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 go back to 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 website tag is a tool used to either gather data from or add functionality to a 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.
The most common use cases for installing a tag on your website is to gather data for a digital analytics solution or to send information to an ad server. When someone visits your site, an analytics 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. An advertising tag on your web page would send a cookie to the ad server when a visitor completes an action, like filling out a form or making a purchase, so it can attribute that conversion to the ad that the visitor clicked on to get to your site.
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.
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, or even outside of, your TMS are performing correctly by means of Audits, Journeys, and Rules, features within ObservePoint’s platform.
Audits scan 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.
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 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.
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.