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.

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.