Category Archives: conferences

Why does it matter to have a “healthy” marTech ecosystem

This is part of a series of blog posts on keeping marTech tags from becoming a problem on your site. See the preceding post (which serves as the “table of contents”) or following post on the impact that marTech has on your site.

The health of your website depends on the health of your marTech ecosystem, which is decided by a combination of the following:

  1. The number of tags on your site. I’d say most companies I work with have between a dozen and 150 tags on their site, though I have seen it go as high as 1500. Each additional tag adds a little to the weight and complexity of your marTech implementation.
  2. The age of the tags on your site. This matters both because you want the most updated versions of tags, which play best with modern browsers and current regulations, but also because the older the tag, the less likely there is someone out there still getting value out of it. A few weeks ago I came across an Adwords gtag from 2018. No one had any record of it, or any idea who might be using it. And instead of that meaning they could safely delete it, it meant they didn’t know who to ask permission of to delete it, so they left in place “for now” and just keep piling tags on top. It adds up.
  3. The complexity of your Tag Management System. Duplicate rule triggers/conditions, repeated logic, poor naming, unnecessary complexity… these all can make an ecosystem unmaintainable. We’ve seen good technical employees leave companies because they felt they were spending all their time deploying tags that weren’t providing value, or worse yet, felt they were tasked with keeping a sinking ship afloat. These issues can all make a TMS library unnecessarily heavy (in another post, I show how one site I looked at had 15% of its site weight come just from the TMS library… not the tags, but the library itself… you know, the part that has to load on every page.)
  4. Documentation. Every site has quirks, workarounds, edge cases, and places where the implementation had to do something unanticipated. And every implementor has their own way of doing things. If you don’t have documentation, then every small change to your implementation has the potential to bring the whole thing tumbling down.
  5. Resource Turnover. This goes hand-in-hand with documentation. The more fingers you have in the pie (or cooks in the kitchen… whichever metaphor resonates), the higher the possibility of conflicts. The messiest implementations I see are the ones that have changed hands many times.

And these problems build on themselves: if you don’t have a place to put documentation, no one is going to document things. If someone new goes into your TMS to put a new tag on purchase confirmation, and they see eight rules that look like they could all be for purchase confirmation, they may very well make a ninth rule that they know is what they need. The whole ecosystem can slowly spiral out of control until it’s no longer sustainable.

Why ecosystem health matters: Security

Some tags inherently carry a bit of risk. Anything that allows a third party to change the code on your site has the potential for trouble. For a while a few years back, Doubleclick for Publishers had a known cross-site scripting vulnerability that could allow malicious parties to inject script onto a site. Even now, agencies can (and do) use Google Ad Manager to deploy tracking scripts.

Many tags allow other tags to “piggy back” on them. For instance, if you had a Bing tag on your site last November (2021), you may or may not have noticed a new ~23KB file, clarity.js, loading on your site. The only reason my client noticed it is that it was causing JavaScript errors on their site. Since “clarity.js” wasn’t something we ever put in place, it took some tracking down to figure out that it was tied to our Bing tag. Apparently Microsoft had rolled out an “Automatic Clarity Integration” for anyone with an existing Bing/UET tag. Once we figured out where it was coming from, we had to quickly find all our Bing tags and disable them until we figured out how to disable the automatic Clarity integration.

Why ecosystem health matters: Fragility

Even if the tag vendor doesn’t have inherent security risks or files piggybacking on it, an unhealthy ecosystem still leaves you open to JavaScript errors, which can mean lost tracking or, worse yet, ruined user experiences. I’ve seen tag conflicts take down the rest of the TMS (meaning no analytics until it was fixed), and I’ve seen a poorly deployed Doubleclick iframe turn a checkout flow into a blank white screen (lesson learned: don’t use document.write to deploy iframes). The more tags you have, the older your tags, the more undocumented your tags, the more likely you are to run into problems like this eventually.

Why ecosystem health matters: Consumer Trust

An ever-increasing amount of (negative, fear-mongering) attention is being paid to cookies, data sharing, retargeting, and third-party tracking scripts. For instance, if a user is using Safari on their desktop, they’ll see this shield next to the URL bar, which shows them all the “bad, scary” trackers that Safari is “saving” them from:

It doesn’t add any nuance, of “this tag is monetizing you and will follow you around the internet with targeted ads that you’ll think are creepy” vs “that tag is used for first-party analytics, which improves your user experience without any harm to you at all”. Users ARE paying attention to who you are sharing their data with (even if they don’t really know what they’re afraid of.)

Why ecosystem health matters: Privacy Regulation Compliance

Privacy regulations such as the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), which is a pretty good representative of various laws in the US, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, are constantly changing (or at least, they way they are interpreted and enforced is constantly changing). For instance, if you’re in the EU and have users in Austria, and Austria suddenly decides that Google tracking is no longer GDPR-compliant (and therefore “illegal”), how quickly could you disable or update all of your Google tags so you could be compliant with confidence? Many companies would really struggle with that. 

Why ecosystem health matters: Site Speed

The main thing folks think of when they think of Tag Bloat is the effect on site speed. There is an incredible amount of data out there showing that site speed affects conversion rates. I had a hard time choosing between studies, because there are just so many that have found things like:

Site speed is also a direct ranking factor in SEO (and an indirect ranking factor, if users bounce or spend less time on your site because of the slow user experience). 

Folks often discount the impact that marTech tracking has on site speed. It’s ironic that the technology we use to measure site success can actually decrease site success. Every now and then the SEO team or IT may come to the Analytics and Marketing folks and say “that TMS library is too heavy and causes all our problems”, and there may be some cleanup, and usually some back and forth, before it’s ultimately decided “sorry, we HAVE to have tracking. Leadership gave us their stamp of approval”. And that may be true, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t minimize the impact, because (as I discuss in my next post), it does have an impact…

Presenting at Observepoint Virtual Summit

(Cross-posted from the 33 Sticks blog)

Join us for Observepoint’s Virtual Analytics Summit on October 25th! I’ll have the opportunity to speak about measuring and improving not just your data quality, but also the value you get OUT of the data: your data ecosystem, your processes, and your team’s roles.

In our industry, there is (deservedly) a lot of attention given to the health and quality of our data. Yet many organizations aren’t getting value out of their data, not (just) because the data is unhealthy, but because the org doesn’t have the right processes, people or overall mindset to be truly data-driven. Many orgs are still REactive about their data, rather than PROactive- the product team announces a new site feature, and the analytics team has to squeeze in some tracking at the last moment. Or the analytics team is so busy managing pixels and dashboard requests that they don’t actually get to dive in and gather insight to inform business decisions.

This became even more apparent with the roll out of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) last Spring- many companies were not (and perhaps are still not) ready to comply by the May 25th roll out. Our industry’s ability to be proactive and get in front of such initiatives isn’t a data quality issue (though certainly, rolling it out will be easier if your solution is well-documented and reliable)- it’s a matter of ownership, support, governance, and priority.

My presentation will walk through specific questions you can ask yourself to measure where there are opportunities for improvement in your ecosystem, with your processes, and with your roles/resources/ownership, as well as specific recommendations for next steps you can take. It will end with a Q&A session- I’d love to hear from you! Sign up for free on the event site, and check out the other amazing speakers and topics for the day.