Web tags play a crucial role in digital analytics, allowing website owners to track user behaviour and gather valuable data. But what exactly are web tags, and how do they work? In this article, we’ll cover the basics of web tags and how important they can be to your business.
What is a Web Tag?
Web tags are small pieces of code that are used on websites to collect data. When a particular action is performed on a website, web tags record relevant data and send it to a third party.
The data collected by website tags generally relate to the users of your site. For example, a tag can be set to collect information about a user’s IP address, web browser, and journey to the site.
Web tags are commonly confused with cookies. Cookies are used to remember a customer’s activity on a website for later use, rather than to send data to third-party servers. They are therefore a completely distinct web element.
How Do Web Tags Work?
Tags are pieces of code that are inserted into a web page’s HTML document. Once a tag has been inserted, third-party tools can log a connection and track the relevant data on their own server.
Here’s a simple overview of how the process works:
- The web browser of the user requests a page from the server of the website.
- The site’s server sends the page contents to the browser, including the code for the page’s web tags.
- The tag code is executed by the tag browser, collecting the relevant data per the tag’s function.
- The data is sent to the third-party server.
Once the data is stored on the server, it can be analysed to better understand user activity.
What Does a Web Tag Look Like?
In a page’s HTML document, web tags appear as small snippets of code. To the end user, web tags are invisible.
Here’s an example of a web tag used to collect data for Google Analytics.
This is a very simple string of code. Most web tags don’t include all the details of the instruction to be executed. For instance, the above example contains a direction to Google Analytics where the complete instructions can be found and processed.
Why are Web Tags Important?
Web tags are extremely important for digital marketing. They provide incredibly valuable customer insights which analysts can use to completely reshape the strategies of a business.
To give you a sense of just how useful web tags can be, here are some of the insights web tags can provide about your site users:
- IP address – this lets you know where your site visitors are based.
- Web browser.
- How the user arrived on your site – for example, via Google Search, Google Ads or by clicking a social media link. This informs you how effective your search engine optimisation, advertising and social media campaigns are.
- Profile ID.
- Targeting criteria.
- Which on-page ads the user has viewed.
- Which links the user has clicked.
If you aren’t using web tags, you can be sure that your competitors are. Web tags are important to ensure you aren’t left behind in your digital marketing efforts.
Web Tags vs Meta Tags vs HTML Tags
Web tags, meta tags and HTML tags are often confused, but the three are distinct concepts.
In the context of digital marketing, web tags are short pieces of code that are used to collect data and send it to third-party servers.
Meta tags are pieces of code that describe a page’s content to search engines like Google. They inform the search engine about the on-page content, and what to do with it. For example, meta title tags cause headings to appear in larger font sizes, and emphasise their importance when search engines are ranking websites.
Meta description tags provide search engines with a sample or description of a page’s content to display on the search engine results page. An image tag helps search engines understand the images on a page. Follow and nofollow tags inform search engines whether they should follow URLs on a webpage and boost search engine results page performance as a result.
HTML tags include the category of meta tags, but encompass a broader range of functions. HTML tags also include simpler pieces of code that provide indications or signals for the visual appearance of on-page elements and are crucial to the appearance and functionality of a web page.
For example, bolded text is encased by the HTML tags: <b> and </b>
Benefits of Web Tags
Web tags are integral to your digital analytics, offering the ability to collect valuable data which you can use to gauge a better understanding of consumer behaviour and the nature of incoming traffic to your website.
Obtaining such data is invaluable to online businesses and offers numerous benefits, including the ability to:
1. Leverage Web Analytics Insights
Website tags offer the chance to collect extremely detailed data about your users and their experience using your site.
While the data collected by web tags can at first seem overwhelming, organising your data with the help of a tag management system will soon yield valuable insights you can implement to optimise your marketing and user experience (UX).
Web tags make it easy to discover where your customers are visiting your website from, how they landed on your web page and the ways in which they interacted with your site.
2. Optimise and Measure Your Marketing Campaigns
Marketing is one of the most fundamental components of any business. Web tags offer the insights your marketing team has been dreaming of.
Web tags let you know about your customer’s journey to landing on your web page. If you’ve been spending large amounts of money on social media, Google Ads or search engine optimisation campaigns, you want to know just how effective they have been.
Other measurements of marketing campaigns can be extremely clunky. Web tags offer a smooth, easy way to find out how your business is attracting eyeballs.
Web tags also allow you to optimise your marketing campaigns. If you run 2 social media ads, you can use web tags to discover which has done a better job of driving traffic to your site. This is a far more accurate measurement of success than likes and shares.
3. Segment and Personalise Customer Profiles
All that data you collect about your customers can be put to extremely productive use. Detailed customer profiles allow you to discover new insights about your core target markets.
The use of tags (and tag managers) quickly and simply allows you to accumulate your data and create segmented and personalised customer profiles. Then, you can transform your customer engagement strategies and UX to ensure you are directly appealing to your users.
