The Ultimate Guide to Tag Management & Tag Governance

How to properly implement and monitor your third-party tags in 2019.

 

Let's Learn

From the same folks who brought you The Ultimate Guide to Content Security Policy (CSP), Blue Triangle presents The Ultimate Guide to Tag Management & Tag Governance.

This article will be your one-stop-shop for all the basics regarding website tags, their influence on page speed, tag managers, and the nuance of the relationship between Tag Management and Tag Governance. We'll make sure to answer all the frequently asked questions surrounding website tags in a simple, clear, and coherent manner. Now, let's learn about tags!

 

The Basics

Setting the stage for the rest of the discussion, it is imperative that we have a basic understanding of the terms we'll be using in this guide.

Third-Party Tags

Also known as tags, trackers, or beacons, third-party tags are snippets of JavaScript code provided by third-party vendors that live on a website to serve functions such as analytics, ad serving, A/B testing, and more. They generate browser calls to external third-party servers.

Tag Manager

Tag managers such as Ensighten, Tealium, Adobe Launch, and Google Tag Manager allow site owners to deploy tags directly on their site quickly from a centralized location, without editing site code. 

Tag Management

The ongoing act of adding, removing, and assigning rules to tags to optimize page speed, improve security, and ensure proper site and tag functionality.

Tag Governance

Tag Governance provides processes and mechanisms to ensure proper tag implementation and ongoing tag management. Processes and mechanisms include analytics on tag load time, placement, and loading order, as well as alerting when tags get added, removed, or slow down.

Tag Governance solutions like Blue Triangle's can directly show how much a specific tag is affecting page speed and quantify the page speed impact on revenue.

Tag Loading Order 

Where a tag loads within the loading queue. You can define tag loading order manually or through a tag manager. 

Piggyback Tags

Also known as fourth-party tags, piggyback tags are tags that are introduced to your site by the third-party tags you have implemented. If managed incorrectly, piggybacks can pose a significant security risk to your site. 

 

Best Practices for Tag Management

Using a Tag Manager

Tag managers make it easy to implement tags and assign rules for them, such as: 

  • What pages tags can load on 
  • When in the page tags can load (e.g., DOM Ready, Window Loaded)  
  • At what point tags can fire (e.g., scroll depth, form submission, element visibility) 

Below is a trigger in Google Tag Manager for tags that can only load on bluetriangle.com's Demo Confirmation page. 

 

 

For small websites, implementing a tag manager is free and easy. For example, Google Tag Manager offers a free plan that allows you to manage tags on three websites concurrently. If you want unlimited websites, consulting, and robust approval workflows, you'll need to upgrade to Google's enterprise version, Tag Manager 360. Adobe Launch/DTM, Ensighten, and Tealium are other enterprise tag managers.

Below is the market share of the four most popular tag managers in the Internet Retailer Top 500

 

Source: Blue Triangle

 

Tag Manager Pros

  • Organized tag inventory 
  • Faster tag implementation
  • Does not require a developer 

There is a massive upside associated with using a tag manager. Implementing and managing your tags without one creates a hectic land of chaos. A tag manager saves you hours of labor and spreadsheet hell, helps eliminate errors, and does not require a developer to hard code your tags. Plus, the learning curve is not steep. Tag Manager training is often free and self-directed.

Tag Manager Cons

  • Price
  • Single point of failure 

The most significant barrier to entry for larger firms looking for a tag manager is the cost associated with one. Many enterprise tag managers do not come cheap and often require you purchase the vendor's entire platform. Thus, it can be difficult for companies with limited financial flexibility to find the budget required to buy one.  

Tag Managers also present a single point of failure. Tag manager outages are rare, but they do happen. Many sites are now using two different tag managers with similar configurations to dilute the risk of outages. It is highly unlikely that two tag managers will ever simultaneously fail. On days of notoriously high web traffic such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it is crucial to consider these precautions. 

 

Hard-Coding Your Tags

Hard-coding tags directly on your website make tagging error-prone and time-intensive. Hard-coding also requires a web developer for implementation and ongoing management. That said, hard-coding tags onto your site is by no means useless, as it can save you a headache in the future by preventing one of the critical issues associated with a tag manager – a single point of failure. Plus, a tag manager adds an additional JavaScript call to your site. Though it loads asynchronous, it is something to consider, especially if you only have one or two tags on your website. 

Pros to Hard-Coding Tags

  • Avoid the single point of failure dilemma 
  • Eliminates a JavaScript call

Cons to Hard-Coding tags

  • Manual tag inventory 
  • Time intensive 
  • Requires a web developer 
  • Error-prone 

Hard coding tags is simply more complicated and annoying than using a tag manager. With a tag manager, adding a firing trigger or removing a tag can be done in just a few clicks. Implementing these changes manually can be a long, painstaking, and complicated process. Along the way, the individual managing the site is subject to minor mistakes and tag oversights that can lead to self-implicated malfunctions in the future.  

