I have found that one of the rites of passage for SiteCatalyst users is the day that you understand what the heck “Instances” are in SiteCatalyst reports. For those of you who have been through this, you will know what I am talking about. For the rest of you, my hope is that this post will pre-empt your confusion/frustration by explaining what Instances are and why you should not lose sleep over them!
What Are Instances?
So what are instances? Instances is SiteCatalyst’s way of telling you how many times a Conversion Variable has received a value. Doesn’t sound too hard does it (just wait…)? So before we dig deeper, let’s start by coming face-to-face with the Instances metric. To do this, open any eVar report you have in your report suite. Once you have opened the report, click the “Add Metrics” link and you will see a metric named Instances in the list. You can add this metric to the report by itself or alongside other Success Event metrics. Below, I have added the Instances metric to a report showing Blog Post Views for the Blog Post Title eVar. In this case, the Instances metric matches the Blog Post Views metric because that Success Event is set every time, but there will often be cases where an eVar will have Instances (have a value set), but no Success Event takes place:
So what does this report tell you? It is basically saying that, in this example, the value of “Plug-ins [Inside Omniture SiteCatalyst]” was passed to this eVar 217 times. Not all SiteCatalyst users utilize the Instances metric in eVar reports, but there are times when the Instances metric magically transforms into other metrics that are useful which I will describe next.
Instances = Searches
When using SiteCatalyst Search Engine and Search Keyword reports, you may have used the “Searches” metric to see how many searches your site generated from each search engine and keyword. The Searches metric in these reports is really the Instances metric with a different name. It acts just like the Instances metric and can be added to reports as needed. In fact, if you want to see a SiteCatalyst “magic trick,” you can open a report like the one shown above for a custom eVar and then click to a Search Engine or Keyword report and you can see the Instances column name magically change from Instances to Searches (but don’t wait for applause since no one but you will find this terribly exciting!
Instances = Product Views
This same concept applies to Product Views when looking at the Products report. When viewing a Products report, SiteCatalyst renames the Instances metric to “Product Views.” I have seen many clients get confused when they see a new Success Event named Product Views that they don’t recall setting!
Instances = Click-Throughs
Finally, the same concept applies to Click-throughs in the Campaign reports. Click-throughs is the Instances metric in the Tracking Code report and all related campaign Classification reports.
So why am I telling you all of this? Unfortunately, there are times when the Instances metric can cause problems. The following are some problems I have encountered and how you can avoid them.
Instances, as a metric, is not the same as a true custom or pre-defined Success Event (such as Orders or Cart Additions). True Success Event reports have eVar values tied to them when the Success Event is set, but Instances does not. For this reason, as you get more advanced in SiteCatalyst, you may choose to set custom success events instead of relying on the Instances metric. For example, a long time ago, I was trying to create an eVar Subrelation report for a client so I could see credit card product views broken down by City and Age, only to find out that it wouldn’t work since I was using the Instances metric. After thinking about it for a while, it made sense since SiteCatalyst had Instances for City and for Age, but did not have a table defining the intersection of City and Age for Product Views. To create the report that I was looking for, I needed a custom Success Event for Product Views that I set when a visitor viewed a Product Page. Once this was in place, SiteCatalyst would assign the Age and City to that custom success event and I could create subrelation reports to my heart’s content.
Another “gotcha” is that Instances metrics can wreak havoc on Calculated Metrics. This is due to the fact that Instances are tied to the specific report you are looking at. At some point, you may have created a Calculated Metric and see a metric in the list that says “Visits (Report-Specific)” and wondered what that meant. Using what we have learned here, you can see that what this is really saying is that if you are in the Products report and you want to create a Calculated Metric that divides Registrations by Product Views (where you are using the Instances version of the Product Views metric), you can do this, but when you open that Calculated Metric in a Search Engine report, it will really be dividing Registrations by Searches (the Instances metric of that report). In effect, the denominator in this formula will change based upon the report in which you are viewing the Calculated Metric. If you were to add the same Calculated Metric to the City eVar report, you would be viewing Registrations divided by the Instances of each eVar value (Chicago, New York, etc…) in that particular eVar report (I told you Instances can get confusing!).
Let’s clarify this through an example. Let’s say you are looking at the Natural Search Keyword report and viewing Searches and Blog Post Views as shown here:
So in this case, the natural keyword “omniture” drove people to the site 60 times and resulted in 12 Blog Post Views. So now let’s say that we want to create a calculated metric that divides Searches by Blog Post Views. Unfortunately, as shown below, when we attempt to create the calculated metric, you will not see a “Searches” metric in the list since it is really the Instances metric for that report:
However, since we see the “Report-Specific” in parentheses, we know that the numerator will change depending upon what report you are in. Finally, if viewed outside of an eVar report (as a general calculated metric), the metric will default to Visits.
For both of the reasons above, just to be safe, I tend to set custom Success Event metrics for Instances metrics that I plan to use a lot such as Product Views and Campaign Click-throughs.
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