Google Analytics’ Content Groups compared to Webtrends’ Content Groups

Google Analytics has added Content Groups! Since I rely heavily on Content Groups in Webtrends, I wanted to see whether GA did it differently.


Let it be known that I really like Webtrends’ Content Groups.  I use them constantly.  The Content Groups report, rather than the Pages report, is my go-to report.  And the Content Group Paths from Entry report is important enough to sacrifice an entire profile slot to.

So I was excited when I found out Google Analytics has implemented its version of content groups a few weeks ago.  I took a look and saw a few differences I’d like to call out.

apples and oranges

Can I assign a page to more than one group?

In Google Analytics, a given page can be in a maximum of five content groups.  That is, a page can be in only one group per grouping and there are five possible groupings.  Within a grouping, Google Analytics will assign a page to the first content group criterion it matches.

In Webtrends, a page can be in any number of content groups.  I can have any number of schemes going at once, in a given profile.

This can make the resulting Content Groups report a bit of a beautiful mess because of the intermingling of schemes, but it’s a minor drawback since I can filter the Content Groups dimension, bookmark the resulting set, and end up with permanently available individual reports for each of my schemes.

(Tip: Put the scheme name into content group names, for example “Checkout, Step 1” and  “Checkout, Step 2,” or “Page Type:  Form” and “Page Type: FAQ”.)

Comment:  I do like that Google Analytics allows me to activate different Content Group schemes one by one.  I don’t like limiting a given page to participation in only five content groups.  I use many content group schemes and, in Google Analytics, I’d have to start proliferating profiles.

Is there Content Group pathing?

In Google Analytics, I can see the previous and the next content group.  I cannot see content group paths (anything longer than one step).  Chaining “nexts” isn’t the same as paths, btw!

In Webtrends, I can see the previous and the next content group only for those content groups for which I have set up a one-step path report.  I can, however, see content group paths — longer paths for individual groups (specially set up) and the all-important (to me) Content Group Paths From Entry.

Comment:  Webtrends’ Content Group Paths from Entry is a mainstay of my analytics practice.  Google Analytics’ pathing, which involves chaining of “nexts” rather than paths that correspond to real visitors’ extended paths (the WT method), is inferior.

Can I assign pages to content groups using page code or tag management?

In Google Analytics, yes.  But each page can be assigned to only one Content Grouping in the tag code.

In Webtrends, yes, and you can hard-code the same page into as many content groups as you want.  One drawback is that hard-coded content groups can’t be eliminated from a profile instantly, which can be done in Google Analytics by switching groupings.  (On the other hand, de-activating hard-coded content groups in a Webtrends profile is fairly easily done with a URL Search & Replace operation.)

Comments:  I put individual pages into several content groups all the time.  Being limited to one just won’t work out.

Can I assign pages to content groups by extracting part of the URL or page title?

In Google Analytics, yes.   It allows either simple matching or regex for turning part of a URL into the name of a content group.  This includes parameters – I can turn the value of a parameter into a content group.  For example, if I have a parameter “color=” then this can be a Grouping and each color will be a content group.   This will in all likelihood use up one of my five groupings.  (In Google Analytics, this was previously sort of available by filtering on the Content – All Pages report, then saving the resulting report as a shortcut.)

In Webtrends, this extraction method sounds familiar because Webtrends does this exact same thing.  But Webtrends doesn’t call it “content groups.”  In Webtrends, this is called “defining a custom dimension”.   In Webtrends, there is no limit to the number of custom dimensions.

Comment:  Being able to see only five tabulated parameters is just not going to work for most of my clients.   I can’t even think of a web site I work with that has only five parameters that need tabulating.

Can I assign pages to content groups based on rules?

In Google Analytics, yes.  But your rules will work with URL parameters only if you haven’t suppressed those parameters in the GA Reporting View Settings.

In Webtrends, yes.  And you can use parameters in rules whether you have suppressed them in report views or not.  Another difference in the details:  Webtrends allows content groups to be based on numeric value logic as well as text, while I’d have to use regex to do that in Google Analytics.

Comment:  Suppressing parameters in report views bring order to the chaotic-looking GA pages reports.   It feels like a big compromise to have to sacrifice content groups at the same time.  But hey, that’s what Excel and APIs are for.

Can I drill down to see metrics for the individual pages in the content groups?

