Use URL Search/Replace to Undo Hard-Coded Content Groups

URL Search & Replace – using it to remove hard-coded content groups from your reports.


This post is about a specific use for the Webtrends “URL Search and Replace” functionality.  We wrote about URL S&R in a general way in this post.

You should know about URL S&R because once in a while it’s very helpful.  Irreplaceable, in fact (haha).


Basically, what URL Search/Replace does is this:

The first task the Webtrends processing engine performs is to look at the URL of the hit it’s about to process and to check whether any “Search and Replace” rule matches that URL.  If yes, it makes the specified change then sends the altered hit to be processed as usual.  If no, it sends the original hit, unchanged, to be processed as usual.  That’s it.  The important thing that makes it so useful is that Webtrends does this before absolutely any other processing of that hit.

I don’t know of any other web analytics tool that allows this, but I could be wrong.

Examples of uses:

  • Take a dedicated landing page URL and add the WT.mc_id parameter that you should’ve put there in the first place, but forgot to do, in order to get the traffic to show in campaign reports that depend on seeing WT.mc_id.
  • Change “redir.jsp?” into “” so you can see redirects in pages reports in a less confusing way.
  • Remove the parameter “sessionID=whatever” from all URLs in case you have those kinds of archaic things happening.
  • (if you process server logs rather than SDC data) change an important image into a page file, i.e. change “importantimage.jpg” into “importantimage.html”.

And, the subject of today’s post …

  • Make Webtrends completely ignore any hard-coded content groups (WT.cg_n) and only use the UI-defined content groups you have turned on for that profile.

Why?  If you have hard-coded content groups, they will show up everywhere  – in content group reports and also in content group path reports.  If you want to look at back-and-forth travel among a few select content groups that you defined in the UI, those hard-coded groups mess up everything.  (I know some of you out there have discovered Content Group paths, so this post is for you!)

The answer to the mess is to devote a profile to those select UI-defined content groups and, in that profile, make Webtrends blind to the hard coded ones.

Here’s how:

Since hard-coded content groups contain the text “WT.cg_n=<something>&” you can “remove” them all with this configuration in the S&R interface:

    • Replace from
    • Start of first
    • WT.cg_n=
    • Up to
    • End of next
    • &
    • with
    • <empty field> (i.e. nothin’)

Note that this will leave any content subgroups in place, which is not a big deal – these don’t show in Content Group reports, the Content Group dimension, Content Group paths, or anything else.  If you really want to suppress the subgroups also, use the specification below which relies on the fact that the WT.sys parameter pretty much always follows WT.cg_n.  (You might want to check with a debugger or in an actual log file to be absolutely sure)

    • Replace from
    • Start of first
    • WT.cg_n=
    • Up to
    • Start of next
    • WT.sys=
    • with
    • <empty field>

That’s it.  Once you have made the S&R rule, just turn it on for the selected profile.  Make sure only the important UI-defined content groups are active in that profile.

If you have any other outrageous examples of using URL S&R, let us know!


I realize that Webtrends probably prefers that we only use hard-coded content groups and that they (Webtrends) are trying to lead us in that direction.  It’s true that UI-created content groups use processing time and may not make it easy to architect some functions and reports.  But I think that’s a bit wrong-headed, because the UI-based ones are so much more versatile.  Google Analytics’ recent addition of content groups to their UI is, I think, validation of this.  First of all, UI-defined content groups can be created really fast.  Second, they can be turned on and off as needed, just by assigning/unassigning them to a profile, individually.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to write to us.

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.

Under-appreciated feature: Content Group Paths

Content Group Paths. Every tried ’em? Truly a hidden Webtrends gem.


Content Group Pathing can give you fresh ideas of how people go through your site.   In my opinion, there are far more insights available in pathing than in tabulations of content groups.

I am not talking about page paths, which frankly don’t have a lot of value.  Too much information!

