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Cross-Visit Traffic Source Attribution

Published by Adam Greco on February 1, 2010 All posts from Adam Greco

Last week I shared a way to capture the various traffic sources (i.e. SEM, SEO, E-mail, etc…) so you could calculate the Bounce Rate for each of these Traffic Source types.  In this post I am going to build upon this and show you another cool way you can leverage this to have what I call Cross-Visit Traffic Source Attribution.

What is Cross-Visit Traffic Source Attribution?
As an online marketer, one of the things I want to see is how each traffic source leads to online success.  Within a visit, it is relatively easy to see which Traffic Source types lead to success.  Normally this is done by capturing the various campaign elements and using SAINT Classifications to roll these up into Traffic Source types.  However, what many marketers want to see is the overall mix of Traffic Source types that lead to success over several visits.  For example, maybe Paid Search is always the last thing your visitors are doing before placing an order, but maybe the first thing they did was to click on an SEO keyword.  I touched upon this a bit in an old blog post on Cross-Visit Participation which you can review here.  If your organization has a desire to see a high-level view of which combinations of Traffic Source types lead to success, then Cross-Visit Traffic Source Attribution may be your answer.

Implementing Cross-Visit Traffic Source Attribution
If you have followed the instructions I laid out in my last blog post, then you have already done much of the work required to enable this feature in your SiteCatalyst implementation.  Now that you have an sProp that contains the Traffic Source type set on the first click of each website visit, all you have to do is the following:

  1. Pass this value to an eVar (Most Recent Allocation)
  2. Implement the Cross-Visit Participation plug-in
  3. Have the eVar expire when your primary success event takes place (i.e. Orders)

As a refresher, the Cross-Visit Participation plug-in stores a list of elements, in this case Traffic Sources, with each visit so when a Success Event takes place, you can attribute the success to the current string of cross-visit values.  For example, if someone comes to your site three times, first from SEO, second from E-mail and third from SEM and then places an order, the current value in the eVar would be “SEO|E-mail|SEM.”  As time goes by, and you have more website visitors, the combinations that occur most frequently will rise to the top (web analytics darwinism?).  Usually the single Traffic Sources will be at the top (i.e. SEO by itself or SEM by itself), but what I look for are the combinations that are at the top of the list.  I sometimes even hide the individual items using the advanced search feature (Tip=Show if it Contains “|”) so I can see only multiple session Traffic Sources:

The only warning I will give about using this functionality is that it might burst the bubble of some of your co-workers who think that their Traffic Source type is the “end all, be all” of success.  In my experience, many people bounce around quite a bit and the results can surprise you!

First Touch, Last Touch
When it comes to attribution, many talk about First Touch, Last Touch and All Touch, meaning which Traffic Source was the first that visitors saw in a sequence leading to success, the that visitors saw last or a list of all of the Traffic Sources that influenced the success.  In SiteCatalyst, the easiest way to implement First Touch and Last Touch is to use two separate eVars.  Both capture Traffic Sources, but one has Original Allocation and a long expiration (never or say 6 months), while the other eVar is set to Most Recent Allocation and expires at the Visit.  However, you can also use the new Cross-Visit Traffic Sources eVar shown above to do this.  Simply download the above report to Excel and then isolate the first Traffic Source or the last Traffic Source and add up the Orders (or use a Pivot Table) to see the total for each Traffic Source.

Traffic Source Influence (All Touch)
For me however, I am most interested in seeing the total influence of a specific Traffic Source (All Touch).  While this is not readily available in SiteCatalyst (since Linear eVar Allocation only works within one visit), you can use the new eVar mentioned above to quantify the potential impact/influence of a specific Traffic Source Type.  Here is how you do it:

  1. Download the report above to Excel (you decide if you want to include the single Traffic Sources or only when multiple exist – as shown above)
  2. Use an Excel Formula to set the Traffic Source Type for a specific Traffic Source Type (i.e. SEO) in all rows where it is found (see green column below)
  3. Create a Pivot table off this new column (i.e. SEO) and look at the total Success Events (Orders in this example) that are associated with a row that contains the Traffic Source Type you chose in step two (in this case 754,328)
  4. Take that total (i.e. SEO Influenced Orders in this case) and divide it by the Total Orders (in this case 76.07%).  This will show you how much SEO influenced Orders such that SEO was involved in a visit that ultimately led to an Order.

