Refresher on Adobe Analytics’ Marketing Channels Reports: Part II

In the first part of this four-part series I discussed the evolution of marketing channel tracking at Adobe/Omniture and how the Marketing Channels reports originated. In that post, I also emphasized the importance of preventing leaks and data contamination when analyzing marketing channels. In this post, I’ll provide an overview of the Marketing Channels reports and then dive into the first half of the two-step setup process by examining the Marketing Channels Manager.

If you’re not already familiar with the Marketing Channels reports, I thought it would be helpful to first review what the reports look like and what you get after they’re configured. This way you’ll have more context for how the various settings can change the reports.

A Closer Look at the Marketing Channel Reports

When you navigate to the Marketing Channels Reports tab in the navigation menu, you’ll find five reports:

  1. Channel Overview Report
  2. First Touch Channel
  3. First Touch Channel Detail
  4. Last Touch Channel
  5. Last Touch Channel Detail

The Channel Overview report provides an interactive tabular view of the marketing channel data based on first-touch and last-touch attribution models. You can select different metrics and expand rows to look at the channel detail (think of it as the next level down). For example, if you expanded the social network channel to see the channel detail, it would show the metrics broken out by separate social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

For each attribution model, you have a corresponding channel report and channel detail report. The channel report provides an aggregate view for all your marketing channels. The detail report provides a more granular view of specific items within the marketing channels. These reports primarily provide fundamental views (first-touch, last-touch) for reporting purposes. However, you can also build channel-based segments (e.g., view pathing behaviors for a certain channel) or access the marketing channel data in Ad Hoc Analysis (Discover) or Data Workbench (Insight) for deeper channel analysis.

Marketing Channels Manager

Now let’s dive into the first step of the two-step configuration process, where you decide which channels you want to measure. You’ll need to be an admin user to access the Marketing Channels setup, which is under the report suite settings in the Admin Tools section.

The first place you’ll want to start is the Marketing Channels Manager. If you’re setting up your marketing channels for the first time in Adobe Analytics, you’ll get an Auto Setup option. My recommendation is to use the Auto Setup and not skip it. The Auto Setup covers the basic marketing channels and is a good starting point even if you decide to further customize the channels.

If you choose to manually set up your channels, the Marketing Channel Manager is the starting point for adding and customizing all of your channels. There are seven different columns in the interface, and the first four columns (1-4) are more critical than the last three (5-7). I’ll walk through each column to give you a better sense for what purpose they serve.

  1. Each channel is assigned a unique identifier. You can have up to 25 different channels or channel IDs.
  2. You can enable and disable your channels. If you set up a channel but don’t configure any rules for it (the next step), you’ll see a warning icon in this column next to the rule-less channel.
  3. You have the ability to rename the channels if you wish. For example, the default “Internal” channel name can be confusing for end users. It is used to identify internal traffic where a session refreshes (say after 30 minutes of inactivity). It might be better to rename it “Session Refresh” so users have a better idea of what it means. You could also rename “Direct” to “Typed / Bookmarked” to be more descriptive. All channel name changes are retroactive. However, any rule changes that correspond to the new channel name will only apply going forward—the rules are not applied retroactively. In the case of renaming “Internal” to “Session Refresh” the associated rules and data don’t change so it’s just about making the channel name more intuitive. However, if you re-assign or swap a channel ID to a different marketing channel (e.g., Affiliates to Paid Search) with altered rules, you should document the switch and make sure teams are aware of when the change occurred so that historical data isn’t misinterpreted (pre- and post-change) for the new channel.
  4. You have the ability to enable or disable the last-touch allocation for each channel. I’ll explain the importance of this override option in more detail at the end of this post. Just note that in most cases your Direct and Internal channels should have the override disabled (unchecked).
  5. You can choose to show a classification (aggregated grouping) for the channel detail.
  6. You can specify a channel as online or offline if you’ve uploaded offline channel data via data sources.
  7. You can specify which colors are used for each channel. For example, you might use warm colors for paid media and cool colors for earned or owned media.

Choosing Your Channels

Many companies share common marketing channels such as direct traffic, email, display ads, natural search, paid search, and social networks. However, there can be channels that are unique to your online business model, corporate strategy, or industry. For example, many retailers have shopping search listed as one of their marketing channels. You may also decide to separate a single channel into different marketing buckets to get deeper channel insights. For instance, it might be important to your marketing team to separate product-specific display ads from corporate branding display ads.

When deciding on your marketing channels, it is important that the channels are consistent and on the same level. If you grew up on a steady diet of Sesame Street like I did, you may remember the song “One of These Things (is Not Like the Other).” You need to take a similar tack with your marketing channels because one poorly defined channel could ruin the insights you can glean on your other channels. A while ago someone asked whether or not a company could treat its landing pages as a marketing channel. Generally, this would be a bad idea because the landing pages could essentially steal credit from all of the other marketing channels that fed traffic to those pages. A possible exception to this rule of thumb would be a vanity URL that could only be reached by someone who has seen a billboard or TV ad.

Disabling Last-Touch Attribution for a Channel

In the Marketing Channel Manager, you have the ability to override the last-touch allocation for channels. There are a couple of common scenarios where this might make sense. I’ll use an ecommerce site example to highlight each scenario.

In the first scenario, a visitor comes to your site from a paid search ad and then comes back the next day by typing in your URL and makes a purchase. Without disabling the override option for the direct channel, the paid search channel wouldn’t receive credit for this order under the last-touch attribution model.

In the second scenario, a visitor also comes to your site from a paid search ad and is about to complete a transaction on your site when she gets called away to answer an urgent phone call. When this individual returns to her computer to complete her order an hour later, the 30-minute timeout window means the session refresh channel will receive credit for the purchase unless the allocation override is disabled.

In both of these scenarios, what’s fair to the channels? How do you want Marketing Channels to handle the last-touch allocation? Without disabling the last-touch allocation override, the direct and session refresh channels will receive credit instead of the paid search channel in the two scenarios above. Most companies prefer the paid search channel to get credit for these orders instead of the “artificial” channels. Hopefully, these examples help illustrate the impact of the override feature and help you to decide what’s best for your company’s unique circumstances.

In the next post, I’ll move to the second phase of the two-step configuration process for the Marketing Channels reports and cover the processing rules that assign traffic to each unique marketing channel. Stay tuned for Part III.