Quick Start to Experience Analytics

One of the awesome selling points of Sitecore Experience Manager is the vast amount of data that can fairly easily be collected on site visitors. The information can be used to trigger engagement plans, site personalization, etc.…to help the visitor feel a connection to your organization. When giving a demo, I always get the most ooohs and ahhhs when showing of the Experience Analytics Dashboard and the Experience Profiles, but behind all that flash is some serious data complexity and planning that is required.

Over the next few posts, I plan to enlighten all of us on how these complexities work to allows us to get the most out of data collected. I am by no means a marketer or digital strategist so we will viewing analytics from a technical perspective.

The Basic Anatomy of Sitecore Reporting

So let's get started with some basics. (The details written up here and in the series will be referencing Sitecore Experience Platform 8.1 update 1, most of these notes will be applicable to any version of 8.x.)

As visitors interact with the site, triggering goals, campaigns, and accumulating engagement values, the data is stored into shared session state. Shared session state upon expiring (the default is 20 minutes of idle time) the data is written into the collection data stores residing in MongoDB. This data is what is known as the xDB.

At this point the data is flat and not easily consumable for analysis. To become formed in a report digestible state, Sitecore uses a series of tasks that aggregate and summarize the collected information for resting in a nice MS SQL database known as the ‘reporting database’.

Data Flow Chart


Now that the data is ready for reporting, Sitecore uses some specific terms in how they represent the data. Dimensions are the manner in which Sitecore categorizes groups of reporting. Some of the commonly referenced dimensions are interactions, page URL, campaigns. Once data is grouped a numeric value can be calculated, these are called Metrics. Sitecore provides seven metrics out of the box: Visit, Value, Page Views, Time on Site, Bounces, Conversions, and Count. It should be noted that not all metrics are available for all dimensions, check-out for a full listing of dimensions and the metrics reported on.

The final piece to the slicing and dicing that can be performed out-of-the-box are called segments. In its basic form a segment is a filter that is placed over a dimension (collection of data points) to give a very targeted view of data to a specific question, such as how many users visited the site after entering from the latest blog post.

Understand Sitecore’s Reporting Terminology

Having completed a quick fly-over of the data movement, I think it would be helpful to define out some common terms used by Sitecore. When you begin addressing how data is captured and then used for reporting, understanding how Sitecore expects us to use these terms goes a long way in knowing how to extract true insight from Sitecore Analytics. [Those familiar with other analytic tools sets, may recognize some this vocabulary, but see it used in slightly different manners.]

Visit is the series of actions performed by a contact from when they enter your website until they leave the website. A single contact may make multiple visits at different times. These are regarded as separate visits.

Visit Value is a metric that measures the value of a contact's actions on the website through engagement value points. Visit value measures how efficiently a node generates value.

Goals are activities that visitors can perform on your website. You create goals to track and measure how visitors engage with the website and campaigns – both online and offline.

Campaign is a promotion or advertising initiative designed to encourage people to visit your website.

Failure Action events that prevent a visitor from completing an action or achieving a goal, they can be technical errors or visitor inaction.

Channels and Channel Groups are the paths that contacts use to interact with your brand through campaigns and face-to-face interactions.

Outcomes are business significant events that can be registered in the Sitecore Experience Database (xDB) as a result of one or more interactions between a contact and a brand. They can be either monetary or non-monetary.

Venues are locations where trackable offline interactions occur. These are physical locations where an interactions happens, such as a specific retail venue or a bus stop.