How marketers can gain much-needed control over their analytics destiny.
We like to think we're ahead of the digital analytics game.
After all, we had the Digital Analytics Association (DAA) as long ago as 2004 (as the Web Analytics Association), and I remember feeling like we had already understood a great deal then. Well into its eighth year of working to solve digital marketing problems, the DAA has grown large and remains a bellwether for the industry (recently changing its name to expand measurement beyond "the web"). And given the same period of increasing relevance for analytics, it would be fair to expect the tools of the trade and the trades themselves to have resolved into a set of foolproof practices that everyone recognizes and implements.
We have certainly settled on some principles that seem to have staying power: visitor segmentation, conversion metrics, the organizational guidelines that comprise the "eBusiness 5 Step Optimization" plan, and of course the discipline of "Defining Key Performance Indicators," which provides a structured way of answering the question, "Why do you have a website?"
We have seen tool vendors offer more flexibility, greater accuracy, more interoperability, the measurement of the yet-unproven business value of social media; and the advent of "big data" analytics as if it were true that the secret to marketing success lay in knowing what kind of lint is in your customers' pockets. We have even seen great web analytics tools given away for free just so certain industry giants can own even more behavioral data and sell that intelligence to advertisers.
Tags Over Log Files
When we convinced marketers - some time ago now - that log files were not nearly accurate nor flexible enough to deliver business answers, we thought we had discovered the answer to mediocrity in analytics. We called it page-tagging. And now nearly every digital analytics solution relies on getting script onto content pages in order to track user activity. Tagging has made possible the accuracy and granularity needed to make digital analytics viable as a business tool. There are no alternatives in sight, except maybe panel-based metrics with extrapolation, or packet-sniffing, but these remain relatively unsuitable for the purpose of measuring your own site; or are found in a far corner of the digital zoo where perches the rara avis of technology.
And analytics would go swimmingly I'm sure, if tags were put where they belong and where everyone knows they must go. And if they were maintained with equal care as the content itself; as sites evolve; as business requirements change.
But they are not.
In fact, their non-placement can represent the very worst of threats to successful web analytics. It would be a fair bet that across the globe there are a shockingly high number of big-company analytics efforts that are completely bogged down upon the muddy steppes of tag placement due to a number of factors we'll outline below.
For a moment, imagine yourself in possession of a tagging strategy, a full set of tagging specifications, and a list of reports that you know will answer your business questions once all the tags are placed and the reports built out. Now imagine that you need to get the pages tagged.
What happens now?
3 Reasons Why You Need Tag Management
Let's go back to the very top of the column - to the title, in fact.
It's about tag management and the tools that help marketers get control of tagging. At this late date, it would seem almost perverse to suggest that any serious analytics campaign would leave this most central cog in the analytics wheel to the vicissitudes of developer cycles and general inattention. But it happens rather often, and begs a solution.
Not Developers' Fault (or Problem)
I want to make clear that we're not here bashing developers. They have enough to do already. They shouldn't be bothered with placing tags, when tag management tools like Ensighten, TagMan, and Tealium are available. These tools (and there may be others that have gone unmentioned) are focused on one key aspect of analytics: putting the power of tag placement and management squarely in the hands of marketers and those that work in tandem with marketers (like web analytics consultants). Of course, these tools do cost money. But so do developers, and they're already very busy. And having zero information about your content success is in most cases the most costly aspect of all.
This column isn't meant to tout the features of tag management tools or help rate one over another. What I'm asking is that digital marketers pay keen attention to my three reasons for needing them; and then in some way, shape, or form gain full control over tagging at their organization.
Take Control Now
With tag management tools, marketers can have just one tag placed on a page once, rather than many at many different times; and then run the entire remaining tag schema through the tag management tool. This means that any form of tag or custom tag can be placed, managed, QA'd, enabled, deployed, disabled, removed, made asynchronous, and forced to operate in conjunction with other page assets all through an interface that doesn't require knowledge of code placement, programming, or webmaster skills.
This way, marketers can gain much-needed control over their analytics destiny. For there is no analytics fate worse than a project that sits on hold for months while developers are busy with 10 other projects. And when you need to generate reports and insight for management, what is a marketer/analyst to do?
Blame the developers?
That won't work for very long. You'll end up getting unfriended by the folks in IT and that's never pretty.
So you need to manage your own tags (likely with tag management tools). You need to do it now.
This column was originally published on June 18, 2012.
Andrew V. Edwards is a digital marketing executive with 20 years of experience serving large organizations, and has been an operating executive and digital marketing consultant since the 1980s.
In 2004 Edwards co-founded the Digital Analytics Association and is currently a director emeritus. He has designed analytics training curricula for business teams and has led seminars on digital marketing subjects.
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