All You Need to Know About Web Tags

September 20, 2021 Clint Eagar

In the digital world, the word “tag” refers to so many things: analytics tags, meta tags, blog tags, hashtags, you get the idea.

To further complicate matters, digital marketing and analytics professionals often use different words to describe the same thing. Case in point, the web tag.

A web tag goes by many names: web tag, website tag, analytics tag, analytics tracking code, tracking pixel, image tag, and web beacon are all terms talking about the same 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?

For professionals working in the marketing or analytics space, a web tag or website tag is a tool used to either gather data from or add functionality to a website.

This tag can take the form of a snippet of JavaScript code, a small pixel, or a transparent image that you install on all or some of the pages on your site. 90% of the time a tag comes from a third-party vendor who wants to integrate with your website.

What does a website tag do?

The function of a tag is as diverse as the vendors who provide them, including third-party tracking, analytics, reporting, remarketing, conversion tracking, optimization, session replay, and on-page functionalities like live chat.

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.

The most common use case for installing a tag on your website is to gather data for a digital analytics solution. When someone visits your site, that tag shares data about that visit with your analytics server so that your analyst can make recommendations to improve site performance or optimize marketing campaigns.

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 a developer, IT professional, analyst, marketer, or tag manager with the purpose of collecting visitor behavior or adding features to the site.

What issues can occur with web tags?

The third-party tools you use to enable your marketing efforts are dependent on the functionality of the tags on your site. Unfortunately, because websites regularly change, tags often go missing, break down, or even end up twice on your site. Depending on the tool, these errors might be no big deal and an easy fix. In other cases, having your tags go missing can be a major issue.

Consider your web analytics solution. If your web analytics tracking went down for a day, how much data would you lose? How would that data loss affect your ability to run actionable analyses? Now consider if that tracking went down for a week or more—where does that leave you?

Broken tracking is all too common. As analytics implementations become more advanced, more moving parts means more potential for failure. And because an analytics implementation is often dependent on web page structure, if a developer changes the website, then analytics can break.

In light of these issues, tags require a lot of monitoring and maintenance (or 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.

The consequences of bad governance of your tags include:

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

What can be done?

Tag management systems (TMS) play a big role in helping corral the complexity of a tagging implementation.

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 TMS providers include Google, Adobe, and Tealium.

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.

For companies with advanced or growing analytics implementations, a solution like ObservePoint can help them automatically audit and validate that their tagging implementation maintains its integrity as the implementation grows and the website changes over time.

Governance with ObservePoint

ObservePoint can help you ensure that all tags within your TMS are performing correctly by means of Audits, Journeys, and Rules, features within ObservePoint’s platform.

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.

Audits 

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. Audits align well with the concept of tag auditing

Journeys 

Like Audits, Journeys scan your website to detect potential tagging errors. But instead of scanning a large batch of pages, Journeys scan sequences of pages on your live site to ensure tags are constantly up and running. Journeys align well with the concept of tag monitoring.

Rules

Rules can be applied to both Audits and Journeys and provide a form of release validation. In other words, you can define which tags you expect to see on each page and how you expect them to be formatted. That way, when you’re getting ready to release an update to your website, you can scan your implementation and if any of your Rules fail, you can address the issue quickly.

 

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.

LinkedIn More Content by Clint Eagar
Previous Article
How to Test Your Web Analytics Is Collecting Accurate Data
How to Test Your Web Analytics Is Collecting Accurate Data

How often do you take the time to verify your web analytics is still working? Website changes can break web...

Next Article
11 Web Analytics Solutions You Should Consider Today
11 Web Analytics Solutions You Should Consider Today

If you’re in the market for a new web analytics solution, we’ve got you covered. Here are 11 popular web an...

Get a Custom Pre-Recorded Audit

REQUEST YOUR AUDIT