In GA, yes.

In Webtrends, no.  I’d have to create a 2D report of Content Groups over Pages.  Easy enough to create and apply, but still an extra step.

Comment:  I can’t decide whether it’s too big a hassle to create that 2D report in Webtrends.  Um … no.

What metrics can I have?

In Google Analytics, only six metrics are shown:  Page Views, Unique PageViews (equivalent to WT’s Visits), Average Time on Page, Entrances, Bounce Rate, % Exit, and Page Value.  You can also get other measures, sort of, using a Secondary Dimension (but the resulting report needs to be exported and sorted).

In Webtrends, I can apply any of the dozens of out of the box measures as well as any measure I can make up.  In addition, there’s a “Content Group Duration” report that supplies time spent viewing pages in the content group (total and average), and a “Content Groups of Interest” feature that provides a Unique Visitors metric encompassing past visits (i.e. how many unique visitors have ever seen this content group).

Comment:  No comment needed!

Are Content Groups retroactive?

In Google Analytics, no.

In Webtrends, no …. but you do have 90 days of replay analysis available in OnDemand, and infinite re-analysis with OnPremises.

Comment:  Another “no comment needed.”


Final comment:  much as I love many other GA features (which I think will be addressed by the upcoming Webtrends Explore) I really can’t live with GA’s current CG limitations except for uncomplicated sites.  We’ll see what the future brings.

Doubles! Reasons for Discrepancies between Webtrends and Google Analytics Visit Counts

Three reasons why Google Analytics sees more visits than Webtrends does


Google Analytics usually shows more visits than Webtrends does, for the same site, same time.

There are three reasons:

  1. If a visit starts before midnight and finishes after midnight, Google Analytics counts two visits.  Webtrends counts one visit.
  2. If a page view happens in the middle of a visit that has a different campaign (organic search, paid search, or any hit with utm_campaign= in it), Google Analytics counts two visits. In other words, if a visitor who has your site open in one tab, then uses a campaign or search link on another tab to come to the site separately, Google Analytics considers that second action the start of another visit.    The same thing happens if the visitor backs out of the site then returns via another search or campaign.  In all the above, Webtrends counts one visit.  (Note: these assume the visitor is moving around with no gaps of 30 minutes or more.)
  3. If you have WT or GA tags on two or more domains, Google Analytics will start a new visit when you cross domains.  The exception is when the sites are linked and the links have been specially coded to transfer a Google Analytics visitor ID.   Webtrends counts one visit.  The exceptions for Webtrends are Safari (and soon Firefox, and maybe eventually other browsers), or any situation where third party cookies are not accepted.

If you know of any extra wrinkles to this or other reasons for the higher visit count in Google Analytics, let us know!

In 2D Reports, Be Careful When Combining Hit-Based and Visit-Based Dimensions

There are two types of Webtrends report dimensions: Hit and Visit. In reports with nested dimensions, you have to be a little careful of the combinations.

There are rules about how dimensions can be combined in 2-D reports.   The rules have to do with the  important distinctions between hit dimensions and visit dimensions.

A visit-based dimension applies to the whole visit – things that never change during the visit.  The referrer does not change.  The browser does not change.  And so on.

A hit-based dimension can change from hit to hit.  The URL changes.  The day of the week can change.

Rule 1:
In two-dimension custom reports, the first dimension must be broader than the second.

Visit is broader than hit.  Hit is finer-grained than visit.

So you can use these combinations of Primary > Secondary dimensions in a custom report:

Visit > Visit
Visit > Hit
Hit > Hit

And you must NEVER use this combo:

Hit > Visit

For the latter, you will get a report with results, but it will freeze your soul if you look at it too closely, and astute consumers of your data will laugh at you, or worse.

Rule 2:
For Hit-Hit 2D reports, both events must happen in the same hit!

Of course, Rule 1 begs the question of what is a hit-based dimension and what is a visit-based dimension.  It’s not always intuitive and it’s definitely not in the UI or as far as I can tell in the documentation.  Here’s the correct list for all the currently available Dimension choices and how WebTrends categorizes them.  Pay attention, because you’d probably guess wrong on some.

