Urchin Software) to Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA. What’s it been like over the last 12 months?

Alden DeSoto: Hard work, but fun and incredibly stimulating. I feel like we get to do really big things here. Like rolling out Google Analytics to everyone who wants it, and for free. We’re helping so many businesses this way and I love meeting customers and hearing about their successes. And, Google itself is an amazing place. There are a lot of brilliant and really passionate people around here. It’s one of these places where you’ll sit down to lunch at a table with someone you don’t know and end up having a fascinating conversation. And, we get authors and speakers doing presentations at Google all the time. Some of these people are my personal heroes–Jimmy Carter and last week, Al Gore. So, I’d say I get continually re-inspired here at Google. It’s hard to imagine being anyplace else.

ROI: What’s your background, Alden, and how has your role changed since the Urchin buyout by Google?

AD: My background is in communications. Before Urchin (I joined Urchin in October of 2003), I was a writer at Sun Microsystems and Siebel Systems, here in Silicon Valley. I also spent a year in Guatemala working for an NGO, developing and teaching a computer literacy curriculum for Guatemalan high school students. I basically like to use my writing ability to help people.

At Urchin, my job was copywriter-technical writer-corporate communications all rolled into one. But, my mission was to help people understand how they could use Urchin to be more successful online. And, as editor of Conversion University, that is still basically my mission here at Google. The more information that is out there on how to actually use Google Analytics to market more effectively, to build a better site, to create more compelling content, the better businesses are going to do. And, the more useful the web will be to your average person or consumer. I have to admit, I’m looking forward to the day that when I click on a search result, I can always expect to land on a landing page that shows me what I’m looking for, without having to hunt around. It’s frustrating for me (and it makes me sad for the business), when I end up leaving a poorly designed site because I can’t find what I’m looking for. So, I guess I’m trying to help create a better experience for myself and everyone else!

ROI: Tell us a little about Conversion University.

AD: If you think about it, the point of web analytics is to help you do a better job of marketing. There are many aspects to this: landing page design, keyword buying, and so forth. The articles in Conversion University are intended to inspire and instruct people around how to use Google Analytics to do all of these things better.

Some of the articles are very tracking technique oriented, others are more focused on things like how to write copy for your site. But the ultimate goal is to help people with their marketing, teach them a Google Analytics tip or two, and inspire them to create a better site and market it more efficiently and effectively.

ROI: How important is web analytics to businesses today compared to when Scott Crosby, Paul Muret, Brett Crosby, and Jack Ancone founded Urchin Software Corporation back in 1997?

AD: I believe it’s getting more and more important. For one thing, keyword buying and PPC has made good web analytics essential. At the least, you’ve got to track conversions on the keywords you buy. If you don’t, you’re flying blind. And tracking ROI takes your keyword buying to the next level of sophistication. On a side note, a lot of businesses aren’t aware that you can track ROI on a non-ecommerce site, but you certainly can do it. I recommend contacting a Google Analytics Authorized Consultant such as ROI Revolution if you need help with this, and/or read one of our excellent articles on the subject in Conversion University.

ROI: Since the acquisition, there has been an increased focus on tightly integrating Google Analytics with Google AdWords. How has the opportunity to work so closely with Google’s PPC engineers affected the product’s features and purpose?

AD: That’s a great question. The integration with AdWords is one of my favorite Google Analytics features. It makes it SO easy to track ROI on keyword buying that there’s really no longer any reason NOT to do it. Tracking ROI on keywords has been an important focus for as long as I’ve been involved with Urchin and Google Analytics. As part of Google, the engineering team has been able to create a seamless customer experience with AdWords. So, it’s the same mission, just executed better than ever.

ROI: You probably get a lot of questions about how Google Analytics, a free web analytics service, can compare to other web analytics services like WebTrends, WebSideStory, and CoreMetrics which are vastly more expensive contenders. How do you explain the huge difference in the products’ pricing models and still expand on the advantages of Google Analytics over the competition?

AD: It’s free because we want to provide a full-featured web analytics product to as many businesses and site owners as possible, not because it’s somehow stripped down. It’s a full-featured, complete solution. We even offer some features that no one else offers. For example, Google Analytics is available (and supported) in 16 languages and has the best AdWords integration available. And, it’s free.

Also, Google Analytics gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to professional services. We have a global network of top notch professional services partners. You can purchase a custom services package tailored for your business directly from a Google Analytics Authorized Consultants (such as ROI Revolution).

ROI: Conversion University briefly touches on visitor segmentation in the article “Divide and Conquer: Segmenting Your Visitors.” We’re big fans of the custom visitor segmentation variable, which we’ve used for custom report profiles and for in-depth analysis of visitor behavior. Have you seen custom visitor segmentation used in any other creative and innovative ways?

AD: Here’s my current favorite. If you set the custom segmentation variable on your goal pages–for example, doing something like __utmSetVar(“Existing Customer”)–you effectively create a custom segment that includes only visitors who have already converted or bought something from you. You can create a profile from this segment and it will show post-conversion activity for existing customers. Best of all, you preserve your customers’ privacy because you’re not identifying individuals; you are still tracking at an aggregate level.

Thanks again to Alden DeSoto for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’re looking for more marketing and content optimization tips, web analytics hints, and expert advice on Google Analytics, point your browser to Conversion University.

If you’d like to get some help configuring Google Analytics for peak performance and maximum feedback, join ROI Revolution’s free 50 minute Google Analytics educational Webinar entitled “How to turn Google Analytics into Pure Profit”.