Content Group Pathing consolidates information and can tell stories.  For example, you might see one of these:

  • Half of those who land on an interior page tend to start using on-site search quite soon after landing, while people who enter at the home page hardly ever resort to searching.  Perhaps the home page is much better at orienting people to your site than the interior pages do?
  • A lot of visits flip-flop back and forth between product category C and product category F.  None of the other product categories – A, B, D, E – have this kind of back and forth pattern with another category.  Maybe there is some bad labeling of C or F?  Maybe C and F really are, in the customer mind, two facets of the same thing and should be merged?
  • Of this back-and-forth group of visits, people who go from C to F tend to stay in F, while people who go from F to C tend to go back to F.   Perhaps the value is in the F content for that [possibly confused] group?
  • People who enter at an interior page hardly ever see the home page.  If you have really important information that is only on the home page, then they are missing that content entirely!  Maybe you should add some of that important home page content to interior pages?  Or you could find out why they are entering on interior pages and try to steer them to the home page?
  • People who enter at the home page tend to return to it constantly, and their visits tend to be short, direct, and complete.   Not so for the visits using other entry points.  Again, it looks like the interior pages need some work.
  • The FAQ pages are visited primarily by people who never get down to product detail pages.   Is there something in FAQ material that makes people uninterested in looking closely at what you have?
  • Or, alternatively, many who get to the product detail page level then go quickly to the FAQ, while people who don’t see product details rarely look at the FAQ.   Is something missing from your detailed product information?
  • Although your store locator happens in about a third of all your visits, it appears that most of those visits consist of the store locator and not much else.  People looking at your products aren’t following through to find a store.  Uh oh, maybe that “33% of visits go to store locator” result isn’t something to crow about after all.

I could go on and on.

Almost all of those “stories” can, in fact, be discerned in tabulation-type reports, but you’d have to do a whole lot of them.  Content Paths reveal those stories with far less work.

That is, if you do Content Paths well.  You can also confuse yourself tremendously with Content Group pathing.

I recently experienced a great deal of that confusion looking at Google Analytics’ Flow reports.  Although these are sorta like content path reports in Webtrends, I think what Webtrends offers is a lot better.  Except, of course, Webtrends doesn’t have GA’s cool graphics (which, by the way, are basically Sankey diagrams, one of my all-time favorite data visualization methods).

So.  About “doing Content Paths well.”  I’ll talk about this more in another post.  It’s not that hard to get the hang of.  Stay tuned.






The One Content Group You Should ALWAYS Have

There’s one particular Content Group definition that everybody should have. It should be in every Content Groups report.


There’s one Content Group definition that we put in every single profile and that’s what this post is about – what it is and more importantly why it’s wonderful.  This particular Content Group just shows how many visits there were, overall.   We call it “Overall Visits” and its definition is simply an asterisk.  If somebody’s visit contained one page or a hundred, it will count as 1 visit here.

We load up our Content Groups reports with important site events all the time, which you probably do as well.  It’s so easy to make a Content Group that shows, for example, how many visits saw any variation of a form submittal acknowledgement page, or any kind of contact with customer service, or any mailto: event.  An of course there’s nothing preventing you from making a Content Group that consists of just one page … such as the purchase thank-you page or even just the home page. As we’ve said in other posts, Content Groups rock.

You might ask, why bother when you have the Overview Dashboard and other places where Visits are counted up?

Well, think about the value of having it right there in the Content Groups report.  By slapping the Content Groups report into Excel, you just have to add one formula that divides each Content Group’s visit count by the “Overall Visits” count, and you get “percent of all visits to the site that included this content group.

In the screen shot below, all I did was copy directly from the Content Groups report screen and slapped it into Excel, then added a calculation column (in blue).    48% of visits saw the special offers content.  26% printed a coupon.  Only 21% got to a product detail page.  And so forth.

Anything contentgroup80

This is the one content group that deserves to be set up as Global when it’s first created.  Globality is a check box on the first configuration screen.

Webtrends Content Groups – If You Don’t Already Know About Them, Read This

WebTrends has a feature called Content Groups, which is simply the ability to glom together groups of pages and treat the groups as reportable entities. The concept is so simple that a lot of people just file it under “uh huh, got it” without thinking about what it can be used for. It’s actually one of the biggest little features available, versatile and powerful.


WebTrends has a feature called Content Groups, which is simply the ability to glom together groups of pages and treat the groups as reportable entities.  You can define and name content groups in the admin interface – no need to change tags or page code!

If you can report on Pages, you can do the same kinds of reports with Content Groups.

