As a web analytics tool, Adobe Analytics is a very different animal from Google Analytics. I’ve learned the hard way that plunging into an Adobe Analytics account for the first time with the expectation that it’ll be as easy to master as Google Analytics is hubris. In this post, I share a handful of tips to make the learning curve less steep.

Why is Adobe Analytics More Difficult than GA?

Based on my experience, Adobe Analytics (also referred to as Site Catalyst or Omniture) is more frequently used at the enterprise level for large, sophisticated websites (I have seen it used by global financial services companies and pharmaceutical giants). And with its no-nonsense interface and esoteric terminology, Adobe Analytics seems to have been designed with experts, not novices, in mind. It’s like using a computer before user-friendly UIs were created — if Google Analytics is Windows, Adobe Analytics is MS-DOS.

After countless hours working on Adobe Analytics accounts for huge websites, I’ve had several ah-ha moments. If you’re new to the Adobe interface, the following tips will save you time and make your journey from novice to expert a bit easier.

Tips for Avoiding Rookie Time Wasters in Adobe Analytics

1. Use a debugger tool to determine what data is being passed from your website to Adobe Analytics.

This is the absolute best Adobe Analytics tip I can give. A debugger program allows you to view metrics and variables that are being passed from a web page to Adobe Analytics. Armed with this knowledge, you will know all the ways in which you can track a given page or goal.

This is especially important when you are not the person implementing tracking codes and overall analytics implementation, which is common in large companies or in agency settings. In these circumstances, a debugger will spare you the pain of searching throughout Adobe Analytics for the variables connected to that page or event.

Digital Pulse Debugger is my debugger tool of choice (installation instructions here). Once you have it installed, create a debugger shortcut on your browser toolbar. To see the values that your website is passing to Adobe Analytics, click on your debugger shortcut while you are on the page you need to track. A child window will appear, containing a list of all the values that are being passed. I often copy and paste these lists into Word documents, highlighting the variables I want to create reports and dashboards around.

2. Create themed dashboards and save reports to them as you go.

Consider creating a dashboard for a given analytics task (e.g., February email campaign) before you even begin collecting data. This will save you a ton of time. Say you’re collecting data for that February email campaign, and you want to know number of visits to the landing page, account logins, and conversions.

While Adobe Analytics displays your recently viewed reports so you can retrieve them easily, it only saves a limited number. So if you’re doing a lot of analytics work, those reports will get buried under new ones very quickly. Saving related reports to a themed dashboard keeps you from having to re-create reports from scratch.

This tip isn’t unique to Adobe Analytics; you can do the same in Google Analytics. But unsurprisingly, it’s more complicated to do in Adobe. Once you’ve created a dashboard and saved reports to that dashboard, your’e not done. If you navigate to your new dashboard at that point, you’ll probably see an empty page. Your next step is to format the dashboard. Do this by clicking “Layout” at the top of the dashboard screen; on the left, you’ll see the names of the reports you have previously saved to that dashboard. Click and drag them into the dashboard area and save.

3. When creating a title for a dashboard report, format it as a question.

Within your dashboard, you’ll have multiple reports (or reportlets, as Adobe Analytics calls them.) These appear with generic sounding default titles that say little about why you created the report in the first place. That is why I have gotten into the habit of turning each of my report titles into a question. In one recent dashboard, I wanted to compare the performance of a page before and after it had been redesigned. One of my reports was titled, How many visitors converted on the OLD page? Another was titled, How many visitors converted on the NEW page? 

Turning your report titles into questions saves you the time of reminding yourself what question the report was meant to answer in the first place. It also makes it easy for others to read and interpret your dashboards.

4. Make use of the Break down by function. It will spare you from creating extraneous segments.

When I was still an Adobe Analytics novice, I would filter my data by creating segments. For example, if I wanted to see only conversions from mobile phones, I would create a segment called “mobile device users” and then apply that segment to my data.

I later learned how inefficient this was. There is a much easier way to break down your data by dimensions like device, campaign tracking code, self service type, and myriad others. See the channel report below. If you wanted to filter Affiliate visits by referring websites, for example, you could click on the list-looking icon to the left, and your breakdown options will appear. Much faster than creating a segment.

 

5. Get clear on visits, hits and visitors.

Visitor is a person, or user, visiting your website, obviously — but in more technical terms, a visitor is a unique cookie ID. A visit is a duration of time during which a user interacted with your site. And a hit is a specific page view or interaction. So during a single Visit to your website, a a Visitor may hit 10 different pages on your website. Or during a two-week period, you may have 1000 visitors to your website, 1800 visits and 3000 hits.

Conclusion

Adobe Analytics is a sprawling, powerful and versatile tool. User-friendliness is not its strong point. The tips provided here came to me as little revelations as I began doing analytics for large accounts where I was several steps removed from the people who had done the actual analytics implementation. By far, the most important tip is the first; without a debugger, I’d be much less confident in my data collection.

What about you? What are your favorite Adobe Analytics tips?