Common Issues with Web Tags
Web tags can have some drawbacks and issues that businesses and organisations should be aware of. Issues including data collection, data protection and page functionality can arise, and prove to be very problematic for your business.
1. Inaccurate Data
Once you’ve set up web tags on your site, you’ll soon come to rely heavily on the information they offer. However, web tags are not a perfect technology, and your data can often prove to be inaccurate.
Worse still, there’s often no way to quickly identify the fact that your tags are providing inaccurate data. You could go years without realising, and pursue completely fruitless marketing strategies as a result.
2. Protecting Sensitive Customer Data
Data protection is a hot-button issue. Customers are more concerned than ever with how their data is managed.
Web tags collect extensive and sometimes sensitive information about your customers. They want to be assured their data is safe. If your web tags are insecure, you could run the risk of data falling into unwanted hands.
Web tags can even send data to the wrong third-party servers. This problematic phenomenon is known as data leakage.
The impacts of a serious data breach can be catastrophic for your business. If your site is large enough, your web tags are likely capturing information from multiple different countries. This means that strict legislation such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation may apply to your site.
3. Data Silos
Unless you have a tremendous amount of technical knowledge at your disposal, the raw, unhandled data produced by web tags is likely to be of very little use. It’s important to incorporate your web tag data into a broader marketing stack.
Otherwise, the information accumulated by your tags will be completely siloed off, making it extremely difficult to implement it into your marketing strategies. With the help of a wider marketing system, applying your web tag data becomes much easier and more effective.
4. Slow Web Page Loading Speeds
The more elements you include on the same page, the slower the page will be. If you have a large number of web tags on your website, you could run the risk of seriously hampering your page loading speeds, especially if they are not properly optimised.
The impacts of slow web page loading speeds are obvious. If a customer finds themselves waiting for a long time to end up on your web page, you run the risk of losing their business altogether.
5. Broken Web Pages or Website Paths
In extreme cases, dysfunctional web tags can break your website paths and even whole web pages. This usually occurs because of site restructures causing tags to break. This can scramble the functionality of pages, HTML elements and linked URLs, resulting in broken pages and paths.
The consequences of broken web pages and website paths can be disastrous for your customer’s experience of your website. While it’s rare for tags to cause such major issues, it goes to show how important it is to properly maintain your web tags.
These potential issues are of particular concern when it comes to tag implementation at scale, where the sheer volume and variety of web tags can leave the door open to more potential risks.
Thus, enterprise tag management requires a more comprehensive risk management solution that goes beyond just implementation and facilitates best practices for organisation, management and workflow integration as well.
Best Practices for Web Tags
To ensure the effective use of web tags, there are several best practices businesses should follow. This section will outline some of the key best practices and provide tips on how to implement them.
1. Implement a Tag Management System
Tag management systems serve many critical functions when it comes to maintaining web tags. Primarily, they allow users to deploy and oversee tags on their websites. They can also offer extra functionality such as data collection, sorting and secure storage.
Without a tag management system, you will need to change the code on every webpage a tag appears on, every time you want to deploy or change a tag. This practice is tiresome at best and effectively impossible at worst.
You’re much more likely to run into issues with your tags if you don’t have a good tag management system in place. Problems with tags are far easier to diagnose and resolve with a tag management system, as they function as a type of tag cloud.
The two most popular tag management systems are Google Tag Manager and Adobe Experience Platform Launch. Google Tag Manager is approachable and available in a free version. Adobe Experience Platform Launch is available as a part of the Adobe Experience Cloud and is a more robust piece of software. It is an updated version of the popular Dynamic Tag Management software.
2. Frequent Tag Auditing and Testing
The only way to be assured that your tags are working as intended is by implementing a process of frequent tag auditing and testing. Tag audits come in two forms; manual and automatic.
A manual tag audit involves a human going through your website and inspecting and testing each tag on your website. If done properly, a manual audit is a reliable way to ensure your tags are working properly. However, depending on how many tags your website has, a manual audit could prove to be ridiculously difficult. It is also susceptible to human error.
As such, most businesses opt for an automated option with the help of tag governance software. Processes like DataTrue’s web analytics testing solution offer comprehensive page reports for your entire website, including critical pages and conversion tracking events. This identifies and resolves errors such as:
- Loading times.
- Tag validations.
- Tag data payloads.
- Errors written to the browser console.
3. Integrate Tags Into Your Workflow
Web tags might be a foreign concept to you and your team. Integration is key to ensuring that your business is able to identify and resolve issues with your tags.
Solutions such as DataTrue offer comprehensive integration with many of the tools your team uses on a daily basis. For instance, you can link your DataTrue account to your organisation’s Jira Cloud, making it easy to create and assign tag implementation or management tasks.
You can also connect your account to your team’s Slack workspace to streamline communication about tag-related issues, and to Confluence to help create superior Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) documents.
This level of integration prevents your web tags from becoming a silo within your business, meaning your team is always ready to handle any issues that arise. It also makes it easier to extract, analyse and implement data into your marketing strategies.