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What Your Tag Manager Isn’t Telling You (Airline Edition)

July 26, 2017 – Mollie Panzner

Many companies that deploy a tag manager believe they are realizing all of its associated benefits, yet the unforeseen negatives can ultimately cancel out the benefits.

What Your Tag Manager Isn’t Telling You (Airline Edition)

The online ecosystem comprises a myriad of technologies that power and facilitate commerce, providing a wealth of benefits to organizations. The challenge is that businesses are not often aware, nor have transparency into, all of their deployments as well as their impacts. Tag management is certainly the first step into this kind of visibility.

While ubiquitous across the web today, the tag manager only came to exist over the last decade. A “container” technology used to more easily activate and manage other vendors, and the data that they collect, tag managers have become the de facto for third-party implementations. This being said, it’s apparent through client conversations that, while tag management offers tremendous value to a website, it’s implementation without a properly structured and practiced digital governance process can result in unexpected challenges.

Many companies that deploy a tag manager believe they are realizing all of its associated benefits, yet because of their lack of a true governance framework, the unforeseen negatives can ultimately cancel out the benefits.

* Here’s a PDF that illustrates the many challenges that third-party technologies introduce.tag_manager

While tag management solutions help with maintaining optimal performance and ensuring easy deployment of vendors, risks of data leakage, redundancies and non-compliance can still be substantial. The most common issues that we see on websites leveraging a tag manager without a governance framework in place are the result of redirects, legacy implementations (abandoned technologies) and unauthorized data collection. Each of these effects can be mitigated through the implementation of a digital governance strategy, alongside the use of a tag manager.

To understand where tag managers can’t help, we need to understand where they can help, and how.

After a user launches a web page, the browser reads and initiates the page’s source code, which includes the URLs for third-party vendors. The browser executes the vendors’ scripts (i.e. doubleclick.js) found on the web page, ensuring the technologies execute on their expected function (i.e. collecting traffic analytics, logging sign-in details). Prior to the creation of tag managers, vendor code was executed directly from the website; today, however, businesses deploy vendors indirectly, through tag management systems.

The primary benefits of placing vendors within a tag management system are 1. performance enhancement, offering the ability to load tags asynchronously (independent of each other), and 2. ease of deployment (tag managers control the deployment of most other tags via one web interface, without requiring additional code added to the site). As a centralized system, tag managers help to address the troubles that silo’ed tag implementation introduce by maintaining deployment standards and making troubleshooting quicker and easier through greater control of implementations.

Despite the advantages that tag managers offer businesses, there are challenges that websites still face, like how to monitor vendors deployed outside of a tag manager, how to identify redundancies in vendor capabilities, and how to troubleshoot and monitor redirects, also called “daisy-chaining.” Often we find that tag managers afford websites a false sense of security, because really, a tag management system is only as valuable as the process behind it. 

What Tag Managers Can’t Help With:

  1. Monitoring Vendors (Tags) Outside of Your Tag Manager

    Trackermap_AmericanAirlines

    AA.com fires the OpenX script outside of its tag manager, Tealium.

Unfortunately, not all tags can be loaded asynchronously, or from a tag manager. For example, ad serving tags that don’t render properly into frames, such as full screen ads. Or, A/B testing tags, which allow for the comparison of two different versions of a user experience, can cause “flickering” (when the original page content is visible for a short amount of time before the testing script changes it) if loaded asynchronously.

Additionally, performance optimization and analytics vendors, leveraged to measure page load times and user analytics, often necessitate firing at the top of the page (to capture the full page load’s worth of data), and therefore sit outside of the tag manager.

Considering Evidon’s finding that on average 10% of vendors fail to load for 7+ hours each month (*Evidon/Ghostery panel data 2015), it’s imperative that websites have other mechanisms in place to monitor those vendors that a tag manager can’t.

