All You Need to Know About Web Tags

November 21, 2017 Clint Eagar

For some reason, us digital professionals use the one word “tag” to refer to multiple things: analytics tags, meta tags, blog tags and hashtags.

Not the same thing.

To further complicate matters, we also elect to use different words to describe the same thing: web tag, analytics tag, tracking pixel, image tag and web beacon are all terms talking about one technology.

Amidst all the complexity, sometimes it’s a good idea to take a moment to articulate the basics. Here’s a quick explanation of what tags are and how you can make sure your tags are functioning correctly.

What is a web tag?

A web tag or website tag is a tool used to gather data on a website.

This tag is a piece of Javascript code, a small pixel, or a transparent image that enables the collection of unique information about a person and on-site behaviors across an organization’s digital properties.

What does a website tag do?

Whenever you visit a website, a tag helps the technology on the website you explore understand your behavioral patterns and trends.

A tag’s purpose can be described as enabling third-party tracking, analytics, reporting, remarketing, conversion tracking, optimization and on-page functionalities like live chat.

Website tags have many applications in web analytics and are an important part of a company’s marketing technologies, often called martech.

What does a tag look like?

Web tags appear in multiple forms.

Sometimes called “pixels,” web tags can be shown as simple 1×1 transparent pixels or image tags loaded onto the web page.

Tags also appear in the form of short snippets of Javascript code. Regardless of the format of the tag, tags are installed by the developer with the purpose of collecting visitor behavior or adding features to the site.

What problems can web tags create?

Of course, all the power web tags have to provide insight into user behavior isn’t the only reason data analysts like me have a job. Tags require a lot of monitoring and maintenance (more specifically known as tag governance) to ensure they continually track behavior as required.

When not properly governed, web analytics and other marketing tags can cause problems. The more tags you have, the higher the chances are that you will have broken, duplicated, or abandoned tags. Having too many tags on a page can mess with your data collection processes.

The consequences of bad tag governance include:

  • Inaccurate analytics reports
  • Unauthorized access to sensitive personal data
  • Excessively complex data analysis
  • Slow page-load times
  • Broken paths through your website

And those problems give digital analysts and governance professionals plenty to ponder.

What can be done?

Tags can be corralled by using an automated tag governance solution, in tandem with a tag management system (TMS).

Tag Management

A TMS is a tool usually provided by a third-party vendor that simplifies the process of implementing and maintaining a site’s tags through a more convenient web interface. A TMS allows users to simply add, remove, or edit tags from a single point of control.

Popular TMSs include Google Tag Manager, Adobe Activation (DTM), and Tealium iQ.

Although a TMS is essential in managing tags, it is not a foolproof solution for many of the same data quality problems that web analytics tags create.

After all, “a single point of control” can also be a single point of failure.

Tag Governance

Tag governance solutions like ObservePoint ensure that all tags within your TMS are performing correctly by means of tag auditing, tag monitoring and tag validation.

  1. Tag auditing. Tag audits scour your website and make sure your tags are where you expect them to be. In combination with a tagging plan, tag auditing tools can greatly improve the quality of the data passed through tags.
  2. Tag monitoring. Like tag auditing, tag monitoring scans your website to detect potential tagging errors. But instead of scanning a large batch of pages, tag monitoring scans sequences and batches of pages on your live site to ensure tags are constantly up and running.
  3. Tag validation. Tag validation is a form of release validation. When you’re getting ready to release an update to your website, tag validation tools allow you to prepare tests to be run before and after release.

Note: You can request a tag governance demo of your own website.

Back to the Basics

It’s good to go back to the basics often.

Understanding the role of website tagging, tag management and tag governance is foundational to your data collection and data governance processes.   Find out whether the tags installed on your site are functioning properly.


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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