Strategy Talks Sitecore Part 2: Path Analyzer

June 22, 2015 Alex Ziegler

In this second post of my three-part series, I will introduce you to the Path Analyzer capability in Sitecore, which allows you to follow individual user paths on your site.

As with all posts in this series, I will explain the following related to Path Analyzer:

  • What is it? – A description of the functionality.
  • What can it do? – A scenario showing how the feature can be used by a relationship-based business like yours.
  • What can you do? – Suggested activities you can do to lay the foundation for gaining the most from the functionality.

Imagine that you are walking along a paved road in a park when you see a path that was not initially intended. It cuts a corner, and was obviously formed by multiple visitors who wanted a more efficient way to get around.

"desire path"

This is often referred to as a “desire path.” In the world of user experience, this term is used to describe cases when users overcome limitations by creating their own shortcuts to achieve their desired goals. A good example is the use of hashtags and @ mentions on Twitter. Both were developed based on user needs and Twitter eventually “paved” them into standard features.

Analyzing user paths is something that web strategists tend to find very useful. They often reveal how traffic is flowing across a digital property and whether or not visitors are using designed navigational paths as intended. For this reason, I’m excited to introduce you to a brand new feature in Sitecore called Path Analyzer. While you may have seen or utilized the “User Flow” feature in Google Analytics, this functionality provides a much richer, more intuitive way to visualize user paths.

Introduction - Determining Desired User Paths

While the Path Analyzer functionality is quite compelling, you are likely hard-pressed to find explanations of ways it can be used by a relationship-based business such as yours. For companies selling individual products to consumers in a transactional way, it’s not difficult to imagine what paths you’d want users to go take (Hint: They involve any path that leads to a full shopping cart and, ultimately, a purchase.). You are likely asking yourself: “What do desired paths look like for a website like mine, which is aimed at selling intangible things like expertise, ideas and ongoing services?”

Since the sales for your business primarily happen off-line, defining desired paths for your audiences is more of an art than a science. It’s important to get creative and evaluate what content and actions truly get your audiences closer to making a decision to partner with your organization. In the next sections, I will break down the Path Analyzer tool to help you envision how you might use this new feature.

What is it?

path analyzer graphic

Path Analyzer is an app in Sitecore version 8 that lets you create a map showing how users travel through your site. It allows you to see paths on the aggregated level (showing which are most and least commonly used), as well as on the individual level (showing the path of a specific user).

Path Analyzer maps contain the following visual components:

  • Rings: These represent each step the user has taken. The user starts their journey in the middle and then moves outward.
  • Nodes: On each ring, there are nodes representing different pages that are visited by users. You can click on a node to get a more detailed view into where users are coming from when they access the page, and also where they are going after viewing the page. 
    • Color: Each node is assigned a color. The color represents how much you want visitors to go to the page. If the node is colored green, it means you find that page to be very valuable. If the node is on the red side, you consider that page to be lower value content.
  • Connectors: Connectors represent movement from one page to another.
    • Thickness: The thickness of the connecting lines represents how frequently users have taken a particular path.

You can customize your view in different ways, but the most basic is to see the total number of visitors within a certain time period.

What can it do?

Setting a Digital Goal
Imagine that your team has done some user research and discovered the importance of email communications to your prospective clients. You find that for the busiest decision-makers, email is the best way to get in front of them and to prove your level of expertise on an ongoing basis.

Your team decides that one of your main goals for the upcoming year will be to increase the number of individuals subscribing to your company’s email communications by 50%. To help you think about how to achieve this goal, you decide to look at the Path Analyzer tool and get a sense for what is currently happening on your site.

Understanding User Behavior
The first thing you do to start your investigation is to select a few individuals who have chosen to subscribe to your emails. You decide to see what led them to this action and notice an interesting trend. Individuals who subscribed tended to browse multiple articles before committing to regular emails.

Another trend you identify is that users must go to your “Insights” landing page in order to subscribe. You find that many users who have not subscribed did not end up visiting this page. Instead, they arrived at articles directly via a Google Search or via a URL.

Setting Relative Page Values
Your team determines that in order to increase subscriptions, you have to do two things: 1) ensure that users are guided to read multiple articles, and 2) make the subscription link accessible regardless of how users arrive at the content.

In Sitecore, you assign the subscription form page the highest value. You then assign article detail pages the next level of priority. These pages will now show up as green nodes in Path Analyzer since they represent pages that you most want your users to navigate to.

Implementing Changes
To achieve your goal, your team surfaces articles that are most relevant to your users based on the context of what they are viewing across your site. Additionally, by including recommended content on the bottom of each article, users never hit a dead-end and are instead guided to continue exploring multiple relevant articles. Finally, you add a subscribe link to each article detail page so that all users can easily find it.

Continuous Improvement
Your team reaches your goal of increasing subscriptions by 50%, but you don’t want to stop there. You decide to use Path Analyzer to gain more insight. You find that your homepage is particularly effective at guiding users toward articles. On this page, you present content by themes and business topics, which proves to be an effective technique. Your team uses this to inform improvements across other sections of your site.

What should we do?

To make a scenario like the one above possible, consider the following activities.

1. Goal-setting
Conduct a brainstorm session during which your team defines measurable digital goals for your website. The best way to do this is to gain inspiration from researching your audience’s needs and to focus on strategies that support your high-level business objectives.

In the case of the above scenario, the goal was to increase subscriptions. Here are examples of other tangible goals you can target:

  • Increasing number of individuals registering for events or webinars
  • Increasing frequency of users sharing your content via social media
  • Increasing number of visitors who view more than one service page to support cross-sell opportunities

2. Page Prioritization
Once you define measurable goals, identify which pages of your site most help to support those goals, and assign these pages a relative priority. This will add the visual cues (green nodes) that will help you to find more meaning from your Path Analyzer maps.

In the case of the above scenario, the subscribe form was given the highest value. Article detail pages were also assigned a high value, because they support the action of subscribing.

3. Process
Define a process for your organization to continuously learn from user paths. For example, once a quarter, use Path Analyzer to determine what seems to be working and what might help to improve user flow to your most valuable pages.

In the case of the above scenario, even though your team reached its goal of increasing subscriptions, you still utilized the Path Analyzer to find that grouping content by theme was valuable in guiding users to valuable content.

That wraps up this post.

Missed the previous post in this series? Learn more about Customer Profile.

Hungry for more? Stay tuned for the final post in this series about Adaptive Personalization.

Interested in the more technical aspects of Sitecore implementation?
Check out a few of our other posts on Sitecore:
Sitecore: Express Subitem Module
Sitecore vCards


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Alex Ziegler

At the time of publishing, Alex was a Strategist at One North.


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