The Case for Small, Focused Audits

April 2, 2014 Alan Feuerlein

Small, focused audits can produce quick, actionable results for most—but not all—of your tagging problems.

During ObservePoint’s early development phases, we focused on building an auditing system that could handle huge crawls and enormous data sets. Our early stress tests gave us confidence that we could audit multi-million-page sites with accuracy and speed. That’s what our customers asked for, so that’s what we focused on. Huge audits show prowess and have real business benefits to be sure. This post, however, touts the merits of the humble, 5,000-page-or-less audit.

Some surprising data

In 2012, our system-wide average audit size was 2,504 pages. When we first started tracking this number in 2010, we were surprised to see how our expectation that audits would be very large—usually a few hundred thousand pages in our estimation—turned out to be untrue. Sure, we regularly see large audits, but most of the time our customers choose a targeted approach around small, focused audits instead.

Benefits of small, focused audits

Small, strategically targeted audits offer several clear benefits. First, smaller data sets are easier to analyze because they are specific. Web analytics data is rich with variables. A single Adobe Analytics tag can contain up to 216 variables. Multiplied across a few thousand pages, this can be a lot of data, but still manageable. Across a few hundred thousand pages, this data gets noisy and finding problems on the page level becomes a more difficult task.

Visibility of problems

The first several thousand pages of an audit tend to expose more problems at greater regularity than the large number of pages deeper into an audit.

The first few thousand pages tend to contain tagging problems that are symptomatic of systemic weaknesses in the deployment. Solving systemic problems provides the most bang for your buck.

Better work prioritization

In large audits, the first few thousand pages tend to be those that are the most visible to your visitors. Limiting the audit size allows you to cut out the fat by focusing on those higher-value pages where fixes will have the greatest positive impact on data quality.

Organized, manageable work

Segmenting audits to various sections of your website promotes an organized, workable approach to a daunting task. When working with a focused audit result, it’s less work to find problems and submit fixes. The people who fix the tags also enjoy more manageable work requests.

Better for agile development

You’re more likely to hit a moving target when you’re shooting more bullets. Similarly, websites change often and so should your tags. And as an audit ages, the data is more likely to be outdated due to the natural evolution on the site. Smaller, targeted audits ensure that you’ve always got fresh, actionable data.

How to segment audits in ObservePoint

The first step in audit segmenting is to identify what data you want in the end. Think of this in terms of your site organization – groups of somehow related pages should share certain tag deployment characteristics.

Think about what to include

You’ll want data from a specific subdirectory, subdomain, or both. For example, you could target the store of your site instead of the whole site. Splitting on multiple subdirectories could let you view what’s going on with tennis and golf right before major events.

Think about what to exclude

You may also want to exclude certain subdomains, often for different countries or languages.

When to do a large audit

There are three reasons to perform a large audit. First, to detect deprecated tags anywhere on your website. Second, to identify all pages and tags deployed on the site. Finally, you suspect that some website areas might not be identified or covered in targeted audits. In all other cases, small, focused audits are more effective and actionable.


When building your auditing strategy, start by considering the type of data you’re looking to find. In most cases, it’s more manageable and actionable to use small, targeted audits on sections of your website as opposed to large, site-wide audits. This is especially true when you have a highly dynamic, ever-changing website.

Small, focused audits encourage agility in pinpointing issues, help prioritize issues, organize your work, and allow for quick changes. The mantra here is more audits, less pages. The ability to view audits in segmented fashion, view more recent audits, and consume smaller data sets is a benefit not to be overlooked.

Not all problems are fixed by the humble 5,000 page audit, but it is a great starting point and at many times the right tool for the job. Happy auditing!

What’s your experience? Your comments are welcome below.


About the Author

Alan Feuerlein

Alan is an innovative software developer and leader who is passionate about Big Data and digital marketing. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Alan now lives in Orem, Utah and has worked in developing software since 2009. He's spent 6+ years in the web analytics industry in data verification and has worked aggressively to resolve poor data quality. Because of the many issues he has encountered in the digital world, he often refers to the internet as “The Wild West.”

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