5 Steps to a Powerhouse Website Tagging Strategy

April 4, 2018 Matthew Maddox

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After years of training people to deploy analytics tags, I’ve learned some of the do’s and don’ts of building an effective website tagging strategy and tagging plan.

One of the biggest failures in building a website tagging strategy is, coincidentally, not building one. So before you start installing tags on your site with little to no thought, first walk through the following steps to make sure you have all your ducks in a row.

We approach the topic as if we were building a new website, but best practices are best practices regardless. You can apply these same principles no matter how old your website.

Take 5 minutes to read through the following steps and evaluate your own website tagging strategy.

1. Determine business requirements

Ask yourself: “Why does my website exist? What am I trying to accomplish?” Answering these questions will give direction to your website tagging strategy. If you understand the “why” behind your website, you will be able to more easily identify what tags (vendors) you need to install.

Identify the why

If you’re not quite sure why your website exists, consider this statement: Most websites exist to sell more stuff. Even if your website is not an eCommerce site, you are likely trying to improve revenues by offering motivation to your customer base to engage with your products or services. For example:

  • Financial services websites offer services online so that you’ll do more business with them.
  • Automobile companies try to redirect you to one of their dealers so you can buy their cars.
  • Restaurant websites entice you to try their food.
  • Media websites either sell their content or sell space to advertisers—or both. In either case they are selling something.

No matter what your content is, you’re really trying to sell merchandise, services, or ideas.

Learn more about how knowing your “why” affects your web analytics strategy.

Write your business requirements

So in order for you to sell, to achieve your “why,” what does your website need to accomplish? Find the answer to this question, and you have your business requirements.

Here are some examples of business requirements in plain language:

  • I need to monitor user behavior on lead-gen landing pages so I can optimize conversions
  • I need to test different variations of a web page to determine which performs best
  • I need to capture campaign variables to establish ROI on campaigns

Once you have your business requirements listed out, you’ll have an idea of the technologies you need:

  • Web analytics
  • A/B testing
  • Attribution

Business Requirements for Web Analytics Tools

For web analytics tools, you will also want to identify your primary metrics before installing the analytics tag. You can measure just about anything, but you don’t need to measure everything. To keep your analytics aligned to business objectives, determine your primary metrics before installing the tool.

2. Choose vendors

You may already have vendors in mind when writing out your business requirements. For each candidate, go through the following vendor approval checklist:

  1. Does the vendor meet our business requirements?
  2. Does the cost of the vendor fit within our budget?
  3. Does the vendor comply with data privacy regulations like GDPR?
  4. Does the vendor provide training?

If after going through these questions, you still feel good about the vendor, then you should be good to move forward.

3. Document your tags and variables

Once you have your business requirements and you have selected vendors, you can start building out documentation about each tag and the variables within those tags. (For a quick refresher about tags, check out this post sharing all you need to know about web tags.)

Back to documenting your tags: Tag documentation is known by many names, including a tagging plan, a solution design reference (SDR), a tech spec, a variable strategy, etc. To simplify, let’s call it a tagging plan.

Your tagging plan is the technical counterpart for your business requirements. To draw an analogy, your tagging plan is comparable to a building’s blueprint, giving technical descriptions of how to build and wire the structure.

Your tagging plan will act as the blueprint for your website, giving technical specifications for each vendor you install on your site.

Here is a small portion of an example tagging plan, specifically for Adobe Analytics:

Example tagging plan

Avoid letting your tagging plan become a dusty document buried in someone’s hard drive. Bring this document online, keep it alive and make it accessible to anyone deploying/testing tags or analyzing data. Every time your website or analytics changes, the tagging plan needs to be updated.

4. Deploy your tags

You have your blueprint—are you ready to build? There are a few ways you can deploy your tags. We’ll talk about each:

a. Manually on each page

If you have a relatively small website where each page has unique tagging needs, then you’ll probably have to tag each page manually. Just install the tag onto each page as specified by your vendor’s documentation.

b. Through your content management system

If you’re working with a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you should be able to group pages by similar tagging profiles and install the required tags in the heads of those templates. For example, all the product pages on an eCommerce site probably use the same analytics variables, so they can all include the same tag configuration.

c. Through a tag management system

Tag management systems (TMSs) allow you to deploy tags through a container code which you install on every page of your site. So instead of installing tags onto each page, you configure your TMS to fire specific tags based on predefined rules. To use another eCommerce example, you might have specific tags fire whenever a /product/ page loads.

Testing and Quality Assurance

If you have a large site and tags with a lot of custom variables, you will want to test those tags before pushing them onto your live site. Your ability to do so will depend on the availability of dev resources and the maturity of your tagging plan. A new trend is to bring your tagging plan rules online so you can more easily automate testing and validation.

5. Maintain your website tagging strategy

Remember how I said at the beginning of this piece that one of the biggest failures in a website tagging strategy is not building one in the first place? That’s just one failure. Another way tagging strategies fall apart is when they’re not properly maintained.

Websites have a lot of moving parts. They change constantly. As a result, there are myriad reasons why tags can stop working, such as:

  • Errors in page code that prevent tags from firing correctly or collecting information
  • Conflicting code from other Javascript functions
  • Website structure updates that make data inaccessible to your tags
  • Misconfigured TMS rules that cause tags not to fire
  • Slow-loading elements on a page that stop a tag from collecting data

If you don’t frequently check your tags to make sure they’re working properly, something could go wrong and you simply won’t know about it. To avoid broken tags, you can adopt tag governance into your website tagging strategy.

Tag governance is comprised of tag validaiton, tag auditing, and tag monitoring.

  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.

Essentially, tag governance brings your website tagging strategy full circle, making sure your chosen vendors function properly and meet your business requirements. If you have a large website, performing these audits manually may be unrealistic, so you might consider using an automated tag governance solution.

More Resources for Your Website Tagging Strategy

A website tagging strategy is the most effective way to ensure your website tags work properly under all conditions. The next step is to apply these top 5 website tagging best practices.

 

About the Author

Matthew Maddox

Matt’s mission is to educate and enable customers to use the marketing technologies they select for their sites most effectively. Matt delivered training at Omniture and Adobe for over eight years before joining ObservePoint. He was the dedicated trainer for several global companies, creating and delivering custom courses based on their corporate business requirements. With a wealth of experience solving analytics questions in many industry verticals, including e-commerce, media, finance, lead generation and automotive, Matt offers sound direction and analytics insight.

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