As Adam Greco described long ago, it is easiest to think about a VISTA rule as a way to modify your data – very specifically – after it has been collected, but before it has been processed.  This could involve data manipulation, decryption, campaign modification, moving or copying hits between report suites, or any other number of things.

As a general rule, if you can accomplish something with VISTA, you could achieve the same thing through server-side logic on your own back end or through JavaScript on the client side.  Depending on your particular business needs, VISTA can be a God-send, a requirement, a Band-Aid, or an unnecessary concern, but how do you know which?  I’ll start with some considerations and then share how I’m currently using VISTA in the Omniture Suite.  Considerations first:

1. Business Needs

There are two main kinds of VISTA rules, the standard rule and the database rule (referred to as VISTA and DB VISTA respectively).

The standard VISTA rule follows the general philosophy of “measure twice, cut once.”  With the help of your Account Manager or an Omniture Consultant, you’ll carefully scope the business need, define exactly what it is that you want the VISTA rule to do, and submit the request.

If your business question is dynamic in some way, meaning that it requires the ability for you to make regular updates to your VISTA rule, then you want to consider the database rule.  DB VISTA is just what it sounds like.  Omniture maintains a database and the VISTA rule will perform certain processing based on what’s in it.  In most cases, this database is custom to your needs, but in special cases, it can also be powered off of one of the Omniture-maintained databases (search engines, browsers, etc).

Why is this first in the list of considerations?  Odds are that given the time and development resources, you can probably duplicate a standard VISTA rule on your own.  DB VISTA rules tend toward more advanced business needs and the functionality may be more difficult to duplicate without having a negative impact in other areas (see # 6 below).  If your business needs require something in this territory, the DB VISTA solution might be the simpler route.

2. Timing

VISTA rules are built by Omniture’s Engineering Services team (now a division of Omniture Consulting).  Once scope has been agreed upon and the request has been made, VISTA rules have a 7-10 business day turnaround.  Depending on your organization’s development cycle, that might be ten times faster or slower than you can do it yourself. 

Some Omniture customers will even use a VISTA rule as a temporary solution until they can marshal the internal resources to get changes made to their own code.  If you’re in a rush, a VISTA rule might be just what you need.

3. Ease of Updates

No doubt you are already familiar with how easy it is to make updates to your own website, so let’s focus on the VISTA solutions.  VISTA rules are compiled, housed, and run on Omniture servers.  Engineering Services writes the code, posts the code, and you’ll never have to worry about any of the implementation details.  This has a few important ramifications.

If you’re using something like the Unified Sources VISTA rule, which depends on an Omniture-maintained lookup table, the updates will just happen for you and you won’t have to worry about re-implementing the Channel Manager plug-in when Microsoft launches a new search engine (you know who you are).

DB VISTA rules utilizing your own database are also fairly painless to update, but what about the standard VISTA rules?  This is why I advise you to measure twice and cut once.  If you need an update to a standard VISTA rule, then you’ll talk to your Account Manager or Omniture consultant to kick off the process and the 7-10 business day rule applies again.

4. Persistence/Cookies

VISTA rules run on every hit and are completely state-less meaning, that it doesn’t remember things from one page to another.  If the particular question you need an answer for involves remembering things across multiple pages or visits, then VISTA will not be able to completely meet your needs.

VISTA can still be a part of the solution if needed, but you may have to control the cookie/session logic and persistence on your own servers.  Then you can pass certain values to VISTA in a pre-defined way in order to trigger the desired processing.

5. Validation/Debugging

There are a number of standard VISTA rules that are quite popular for one reason or another.  For these rules, the implementation and validation process is pretty straightforward.  On the other hand, some are completely custom to a particular business need and from start to finish require custom scoping, development, testing, and validation.

The complexity increases if you have more than one VISTA rule affecting the same data points, and it can be challenging to trace these back to their source (since the code is not where you can see it – point #3).  If you’re seeing unexpected results in your dev suite while performing this validation, it’s likely that you’ll need help from ClientCare or your consultant to help you through this phase.

6. User Experience

Sometimes what you need to do isn’t particularly difficult or complex, but you’d like to avoid doing it in JavaScript because 1) it would add a lot of weight to your .js file, 2) it would be processor intensive, or 3) insert your own reason here.  Increasing load times and impacting the user experience for analytics sake is usually frowned on by most people I know, so if you have these concerns, look no further. 

VISTA processing happens asynchronously after the data is collected, so you don’t need to incur either of these costs at run-time.

VISTA in the Omniture Suite

So what do we use VISTA for in the Omniture Suite?  There are a few in place and a few more that I’ll be adding shortly.

  • IP Exclusion: we move hits from internal IP addresses to a internal report suite (I’ll write another day about report suite architecture)
  • Monitoring Agents: we move hits from Gomez, WASP, and other monitoring tools into a junk report suite
  • Copying Props to Evars: it can easily be done in JavaScript, but it doing it with the VISTA engine helps keep the code cleaner and the length the request URLs under control
  • Copying our Geosegmentation data into evars
  • Time Parting, to keep track of time of day and day of week

Feel free to email me if you have questions about applying VISTA to your business needs.  If you think that a VISTA rule might be right for you, con
tact your Account Manager or your Omniture Consultant to get the ball rolling.

For those in the audience who’ve done this before, let us know what you’re using VISTA for.

Photo Credits: 1. Darrren Hester, 2. nicolasnova, 3. Jason Gulledge, 4. aresauburn, 5. Gerald Yuvallos, 6. Paul Veugen.

Ben Robison
Ben Robison

As of today, there is also a list of popular VISTA rules in the Help section. Login to the Omniture Suite, then click Help > Supporting Docs > Implementation > VISTA.