New tool: PocketSDR Mobile App for Adobe Analytics

I mentioned in my previous post that one of the reason I’m going “independent” is to have more time to work on products and pet projects. One of those ongoing projects of mine has been a mobile app you can use to keep your Adobe Analytics SDR/Variable Map easily accessible on your phone.
   
Get it on Google Play
The first release of this actually went out in August 2016, but I didn’t let anyone know because I felt it was still too “beta” and I wanted to clean it up before making it more publicly known. A year and a half later (and various framework upgrades that required redoing the whole thing… each time learning and applying those learnings), I got it to a point where I don’t feel ashamed to share it, though of course there is always room for more improvement.

To use the app, you will need your Adobe Analytics Web Services API key. And since no one wants to enter their 32-digit API Key into their mobile device, this newest version of the app allows you to enter your API key on the web (meaning you can copy-and-paste on your desktop machine) then get a link that will allow your mobile device to open the app with those credentials already entered. I highly recommend using that API Shortcut tool before diving into the app.

I created the app for a few reasons:

  • As with the beacon parser, the main reason was because I wished a tool like this existed and figured if I was going to make it for myself, I may as well let other people use it too.
  • I have a web development background, and wanted to learn more about developing for Mobile Apps. I’ll admit on this front, I cheated a bit: rather than learning multiple native app languages (like Swift or C++), I used the Ionic Framework, which let me program the app using Angular (which fits with my JS/HTML background better than native languages), then use Cordova to turn it into a Mobile App. Still, I did get to learn a lot about mobile development in general, analytics options within mobile, and the release cycle for mobile development (I can’t just save a file and FTP it to my server), not to mention Angular 1/2 and typescript.
  • I needed a situation in which I could test out analytics tracking in various Single-Page App scenarios (yay Angular).
  • Because at heart, I am a developer. While I enjoy helping clients sort out governance and documentation issues, sometimes I just want to retreat to my basement and do some coding, for that straight-forward validation of seeing your code work in real-time. It’s good to keep those skills alive.

All in all, I learned so much. And I’ve already used the app quite a bit to keep track of my client’s Variable Maps (“what did we use event40 for? Oh yeah!”) However, I’m not a professional mobile developer, and this project was done entirely in my evenings/PTO as a learning exercise that happened to create a useable product. So please be forgiving of any thing in the app that is less-than-ideal; there is a reason I’m not charging for the app at all. I will continue working on improvements, particularly with an eye for performance (I’m looking at you, Android….) and I’m already aware of potential aesthetic issues on iPhone X. Please let me know of any other feedback or suggestions- I’d love to hear what you think!

P.S. Before anyone asks why I didn’t use the Adobe API OAuth2 Authentication, I thought about it, and may yet move to using that, but have concerns about how that works for marketing cloud AND non-marketing cloud logins. That, and the API documentation is… lacking… so I decided for now to stick with what I know. If anyone has experience with OAuth2 authentication and wants to discuss, please reach out. 

P.P.S. A special thanks to my beta testers!

Exciting News: Self-Employment!

Bilbo Going on an Adventure

I’ve finally made the leap, and am now consulting as my own independent entity. I’ve worked at many wonderful consulting agencies over the years and happily still have a good relationship with each of them, but for some time now I’ve wanted to move more and more into building products. Unfortunately, thus far no one has wanted to hire me as a junior Product Manager or Developer for anywhere near the same salary I’ve been getting as a Principal Consultant, so in order to pursue my product dreams, I needed to reduce my commitment to consulting and find a more flexible arrangement.
I will continue consulting, because I want to stay informed and have current practical experience with implementation (plus I got to keep paying my bills). But without an agency as a “go between”, I can work fewer billable hours and have more time to work on products and projects. Don’t get me wrong: agencies as a “go between” provide a lot of value: I won’t pretend to not be daunted by marketing, sales contracts, benefits and taxes. But thus far, it’s been a great growing experience for me. And I’m lucky to have a very supportive network as I branch into the unknown.

So now I have a chance to work on some other projects, like fixing up/modernizing the beacon parser, and other projects I’ll post about shortly (stay tuned!) I’ll also continue working with Cognetik for a few exciting initiatives they have going on, so you will see me on their blog still occasionally. And there are some other agencies I’m eager to work with still if it doesn’t interfere with my product dreams, so this may or may not last long.