Inventorying your tags can also be a challenge. Self-inventory can take hours analyzing various pages of your site (typically in the Chrome Dev Console). Tags can be easily overlooked, and at times, you may not truly have a full understanding of what is and what is not living on your site. Regardless of whether tag inventorying is taking place in Excel or a more narrowly focused application, relying solely on not making human error can spell serious trouble for your site.

 

Best Practices for Tag Governance

Tag governance, although often confused with tag management, is meant to be used in conjunction with your tag manager. Using analytics provided from a tag governance solution such as Blue Triangle's, you can improve your tagging in a way that will boost site speed, and as a result, grow revenue.  

Elements of Tag Governance

  • Validate tag placement
  • Load critical tags earlier in the page
  • Monitor tag load time and page speed impact
  • Measure how tag speed is affecting online revenue
  • Identify piggyback tags (4th party tags)
  • Assign owners to each tag on your site

Validate Tag Placement

Ensuring the right tags are placed on the right web pages is a fundamental concept, but you'd be surprised how few firms are scrutinizing what pages each tag should, and should not, load on.  

A typical example of a misplaced tag is the BazaarVoice tag, which is required to present customer reviews. Often, sites will load this tag on pages where customer reviews or ratings are not present. This error is most commonly observed on home pages (see below). Loading the tag adds unnecessary JavaScript calls to the page and adversely impacts page speed. 

 

 

Sometimes tags go missing from the pages they should be loading on. An example of this is a conversion tracking tag that isn't loading on an eCommerce site's "Thank You" page. Another example is an Adobe Analytics tag that wasn't added to a recently launched Black Friday deals landing page (see below).

 

 

 

Load Critical Tags Earlier in the Page

Once placed on the right web pages, it's time to make sure the tags are loading in the correct order. Prioritize business-critical tags first. For example, you don't want below-the-fold customer reviews to load before your product image carousel. 

Many sites have different criteria for when certain tags ought to load based on business needs. Media sites are more likely to load ad serving tags first because they generate revenue from ad impressions and click-throughs. A retailer typically loads tags critical to the conversion funnel (e.g., AB testing) before auxiliary items such as live chat. 

Here's an example of our customer, SlickDeals, that prioritized their business-critical tags first: 

slickdeals critical tags loading early

 

Here's how that page is delivered to the end-user: 

slickdeals store page

 

Monitor Tag Load Time and Page Speed Impact

Tags have a direct impact on the speed of your site. That's because they add additional calls to your web pages (your browser can only handle so many at a time) and increase the overall size of your web pages. 

On March 13, 2018, the Google DoubleClick tag had a significant performance issue (see below). 

The issue slowed down websites by 20+ seconds. The impact? Global revenue loss across various industries. Here's how one retailer was impacted: 

 

Google DoubleClick is just one example. IBM Digital Analytics (Coremetrics) had outages Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2019 that slowed down many of their retail customers, including Victoria's Secret: 

Inserting image...

 

Fact is, third-parties have a lot of control. Actively tracking their load time is critical to establishing tag governance and optimizing your tag management. If one of your third-party tags has an issue, you need to know about it immediately so you can make a game-time decision whether to remove the tag or defer its loading to later in the page. 

The Blue Triangle report below shows how easy it is to analyze the load time of your tags and set Service-Level Agreements (SLAs) for your tags:

 

Measure how Tag Load Time is Impacting Online Revenue

Most tags impact page speed. By understanding each tag's page speed impact and correlating its impact to revenue, you can make tag management decisions that don't just boost speed, but also improve revenue.

 

Identify Piggyback Tags (4th party tags)

Piggyback tags, or fourth-party tags, are tags that are brought onto your site by your third-party tags. It can be challenging to identify what tags are piggybacks and who's introducing them. In addition to the page speed impact, piggybacks are a security risk since they may have access to personal data without you even knowing. 

Tag Governance tools like Blue Triangle's use hierarchy charts to help you identify piggybacks. You can also use the Chrome development tools to manually identify what initiated each of your JavaScript tags. 

 

Assign Ownership to Your Tags

Assigning ownership to each of your tags is an integral part of tag governance and management. It facilitates transparency and ensures the tag is providing value to your business. We suggest that you assign a department, business owner, and technical owner to each of your tags. That way, you know who to contact if there is an issue. 

 

Blue Triangle's Tag Governance

Ready to dive deeper? Blue Triangle's Tag Governance can help you optimize your tag management for better page speed and revenue. Utilizing your tag data, we'd be happy to spend a few minutes with you and provide you with a no-hassle overview.

 

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