Visits in Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics (Omniture SiteCatalyst)
Have you ever created an advanced segment in SiteCatalyst 15, and noticed that additional traffic sources besides what you filtered for are still appearing in reports? For example, let’s say I create a segment in SiteCatalyst 15 to filter for visits that contain “facebook” in the referrer:
Then you go to look at your Referrers report under the Traffic Sources section, expecting to see only traffic from Facebook, and lo and behold – you can see traffic from all sorts of other referring domains! In the example below, the Referring Domains report shows direct traffic, Yahoo! traffic, and traffic from shortstack.com as well as facebook.com, even though we have a Facebook traffic advanced segment (shown above) turned on. (Click the image to enlarge.)
So why does this happen? If you’re asking this question, I have to assume that you’re used to the way traffic from Google Analytics works. I’ll explain the difference between Google Analytics and SiteCatalyst on this below, but first we need to have a conversation about how web analytics tools “see” your traffic on the web.
Every time you load a page on the web, it’s kind of like scanning your food at the grocery store. Bear with me. Imagine you are surfing the web, and you land on Zappos.com’s homepage. You now have a set of cookies associated with that page view, that has data like where you came from, a time stamp which page you viewed, and so on. This is just like how when you scan a can of pineapple at the store, the SKU tells the register all about the food you are buying. How many ounces the can is, whether it’s sliced or diced pineapple, which brand… you get the idea.
So you land on Zappos.com’s homepage. Boop! Then you click on the link for women’s shoes and hit that page. Boop! Then you go to the “heels” page. Boop! Then the amazing Giuseppe Zanotti pair that you haven’t seen yet, must be part of their spring line. Boop! (I’m a size 8, in case anyone was wondering. Hint hint.)
Here’s what that looks like from the point of view of your “register” in this metaphor, your web analytics tool:
So imagine each of the above web pages is a “product” that you’re checking out at the grocery store. Seems fairly simple, right? Well in reality we’re leaving out a few steps here.
It happens all the time when you’re at the grocery store – you finish your shopping, and then you realize five minutes later that you forgot to buy something crucial (usually just as you’ve finished loading all the groceries in the car). Then you have to run back in and get it, and have a silly little embarrassing chat with the cashier.
Web users do this too – on any given night I might surf Zappos.com looking at cute shoes, write a blog entry for work, check Facebook, and then go back to surfing Zappos.com some more after clicking an ad on Facebook. So in reality my data looks like this (you can click for a larger image):
I removed the time stamp piece from this example, just for now, to make the above easier to read. (I have another blog entry about time stamps and their effect on Google Analytics traffic).
You’ll also notice I colored two of the squares above red. If I work at Zappos and am looking at Zappos.com’s analytics (which I’m not in reality, they are not a client of mine – just a favorite example), then I won’t have access to the data for facebook.com or location3.com, regardless of whether I’m using Google Analytics or SiteCatalyst. However they are important to note. Notice how the traffic sources for the zappos.com data are now Google Organic and Facebook.
So where does the difference come in? I’m getting there! Both Google Analytics and Adobe SiteCatalyst have a 30 minute timeout rule for measuring visits. So for example, in the scenario below, both tools would see the blue squares as separate visits.
However, what if only five minutes pass between the two blue page views? Like below:
Google Analytics sees the above scenario as two visits, because you have left the site. Google’s official documentation on this states that a visit in Google Analytics ends after 30 minutes of inactivity, after midnight (which is an odd one to me), or after “you arrive at the site via one campaign, leave, and then come back to the site via another campaign.” However this isn’t entirely factual – even if you leave and return via the same campaign, Google Analytics will see the returning page view as a new visit – I tested to make sure!
SiteCatalyst is very different in this scenario. Even though the user has left the site, according to SiteCatalyst, they are still within the 30 minute window so the second page view is seen as part of the same visit. Because of this, visits in SiteCatalyst may have two or more referring sources.
SiteCatalyst does offer data on the original referring domain, which would be only Google in the example above. That’s another thing – Google Analytics would not consider Google organic to be a “referrer,” while SiteCatalyst sees it as both a referrer and a search engine.
For some web analysts, SiteCatalyst’s method may be considered to be less intuitive. Meanwhile, others find it to be more logical, with the thought being that you are having a continued engagement with that web brand and experience, regardless of a short “break” between page views. My take on it is that both tools can be powerful, but you need to make sure you understand them before you use them.
Any questions? Drop ’em below and we’ll get to them ASAP!