When I was young, we used to take trips to a cabin my grandfather built.  It was a favorite destination because of the potential for adventure everywhere.  One year, adventure came uninvited.  A relatively quick warming in the spring caused a runoff flood that threatened our family cabin.  I remember treading water on what used to be the road leading to the cabin.  After the flood had subsided and our cabin was no longer in danger, we returned to evaluate the damage.  As we looked at the river, we realized that the force of the flood had deposited silt to the point that it took a different course along the canyon floor.  My dad gasped and exclaimed, “That river just changed channels!”  We smiled and replied, “Um, Dad? TV’s are the only things that change channels!”

In the complex online world of today, having a single website is no longer an option.  We may have different websites for our different brands, geographies, subdomains, properties, or categories.  We may want to track departments separately even though they are on the same website.  Often, we will have several microsites created for us by our partners.  Organizations will want to track all of the visitors coming to all of the sites.  However, this may present several challenges from a web analytics perspective as our visitors “change channels” on our websites.  In order to understand the challenge is it important to ask ourselves these questions.

  • Do our visitors crossover between the different sites?
  • How do we want to treat visitors who crossover?
  • Do we want our marketing campaigns to be effective across the different sites?
  • Will our shopping cart share products from multiple sites?

Site Crossover

Our first item of business is to identify whether or not our visitors from different sites will overlap.  For example, if we have a site in the UK as well as in Japan, visitors may not readily jump from one to another.  However, if we have multiple brands on our site and it is easy for visitors to move back and forth between brands, we will want to have a sound tracking architecture in place.  It goes without saying that there should be a standardized data design across the board, even if only for a subset of data points.  One other consideration is whether or not each of these different organizations (brands/geographies/departments) will need to run analysis separately or together or both.  If there is no need for separate reporting, there is no need to introduce unnecessary complexity.

If we have identified the need for crossover tracking between sites, the next step is to determine how we will treat visitors who cross site boundaries.  It is imperative to have a report suite architecture and matching visitor identification strategy that allows for appropriate tracking.  There are several options available for your report suite architecture:

  1. Use a single report suite which allows for visitors and their paths to be tracked uniformly across sites.
  2. Multiple report suites can be used to allow for separation of reporting by site.
  3. The best of both worlds can be had with Multi-suite tagging*.  This allows for click-stream data to be sent to more than one report suite at a time.  This can be accomplished via a comma-separated list of report suite id’s or by using a VISTA rule.

Marketing Channels and Campaigns

How does our multi-site paradigm affect our marketing strategy?  Do we want marketing campaigns and channels to be effective when changing sites?  If we have an overall marketing effort, perhaps it makes sense to analyze our marketing at the global level.  However, if our marketing is decentralized, it may make sense for us to pass marketing information back and forth between individual sites to enable crossover campaign tracking.  One caution: copying the campaign information to subsequent crossover site visits could potentially overwrite previous campaigns that lead directly to the individual site.

One additional data point I would recommend analyzing is the originating sister site.  In essence, this allows us to track intra-site traffic and gives us insight to visitor behavior that is invaluable.  This could be tracked in conjunction with existing marketing campaigns or separately.

Adobe Consulting Services* has plugin solutions that allow us to easily accomplish both of these objectives.

Shared Shopping Cart

Perhaps the most important consideration in crossover analysis for internet retailers is how the shopping cart and purchase data are collected.  Does each of our products logically fit into one of our department/brand report suites?  If so, is it possible to shop for products from each of these departments/brands in the same checkout experience?  If the answer is yes, we will want to carefully consider our report suite architecture.  Multi-Suite Tagging is a great way to get the information into multiple report suites.  However, sending all products may introduce non-matching products into our department/brand report suites.  The best way to handle this scenario is to use a pre-processing (VISTA) rule to remove products that are not applicable.  Adobe Engineering Services* can outline a plan to ensure the appropriate products are represented in the appropriate report suites.

Having multiple sites in your portfolio introduces complexity into any analytics practice, not only from a data collection standpoint, but from an analysis standpoint as well.  Understanding visitors who “change channels” is critical to your online optimization efforts. Choosing the right strategy and architecture is vital to enabling successful analysis and optimization.

* Your Account Manager should be consulted regarding the Multi-Suite Tagging, Adobe Consulting Services, and Adobe Engineering Services.

Have specific questions about Adobe SiteCatalyst?  Want to track a data point on your website, but not sure where to start with the implementation?  Follow me on Twitter @sitecattips Please feel free to leave a comment here or send me an email at adobesitecatalyst (at) adobe.com