I already have a good amount of independent work to keep me busy for the next few months, so this post isn’t me necessarily soliciting for more work (unless you happen to have the PERFECT project for me, in which case, let’s talk!) But if you want to talk about products and opportunities, please reach out! I’m now at jenn@digitalDataTactics.com.

Coming to Adobe Summit 2017

adobe-su-1024x454I’ll be at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas next week, Monday March 19th through Friday March 24th. If you happen to be out that way, shoot me a comment here and hopefully we can meet up! I’ll be attending a lot of the DTM sessions and will be ready to help folks understand what the DTM updates mean for them.
I’ll also be presenting at Un-Summit at UNLV on Monday, speaking about Marketing Innovation and Cognetik’s new tableau data connector. Come check it out!

Cross-post: Intro to Building a Strong Analytics Practice

I’m blogging again! I’m doing a series over on the Cognetik blog on how to build a Successful Analytics Practice.  Here is a cross-post of the intro:

Who’s driving this thing?

Our industry is full of intelligent, motivated people. Yet it feels like so often, for the amount of effort and thought we put into our Analytics solutions, we never quite get the full value that we know is there. As an analytics/data engineer, most of the work that comes across my desk is very tactical- deep-dive audits, technical specifications, configuring variables, setting up dashboards… these are all very valid and worthy activities, yet I still often hear frustration from my clients such as:

  • We have a hard time getting others within our company to see the value and potential in our analytics.
  • I want to use new tool features but upgrading will take too much effort.
  • Many teams in my organization interact with data, but they all work in silos.
  • It takes too long to get access to requested data.
  • My organization’s report usage is scattered and doesn’t align with global KPIs.
  • I need to apply my existing solution to a new site but I can’t find documentation on my current solution.
  • We’re not collecting the data I actually need for analysis.
  • We have so many new initiatives and works-in-progress, I don’t know which data I can trust.
  • Training users and developers on our implementation or toolset uses too many resources.
  • We collect a lot of data but I rarely get to see a report.

So what’s missing? For all the effort we put into designing solutions, implementing code, and configuring dashboards, what is stopping us from providing more value with our data?

I think often the problem is a lack of central leadership providing a foundation to work on. Now, I don’t mean to say our industry is lacking in leaders… far from it. But the problem is those leaders often aren’t given the resources or the permission to transform their org. So we end up with “lots of people in the car, but no one in the driver’s seat”. Because of how fast our industry has grown, Analytics practices have popped up in every organization, often organically and without much long-term planning. This leads to all those intelligent and motivated people working in silos, without a united focus or the resources to apply a global vision.

What’s the answer?

Each of these problems could be solved with the right Governance Model in place. That means consciously establishing roles, ownership, accountability, processes, and communication. Analytics should be a pro-active part of your organization, not an after thought. I’ll be posting a three-party series on how to get the ball rolling on establishing a healthy Analytics Practice:

Career changes and exciting opportunities

cognetik_logo-01

In an unexpected surprise for many (including myself) a few weeks ago I left Adobe and joined the team at Cognetik as a Principal Analytics Engineer. I’ll continue doing much of the same kind of work I’ve been doing- Analytics (now including Google Analytics again), Tag Management (not just DTM), data layers, governance, coding, building occasional tools on the side… the full gamut.

I love the team (and the products) at Adobe, and it wasn’t easy leaving them, but I’m content that in such a small industry, I’m bound to work with many of them again. And I’m very excited about this new opportunity: Cognetik is doing some incredible work for some exciting clients, and I’m thrilled to be in a position to offer a lot of value to my clients.

I’m also excited to be a part of the team building the Cognetik Product, a data visualization and insights tool that is unlike any other I’ve seen or worked with. I’ll be keeping up the blog, of course, and my various DTM enablement materials. I’m also on the #measure slack channel.

For those who I know because of my role at Adobe, it was a great experience, and I hope to stay in touch! Here’s to working in a fantastic and ever-evolving industry, full of smart, passionate people finding new ways to answer old questions.

