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“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”: Why your Adobe Analytics (SiteCatalyst) segments return the wrong data and how to get what you need.

November 3, 2015

The Rolling Stones were right: “You can’t always get what you want.”

But if you have Adobe Analytics (SiteCatalyst) and understand segments, “you just might find, you can get what you need.”

It’s been my longstanding recommendation that it is critical to validate the dataset for any segment you create before using or publishing the data. This advice comes from years of seeing people proudly report “actionable insights” based on incorrect assumptions, derived from incorrect and misleading data. The root cause has often been data from segments.

To understand segments, you have to understand “containers,” persistence, and how the include and exclude functionality works.

YCAGWYW2    YCAGWYW1

In the Definitions section of the Segment Builder, there is a pull-down menu (labeled “Show) that allows you to select one of the available “containers” (Hit, Visit or Visitor).

Hit Container:

The Hit container, formerly the Page View container, indicates that you want data for only those server calls (hits/pages) that meet the conditions you have defined in the segment.

The Hit container is straightforward until persistence comes into play. Adobe’s default setting for eVar (conversion) variables is to persist data through the end of the visit. In example 1 below, eVar1 is set to the value “C.” Because eVars persist and Page 1 set eVar1 to “C,” Page 2 and Page 3 would both return data for a segment that includes pages where eVar1=C. Pages 2 and 3 have value of C. in eVar1 even though that value is not explicitly set on those pages .

This same segment would not return data for Page 2 and Page 3 in visits where they were not preceded by a page that set eVar1 to “C.”

Examples 1:

YCAGWYW3

The Visit Container:

Selecting the Visit container tells the query to return all data from visits where the condition is met in any server call (page view, click action, etc.) within a visit.

Segments can get confusing when you combine a Visit container in an “include” segment and use the “does not equal” condition.

Let’s imagine you want to return data for all visits where the home page is not seen.

If you wrote a segment for visits where Page Name does not equal “Home,” you would almost inevitably end up with data you didn’t want.

Each hit within the visit is evaluated individually. If any of the hits meet the segment’s conditions, all data for all hits within the visit are returned (even those that did not meet the segment’s conditions.)

If a user visits the Home page and an Article page in the same visit, the segment would evaluate the Home page and the condition would return “false.” The condition is not met because Page Name would equal “Home” on the home page. It would then evaluate the article page. The article page would meet the segment’s criteria (true), and all data for that visit would be returned.

To get the desired result you would have to exclude visits where Page Name equals “Home.”

Although this logic isn’t intuitive, the following segments will return different results:

  • Include: Visits where Page Name does not equal Home
  • Exclude: Visits where Page Name equals Home

Examples 2:

YCAGWYW4

The Visitor Container:

The Visitor container works much like the Visit Container, but it is visitor centric and thus pulls cross-visit data. In other words, if the visitor had three visits in a selected timeframe, all data for all that visitor’s activity would be returned even if only one “hit” in one of the visits met the segment criteria.

If you are a rock guitarist and have a Marshall stack (that goes to 11), you will be able to play loud, but that doesn’t mean you will sound good. 😉

Segments are the analytics equivalent of the Marshall stack. It’s powerful, but only good if you take the time to learn how to make music.

Rock On…

Matt Coen

Check out my music at https://www.reverbnation.com/matthewcoen

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