SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics comparison, specifically speaking: Part 2


SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics comparison, specifically speaking: Part 2

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a four-part series exploring SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics. Brian Katz, Senior Web Analyst and resident SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics expert at Cardinal Path, is guest writer for this series.

Last week, I discussed the different analytics business models and ideologies behind Adobe’s SiteCatalyst (SC), powered by Omniture data, and Google Analytics (GA) and how I saw that influencing the two products.

This week, I’m comparing specific features of these systems in the context of those core differences. There are so many features for each that I have selected the ones Adobe focused on in its announcement of SC version 15 (v15).

1. Interface

Is the term “streamlined interface” just marketing fluff? Both companies used it in strutting their new product versions, but it does hold some substance in both cases.


SiteCatalyst: The old SC interface was challenging due mainly to its size, the distinction between different types of variables and the difficulty in drilling down through one’s data in search of insights. In some larger implementations, the sub-menu option count could exceed 100. A problem common to most implementations is that Omniture did not have control over the wording or organization of sub-menu options since these are based on custom implementation.

SiteCatalyst v15 has aggressively targeted and solved the lack of the drill-down power in a base implementation that has little or no specially pre-configured data relations. SC v15 also adds a Favorites list in addition to the Bookmarked reports from earlier versions. The word “Favorites” adds a soft touch for such a high-end tool, perhaps to appeal to a wider range of non-analyst users.


These are necessary tools in an interface that could otherwise be a customized nightmare.

Google Analytics: GA’s interface is more user friendly, mainly because menus are organized and data is structured more intuitively. (That’s not to say the GA interface does not present its frustrations, of course.)


SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics: Both products now provide a quick incremental search to find reports.

SiteCatalyst: Designed for the larger organizations where analysts create reports for access-by-report consumers, SC has always done well at sharing reporting elements, such as calculated metrics, dashboards, bookmarks to reports, custom reports, etc. SC added “Link to this Report” in version 14, which allows an analyst to email a short URL of that report to another user.

Google Analytics: The vast portion of Google Analytics’ users originally were expected to be do-it-yourself users rather than in-house web analysts. That resulted in simplified permissions levels (simply Admin or User) and logically structured report URLs that could easily be shared. However, it’s difficult to share GA’s new Custom Reports and Advanced Segments across a large team.

2. Overviews and dashboards

SiteCatalyst: SC v15 now provides better overview reporting on log in, with an enhanced dashboard. What blew me away was seeing three metrics compared in a single report: Page Views, Visits and Visitors.


Google Analytics: GA’s dashboards are more powerful than many realized. How many people knew that you could create a reportlet with a pre-selected filter or have a reportlet with Advanced Segments already applied to it? Although the “Add to Dashboard” feature has been removed in the latest version of GA, you can now add really slick and functional report widgets to as many as 20 custom dashboards, each having up to 12 widgets.


While a great productivity feature, these Dashboards also allow dedicated web analysts using Google Analytics to provide different dashboards to specific senior managers with strategically selected, high-level metrics.

3. Segmentation

Segmentation is more than just building segments of data. It includes drilling down to the bottom of hierarchies and breaking down one variable by another.

SiteCatalyst: Now, in v15, SiteCatalyst provides out-of-the-box breakdowns on almost all variables. How? The system has a new backend that makes full sub-relation data available on the fly. This represents a significant shift in the business model, since there is now no additional cost attached to fully sub-related data. SiteCatalyst reporting has also been expanded to include the ability to build custom data segments on the fly, at no additional cost.

This is one answer to Google Analytics’ encroaching on the enterprise analytics market and widening its scope of tracking (e.g., Events and Custom Variables) and reporting (e.g, Advanced Segments and Custom Reports).

I would next ask Adobe’s Omniture to extend this to segmentation based on metrics in addition to dimensions. For example, how does one answer important questions for insight such as, “Which visits account for more than $[X] revenue?” or “Which visits by [XXX] had more than three adds to the cart?”

Google Analytics: GA still excels at filtering individual reports and segmenting by metric. Custom Reports now pack their own custom filters. This is a powerful means of distributing specialist knowledge to report consumers.


4. Metrics enhancements

Custom variables

This feature is at the heart of SiteCatalyst’s superiority and Google Analytics’ limitation as a data tracking tool (as distinct from a reporting tool).

