With over two decades in digital marketing and Google Analytics consulting, Brian Clifton is recognised internationally as a Google Analytics expert that has helped shape the industry. His best selling books have sold more than 100,000 copies and are used by students and professionals worldwide. As Google’s first Head of Web Analytics for Europe (2005-8), Brian built the pan-European team of product specialists. A legacy of that work was the online learning centre and test known as the GAIQ, which for 10+ years has been the certification for analysts.
Brian has also been a guest lecturer at University College London (MSc, “Web Economics”), Copenhagen University, and the Stockholm School of Economics. Currently Brian is Director of Analytics Quality Assurance & Compliance at Search Integration – an advisory company specialising in helping organisations gain in-house “metrics understanding” using Google Analytics in combination with other business intelligence tools. He is the founder of the cloud-based Google Analytics audit tool: Verified Data.
As a keynote speaker, Brian presents his research and ideas on data quality and online privacy.
From Chapter 1 of the book Successful Analytics
- CMSWire: Google Is Forcing the Switch to GA4 — and Many Brands Aren’t Happy.
- Post via Accutics: Ensuring Marketing Data Quality: A Talk With Brian Clifton.
- Video via MeasureSummit: How Google Analytics was launched and the future of Analytics.
Some Deeper Background
I was born and raised in the UK and discovered my passion for science when I was 18 – rather late for most would-be scientists – when I got my first job at ICI Pharmaceuticals as a trainee chemist. It was a great eye opener to see chemistry making a difference to real lives and I wanted to know more, much more. So after two years I headed to the south of England to the University of Bristol – graduating with a BSc in Chemistry (1991), followed by specialising in Physical & Theoretical Chemistry for my PhD (1995). Further work as a post-doctoral researcher cumulated in publishing several scientific papers, including the prestigious journals of Molecular Physics and Langmuir. At that time I had grandiose ideas of becoming an academic!
Running in parallel with my studies was a passion for sport. During the eighties and nineties I competed as an Olympic weightlifter – winning 6 British Championships and representing Great Britain at World and European level. However, at that level in any sport injury is always a threat and in the end my body succumbed to the constant gym tonnage. In 1996, having missed out on any prospect of going to the Atlanta Olympics, I shifted my energy to a professional career.
Starting A Business
Studying science at university during the early 90’s meant witnessing the incredible beginnings of the web. I was immediately hooked – the communication potential of the web was immediately clear to me, but it took a while for ideas to formulate around what I could do to be a part of it. In 1997 I left academia and co-founded Omega Digital Media Ltd – a UK company specialising in professional services for the new digital medium. It was a bold step and looking back I feel like a pioneer of the age – most people just didn’t know what to make of the web at that time. There was no broadband (only 33 kbps modems!) and e-commerce was virtually unheard of – even Google was not founded until a year later. So I spent the next 5 years educating myself and potential customers on the intricacies of “technical marketing” and understand how to sell such services in a non-scientific, more simplified way i.e. grow my business. That was quite a journey for someone with no previous commercial experience. I wish I had done things differently!
Discovering Urchin & Google
I had been working with web metrics since the beginning (using WebTrends), but in 2003 I discovered Urchin Software – a breath of fresh air in terms of setup simplicity and usability for measuring website performance. Blown away by Urchin’s abilities, I wrote my first business whitepaper on its usage, capabilities and potential. It was quite a success in terms of downloads – I had captured a burgeoning need for independent and practical assessment of web measurement tools. The whitepaper came to the attention of the Urchin Software Corporation and later that year my company became the first UK partner for them (#3 in Europe). It was my big break and my business began to grow rapidly.
A year later and Urchin came to the attention of Google who were looking to provide measurement tools to its advertisers. In 2005 Google officially acquired Urchin Software and soon after I was hired as the first Head of Web Analytics for Google Europe. This period was both a fantastic and chaotic time for Google. When I joined Google they had just 3,000 employees in total. This doubled in size (revenue and headcount) year-on-year for the next three years. Literally a logistical nightmare for just about everyone concerned – though also fun to be with the fastest growing company ever. Heady days indeed.
I consider my period at Google as my MBA – a practical, hands-on, sort it out with the best brains in the world MBA. As the first hire for web analytics in Europe, I built up a team of talented people who’s lasting legacy was the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (GAIQ) that has become a cornerstone for GA education and the model for other Google product trainings. I had the privilege to work with some very smart people and met the likes of Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Vint Cerf et al (all surprisingly very accessible in those early days) as well as listen to guest speakers at the Googleplex, such as Malcolm Gladwell, and former US President Jimmy Carter.
Where I Am Now
I left Google in 2008 to focus on writing books and be an analytics practitioner and evangelist again – getting my hands dirty so to speak. I implement data collection strategies for large enterprises. That is, responsibility to ensure the right data is collected (i.e. useful data, not noise), is verified and monitored (data can so easily go bad), and is privacy compliant (think GDPR and ePD). To make this work I help build bridges between Marketers, IT and Legal teams. It’s what I enjoy and I do that to this day with the brilliant team at Search Integration, where I am Director of Analytics. I am also the founder of the software auditing tool verified-data.com.
I have now settled in Sweden with my wife, and two children – my Swedish is not bad nowadays, though I still dream in English. My books have sold over 100,000 copies with the fourth, “Successful Analytics“, published in 2015. I plan a follow up in 202…
Surely nobody has read this far down the page? I will therefore use this space to log the scientific papers written while at Bristol University (for my own vanity):
“Simulation of liquid benzene between two graphite surfaces” (link)
Clifton B, Cosgrove T. MOLECULAR PHYSICS 1998 Vol 93 No5 p767
“The adsorption of tri-block copolymers at the solid-liquid and liquid-liquid interfaces”
Cosgrove T, Shar J, Obey T, Richardson R, Clifton B, et al
ABSTRACTS OF THE AMERICAN CHEM SOC 1996 Vol 212 p153-COLL
“The structure of block copolymers at the fluid/fluid interface” (link)
Clifton B; Cosgrove T; et al Physica B 1998 248 p289
“The structure of block copolymers of ethylene oxide and butylene oxide at fluid/fluid interfaces”
Clifton B; Cosgrove T; et al Aspects Colloidal Dispersions 1998
“Calculation of Silberberg’s Polymer Segmental Adsorption Energy by a Free Space Molecular Modeling Technique”. (link) Clifton B; Cosgrove T; et al Langmuir 1999 15(25) p8659
“Methods for calculating solvent enthalpy of vaporisation values by a molecular modelling technique” Clifton B; Cosgrove T; et al Colloids Surf. 164(2-3) p163