  1. Identifying Redundancies in Vendor Capabilities
    IcelandAir

    IcelandAir.us leverages multiple page performance analytics vendors:
    Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer, Crazy Egg and SiteImprove Analytics.

    HawaiianAir_Trackermap

    HawaiianAirlines.com fires multiple container tags, all held within one
    another: Adobe Tag Manager, Media Innovation Group, Tealium and DoubleClick Floodlight.

Evidon’s research shows that vendor redundancies are the direct result of a lack of knowledge about technologies implemented and capabilities offered by key partners. If you read my post on three ways to decrease tracking technologies, you know that redundancies happen for multiple reasons and unfortunately, tag managers can’t identify where they might be occurring.

Inadequate documentation of ownership and processes related to SLA maintenance and vendor standards, leads to a disjointed vendor strategy and the implementation of non-complementary and redundant partners. Working with agencies or other outsourced resources to manage parts of your site can only further complicate the problem. Examples of how this impacts a business include:

-Increased Advertising Costs: Data collected about your users by similar vendors is leveraged to compete against each other on other sites, driving up online advertising costs because both are bidding against each other to show an ad on behalf of your business.

-Poor User Experience: Over time the number of vendors requests on a page lead to a negative impact on page performance and user experience. If you don’t believe me, try loading a webpage with and without tracking technologies blocked.

By encouraging vendor vetting pre-implementation, and ongoing documentation of business purpose associated with implementation requests, you can proactively manage this issue.

  1. Navigating Redirects, or Vendor Daisy-Chains
    BritishAirways_Trackermap

    BritishAirways.com fires the Sociomantic script held within its two
    tag managers, TagMan and Ensighten, who then activate a number of partner calls.

    Lufthansa_Trackermap

    Lufthansa.com fires multiple tags that activate partner daisy-chains.

“No matter what kind of work you are farming out to a third party vendor, it’s important to make sure you are dealing with someone who has the necessary training to keep your company’s and customer’s’ data safe and secure.” (*http://www.valuewalk.com/2017/06/data-breaches/)

How Redirects Work: A Refresher

Many technology vendors partner with one another to better qualify and reach specific user segments, on behalf of their client. An audience targeting company, such as MediaMath, may partner with a data aggregator, such as Oracle BlueKai, and that aggregator may partner with an ad targeter, such as AOL’s Advertising.com, to deliver the creative, with these partnerships often taking the form of page script redirection or piggy-backed deployment.

The way this works from a technological perspective is that a website codes a vendor onto their page, and when that script executes, it delivers another tag to the page. That tag then fires, and can return scripts itself. With each new hop, new scripts can be deployed on the site – meaning a new vendor has access to a wealth of data about the user and the page on which it has been placed. This can undermine the exclusivity, and thus the value, of the website’s audience.

Visibility That Tag Managers Can’t Offer

Without increased intelligence about the execution and potential for technological redirects, organizations cannot measure the effectiveness of technology partners against the cost of leaked data. Furthermore, there are more risks than just potential data leakage – new page scripts mean customer experience vulnerabilities, online privacy concerns, non-compliance with international legislation and threats to site security.

If not managed appropriately, redirects can significantly decrease the value of a website’s audience data, and the organization’s online revenue (whether through decreases in advertising revenue, or through the sale of goods or services).

Tag Management Is Only the First Step…

Tag managers help with several key digital governance-based components: bringing order to a complex marketing stack, integration and deployment convenience, and performance enhancement. Ensuring that you have additional methods in place to monitor tags (such as Evidon’s Monitoring Platform, as well as vendor documentation and implementation processes) is key to optimizing your digital governance strategy.

If you’d like to better understand your own site’s implementations, feel free to email me (mollie at evidon dot com). If you’d like to learn more about Evidon, you can visit us at Evidon.com and follow us on Twitter at @Evidon.

Mollie is the Senior Director of Product Strategy at Evidon, and a subject matter expert on digital governance and vendor analysis.