Tag Archives: value-driven reporting

How to approach Product Finding Methods

Product Finding Method (PFM) is a valuable custom report used by online retailers to tie Cart Adds and eventual Revenue to how users found the product. Unfortunately, these reports are often poorly configured or misunderstood. It is one of the best use cases for using the Merchandising setting on an eVar, but Merchandising, as a concept, is one of the more complicated topics in implementation.

Primer on Merchandising

In order to tie that PFM value to an individual product, and not the overall visit or visitor, we need to use Merchandising. And since we may not know the eventual product at the time that we know the finding method (for instance, if a user is using internal search, at the time we know they are searching, we don’t know what product they’ll eventually land on), we need to use Conversion Syntax- meaning we set it like a typical eVar (instead of in the products string) but have to configure at what point that eVar should be tied (or “bound”) to a product. Take the following user experience into consideration, where eVar5 is used for Product Finding Methods:


In the above, if I did NOT use Merchandising, my report might look like this, where External Campaign gets credit for everything up until it gets overwritten by Internal Search– at which point Internal Search gets credit for everything, including the entire Purchase event.

PFMnoMerchReportIf I DO use Merchandising, the External Campaign gets credit for whatever happens to the product it was bound to- in this case, the Blue Wug. Then Internal Search gets bound to the Red Wug, and gets credit for whatever happens to the Red Wug product:


We have to be very careful with the binding events (the event that tells Adobe to take whatever value we currently have floating around for that eVar and stick it to the current product), though- merchandising eVars won’t get credit for anything that happens if they are not bound to any product, or if that product isn’t currently present. For instance, in the example above, if you pulled in Internal Searches as a metric in that report, you’d see no PFMs were getting credit for the Internal Search event- even though eVar5 is set on the same page as our search event. That’s because that “Internal Search” value for eVar5 is waiting until a “binding event” to attach it to a product before it will get credit for any metrics, and the “External Campaign” value for eVar5 only gets visibility into things that happen to the product it’s bound to (Blue Wug). No products on the Internal Search page means Conversion-Syntax Merchandising eVars get no credit for the Search event.

How to Plan Your Product Finding Methods

To design your PFM solution, start by thinking of the different ways a client can add an item to their cart. We’ll call these “add to cart location” and give that its own eVar. Typical scenarios are:

  • product details page
  • quick view
  • from wishlist
  • from order history
  • recommendation/cross sell modules

Next, figure out all the ways a user could get to any of those above scenarios. These are Product Finding Methods and should get their own eVar. Typical PFMs include:

  • internal search
  • external site (referrerss and natural search)
  • external campaigns (that take the user directly to the PDP)
  • internal promotion (eg, homepage hero banner)
  • browse (naturally navigating through the menu or breadcrumbs)
  • cross-sell
  • recommendations
  • wishlist
  • order history 

You’ll notice some of your cart add locations may also be product finding methods- that’s ok. Note that Products Detail Page is NOT a PFM- the Product Details page is specific to the product, which is the thing being found not the thing doing the finding.

Both of these eVars will need to be set up for Merchandising (this is set in the Admin console>Report Suites>Edit Settings>Conversion>Conversion Variables). For the Add to Cart Location eVar, since we know the product at the time we know the add to cart location, you can use “product syntax”.


This is preferable because it leaves little room for error and has the easiest configuration. Let’s say I’ve set eVar4 to be my “Add to Cart location” eVar. At the time my user adds any item to their cart, I would set eVar4 (often, you can just set it to the current page’s page type):


But for Product Finding Method, you often don’t know what product the value for our eVar will eventually bind to, so we need to set it to conversion syntax, and we need to carefully consider which events should bind the current PFM value to the current product. Generally, Product View (ideally a custom event, not prodView) and Cart Add suffice as binding events.


DO NOT set to bind on ALL events, as many events happen on your site where your PFM eVar doesn’t have a desirable value.

