On the fly segmentation, additional variables and custom events, display of multiple metrics on a single graph and presentation of unique visitors, visits and page views on all reports are the upgrades that got most folks excited about last week’s preview of SiteCatalyst 15 at the Omniture Summit. My colleague Gary Angel has a nice summary of these features in his recent post.
I thought one of the more interesting upgrades is about what you don’t readily see…how data in SiteCatalyst is processed. In the new version, you will be able to have what appears to be significant more control over how your data is processed as it goes into SiteCatalyst than you do currently, and will likely need to depend less on s_code customization and VISTA rule implementation to achieve this flexibility. This data processing rules control will be available from the Admin interface. What this means in “on the ground” terms is still a bit murky based on the conversations I’ve had with Omniture team, but I like the fact that this is being introduced. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.
SiteCatalyst Data Processing Today
Today, to really control how data is processed in SiteCatalyst, you need to either do a lot of customization on the s_code, as well as pay for expensive VISTA rules. If you’re a SiteCatalyst customer you know that there are roadblock issues associated with both methods.
For s_code modifications, not only do you need to unit test your code, but if you’re in a large enterprise or one that has established IT change control processes, you may need to have the new code go through additional QA as it moves through test and production environments. If you live in this world, you know that this can often take a lot of time and impact your ability to collect data in a timely manner.
VISTA rules allow you to populate multiple variables based on a keyed value in another variable. Internal IP filtering, for example, is a good candidate for a separate VISTA rule. Sites with complicated page hierarchy or intense usage of URL parameters often will use VISTA rules to decipher information in the page URL and populate more user-friendly or analytically useful variables. VISTA can also be used for visitor segmentation purposes, populating visitor information based on source or page URL. Not only are VISTA rules expensive, but you need to contact your Account Manager to set them up.
First Look at SiteCatalyst Admin Based Processing
On first look, the new Admin based processing control will mitigate reliance on both VISTA rules and s_code customization. It isn’t completely clear at this point how much, but it is certainly a step in the right direction for enabling easier implementation and maintenance. This addresses a key sore spot in SiteCatalyst and has certainly been a contributing factor for some organizations to just give up on using it.
If you are a bit concerned about having so much control over your data processing at basically the flip of a switch, you should. If you implement a rule incorrectly you could seriously and irrevocably compromise your data collection and accuracy.
Omniture has considered this as well. Prior to allowing any clients to use the data processing rules dashboard, you will need to be certified by Omniture as an administrator. This will be a new certification. Sure, it’s another money making opportunity for Omniture, but I think this training and certification makes sense.
I think there’s a bit of irony here as well if you have an historical perspective on web analytics. In the “olden” days of enterprise log file analyzers, you really needed a systems administrator to manage the tool for tasks such as log file importing, stitching, and processing (and of course, those that use systems like Webtrends, Urchin and Unica still do). As web analytics migrated away from IT and into Web and online marketing teams (due in large part through analytics vendor changes in sales direction) there has been an emphasis on not having IT involved. Now, we have another example of analytics coming back to having a resource involved who understands how data works and what occurs under the hood with data. Perhaps it isn’t someone in IT, but it must certainly be someone who is more in the weeds than a typical online marketing or web content manager or even a web analyst.
This will be something new to those who have relied on a software as a service model for web analytics. I think it speaks to the need to view digital analytics as a program with its own leadership, governance, and process. If you’d like to read more about how to develop this in your organization, I invite you to take a look at my white paper on managing digital analytics.
P.S - I'll be giving a tutorial on developing business-focused web metrics at the JBoye 11 conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 3 and a conference presentation about the work we've done with The Nature Conservancy. Hope to see you there.
P.P.S - If you're a non-profit, I invite you to take the X Change Web Analytics Challenge.