Deploying Google Marketing Tags Asyncronously through DTM

I had posted previously about how to deploy marketing tags asynchronously through DTM, but Google Remarketing tags add an extra consideration: Google actually has a separate script to use if you want to deploy asynchronously. The idea is, you could reference the overall async script at the top of your page, then at any point later on, you would fire google_trackConversion to send your pixel. However, this is done slightly differently when you need your reference to that async script file to happen in the same code block as your pixel… you have to make sure the script has had a chance to load before you fire that trackConversion method, or you’ll get an error that “google_trackConversion is undefined”.

Below is an example of how I’ve done that in DTM.

//first, get the async google script, and make sure it has loaded
var dtmGOOGLE = document.createElement('SCRIPT');
var done = false;

dtmGOOGLE.setAttribute('src', '//www.googleadservices.com/pagead/conversion_async.js');
dtmGOOGLE.setAttribute('type','text/javascript');

document.body.appendChild(dtmGOOGLE);
dtmGOOGLE.onload = dtmGOOGLE.onreadystatechange = function () {
 if(!done && (!this.readyState || this.readyState === "loaded" || this.readyState === "complete")) {
 done = true;
 callback();

 // Handle memory leak in IE
 dtmGOOGLE.onload = dtmGOOGLE.onreadystatechange = null;
 document.body.removeChild(dtmGOOGLE);
 }
};

//then, create that pixel
function callback(){
 if(done){ 
 /* <![CDATA[ */
 window.google_trackConversion({
 google_conversion_id : 12345789,
 google_custom_params : window.google_tag_params,
 google_remarketing_only : true
 });
 //]]> 
 }
}

Why (and why not) use a Data Layer?

What’s a Data Layer?

Tag Management Systems can get data a variety of ways. For instance in DTM you can use query string parameters, meta tags, or cookie values- but in general, data for most variables comes from one of two sources:

  • To really take advantage of a tag management system like DTM, I may choose to scrape the DOM. I’m gonna call this the MacGyver approach. This uses the existing HTML and styles on a site to For instance, DTM could use CSS selectors to pull the values out of a <div> with the class of “breadcrumb”, and end up with a value like “electronics>televisions>wide-screen”. This relies on my site having a reliable CSS structure, and there being elements on the page that include the values we need for reporting.
  • If I want even more flexibility, control and predictability, I may work with developers to create a data layer. They would create a JavaScript object, such as “universal_variable.pageName”, and give it a value based on our reporting needs, like “electronics | televisions | wide-screen > product list”. This gives greater control and flexibility for reporting, but requires developers to create JavaScript objects on the pages.

Conceptually speaking, a data layer is page-specific (but tool-agnostic) metadata that describes the page and the actions a user may take on it. Practically speaking, a data layer typically consists of a JavaScript object that contains all of the values we’d want to report on for a given page or user.

Data layers are important because they save developers time by allowing them to abstract out the metadata into a tool-agnostic syntax that a TMS like DTM can then ingest and set as data elements. Whereas once I would have told IT “please set s.prop5 and s.eVar5 to the search term on a search results page, and set s.events to event20” now I can just say “please put the search term in a javascript object such as digitalData.page.onsiteSearchTerm and tell me what object it is.” Then the TMS administrators could easily map that to the right variables from there.

You can see an example data layer if you’d like, or you can pull open a developer console for this very blog and look at the object “digitalDataDDT” to see the data layer that is automatically created from Search Discovery’s wordpress plugin.

Why a Data Layer?

My friends at 33 Sticks also have a great blog post on the subject, but I’ll list out some of the reasons I prefer clients to use a Data Layer. To me, it’s an upfront investment for a scalable, easily maintained implementation going forward. It does mean more work upfront- you have to first design the data layer to make sure it covers your reporting requirements, then you’ll need developers to add that to your site. But beyond those upfront tasks, configuration in your TMS will be much simpler, and it will save you many hours of CSS guess work and DOM scraping, and it may prevent broken reporting down the line.

    Upfront LOE Maintenance LOE
Route Amount of Control Dev Analytics Dev Analytics
Old fashioned “page on code” Medium Heavy Heavy Heavy Heavy
DTM + “Macgyver” Low Minimal Heavy Minimal Heavy
DTM + Data Layer High Heavy Medium Minimal Minimal

Another potential benefit to a Data Layer is that more and more supplementary tools know how to use them now. For instance, Observepoint’s site scanning tool can now return data on not just your Analytics and Marketing beacons, but on your Data Layer as well. And one of my favorite debugging tools, Dataslayer, can return both your beacons and your data layer to your console, so if something is breaking down, you can tell if it’s a data layer issue or a TMS issue.