Next, to implement, we need to figure out where to set each of our PFM values. If you’re using a tag management system like DTM, you can often just piggy back on existing rules for many of your finding methods, but others may need to live in global logic (like in your s_code). See below for a possible configuration.

internal search Set on internal search results page
external site Set in global logic- if no other PFM is present, and the user came from a domain other than your own
external campaigns Set in global logic, if s.campaign is set
internal promotion Set in global logic, if internal campaign eVar is set (or internal campaign query string parameter is present).
browse Set on all Product List Pages and Category pages
cross-sell Set when user clicks or clicks through on a cross-sell module
recommendations Set when user clicks or clicks through on a recommendation module
wishlist Set on Wish List page
order history Set on Order History page

Some folks manage PFM entirely in their s_code or in their (global DTM tool settings) based on whether other variables have been set (“if internal search term eVar has a value, set eVar5 to ‘internal search”‘). For instance, one client has something similar to this, in addition to setting their PFM eVar directly on certain pages (like their List Pages and Category pages, or certain microsites):

//easy way to get just the hostname of the referring site
   var a=document.createElement('a');

if(!s.eVar5){ //if PFM not currently set on the page
   else if(s.eVar10){s.eVar5="internal search"}
   else if(s.eVar23){s.eVar5="recommended product"} 
   else if(s.pageName=="My Account>Wishlist"){s.eVar5="my wishlist"}
   else if(document.referrer==""){s.eVar5="direct or bookmarked"}
   else if(s.refDomain.indexOf("mydomain.com")==-1){s.eVar5="external site"} 
   else if(s.eVar15){s.eVar26="internal campaign"} 


Hopefully, this gives some ideas and examples for how to get valuable reporting on how users are finding and purchasing products on your site. I’d love to hear about potential scenarios or solutions I’ve missed!

Omniture Form Analysis Pitfalls – How to Avoid and Optimize

There is an Omniture plugin, Form Analysis, that will automatically flag which form field a user last touched before abandoning a form. Sounds great, right? This post, which does a great job of going over setting up the plugin, even claims the plugin will make you an office hero! The problem is, this plugin is inherently Evil. And not the good kindof evil. We’d like to tell you how to avoid the evil and keep your Form Analysis on the side of Good.

This plugin is notorious for being implemented incorrectly, and the implications go beyond just one report not working. Since the plugin sends a custom link call (s.tl()) each time a user abandons a form, it has the potential to eat up your secondary server calls (which you pay Omniture for). A recent client of mine has accidentally set one extra secondary server call on every single page view since 2008 because of this plugin. Sending two server calls (one with the click of a link and one on the load of the next page) so close together has been known to cause problems- every once in a while, the two calls compete and only one makes it through to Omniture, decreasing data accuracy. Worst case scenario, the plugin can actually break your form.

And what bugs me most- and this is in no way the fault of the plugin- is that folks use this as a safety crutch: they know they should optimize forms, so they put effort into setting up form tracking, then pat themselves on the back for  job well done. But, feeling comfortable that the data is there, they don’t take it to the next step and actually optimize their forms.

In this situation, you’d be better off skipping the plugin and go right to the “optimize your form” step by using your God-given intelligence. Use common sense. Think like a user: keep forms simple and easy to use. Simply running a plugin or tool will do nothing to improve your forms- remember, brains are more important than tools.

Don’t get me wrong, the plugin has much potential to do good. You just have to put some thought into it. Educate yourself on using this plugin and you can get great value out of it. To help you, here are some implementation pitfalls to avoid:


The configuration of the plugin includes two critical variables:


When trackFormList is set to true, it will only track forms specified (using the form’s HTML “name” attribute) in the formList (if formList is blank, then nothing will be tracked). So far so good. When set to false, the plugin will track every form on your site that is NOT specified in the formList. This includes:

  • User login forms (even if they are on every page)
  • Some asp.net “forms” that are not actually user forms
  • Find-a-location-near-you and other single-field forms
  • And, the biggest culprit: Internal Search forms

So if a user hits a page with an internal search form field without hitting the search “submit” button, that’s one server call to Omniture letting you know a “form” was abandoned. If each page has that internal search field, that’s one server call for every page view on your site. Not only is that information useless to you, it has potentially terrifying billing implications, depending on your contract.


My suggestion? ALWAYS have trackFormList equal to “true”. This will require you going through your site and finding the forms that matter most. Focus on one or two key forms on your site. This isn’t just a work-around to get the plugin to work- it’s a great idea for focusing your analysis efforts and avoiding the Data Squirrel pitfall.


If you do not have the “name” attribute in the HTML <form> tag, the plugin won’t work. And if you do have names but they look like “form134″, it probably won’t have much meaning for you in the reports. And if every form on your site has the same name, the report will be useless. Same goes for form field/input names.
On another note, if your form script references the “this” object at all, the plugin may break your form, or vice versa. Oops. The only way around it is to remove the plugin, or remove the references to “this”.


I’m afraid there is no quick javascript fix here: if you want to automate form abandonment tracking using this plugin, you may have to manually change the “name” attribute of the HTML forms. BUT, if you are focusing on only your 1-2 key forms, as mentioned above, the changes to your HTML should be minimal.