The concept is so simple that a lot of people just file it under “uh huh, got it” without thinking about what it can be used for.    It’s actually one of the biggest little features available, versatile and powerful.

Content Groups represent the opposite of the report granularity that gets touted and tooted all over the place.  Content Groups do NOT allow you to drill down to the littlest sub-detail.  Content Groups are used for drilling UP to the big picture.

Content Groups can be  hard-coded into each page, in the WT.cg_n parameter.  But far more valuable is the ability to build them right in the interface.  You can make as many as you want and change the definitions whenever you want.

Here are some ways to use content groups:

  • Turn each of your KPIs into a content group.
    • Then use Content Groups as a secondary dimension in custom reports.  For the first dimension, use visit segmenting dimensions like new and return visitors, paid search keyword groups, referring domains, or entry pages.  The resulting report will show, for each segment, the KPI activity for those visits.  As one of our astute readers, Boston Matt, has pointed out, it acts like Google Analytics’ Goals.
    • Or use Content Groups as a primary dimension in custom reports that have important kinds of filters.  One interesting filter is based on search terms, and includes only search terms that are brand terms.  Another would be its flip side —- all search terms that do not contain brand terms.   If you’ve been paying attention to your search terms, you probably can think of quite a few subgroups that you’d like to examine for KPI activity.
  • Define each vertical silo on your web site as a content group (leaving out the home page and other non-silo pages), and look for:
    • intensity within each silo (pages per visit, or pages per visit as a proportion of available pages in the silo)
    • degree to which visits contain more than one silo within a single visit (sum of visits to individual content groups, divided by number of visits to the site) – do you want people to visit more than one silo?
    • general proportionality (each silo’s visits or page views as a percentage of the total) – is it what you’d expect or want?
    • back-and-forth between silos (use Content Group Paths from Entry) – are visits staying entirely in a silo or flipping back and forth between two of them in a way that suggests confusion or perceived overlap?
  • Put each horizontal level of your site into a content group, from the most general down to the deepest most visitor-committed level, and treat the collection of content groups as a funnel:
    • how many visits get to each depth point in your site?  Does it vary by source segment, or by entry page?  Which entry page or segment produces the largest segment of deep visits?

Here are some tips and details:

  • A content group can be just one page.  It doesn’t always have to be a set of pages.
  • You can use tags or the admin interface to make content groups, as said above.  We favor the UI because you can make new ones or adjust existing ones whenever you want.
  • However, although you can change the definitions all you want, beware of changing the name.  Doing so can empty out Content Group reports.  So don’t even think about it.  If you wanna change the name of a content group, it’s a lot better to clone the existing definition, change the name, save it.
  • If a content group is a collection of pages, a “visit” to that content group means “a visit that included any of the pages in the group.”  If the visit hit ten different pagebs, all in Content Group A, the Content Groups report will display that activity as 1 visit, 10 page views for Content Group A.
  • It’s handy to define one universal content group that will give you, in the Content Groups report, the total visits and total page views for the whole site.  You can get the same thing from the Overview Dashboard, but with a Universale content group in your CGs report you don’t have to flip back and forth.   The definition of that content group can be “*”.
  • If you have a reasonable number of mutually exclusive content groups the Content Group Paths From Entry report is probably going to be really interesting.  “Reasonable number” means no more than five or six.  “Mutually exclusive” means no page can be in more than one content group – otherwise you get mush for results.
  • As a dimension, Content Groups is a HIT dimension, not a visit dimension.  You can’t have it as a primary dimension and something like new vs returning visitors as a secondary dimension.  See more on these restrictions here.
  • If you want Unique Visitors stats for content groups, you have to collect the Content Group of Interest parameter in each hit in the content group, and when analyzing you must have Visitor History for Content Groups turned on.
  • If you want a content group drilldown report (content groups and content subgroups) you have to define them with parameters – WT.cg_n and WT.cg_s respectively.  I have no idea why WT doesn’t have this in the user interface definition capability.
  • If you want Unique Visitors as a measure for content group reports, WebTrends requires they be defined using the WT.cg_n parameter (and a special switch in the Visitor History toggle set).

We’ll have more posts on specific Cool Custom Reports that use content groups.