March 2, 2016
Ha, where to begin? I’ve actually been working on this post now for the better part of a month, as organizing it has been as daunting as the subject itself.
What is this cyberweb thing really all about?
Since the dawn of the internet, the ability to link and connect has been paramount and fundamental. This naturally led to the desire to “track” how people were clicking and linking, thus the birth of web analytics and online tracking tags, code, and software.
I’ll veer off history and jump to the present where internet user tracking is as natural as a breath of air for the survival of a mammal. We can track everything, and as I found out last summer in one of my masters courses, we can even track what you’re doing in the browser when you’re just moving (or not moving) your cursor.
This is not limited to a website’s own content, but extends to third party advertising, sales networks, etc. rendered within the content. It’s definitely the main reason why I think I’m being tracked ALL the time, even when I’m not online. I’m not paranoid, just realistic of my surroundings.
While I jumped us to the present, I should take one minor step back to say that all this tracking isn’t synchronous or consistent from one organization to another. An ad serving network is different than a web user tracking script, which can be grossly different than that of a referral code/pixel. The challenging part quickly became how to keep all these codes clear, consistent, and running in do order, in addition to deploying them on time.
Pesky tags and the trouble of implementing them
For most organizations, it requires a developer or a team member with access to the actual page code to implement a tag. This can be as simple as copy, paste, publish. It can also be as complicated as requiring an actual code developer to implement through a release cycle and programmer planning to get your little tracker live. For nearly 10 years, marketers and sales teams relied heavily on this limited resource to make or place our tags.
Then there was a revolution from a revelation, what if all tags were fired within a single, parent tag? This great, new single tag bucket could be called a “tag manager” and we’d only need IT to deploy this bucket tag ONCE. In turn, we marketers can be the brethren of power in making our tags live. Tracking could shift from months to implement, down to a few days, or even a few minutes.
THAT, my friends, is the concept of a tag management tool and in the past few years has gained a lot of traction with analytics companies, not the least of which include Google and Adobe.
However, as a marketer who has lived through the old ways, the launch of the holy grail and the fallout of instant tagging TWICE, I thought I’d share some of my insights on the subject that may be able to help should you or your organization want to implement a tag management solution.
Planning is critical (when is it not?)
Plan your attack. I know “plan” is a dirty four-letter word in many organizations, but spending a fair amount of time to properly plan out the transition will save headaches down the road from lost or missing tags pre- and post-transition. Plus, if you take the next step, it will help you conduct an audit of, “hey, why do we still have these tags on some of these pages?”
Auditing will help
This can, and should include an audit of all current tags. This is a two-fold effort. First, reach out to all your stakeholders, usually media partners, sales/affiliate networks, third-party tools, etc. and simply ask a few questions. What tags should be live today? For the next 30-180 days (depending on your project timeline)? On which pages? Do you have any specific instructions for installing? For testing? If the agency/network/software can’t answer all these questions, then you should question why you’d want them to on your pages?
Next, just like any project or new software, develop a post-implementation process. This is probably the most needed and likely overlooked step. As such, it’s a bit lengthier than the others, but maybe the most important.
Remember in that history lesson above about how it could take months in some organization to deploy a tag? That meant tags had greater rigor in their selection and implementation, because you may only get a few chances a year to deploy. With a tag management solution, you can technically deploy a tag within MINUTES. This means, everyone will want their tags a) done right away, usually without thought of testing or impact to other tags on the page(s), b) will want their tag deployed everywhere cause, “that’s the easiest, right?” and c) will result in way more tags on critical pages than you expected, say your login or checkout page(s), which can impact page/user performance.
Here are a few process and procedure items that may help:
Tag Implementation Request Form – instruct your users/requesters/stakeholders to think about the tag they’re requesting to be implemented. It should include dates/times for the tag to go up (start firing) AND be taken down, which is often forgotten or not considered. Also include fields for what pages/URLs should fire the tag, who is going to test the tag to make sure it’s firing properly (inclusive of contact info, if an agency); any campaign performance or reporting expectations; impact on business, and that sort of thing. Yes, it’s paperwork, but for a good cause and should help people think through what they’re looking to accomplish.
Tag Approvals – Who should approve tags and on what pages. Landing pages may only require a simple request form, but you don’t want 200 tags firing on your order confirmation page. That’s prime, profit-driven real estate and a “higher pay grade” may have an opinion or should be aware of any new requests.
Tag Review – Schedule time at least once a quarter, but ideally once a month to check all active tags to ensure they’re firing and/or still necessary. If a campaign or partnership has ended, why is the tag still necessary?
Access Management – Another tool means more users, usernames, roles, permissions, workflows, etc. Who should be bestowed with the power to implement or remove a tag? Should third-party agencies? Just one person? Yeah, since millions of dollars spent or to spend can weigh on the performance reported by one tag, you might want to put a few controls in place .. they are, in fact, everyone’s business (thank you, internal audit).
Resources – This, too, is often overlooked as in olden days, the tag was likely in an email sent to a developer to “copy and paste” into the code. But now, that request may fall to you, the digital marketer and forwarding an email was likely 10 times faster than your role is now in building, implementing and managing the tag. This should be taken into consideration when looking at headcount, workflow, access, etc.
Testing – Guess what, you’re now in charge of the tags, which means you’ll need to confirm they’ve been implemented, maybe that they are in fact firing, and will want to make sure you have an easy and accurate way to test. You can rely on that agency that sent it over, but a gut check by yourself or another team member before the, “hey, it’s live,” reply email is sent, couldn’t hurt.
In big ol’ conclusion
The above might seem a bit like a horror story, or at the very least intimidating. I actually really love and enjoy working with tag management solutions. If they’ve been implemented properly and have some simple processes, they can be huge time savers and provide tremendous insights into your online user.
My simplest advice, if the above seems to much, is look to a project consultant or expert in developing these types of solutions. You and your organization aren’t unique in this endeavor, but many people have lived through it and likely have additional lessons learned or expertise which can save you both time, money, and frustration down the road.
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