The plugin doesn’t tell you which field was the “turn-off”: it tells you the last field touched, which may be counter-intuitive. For example, on the right is what my form looked like when the user abandoned:

Our friend Mal only made it through the 4th field- the one with the name “email”. The plugin would report this as:


Which might make one think the “email” field was to blame for the abandon, when in truth, he filled out that field successfully and was (presumably) “turned off” by the FOLLOWING field, asking for him to confirm his email- he’s much too busy to waste time by entering the same information twice.


One can get around this by 1)educating users of the report on what the data means (which you should be doing anyways) and/or 2) creating a classification report that says the FOLLOWING field for each item. Either way, please be aware that a report can only give hints- it cannot actually tell you what the user was thinking when they left the form or if they had looked ahead further in the form and were “turned off” by a later field.

Which brings us back to the idea that your brain is a critical part of making this plugin valuable. If you have a form on your site, now is a great time to optimize it. We’ve removed the roadblocks; what’s stopping you?

Collecting Data vs Using Data

You’ve heard of report monkeys—I’m going to tell you about data squirrels. Data squirrels spend lots of energy collecting data; then they hoard it. They carry it around in their cheeks, feeling well-prepared for the winter, but their mouths are so full they can’t process and swallow their hoarded goods.


I’m thinking of one former client who was using nearly every single variable available at the time- virtually every available report in Sitecatalyst was filled with data. According to “Best Practices”, they had a weekly meeting to discuss their implementation and keep it up-to-date- the data was tested, current, and abundant. Their dashboards were vibrant and plentiful. But they were so busy collecting and hoarding data that they had no time to process and analyze it. The idea of taking action on the data was never part of the process.

For all of their effort, how much value do you think they were getting out of their analytics tool?

Sidenote: Data Squirrels and Report Monkeys make great friends. The Squirrel hands data to the Monkey and the Monkey hands “reporting requirements” back to the squirrel. This cycle can go on indefinitely without any real value.

You know what makes the web analyst in me want to go cry in a corner? This all-too-common situation:

A major company spends thousands of dollars and dozens of man-hours on an implementation project to grab and report on some new data. The implementation consultant gets the data, shows them the working reports, signs off on the project, then walks away. Six months later, the company calls the consultant and says “this report doesn’t work anymore, someone disabled the variable five months ago and it took us until now to notice. Can we bring you back on to fix the problem?” (Presumably, so the data can go another 5 months without being used).

If you can go 5 months without looking at a report, why-oh-why did you throw money at someone to make the report available? Sadly I know the answer: it’s easier to throw money at something and feel that sense of accomplishment than it is to spend time analyzing and making potentially risky decisions based on the data.

It’s a lovely feeling to wrap up an implementation and feel like the hard part is done. But if you really want value out of your tool, the work is far from done. Fortunately, the post-implementation work is the fun stuff: the stuff that doesn’t count on your IT department to roll out new code; the stuff that has the potential to realize actual, provable value for your company.

If you must, on the day your implementation project is completed, mark a few hours of time two weeks or one month out to play with the data until you get an action out of it. Schedule a meeting with the analyst-minded folks of your organization and go over the data- NOT to discuss how complete your implementation is, but to discuss what insight the data has given you and what the next steps are. Don’t let USING your data fall down the priority list just because it doesn’t have a project and a budget attached to it.


This may just be a matter of semantics, but as an industry we need to change our mindset from “I want to track…” to any of the following:

  • I want to HYPOTHESIZE…
  • I want to TEST…
  • I want to COMPARE…
  • I want to BRAINSTORM…
  • I want to OPTIMIZE…
  • I want to DECIDE…
  • I want to ACT UPON…

“Tracking” or merely collecting data should never be the goal or even a main focus. ALWAYS implement with this question in mind: “How am I going to USE this data to optimize my site?”

A major healthcare website recently hired an agency with which I am familiar. The client has used Adobe Analytics for years and noticed a few things that were a little off in their reports (have I mentioned how much I hate the Form Analysis plugin?), so they hired this agency to do an implementation audit. As they sign the contract for the implementation audit contract, they say, “You’ll notice we don’t use conversion variables or events, and that’s fine. We’re really content with just the traffic data, just help us make sure the traffic data is coming through properly”. In other words, “This solution worked for us four years ago, please just keep it working as is.”