Ask Yourself

Below are some questions to ask yourself when considering using a data layer:

How often does the code on the site change? If the DOM/HTML of the site changes frequently, you don’t want to rely on CSS selectors. I’ve had many clients have reports randomly break, and after much debugging we realized the problem was the developers changed the code without knowing it would affect analytics. It’s easier to tell developers to put a data layer object on a page then leave it alone, than it is to tell them to not change their HTML/CSS.

How CSS-savvy is your TMS team? If you have someone on your team who is comfortable navigating a DOM using CSS, then you may be able to get away without a data layer a little more easily… but plan on that CSS-savvy resource spending a lot of time in your TMS.  I’ll admit, I enjoy DOM-scraping, and have spent a LOT of time doing it. But I recognize that while it seems like a simple short-term fix, it rarely simplifies things in the long run.

How many pages/page types are on the site? A very complicated site is hard to manage through CSS- you have to familiarize yourself with the DOM of every page type.

How are CSS styles laid out? Are they clean, systematic, and fairly permanent? Clearly, the cleaner the DOM, the easier it is to scrape it.

How often are new pages or new site functionality released? Sites that role out new microsites or site functionality frequently would need a CSS-savvy person setting up their DTM for every change. Alternatively, relying on a data layer requires a data-layer-savvy developer on any new pages/site/functionality. It is often easier to write a solid Data Layer tech spec for developers to reference for projects going forward than to figure out CSS selectors for every new site/page/functionality.

How much link-tracking/post-page-load tracking do you have on your site? If you do need to track a lot of user actions beyond just page loads, involving IT to make sure you are tracking the right things (instead of trying to scrape things out of the HTML) can be extremely valuable. See my post on ways to get around relying on CSS for event-based rules for more info on options.

What is the turn-around time for the developers? Many clients move to DTM specifically because they can’t work easily within their dev team to set up analytics. A development-driven data layer may take many months to set up, stage, QA, and publish. Then if changes are needed, the process starts again. It may be worth going through the lengthy process initially, but if changes are frequently needed in this implementation, you may find yourself relying more on the DOM.

Are there other analytics/marketing tag vendors that may use a data layer? You may be able to hit two birds with one stone by creating a data layer that multiple tools can use.

Have you previously used another tag management system? Often, a data layer set up for a different tool can be used by DTM. Similarly, if the client ever moves away from DTM, their data layer can travel with them.

Does the site have jQuery? The jQuery library has many methods that help with CSS selectors (such as .parent, .child, .closest, .is, .closest…). A CSS-selector-based implementation may be more difficult without jQuery or a similar javascript library.

Who should create my Data Layer?

Ideally, your data layer should be created by your IT/developers… or at bare minimum, developers should be heavily involved. They may be able to hook into existing data in your CMS (for instance, if you use Adobe Experience Manager you can use the Context Hub as the basis for your data layer), or they may already have ideas for how they want to deploy. Your data layer should not be specific to just your Analytics solution; it should be seen as the basis of all things having to do with “data” on your site.

Yet frequently, for lack of IT investment, the analytics team will end up defining the data layer and dictating it to IT. These days, that’s what most Tech Specs consist of: instructions to developers on how to build a data layer. Usually, external documentation on data layers (like from consulting agencies) will be based on the W3C standard.

The W3C (with a task force including folks from Adobe, Ensighten, Microsoft, IBM…) has introduced a tool-agnostic data layer standard that can be used by many tools and vendors. The specifications for this can be found on the W3C site, and many resources exist already with examples. Adobe Consulting often proposes using the W3C as a starting point, if you don’t have any other plans. However, in my experience, generally that W3C is just a starting point. Some people don’t like the way the W3C is designed and most everyone needs to add on to it. For example, folks might ask:

  • why is “onsiteSearchTerms” part of digitalData.page? Can I put it instead in something I made up, like digitalData.search?
  • I want to track “planType”- the W3C didn’t plan for that, so can I just put it somewhere logical like digitalData.transaction?
  • I don’t need “digitalData.product” to be in an array- can I just make that a simple object.