Hit Dimensions:

  • browser
    browser version
    content group
    cookie parameter
    day of week
    hour of day
    query parameter
    any custom drilldown
    query parameter (when collected on “all hits” or “hits that match xxx” or “most recent value”)
    query string (when collected on “all hits” or “hits that match xxx” or “most recent value”)
    referrer (labeled “per hit”)
    return code
    time period
    url with parameters

Visit-based Dimensions

  • ad campaign
    area code
    authenticated username
    domain name
    entry page
    entry request
    exit page
    geography drilldown
    network type
    new vs returning
    page views
    query parameter (when collected on “first occurrence” or “last occurrence” )
    query string (when collected on “first occurrence” or “last occurrence” )
    referring page (the one labeled “initial per visit”)
    referring site
    referring top level domain
    search engine
    search keywords
    search phrase
    time zone
    top level domain
    visitor segment (WT.seg and WT.vhseg)




25 Custom Reports Related to On-Site Search

Got on-site search? 25 reports that can exploit the wonderfulness of on-site search data.

I’m always disappointed when I get a new analytics client that does not already have an on-site search (OSS) engine.  Or, where it does have on-site search but nobody set it up for analytics.

I think on-site search is a gold mine for finding analytics insights that can really make a difference.  I’ve never presented analytics results for OSS that didn’t result in action by the client (or intention to act, which is almost as good).


In hopes that readers will supply their own favorite OSS reports, here are the reports I’ve found useful.


  • When I say “terms” I often mean “terms, themes or topics.”  Sometimes looking at themes is more valuable than looking at individual terms.
  • I am convinced that a certain proportion of site visitors prefer search and will use the search box immediately on the landing page.   I think this proportion ranges from 10 to 25 percent, although it’s influenced by the type of site.  For this reason, I like to analyze search that happens on the landing page separately from search that happens once the visitor has clicked around a little bit.  The latter can indicate navigation or clarity problems.  The former indicates, loosely, the size of the search-propensity group.
  • A lot of these reports require the collection of more than just the search term used.  On the search results page(s), you should be collecting the term and the number of results shown.  On clickthroughs from results, the resulting content page URL should contain the search term and the rank of the individual result that was clicked on.

On-Site Search reports that help improve relevance of OSS results through adjustments of dictionary, meta-text, or copy

  1. Terms, themes, or topics where people seemed to find what they’re looking for, but far down the list of results
  2. Terms that lead to an exit immediately after the results page
  3. Terms that lead to an exit one or two pages later (not necessarily a bad sign, because those one or two pages might have contained the answer. )
  4. Terms that lead to a customer service page and a contact action, probably because of unsatisfactory results
  5. Terms that are followed by a conversion
  6. Terms that tend to be refined (re-searched in a different form) once the searcher sees the results – either because of too few or too many results, or bad results

On-Site Search reports that help improve the site by suggesting added or improved site content

  1. Terms that are increasing in popularity
  2. Terms with no results
  3. Terms that have results but very low clickthrough
  4. Terms with very large number of results
  5. Terms that led to an exit directly from the results page

On-Site Search reports that help improve the site by suggesting changes to navigation, nomenclature, etc

  1. Terms that are used at some point after the landing page
  2. Pages where searches started (and, of course, what the search terms were)
  3. Pages that were disporportionately reached using on-site search, rather than navigation
  4. Terms used at some point after the landing page, indicating that the visitor started with navigation, but may have given up and used search when navigation didn’t work
  5. Terms used on the landing page  (these people could be natural searchers, or an indicator of revisions needed to the hp nav)

On-Site Search reports that have implications for SEO/SEM 

  1. List of on-site search terms for visits that came from search engines.   (may indicate an inappropriate landing page, for example)


On-Site Search reports that are basically interesting-ish but not necessarily useful.  They seem to be obligatory and expected, however, and can be useful as benchmarks if, and only if, you can decide whether it’s “better” for the metrics to trend up or down.

  1. # of searches
  2. % of all visits with search
  3. Number of searches per session
  4. % of all searches that occur partway through the visit rather than on the landing page
  5. % of all searches or visits that happen directly from the home page – especially after a very short look at the home page.
  6. % of searches where no results were clicked on
  7. #/% of searches that are followed, sooner or later, by a conversion
  8. Proportion of conversions that involve search


  • For more detail on some of the above, see also these Outsider posts:

What on-site search terms led to an exit?
How do visitors refine their on-site searches?
What on-site search term led to this page?