Finally, if you want to see Cross-Visit Attribution of individual Campaign elements (Tracking Codes) instead of Traffic Sources, you can apply the same principles shown in this post and my last post.

Hopefully, between this post and my last post, you will be able to answer the nagging Traffic Source questions that come up from time to time and help your organization better understand where it should use its precious marketing dollars…

Categorized under Classifications, Conversion Variables, Participation, Plug-Ins, SEO/SEM, Success Events

  • tom pitts

    have you ever concatenated datetime with the channel on the cross participation evar? There is a lot of difference between activity 6 months ago and two touches in the same session.

  • Adam Greco

    Tom – I have not. I am not sure I follow when you say 2 touches in the same session, but I generally expire Cross-Visit Participation eVars at a success event or based on a timeframe of say 3 months…

  • Michael Feiner


    Thanks for another great post.

    Would the cross-visit participation solution suggested above capture a sequence of visits originating from the same source?

    For example:
    SEO | SEO | Direct
    SEM | SEM | SEM
    Email | SEM | Email

    I’m hoping it does but I’m fearful it doesn’t.
    In any case I think this solution is superior to the Stacking Campaigns report as you don’t need to reclassify using SAINT.

    Can you clarify?


  • Adam Greco


    Great question! You can choose whether you want to include the same Traffic Source twice in a row. I tend to include that so I can see the full picture, but I didn’t include that in my example for simplicity sake. Thanks for highlighting this option.

  • Rob Angley


    You mention that linear allocation on eVars only works within one visit. Can you expand on that? Are you saying that it only allocates to channels or campaigns that the user stacked within a single visit? I would have thought it would allocate across visits that way you could look at a channel report and see which participates in more stacks as compared to all channels.

    Thanks, Rob

  • Adam Greco

    Yes…Linear Allocation is only valid for a Visit. You can vote to change this here:

  • http://luxuryretailer celine

    Good Morning Adam,

    First and foremost thank you so much for your blog, I have to say I have been reading you religiously. I have been working in Searhc marketing for a while but I recently started using site catalyst and search centre instead of Google analytics. I have to say I am used to the way google set up things and I need a bit of help for something that might seem really simple to you.
    One of the things I haven’t managed to do and I know it s possible cause you have been showing it in your post is how do i set up my traffic sources report? I don’t understand what i need to install to be able to see SEO/SEM/affiliates etc…
    Thanks a lot for your time and great advice!


  • Billy Dixon

    Thanks Adam, A really useful post… I’m in agreement that linear attribution should come out of the box as it does with some of the other Web Analytic’s Tools.

    As an extension of the excel solution, you can get to linear allocation for both Orders and Revenue by:

    1.Counting the stack length for each line of the channel stacker report using the following excel formula: =LEN(A2)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(A2,”>”,”"))+1

    2.Adjusting the orders and revenue for each line by dividing by the stack length.

    3.And finally, summing the contribution of each channel in the same way as Adam describes above (but using the adjusted orders and revenue columns you just created).

    4. This should give you a linear attribution figure.

  • Billy Dixon

    To confirm… you may need to change the “>” for a “|” or whatever delimiter you are using in your stacking report.

  • Paul

    Hi Adam,

    What happens if a site uses source parameters on internal links that point to other sections of a site? Does the cross-visit participation plugin record multiple tracking codes over a single session, or would it only track one per visit?

    Thanks for your help!

  • Adam Greco

    In that case, I would recommend using a different eVar to store internal source codes and possibly a 3rd to track external + internal codes…

  • Paul

    Thanks, that makes sense. So it will record multiple tracking code changes that happen in the same session?

    With a tool like GA, for example, even though you can see multiple touchpoint attribution with the new Multi-Channel Funnels feature, it doesn’t work if you define multiple sources on a single visit because it will attribute the entire visit to the last defined source. So it works for multiple visits, but not a single visit with multiple sources.

    With Omniture, I don’t know if changing the source over the course of a visit rewrites the source for the whole session or not. (Or would changing the source count it as a different visit?)

    Does that make sense? Thanks!

  • Adam Greco

    In Omniture, you can do whatever you’d like. You can use Cross-Visit plug-in to store codes across multiple visits or within one visit. You can also use Pathing reports to track how people use multiple codes within a visit…

    If you want more info, e-mail me what you are trying to accomplish and I can share the best way to do it…

  • Pingback: Cross-Visit Traffic Source Attribution | Adam Greco at Web Analytics Demystified | Firehose Press


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