April 10, 2015 – Mollie Panzner
From Evidon’s Optimization Desk – Tag Redirects: An Introductory Discussion
At Evidon, we’re always looking for new ways to help people understand the important interplay between ecommerce and ad tech. More and more of our client interactions lately have resulted in macro-level discussions on how to best navigate the complexities of digital tracking. My own involvement at the moment is with the auditing and analysis of third-party tags for our enterprise clients – what tags do, how they do it, and their user-experience implications. I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned regarding the most common vendor governance topics and the most common challenges I hear about in the field.
The Murky Alliance Between Ecommerce and Ad Tech
One of the hardest concepts to grasp for non ad tech-types (anyone who isn’t entrenched in the day-to-day responsibilities of “ad-operations”), is the notion that ecommerce websites tend to have little visibility into the third-party companies collecting data about their users…yes, on their own site! As a result, a large part of my role at Evidon involves ad tech education, in addition to revealing to a brand’s digital stakeholders the extent of online tracking occurring “behind the scenes” (yes, on their own site!).
In my own attempt to bridge the gap between the eCommerce and ad tech worlds – often considered two separate industries – I’ve learned that they are much more intertwined than I’d ever imagined. One example of this is today newsroom editors not only have a say in the content of an online article, but they also hold clout when it comes to deciding how its readers are tracked. At the same time, Fortune 100 companies that have embraced the cash cow of on-site advertising, consistently find themselves questioning what is more important – their customers’ experience, or the substantial monetary gains earned from on-site ads.
This enmeshed relationship can get confusing, but the best place to start, and where website experience sees significant negative impact potential, is with understanding tag redirects…
What are Tag Redirects?
Tag redirects (also referred to as piggybacks, daisy-chains, or hops) are simply the result of ad technology, or tracking, companies partnering with one another to better qualify and reach a user base. When a brand chooses to work with a third-party partner to drive brand awareness, that partner is measured by its ability to accomplish the end goal (often, increased traffic to the brand’s site). When third-party companies think about the most efficient way to accomplish this goal, they turn to partnerships in an effort to dramatically increase their reach and improve return on investment for the brand. Armed with a network of partners, the brand is able to simply tell them: “if you see this user on a website, show them an ad, and I’ll pay you for it.” No longer is the onus to find a specific user, or set of users, to show an ad to just on one partner; instead, there is a network of partners looking for for ads for this user.
The way that this works (behind the scenes) for example, begins with a retargeting company:
- The purpose of the retargeting partner is to show ads to consumers that previously accessed a brand’s site. Say for example, Bob visits a site selling athletic equipment and views, but does not buy, a pair of running shoes. The retargeting partner will show Bob ads for those shoes after he leaves the site, in order to entice him to come back and complete his purchase.
- The retargeter may partner with a data aggregator (a company that gathers online data points about consumers based on segments such as age or income) to shed additional insights on Bob. This data aggregator may append information to the retargeter’s data, noting that, in addition to his interest in running shoes, Bob is 40 years old, married, and lives in the Northeast. Further, that data aggregator may choose to also partner with an optimization vendor, as well as an ad server to deliver the actual ad creative that is most likely to entice Bob to buy those sneakers. These partnerships often take the form of piggybacks, or script redirects – additional tracking code injected onto a webpage – that is not placed there by the site owner.
- With each hop, a new vendor has access to a wealth of data about Bob and the page on which the tag has been inserted. This means that many more vendors than the original retargeting partner are able to construct a more detailed picture of Bob, and his online behavior, potentially undermining the exclusivity of the original site’s audience data, and therefore its value overall.
What Are the Implications of Tag Redirects for Users?
Without increased intelligence into the execution and potential for vendor redirects, websites leave themselves exposed to a range of performance, data leakage, and security implications. In a recent analysis of travel websites, Evidon found that over 50% of 3rd party tags encountered by users in a given session were the result of tag redirects. One of the best ways to gain a better understanding of how redirects might be impacting your site is with Evidon’s “Trackermap” technology.
Hopefully you enjoyed today’s post. Next month, I plan on sharing some insights about tag properties, in addition to incorporating our new “redirects” knowledge to start a discussion on how to best measure the “intrusiveness” of tags; or, how to determine whether a tag is “good” or “bad.”
Feel free to email me (mollie at evidon dot com) if you’d like to start a discussion. If you’d like to learn more about Evidon, our Trackermap solution, or our full range of tag analytics, you can visit us at Evidon.com, And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @Evidon.
Mollie is the Director of Professional Services at Evidon, and a subject matter expert on tagging governance and 3rd party vendor analysis.