The Evolution of Google Analytics: A Timeline

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Marketing and web design professionals with less than ten years of experience may take robust, free, analytics software for granted. But the wizened “old-timers” of online know that analytics technology has evolved immensely over a short period of time.

Think about it: Google Analytics (GA), the leader in this space, is less than 10 years old. GA is “younger” than Facebook. When Paul Muret, the engineer behind the first incarnation of GA was writing this important code, Justin Beiber was a newborn infant (my how quickly they grow up.) Let’s take a look back at the evolution of GA from its inception in the late 90s until today.

The Early Days of Analytics

Early 1990s: Two future founders of NetGenesis Corp., one of the earliest analytics software providers, room with Phil Mui during undergraduate studies at MIT. They introduce Mui to the topic of analytics. (In 2001 SPSS Inc., bought NetGenesis for $44.6 million.)

1995: Web Depot is founded in San Diego, providing web development and hosting to businesses.

1998: Paul Muret, Engineer and CEO of Web Depot creates the first version of Urchin, an analytics software.

September 1998: Google launches.

October 2001: Google AdWords launches.

June 2004: AdSense is introduced.

2004: Google first approaches Urchin to discuss an acquisition.

2005: Phil Mui joins Google and chooses analytics as the product he wishes to focus on.

March 2005: Google acquires Urchin and Paul Muret becomes directer of engineering at Google Analytics. Related geeky fact … did you know that the “UTM” code in Google Analytics stands for “Urchin Traffic Manager?”

October 2005: Google Analytics V1 is announced and then quickly shut down due to too much demand.

November 2005: Google releases V1 again, but this time with limited access using an invitation system.  The V1 tagline focuses on accessibility: “Democratize advanced analytics for the masses.”

November 2005 through August 2006: As it adds server capacity, Google sends out batches of invitation codes for new analytics users to sign up.

June 2006: The first GA product update is the addition of AdWords analysis reporting, allowing users to manage AdWords ROI. 

August 2006:  Google announces that GA access is open to all. No more invites or waiting. 

Throughout 2006: The analytics UX team works to change the original Urchin dashboard, which looked very 90s in version one of Google Analytics. (see the screenshot below).

2005GAscreenshot

Fig 2: A screenshot from Google Analytics version one in 2005. This dashboard reflects the design of the original Urchin software.

February 2006: Google acquires Adaptive Path and integrates ideas from its Measure Map product into the upcoming GA redesign.

GA Gets More Robust

April 2007: Google releases V2 of analytics. The V2 dashboard is redesigned to reflect the Google brand and looks much like the design interface users are familiar with today. With the V1 release, the GA team saw that the product was perceived as a tool for techies and web geeks and was not as widely adopted by marketers or c-level executives. That’s why the V2 tagline is all about organization-wide adoption, “Moving analytics from the back room to the board room.”

2007revamp
Fig 2: A screenshot from the 2007 version two dashboard redesign.

October 2008: Google releases GA V3, with a focus on making enterprise-level features accessible to everyone. Version three features advanced segmentation, custom reporting, and an external API. These are features that previously required plenty of time and resources to develop and Google wanted to open them to all users.

March 2009: Google launches its Conversion University courses and the Google Analytics Individual Qualification Test. Now users can become GA qualified experts.

April 2009: Google releases an AdSense integration feature, so users can measure content performance and revenue.

April 2009: Google Analytics Data Export API becomes available to all users, which opens the door for organizations and developers to integrate analytics into other platforms.

October 2009: V4 of Google Analytics releases featuring analytics intelligence, an algorithm that detects anomalies in site data and alerts users to those changes.

December 2009: Asynchronous tracking launches, greatly improving the speed and accuracy of tracking website data.  

October 2010: GA rolls out its in-page analytics feature. 

April 2011: GA V5 is released featuring multiple customizable dashboards.

August 2011: Google releases multi-channel funnel tracking capabilities. Now marketers can see a 30-day path to conversion and not just the last click before a purchase.

September 2011:  Google Analytics premium made available to power-users.

September 2011: The real time reports feature launches, so that users can monitor data as campaigns unfold.

October 2011: GA introduces flow visualizations. Now users can see how different types of visitors flow through the site and where users may have dropped-off during the goal completion process. Around the same time, Google begins encrypting search data for all searches signed into a Google account. Marketers begin seeing “keyword not provided” for those searches (collective sigh).

goalflow1

Fig 3. Goal flow visualizations provides crucial insights for users interested in conversion optimization.

March 2012: The client-hosted version of Urchin is discontinued and Urchin users are encourage to migrate to GA. Social reports are rolled-out to show the links between social media, ROI, and engagement.

June 2012: Google Analytics integrates the functionality of the former Website Optimizer tool and rebrands it with GA as Content Experiments. Users can now test website changes within the GA interface.

June 2012: Google Analytics for Mobile Apps releases.

Universal Analytics and Beyond…

October 2012: Universal Analytics is announced. Universal analytics reflects where GA is headed. Its designed to track users across multiple devices using user IDs. Universal will also enable users to track offline behavior and augment customer data with external demographic or other data.

September 2013:  Google search terms encryption to non-signed in Chrome users.

Today: GA releases more than 70 product updates in 2013 alone.  In 2013, GA had the largest market share in the online analytics space. As Universal Analytics begins to roll out to more users, experts predict the adoption rates to increase.

Resources for More Information

To read more about the beginning of GA, check out this awesome post from Attendly about The Real Story on How Google Analytics Got Started.  Here’s a video of Phil Mui describing the history of GA. You can also view Google’s evolution using its interactive timeline  or this infographic on the Digital History of Google from Search Engine Journal.

Image Credits: Fig 1. Source; Fig 2. Source; Fig. 3 Source.