Oh, how this breaks my heart! Because I know a year from now they might say, “Gee, we’re spending a chunk of money on our web analytics, but we’ve never done a thing with the data. Let’s bring on an expert to help us analyze”. And that expert will say “analyze? analyze what?” Then they’ll need to re-implement, then wait even more time before they have real, actionable data.

If you’re using the same set of reports that you were 18 months ago, you are very likely losing value on your implementation. That is, unless your website hasn’t changed, in which case there may be bigger problems. The web is constantly evolving: so should your site, and so should your implementation.

The problem, of course, is finding a balance between “We don’t need any newfangled reports” and “Let’s track everything in case someday we might need it”.  The best way around this? Any time you are changing your implementation, don’t think of what data you want to track now (again: never think “I want to track”). Think of which reports you’ve actively used in the last 3 months. Think of what reports you will use in the next 3 months. If current reports don’t fall in that list, scrap them or at least hide them from your menu so they don’t distract you.

See what analytics trends are on the rise. Check out some of the top blogs in the industry- particularly your vendor’s blog, like Omniture’s Industry Insights– to see what’s up-and-coming in analytics. If you’re hiring an implementation consultant- either from a vendor or an agency- don’t just tell them what reports you’d like. Ask them which cool reports others having been using. Use their experience. They may be content to take orders or fulfill the requirements of the contract (which are usually made by salespeople, not analysts), but it’s very likely that they have great ideas if you’ll give them a couple hours to incorporate them.

As an implementation consultant, this is something I’ve always struggled with. I get excited by the challenge of finding unique ways to bring in new data. When a client says “I want to track order confirmation numbers broken down by coupon codes with campaign click-throughs as a metric”, my natural inclination is to say “sure, we can do that!” then whip out my javascript editor. And if that report NEVER gets used, I’ll never know unless the client calls me back in.

I write this post as a step in the direction of repentance. I have been a Data Squirrel enabler, and I know it. Learn from my past and don’t allow these mistakes to diminish the value of your implementation.

Challenge: 30 Minutes of Action

Because right now my role is mostly in implementation, it sometimes feels like the world of analytics is nothing but figuring out how to report- either how to get the data in there or how to present it. I want to see some action!

I challenge you all to spend a mere 30 minutes in your tool of choice to find one- just ONE- actionable piece of data, and *here’s the kicker*: actually take steps towards that action (even if it’s just making a plan). I don’t expect the action to only take 30 minutes, but you should definitely be able to find your piece of data and start a plan in that time.

Here are a few ideas that range from simple to ambitious to help you get started:

  • Look at your Error Pages report and fix the most-clicked broken link. If needed, use a pathing report to find the page sending people to your error page. This is practically a freebie.
  • Look at your top internal search keyword. Figure out a way to make content on that topic more easily findable from your homepage. Ask yourself: would this make a good internal promotion?
  • Look at your top 5 highest-traffic landing pages, then see which is converting the least. Make a hypothesis about what could improve (compare to highest-converting page if you need ideas), then make a game plan to A/B test it.
  • See which paid search keyword has the highest bounce rate. Hypothesize on how to make your landing page appeal to users clicking on that keyword more, or reword your keyword so it brings in more qualified traffic. Make an A/B test out of it.
  • Think of the one thing on your site you wish users were doing more of. Now put it in a fall-out report. Find the point of highest abandonment. Hypothesize about why users are falling out. Test it.
  • Find a low-performing call-to-action. Figure out a different way to present it: perhaps a different graphic or reworded text. Test it. (Are you noticing a “test it” theme, here?)test
  • Take your highest-performing campaign. Play with segments until you see who the campaign appeals to the most. Earmark that segment for more marketing efforts. Find a video with a high conversion rate. Feature it in an area with higher visibility.
  • Look at your top Organic Search Terms. Do you see a lot of your brand name in there? Find a high-converting product page and focus some SEO efforts there so you can reach users looking for your products, not your brand.

If you reach the end of your 30 minutes with no action plan, don’t give up. Spend some time finding a recent success or failure. What’s trending up? What’s trending down? Try segmenting the data different ways. Make some theories, then plan some tests. Not to sound like a broken record here, but you can’t go awry with a well-executed test.

Ready, Set, Go!


I’ll happily take suggestions for more ideas, too. I’d love to make one huge long list of your ideas for actionable data.

Ready? Go team!

When you’re done, please come back here and tell me how it went.

PS: If you can’t find one piece of actionable data to move with, then either you need to revamp your implementation, or congratulate yourself on a perfect website and implementation. In which case, you have free time on your hands to volunteer at the Analysis Exchange!