At last year’s Omni­ture Sum­mit, I brought up the topic of Omni­ture Site­Cat­a­lyst “Counter” Con­ver­sion Vari­ables (also known as eVars) and was sur­prised by how many peo­ple were unfa­mil­iar with Counter eVars and/or not using them.  There­fore, I want to take some time to explain what Counter eVars are and when they should be used.  I will also cover some “power user” aspects of this fea­ture for those look­ing to push the enve­lope of their Site­Cat­a­lyst implementation.

What is a Counter eVar?
In a pre­vi­ous post, I dis­cussed the var­i­ous set­tings related to Con­ver­sion Vari­ables (eVars).  One of these set­tings was the “Type” which can be either “Text String” or “Counter.”

About 95% of the time, Con­ver­sion Vari­ables will be “Text String,” but it is impor­tant to under­stand how you use the other “Counter” type.  A Counter eVar is a Con­ver­sion Vari­able that is used to see how many times some­thing hap­pened prior to a web­site Suc­cess Event tak­ing place.  For exam­ple, let’s say that you wanted to see how many inter­nal searches users con­duct prior to plac­ing a prod­uct into the shop­ping cart.  You can back into this num­ber through some advanced analy­sis or for­mu­las, but an eas­ier way to do this would be to use a Counter eVar.  When you use a Counter eVar, you are incre­ment­ing a value in the eVar by “1” each time you set the eVar (until the eVar expires).  For exam­ple, let’s imag­ine that a web­site vis­i­tor comes to the site and con­ducts a search on the phrase “ship­ping.”  At this point the Counter eVar (with an expi­ra­tion of 30 days) is set so the value per­sisted in Site­Cat­a­lyst is “1.0″ for that user.  Now let’s say that this same vis­i­tor comes back the next day and searches on the phrase “Harry Pot­ter.”  Now the Counter eVar would be set again and the value for that vis­i­tor would be “2.0.”  Next, our vis­i­tor adds an item to the shop­ping cart and the “Cart Addi­tions” Suc­cess Event is set.  Since the cur­rent value stored in that user’s eVar is “2.0,” the phrase “2.0″ would get credit for the Cart Addi­tion and we would see a report that looks like this:

How can Counter eVars be used?
There are an infi­nite num­ber of ways that Counter eVars can be used.  Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Track how many cam­paign codes are used prior to a pur­chase tak­ing place
  2. Track how many arti­cles are read prior to reg­is­ter­ing on the site
  3. Track how many blog posts are read prior to sign­ing up for an RSS feed
  4. Track how many flight searches a user con­ducts prior to book­ing travel
  5. Track how many cars a vis­i­tor designs prior to request­ing a quote from a dealer

As you can see through these exam­ples, Counter eVars can be used in many ways and can be use­ful in under­stand­ing how vis­i­tors use your web­site.  This infor­ma­tion can be extremely help­ful in build­ing a good user experience.

Impor­tant Things To Know About Counter eVars
The fol­low­ing are some impor­tant things to know about Counter eVars:

  1. Counter eVars act like all other eVars with respect to expi­ra­tion so they can expire based upon a fixed time­frame or a Suc­cess Event tak­ing place.
  2. You can use Counter eVars in Sub­re­la­tion reports just as you would any other Con­ver­sion Vari­ableFor exam­ple, using the sce­nario above, you may want see which spe­cific inter­nal search terms vis­i­tors searched upon in sit­u­a­tions where it took more than one search to add some­thing to the shop­ping cart.  You would do this by enabling Sub­re­la­tions on one of the Con­ver­sion Vari­ables (I would use the inter­nal search term!) and then you can break the two Con­ver­sion Vari­ables down by each other.  In our pre­ced­ing exam­ple, this would mean see­ing that the phrase “Harry Pot­ter” was the phrase searched upon where searches equals “2.0.”
  3. You can clas­sify Counter eVars just as you would any other Con­ver­sion Vari­able.  Don’t want to see a report with val­ues of “1.00” or “3.00?”  Clas­sify those val­ues using SAINT to see reports where the value is greater than “3” or between “2” and “5”
  4. Counter eVars are very use­ful as seg­ment cri­te­ria in DataWare­house or Dis­cover (i.e. show me all vis­i­tors who per­formed more than two searches, etc…).
  5. While the most com­mon use of Counter eVars is to increment/decrement them by “1” each time they are set, you can incre­ment them by any num­ber you want includ­ing dec­i­mals and neg­a­tive num­bers.  I have not seen much use of this lit­tle known fea­ture, but would love to hear from any­one out there who has exper­i­mented with it.  One idea I have thought about is using it track vis­i­tor engage­ment where you can increase or decrease the user’s engage­ment value through­out their visit based upon what web­site actions they take!

Real-World Exam­ple
In this ver­sion of our real-world exam­ple, our com­pany, Greco Inc. is focus­ing on its auto insur­ance sub­sidiary.  The depart­ment respon­si­ble for the online auto insur­ance quote pages would like to under­stand how often vis­i­tors are per­form­ing mul­ti­ple quotes prior to sub­mis­sion to deter­mine if the user inter­face should be opti­mized for sin­gle quotes or mod­i­fied to encour­age mul­ti­ple quotes per ses­sion.  To do this, they work with IT to set a “# of Quotes” Counter eVar that expires at the end of the Visit.  Each time a vis­i­tor cre­ates a quote, the Counter eVar is set (see imple­men­ta­tion man­ual for code syn­tax).  After col­lect­ing a month’s worth of data, Greco Inc. opens the “#of Quotes” report and adds the “Sub­mit­ted Quotes” Suc­cess Event to see the results:

Based upon this data, it looks like vis­i­tors do pre­fer to com­plete mul­ti­ple quotes prior to sub­mit­ting the final one for approval and that it would behoove Greco Inc. to facil­i­tate this process rather than get­ting in the way of its users’ desired behaviors.

For those of you want­ing “extra credit,” keep in mind that Greco Inc. can use what they learned in our Clas­si­fi­ca­tions post to clas­sify the “# of Quotes” Con­ver­sion Vari­able so that, in the clas­si­fi­ca­tion report, the value of “1.00″ is on its own row and all other val­ues are com­bined into a sin­gle row named “Two or More Quotes” so that it is easy to see the var­i­ous percentages.


Have a ques­tion about any­thing related to Omni­ture Site­Cat­a­lyst?  Is there some­thing on your web­site that you would like to report on, but don’t know how?  Do you have any tips or best prac­tices you want to share?  If so, please leave a com­ment here or send me an e-mail at insidesitecatalyst@​omniture.​com and I will do my best to answer it right here on the blog so every­one can learn! (Don’t worry — I won’t use your name or com­pany name!).  If you are on Twit­ter, you can fol­low me at http://​twit​ter​.com/​O​m​n​i​_​man.
Web Design Norwich
Web Design Norwich

Great to see someone writing about an imporant subject that is often overlooked

Web Design
Web Design

I just came across your blog about and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here. I have a site and it's about web design so I know what I'm talking about when I say your site is top-notch! Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!

Adam Greco
Adam Greco

That is a great example of how to apply this functionality! Way to go!!!

Jason Egan
Jason Egan

Great information Adam. I think that a lot of Omniture customers aren't aware of some of the most interesting features that exist out there. I was in the process of planning the implementation for a new site when I read this, and I've already this into the requirements to understand how many times our visitors are refining search criteria before moving on in the purchase process. Thanks!