Counter eVars [Inside Omniture SiteCatalyst]

At last year’s Omniture Summit, I brought up the topic of Omniture SiteCatalyst “Counter” Conversion Variables (also known as eVars) and was surprised by how many people were unfamiliar with Counter eVars and/or not using them. Therefore, I want to take some time to explain what Counter eVars are and when they should be used. I will also cover some “power user” aspects of this feature for those looking to push the envelope of their SiteCatalyst implementation.

**What is a Counter eVar?
**In a previous post, I discussed the various settings related to Conversion Variables (eVars). One of these settings was the “Type” which can be either “Text String” or “Counter.”

About 95% of the time, Conversion Variables will be “Text String,” but it is important to understand how you use the other “Counter” type. A Counter eVar is a Conversion Variable that is used to see how many times something happened prior to a website Success Event taking place. For example, let’s say that you wanted to see how many internal searches users conduct prior to placing a product into the shopping cart. You can back into this number through some advanced analysis or formulas, but an easier way to do this would be to use a Counter eVar. When you use a Counter eVar, you are incrementing a value in the eVar by “1” each time you set the eVar (until the eVar expires). For example, let’s imagine that a website visitor comes to the site and conducts a search on the phrase “shipping.” At this point the Counter eVar (with an expiration of 30 days) is set so the value persisted in SiteCatalyst is “1.0” for that user. Now let’s say that this same visitor comes back the next day and searches on the phrase “Harry Potter.” Now the Counter eVar would be set again and the value for that visitor would be “2.0.” Next, our visitor adds an item to the shopping cart and the “Cart Additions” Success Event is set. Since the current value stored in that user’s eVar is “2.0,” the phrase “2.0” would get credit for the Cart Addition and we would see a report that looks like this:

**How can Counter eVars be used?
**There are an infinite number of ways that Counter eVars can be used. Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Track how many campaign codes are used prior to a purchase taking place
  2. Track how many articles are read prior to registering on the site
  3. Track how many blog posts are read prior to signing up for an RSS feed
  4. Track how many flight searches a user conducts prior to booking travel
  5. Track how many cars a visitor designs prior to requesting a quote from a dealer

As you can see through these examples, Counter eVars can be used in many ways and can be useful in understanding how visitors use your website. This information can be extremely helpful in building a good user experience.

**Important Things To Know About Counter eVars
**The following are some important things to know about Counter eVars:

  1. Counter eVars act like all other eVars with respect to expiration so they can expire based upon a fixed timeframe or a Success Event taking place.
  2. You can use Counter eVars in Subrelation reports just as you would any other Conversion Variable. For example, using the scenario above, you may want see which specific internal search terms visitors searched upon in situations where it took more than one search to add something to the shopping cart. You would do this by enabling Subrelations on one of the Conversion Variables (I would use the internal search term!) and then you can break the two Conversion Variables down by each other. In our preceding example, this would mean seeing that the phrase “Harry Potter” was the phrase searched upon where searches equals “2.0.”
  3. You can classify Counter eVars just as you would any other Conversion Variable. Don’t want to see a report with values of “1.00” or “3.00?” Classify those values using SAINT to see reports where the value is greater than “3” or between “2” and “5”
  4. Counter eVars are very useful as segment criteria in DataWarehouse or Discover (i.e. show me all visitors who performed more than two searches, etc…).
  5. While the most common use of Counter eVars is to increment/decrement them by “1” each time they are set, you can increment them by any number you want including decimals and negative numbers. I have not seen much use of this little known feature, but would love to hear from anyone out there who has experimented with it. One idea I have thought about is using it track visitor engagement where you can increase or decrease the user’s engagement value throughout their visit based upon what website actions they take!

**Real-World Example
**In this version of our real-world example, our company, Greco Inc. is focusing on its auto insurance subsidiary. The department responsible for the online auto insurance quote pages would like to understand how often visitors are performing multiple quotes prior to submission to determine if the user interface should be optimized for single quotes or modified to encourage multiple quotes per session. To do this, they work with IT to set a “# of Quotes” Counter eVar that expires at the end of the Visit. Each time a visitor creates a quote, the Counter eVar is set (see implementation manual for code syntax). After collecting a month’s worth of data, Greco Inc. opens the “#of Quotes” report and adds the “Submitted Quotes” Success Event to see the results:

Based upon this data, it looks like visitors do prefer to complete multiple quotes prior to submitting the final one for approval and that it would behoove Greco Inc. to facilitate this process rather than getting in the way of its users’ desired behaviors.

For those of you wanting “extra credit,” keep in mind that Greco Inc. can use what they learned in our Classifications post to classify the “# of Quotes” Conversion Variable so that, in the classification report, the value of “1.00” is on its own row and all other values are combined into a single row named “Two or More Quotes” so that it is easy to see the various percentages.

Have a question about anything related to Omniture SiteCatalyst? Is there something on your website that you would like to report on, but don’t know how? Do you have any tips or best practices you want to share? If so, please leave a comment here or send me an e-mail at _<insidesitecatalyst@omniture.com_> and I will do my best to answer it right here on the blog so everyone can learn! (Don’t worry – I won’t use your name or company name!). If you are on Twitter, you can follow me at