Getting to know the new Marketing Channels reports

I figured it’s about time I started blogging again. I’ll bet some of you thought I had died. No, I did not. I’ve just been busy adjusting to life as a Product Manager and working hard to help implement as many of the fantastic ideas that I learned from you on Twitter and elsewhere over the past two years as possible.

In fact, this post is about one of those ideas, although it is one that I played very little part in bringing about. If you logged in to SiteCatalyst today, you may have noticed something cool: a new set of reports called “Marketing Channels.”

If you’ve ever wondered how your e-mail marketing as a whole stacks up against, say, your SEM campaigns in terms of revenue or any other conversion metric, this is the set of reports for you. If you’ve ever wanted to see both first-touch and last-touch acquisition side-by-side in the same report, this is the set of reports for you. And not only do these new reports look great, but they offer the ability to dig into individual channels and subrelate keywords/tracking codes/URLs/referring domains/etc. with other reports of your choosing.

SiteCatalyst has always offered ways for you to compare visitor acquisition channels as groups; the most common solutions to date have been the Unified Sources VISTA rule and the Channel Manager plug-in. These solutions continue to deliver unique value, but we are excited about the Marketing Channels reports for a number of reasons, and we think you will like them, too. Why?

  1. They do not consume any additional custom variables.
  2. They are based on processing rules that you configure in SiteCatalyst. Most of the time, no implementation changes are required
  3. Not only does that make setup easy, but it means that the whole thing is marketer-controlled. In short, you likely won’t need to involve IT.
  4. The Marketing Channel reports are 100% free—they don’t even involve additional data collection.

Now, if you clicked to try to view these reports in SiteCatalyst right away, you were prompted to set them up. Do not panic; what you saw is normal. Although they are based on your existing data collection, these reports do not populate data automatically, because you first need to customize them to your organization’s marketing efforts and standards. Fortunately, with your help we developed a handy wizard to walk you through setup. As you are familiarizing yourself with the Marketing Channels reports, we strongly recommend using the wizard. This is because things like order of rules does matter here; once a traffic source matches a rule, the visitor is “claimed” by that rule. The wizard helps ensure that rules are established in the correct order and syntax to begin populating these reports immediately.

So how does it work? We capture a lot of data from your site, and we can glean a lot about marketing channels from that data. For example, if is the referring domain, it’s probably a social media campaign. If that’s important to you, you can set it up directly in the tool—we already grab the referring domain, so there is no additional data collection required. Similarly, if a URL has a query parameter of “cid,” you might be able to tell us that it’s gotta be an affiliate campaign. And if there is a page view where the referring URL is identified as a search engine, but your paid search query parameter isn’t present on the landing page, we can be sure that the user came through the Natural Search channel.

This nifty graphic shows how these Marketing Channels rules process your incoming data:

Note that, as mentioned above, once something matches a rule, it doesn’t see the other rules “below,” so in most cases you will want to make sure that your most general rules (usually “Direct”—the absence of any other acquisition channel) is at the bottom. (NOTE: The absolute bottom is not shown above.)

It may take you a bit of effort to get these set up; you’ll need to consider how you want to define each channel, and then work in SiteCatalyst to make it happen. (Or you can get Omniture Consulting to help you.) But when you’re done with setup. . . ummmm, wow:

Kinda jumps off the page, doesn’t it? (That’s because we put a shadow behind it on this blog. . . I kid!) But it’s more than just a warm “ZOMG SHINY!!!11!!” It’s all of your marketing channels in one place, so it’s easy to see how conversion compares not just between individual campaigns, but between entire channels: Natural Search versus Display, Direct versus Social Media, E-mail versus Affiliate, and so on and so forth. (Of course, you can also add your own channels that the rest of the world hasn’t even thought of yet.)

As you can see in the screen shot above, each of these channels can be broken down by the values that roll up into them. For affiliate, this might be campaign tracking codes that you tell the report to capture in that channel. For Natural Search, this could be the search engine; it could also be the search keyword, or even the search engine and the search keyword concatenated together. You get to define the “detail” that rolls up into each channel. You also get to define the “engagement period,” or the amount of time that a visitor’s initial acquisition channel information is retained prior to conversion.

There is a lot to cover with regard to the Marketing Channels reports, and this is really a topic for a future post, but we figured you would probably want to see not just conversion data, but also ROI for different channels, so we built that into the tool for you. This release of SiteCatalyst comes with a brand new, super-flexible version of numeric classifications which allow you to apply cost data to each channel. One of the best things about these new numeric classifications is the ability to assign a certain cost to a channel for a specific date range, then assign a different cost to the same channel for a different time period. The cost of running, say, SEM campaigns is certain to change over time. With numeric classifications and Marketing Channels reports, you can reliably analyze and compare ROI over time for all of your acquisition channels.