The answer is: yes. You can tweak that standard to your heart’s delight. Just please, PLEASE, document it, and be aware that some tools will be built with the official standard in mind.

The Phased Approach

Many folks adopt a TMS specifically because they don’t want to have to go through IT release cycles to make changes to their implementation. You can still use a TMS to get a lot of what you need for reporting without a data layer and without a ton of CSS work. It may be worthwhile to put a “bare minimum” TMS deployment on your site to start getting the out of the box reports and any reports that don’t require a data layer (like something based on a plugin such as getTimeParting), then to fill in the data layer as you are able. I’d be wary though, because sometimes once that “bare minimum” reporting is in place, it can be easy to be complacent and lose some of the urgency behind getting a thorough solution implemented correctly from the start.

Conclusion

I fully understand that a properly designed data layer is a lot of work, but in my experience, there is going to be a lot of effort with or without a data layer- you can choose for that effort to be upfront in the planning and initial implementation, or you can plan on more longterm maintenance.

Should I have one DTM property, or many?

It’s common for a company in DTM to have multiple sites/groups/regions they want to deploy DTM on. One of the more important decisions you can make, early on, is whether to keep those different sites as separate properties, or keep them in a single DTM property. I know future iterations of the DTM tool will make up for some of the current issues we run up against when using multiple properties, but for now my advice is to keep as few properties as possible- it’s so much easier to maintain.

Note: Your properties in DTM are NOT related to your Adobe Analytics login companies or Report Suites- one property can go to many report suites (with custom logic in the s_code) or many properties can feed into the same report suite. So instead, you should consider the following:

How similar are the implementations?

Will the sites all have the same source for data, like a data layer, or CSS selectors? Do they use the same general analytics variable map (eg, “eVar15 is always search terms”)? Will they generally use the same third party tags? Do they all use Adobe Target or other DTM tools?

If your sites are similar and you want to keep separate properties, you can in theory set up one property and get it configured just right, then copy your rules and data elements over to all the other properties. But be warned: after rules are copied, if you need to update that rule, you must update all its copies too. To be honest, this can be beastly to maintain. I’ve seen it work, but only if folks use documentation to note what changes have happened where.
Imagine you want to add a new variable to your Search Results page, and you have 6 properties that have similar Search Results rules- you’d need to make that change in all 6 properties, and approve and publish in 6 places.
If, however, of your 6 sites, only 3 have a search results page, and all of them are pulling the search term out of a different query string parameter- then you’re going to be maintaining 6 separate rules anyways, and there is no benefit to keeping one property.

Another big consideration are the tools for each site. Tools in DTM are generally intended to be deployed on ALL pages using that DTM property- meaning you can’t turn on Target or the Marketing Cloud service for just one portion of a property. For Adobe Analytics, you can suppress the tool on certain pages, but in general, plan on Tools in DTM running on every page, without being able to suppress them for certain pages.

How similar are the publication timelines?

Will one site go live with the Analytics tool sooner than another? Does another site have a lengthy QA process?  Would it be ok to publish changes in DTM that will push out to all sites at once?

If Site B will have their old Analytics implementation removed from their site and ready for DTM to take over in June, and Site B won’t be ready until August, then you’d need to plan things very carefully in DTM. If the plan to transition to DTM really varies between your sites, then you may want to keep separate properties, at least for now. Perhaps in the future you could merge them back together.

Who will be doing the DTM work for each site?

Will the person implementing/administering DTM for one site be the same as for another site? Are you concerned about someone adding third party tags for site B having access to rules that could apply to site A? 

Within a company, you can use groups to restrict Users to certain properties. So you could say “Joe should only have access to Site B” if Site B is its own property.

Within a property, you can use groups to restrict Users to certain tools (for instance, you can give someone access to Third Party Tags but not to Adobe Analytics). You cannot, however, restrict certain rules- you can’t say “Joe can edit the homepage rule, but not purchase confirmation”.

On a side note, you can not restrict Admin access- if someone needs to make changes to tools, manage users, or view embed codes, that someone will have admin access for your whole company. So you can’t say “Joe should have access to the embed options for Site A but not Site B”.

Conclusion

If your sites are at all similar in their implementation, I think it’s worth it to try to make a single property work, but I definitely understand there are situations in which you must keep separate properties. Hopefully this post will help you decide on the best possible arrangement for your company.