Posted by Peter Curran
Let’s talk about analytics tagging options in ecommerce. Ecommerce data analysts demand precision and ecommerce merchandisers demand flexibility. How rigorously should you implement tagging for analytics and testing while still taking advantage of the flexibility of Endeca (Oracle Commerce) Experience Manager?
The most successful e-commerce companies are fanatical about data. They measure the minutest changes in user experience against the status quo, or other competing ideas, and follow the path that the data supports. In an increasingly data-driven culture within e-commerce operations, marketers and merchants are more responsible than ever for providing hard evidence for which customer experiences are performing best.
Most modern e-commerce websites are built from a templating system of one kind or another. One does not manually assemble a category page for socks and another for shoes, rather, shoes and socks are fed into a generic category template and rendered in roughly the same way. This is an effective technique because it programmatically re-organizes categories or expands assortments into new markets without having to create new web pages – the same template that accommodates shoes and socks can also accommodate books and bath fixtures. Anywhere you give a business user the ability to control – you must also think about your tagging/analytics strategy.
One frustration with traditional templating systems is that they often don’t allow business users to manipulate the page structure without IT intervention. If you’re the category manager for bath fixtures and you want to feature fixture collections prominently, you might want to lay that out a little differently than the category manager for socks who is focused on brand, color, or fabric weight. IT intervention typically means added cost – not just to develop the new template but also the cost of supporting that template – all for an idea that may not pencil out.
In a data-driven organization it’s important that business users have the ability to experiment with their ideas. After all, if it’s too cumbersome and expensive to set up alternatives to test in the first place, how can you truly be data driven? Oracle Experience Manager solves this problem in much the same way that portal technologies have. There is a template, and certain layout rules on that template are inviolable (e.g. you cannot put the guided navigation component into the header, you can only put it in the left nav), but others are fair game (e.g. you can put a promotional banner at the top of a category page or move it to the right rail). In an Experience Manager implementation, we guide our customers towards the right balance of flexibility and control.
Anywhere you give a business user the ability to control layout in a way like Oracle Experience Manager allows – for example if you let them move promotional content between the center of the page and the right rail, or if you allow two different category managers to use totally different templates for their respective categories – you must also think about your tagging/analytics strategy. One of our customers put it to us this way: Our denominator used to be a constant, meaning our category pages, search pages, etc. all look[ed] the same, which allows us to measure improvements. With the flexibility of the Endeca [Experience Manager] tool, [a] category page will have endless possibilities on how it looks (or what exists or even placement of cartridges) so that our denominator keeps changing.
Like a lot of problems, the solution involves a balance between process and technology. For example, a merchant may look for total flexibility to create either of the following:
How do we solve for this? On the process side it would be possible to buckle down the Experience Manager pages and cartridge templates to limit flexibility in exchange for precision in tagging. But then IT coordination and effort are required to implement layout and logic changes associated with properly tagging the new layout and running it through an A/B test.
Instead we would support both the use of both layouts separately. In two different page templates that specify the exact ordering of cartridges we would add tags to the page template level layouts. This process allows for both data driven tagging and cleaner A/B testing scenarios. The implications of this may be that merchandisers get new page variations out slower since they would necessitate IT involvement, but in exchange the analytics team would have absolute clarity about the data their tagging strategy yields.
On the technology side you can be assured that this approach is sustainable because you can take a realistic and mathematical look at the problem. In actuality allowing a business user to swap the position of two different page elements does not yield endless possibilities, rather, it yields two. The key is simply to know which of the two layouts was in use for a given category page in a given user session. The more dynamic the page the greater number of permutations, but it’s unlikely that any single template would be so flexible that there would be dozens of uniquely different layouts. Layout simply becomes another variable for which you tag.
This means that layout simply becomes another variable for which you tag. When Experience Manager produces the XML/JSON/Java page description, the tagging solution just needs to read the layout description, map that to one of n possible layouts of that page type, and report that layout ID to the analytics system. Over time, it will aggregate category performance by layout ID and arrive at a data-driven understanding of which layout is most effective. This will work across categories which have similar merchandizing objectives.
All of this brings us to the Endeca community out there – what are your thoughts on how to rigorously implement tagging for analytics and testing while still taking advantage of the flexibility of Endeca Experience Manager? How do you approach balancing merchandizer creativity and intuition with the strict nature of an analytic framework? What scenarios can and should Cirrus10 be aware of and be able to accommodate? Let us know in the comments section below or on LinkedIn.