How Analytics and Marketing Tags Break

May 9, 2018 Clint Eagar

Websites are meant to be dynamic. They are constantly changing and growing, with new technologies frequently being added—allowing us to match the needs of our customers.

But there’s a catch. Because websites are constantly changing, essential pieces can be left out or misconfigured. Id est, analytics and marketing tags break.

When I say tags “break,” I mean they’re not functioning as intended. The word “break” can be a bit misleading and somewhat of an oversimplification—saying “broken” could make you think that the tag itself somehow changed and no longer functions, which isn’t always the case.

There are myriad reasons why tags stop functioning as intended. Some examples of what “broken” tags could refer to are:

  • Errors in page code that prevent tags from firing correctly or collecting information
  • Implementations deployed by different teams that conflict and interrupt tags
  • Website structure updates that relocate tags or data so tags can’t find the data they need
  • Misconfigured TMS rules that cause tags to not fire when or where they should
  • Slow-loading elements on a page that cause a tag to wait until that element loads, which cuts off data collection for other elements
  • The data layer or certain functions that are set to load after the tag, and the tag can’t collect what’s not there

Another example of a “broken” tag is one that seems to be functioning just fine, but is sending data places you don’t want it to go. This is known as data leakage (more on this later). If any of the above errors—or any others not mentioned—occur on your site, it means your data is not being collected or getting where it needs to, and the money and resources you’ve invested in your data collection technology is going to waste.

Why Do These Errors Happen?

Like I said earlier, part of the challenge is the nature of web development—it’s a highly dynamic process, with a lot of pieces from different teams that all need to be configured just right in order to work properly.

Still, sometimes broken tags are the result of broken business processes that otherwise could have been avoided. Issues such as miscommunication across business units and operational teams, incomplete tag documentation and increasingly complex marketing technology portfolios can be the millstone that “breaks” your tags.

Many of these challenges can be avoided with effective data governance. Understanding each of these potential points of failure can put you in a position to guard against broken tags and direct your organization towards data governance maturity.

Take a look at the following areas that could be falling-off points for your data collection and governance:

Tag Documentation

Tag documentation is your baseline, your blueprint to make sure your tag implementations stay up and running. This tag documentation, often known as a tagging plan or solution design reference (SDR), is a record of all tag information, such as variable names, expected values and when/where a variable should be set.

Unfortunately, due to the dynamic nature of web development, web assets usually change faster than SDRs are updated. As a result, the standard for deploying technologies, as well as the documentation on all current technologies deployed, is incomplete, and there goes your baseline. Assigning stewardship as well as a regular cadence for updating the SDR is essential.

Tag Management Systems

While it’s not likely that you’re passing out tag management credentials willy-nilly, if there is not a standard for tag deployment, TMS users working in silos may deploy all sorts of tags that weigh down your site, pass data to insecure third-parties or perform duplicate functions.

If you’re using a TMS, you need to establish a protocol for onboarding new technologies and may need to quash a culture of circumventing the TMS to deploy one’s own tags.

Complex Martech Stacks

Marketing technology stacks are growing to meet the needs of customers and marketers. But more technology means more documentation, more education and maybe even more personnel. As you make your martech stack more complex and deploy more web technologies on your site, you increase the probability of failure, and an overloaded marketer may not pick up on the failure immediately.

These are some of the main operational inefficiencies that cause your tags to break. So what happens if they do break? You’ll find that your data quality, security and privacy are threatened by a menacing triad of data destroyers: data inflation, data leakage, and data loss.

How to Protect Against Broken Analytics and Marketing Tags

So what do you do about broken tags? Because manually testing all your tags across what could be millions of pages is unrealistic, applying an automated solution is your best option. Tag auditing tools are automated solutions to help you detect broken, missing or unauthorized tags.

These tools work alongside tag management systems to ensure proper governance of tags. In addition, you can set up audit rules to validate your tags against your tag documentation and ensure every tag in your stack is in good shape.

To see an audit in action, request a sample audit of your own website.


About the Author

Clint Eagar

Clint gets things done. He has been building websites, marketing and optimizing them for 15 years. He claims to know a little bit about a lot of things and is relied on to execute anything quickly. Clint has been with ObservePoint since the early days and has helped support, test, and promote the product. Before coming to ObservePoint he was at OrangeSoda, running the enterprise SEO team, and before that he was a business consultant at Omniture.

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