More articles by Mike Sands
More Tags, More Problems
Delivering tags down to a web page is the prime directive of any tag management system. However, a properly delivered tag is still subject to the hostile environment of the browser where syntax errors, server outages and deferred tag loading can cause the data in the tag to be lost on its way to tag owners like your analytics company or your online marketing partners.
During the 2012 peak holiday shopping period, BrightTag data shows even properly delivered 3rd party tags generated errors as much as 17 percent of the time, crippling data quality for the unlucky sites during the most important shopping days of the year.
Why so many errors?
Properly delivered tags still error in the browser at a high rate for a litany of reasons. Three of the most common include:
- Vendor server outages: When vendor servers hang, tags call out but don’t get responses. This impacts site performance until either the tag is stricken from the page or the vendor comes back online. In the meantime, the result is again total data loss.
- Deferred tag loading: Waiting until the last second to load tags contributes significantly to data loss as the chance consumers navigate away from the page before all tags have loaded increases greatly with each delay.
- Syntax: An error in the syntax, or code, of the third-party tag (any deviation from the exact predefined markup set by the vendor) can cause the tag—and possibly the entire page—to come to a screeching halt, resulting in total data loss.
Many websites attempt to solve the deferred loading issue with tag containers providing asynchronous (e.g. batch) loading of tags; while this reduces loading problems it fails to solve them entirely. In reality, browsers can only load a limited number of tags at any time; therefore tags first in line within the container will load sooner than those at the end. In fact, a vendor recently reported to BrightTag that its data collection dropped by about 20 percent when its tag was moved from first to tenth within an asynchronous loading tag container. Imagine what happens to others, further down in the pecking order. This means that one out of every five consumers navigated away from the page before the tenth tag loaded in the tag container. Simply put, asynchronous loading, while useful, is not a silver bullet for either page performance or data collection.
Browser based tags can cause serious website performance issues (slow page loads, cascading Java script errors, full page timeouts, etc.) that frustrate consumers and often increase site abandonment. When consumers get frustrated and stop visiting a website, the responsibility falls on e-commerce and I.T. professionals to rectify the problems, usually by increasing budgets for maintenance and repair. Compound these costs with the direct loss of sales revenue, and return on investment (ROI) can suffer substantially.
Perhaps even more frustrating, analytics teams and marketers can lose valuable data. Tag errors result in gaps in the data collected and passed to vendors, potentially causing costly marketing waste. For example, a tag error failing to capture converted sales means purchasing consumers remain in the relevant cookie pools. Marketers leveraging this flawed data then target or retarget the wrong people, wrong product, or worst case scenario both. These flawed campaigns ultimately result in a low ROI and increase consumer frustration.
The conventional approach for handling failing tags is to remove or deactivate them to spare the page. The problem with this approach is that it kills the data collection method and may not resolve all of the site performance issues. This could lead to a worst of both worlds scenario in which page performance remains poor and data collection ceases entirely.
Retiring the tag
Website tagging technology debuted 15+ years ago around the time of the 56k modem, so why do marketers still entrust this outdated method to fuel their digital marketing partners with the data necessary to drive value-add initiatives? As with most outdated technology, the tag struggles under the burden of today’s data-driven marketing ecosystem resulting in errors and misfires.
What’s the solution? We do what we’ve always done when faced with these issues: create new technologies to replace that which fails, which in this instance is the tag. This type of innovation has already begun throughout the industry with the proliferation of tag management solutions; but there’s still room to grow. At its core, the data, not the tags, remain the critical component for marketers and vendors; determining the most effective and efficient way to exchange data will spur the next great innovations.
The following image is a timeline of tag “events” starting with the initial tag implementations and ending with the data chaos marketers experience today; the x-axis represents the increase in tags, data and accompanying complexity (click graphic twice to enlarge):
Looking at the timeline above, it’s easy to see how the demand for data sparked the innovation necessary to provide marketers exactly what they needed. Unfortunately, current data demands exceed the abilities of current technologies. It’s time to provide marketers something better.
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