I haven’t really attempted to “re-document” the Marketing Channels reports here, and I’m not going to do it right now because we believe our documentation team hit a home run with this one. You can access the help documents for Marketing Channels reports within the reports themselves by clicking the “View the documentation” link at the bottom. If you have any specific questions after reading this post and the user manual, please leave a comment and we’ll address your questions here and/or in the FAQ in the documentation. (I know there are a number of great questions I’m not answering here, and I’m sorry. I hope we can still be friends.)

A few tips before I leave you to geek out on your own Marketing Channels reports:

  1. Query string parameters should not contain equals signs (“=”). When you’re setting up a rule for, say, affiliate campaigns, you might tell the Marketing Channels reports, you may want to tell the tool, “Every URL on my site that contains the query string ‘sc_cid=’ is an affiliate campaign.” That is great, but in this case, leave off the equals sign when you’re inputting the query parameter. Input the query parameter as “sc_cid” only.
  2. Processing rules do not affect any data outside of the Marketing Channels reports. Everything is wholly contained within these reports, so areas such as the Traffic Sources, Campaigns, and SearchCenter reports are entirely unaffected by changes you make in the Marketing Channels processing rules. SAINT data based on these other reports is also untouched when you change a processing rule.
  3. Do not delete the “Direct” or “Internal” acquisition channels. Direct happens; people come directly to your site without clicking anything. Internal happens; people sit on your site doing nothing for 30 minutes and let their visit expire, then click to start a new visit. The referrer, in that case, is going to be a URL on your site. The reason we recommend not deleting these is that they are pre-defined channels that do naturally occur; if these channels are deleted, you will end up with “No channel identified” in your reports instead when users meet the vacated criteria.
  4. You may not need to reinvent the wheel. In some cases, we’ve pre-configured certain channels with attributes that we think most users will like. For example, the Social Media channel makes its default determination based on a large list of referring domains from known social networking sites. You may not need to change this. Don’t feel like you have to change something just to make it yours. If it looks okay, go with it and update as necessary.
  5. You may need to make implementation changes to differentiate one channel from another. As I said above, in many or most cases, implementation changes won’t be required to use the Marketing Channels reports. But let’s say you want to use a query parameter in the URL to define both the affiliate and e-mail channels. What if your e-mail links and affiliate links both currently populate the same query parameter on the landing page? In some cases, SiteCatalyst might not be able to tell these channels apart. So, in such cases you may want to start using one query parameter for e-mail and another for affiliate (for example, “e_cid” versus “a_cid” or something). You’ll want to make sure to update your SiteCatalyst code to make sure that both e_cid= and a_cid= values get captured in the appropriate variable just as they were before you split them out into separate channels in the Marketing Channels reports. (Alternatively, you could just have your e-mail vendor add a new query parameter to your e-mail links and key off of that in your Marketing Channels setup. That’s just about the only potential implementation change we could foresee.
  6. Use your Marketing Channels data across a whole bunch of tools. You thought this was SiteCatalyst only? Pshhht. Try SiteCatalyst, Data Warehouse (for reporting and segmenting), Discover (reporting and segmenting), ReportBuilder, Excel Client, Reporting API (minus the numeric classifications, at present), and Data Sources.
  7. Subrelate channel details with just about anything. You will need an Omniture representative to set this up for you, but you can subrelate your marketing channel details with any custom or standard conversion report—eVars, Time Spent on Visit, Mobile reports, Test&Target, etc. This type of subrelation is done individually—report to report—so you’ll pick the reports that will be most valuable to you when broken down by marketing channel details (and vice versa). In most cases, these subrelations will be absolutely free. Contact your Account Manager for details.
  8. Classify tracking codes, keywords, etc. The classification tool in the Admin Console allows you to classify keywords, tracking codes (probably the same classification file you’re using for campaigns today), and more. This means you can classify natural search terms by brand, etc. to further organize your Marketing Channels data.
  9. Unique value limits do apply. The Marketing Channels reports are limited to a total of 500,000 unique “details” values per month, across all channels. You’ll want to keep this in mind as you determine the details to record in each channel. For example, for the Natural Search channel, you might choose to have the keyword as the detail. You are certainly going to have more keywords than search engines; in fact, you might have more than 500,000 keywords alone per month (let alone details values in other channels). And choosing to concatenate the search engine and keyword in the details would yield even more unique values.

I think I have rattled on longer than I intended to, but I hope you can see how excited we are about the Marketing Channels reports and what they can mean for your visitor acquisition analysis and optimization. So please go nuts and have a blast bringing your site more quality visitors who are likely to convert.

As always, if you have any questions about anything posted here about Marketing Channels reports or anything else related to the Adobe Online Marketing Suite, please leave a comment here or contact me on Twitter and I’ll do my best to get you the information that you need.