Companies that select SiteCatalyst over Google Analytics base their decisions on many factors, but the most frequent ones include the volume of data that SiteCatalyst can report on and the extent of customized tracking required.

So many metrics to choose from with Omniture!

To its credit, GA is capable of highly creative solutions and backed by a skilled and creative group of GA Authorized Consultants (including Cardinal Path).

While SC has 75 “traffic” variables (props) and 75 “conversion” variables (eVars), Google Analytics only has 5. However a comparison of these quantities alone is incomplete. Most often one of each type of SC variable (props and eVars) is required to track a single aspect. But that still leaves 75 pairs.

However, many of those 75 pairs are required for functionality that must be customized in SC but is standard in GA. For, example, Geo Segmentation data provided by SiteCatalyst v15 cannot be broken down by any other data. That data must be duplicated into custom variables. The same applies to other standard tracking, such as New versus Returning Visits.

Whether to choose one tool or the other may come down to the extent of your company’s need for very specific custom tracking.

Default metrics

I will use this feature to highlight a major difference between SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics and a key reason why some SC users find it difficult to use and understand.

GA’s Events are standalone reporting components that do not relate to anything other than the visit.

In contrast, SC Events are mostly simple counts of visitor interactions.

Let’s create a scenario to appreciate this significant difference between GA and SC:

  1. In SiteCatalyst, we create custom event1 to count Site Searches and event2 to count Membership Sign-ups.
  2. These SC Events will be attributed to data values “Men’s Wear” and “Women’s Wear” stored in a custom variable, eVar2 , with the custom name “Site Sections.”
  3. Let’s also create another variable, eVar4, called “Site Search Terms.”
  4. Assume a visitor performs a search for “underpants” and then for “pantyhose” while in the “Men’s Wear” section, then clicks on a pantyhose result and lands in the “Women’s Wear” section. She then searches for “dresses.” The Site Sections value “Men’s Wear” will get credited with the first two site search events and “Women’s Wear” with the third search event. Site Search Terms “sweaters,” “pantyhose” and “dresses” would get credited with one site search event each.
  5. If the visitor then signed up, the “Women’s Wear” site section and the “dresses” site search term would each accumulate one sign-up event.

Each variable is a report. A user viewing the Site Search Terms Report could add any Events (a.k.a. metrics) to that report. This is somewhat like creating custom reports in GA, except that the metrics also include these custom Events, of which there can be up to 75 to choose from.

Adding the Site Searches Event to the report makes sense. Adding the Sign-ups Event does not. There is no way SiteCatalyst can determine which custom Events make sense against which Variables, and users could quite easily select metrics that make no sense or, even worse, that appear incorrectly to make sense. Looking at the wrong metric against a variable can be very confusing and attacks user confidence in the data.

Since GA Events cannot be attributed to data values other than to Event Categories, Actions and Labels, there is no equivalent to this problem in GA. The closest is “Valid Dimension-Metric Combinations,” but that applies to built-in metrics and is based on technical considerations.

Default Metrics to the rescue! SC has, until now, set Default Metrics at the report suite (a.k.a. profile) level for all reports. Now in v15, a Web Analyst user can select an appropriate set of Default Metrics for each report, providing users with a set of appropriate metrics.

The Checkouts metric makes no sense in this report but the others do. A web analyst can correct that and save the selection of metrics as the default for this report.

If used correctly, that feature will go a long way to making SC easier to use.

Does your company need both?

There are fundamental differences in the business models and ideology behind the two products. However, shifts in the economy and the evolution of Google Analytics have elevated it to a tool Adobe needs to take seriously if it is to maintain its share of the market.

One of the biggest differences between the two tools is shown by GA having a large and rapidly growing cult following where SC never will. Any minor frustrations or lack of bells and whistles was dealt with by users producing free browser plug-ins. There will be minor frustrations with the new interface and cult users will, I’m sure, again step up to the plate.

As a serious web analytics tool to be reckoned with, Google Analytics also benefits from serious Web Analytics consultants, such as Cardinal Path, building tools and providing high value analytics services based around both GA and SC.

While the two tools are still very different, they cater to an increasingly overlapping portion of the market.

Is your company in the overlap?

If so, look forward to Part 3 and Part 4 of this series, when I will deal with including GA with SiteCatalyst implementations and with moving specific features from a SiteCatalyst implementation to a Google Analytics implementation.

The series



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