Review & Thoughts: “When more is not better: Page Tags” by Eric Peterson

If you have not read Eric Peterson’s latest white paper “When more is not better: Page Tags” STOP!  Go read it!  Then come back!

There are many, many blogs and folks that spend a lot of time talking about how to do analysis of all the data that folks are collecting with various tools, but there are not that many that really go into the topic of tagging, or implementation, or just data collection.  Perhaps it us because it is more technical, geeky, and flat out just not as sexy as other topics.  But this white paper really stood out for me as my main focus in web analytics is data collection.

The white paper outlined the following issues with tagging as it exists today.

In Web Analytics Demystified’s opinion, the problem with tags is three-fold:

  • Tags become a panacea, replacing sound business measurement practices
  • Tags can slow down page loading and degrade the consumer experience
  • Tags have the potential to erode data  confidence when poorly managed

I would add a fourth item to this this.   Lack of skilled staff to implement/manage tags.  Sure there are lots of companies and consulting shops that can do this for you, but most companies do not have this type of talent on staff, or they do not have full access to this type of IT resource .

Some of the causes listed in the white paper for the proliferation of tags were:
More Tags Does Not Mean “More Accuracy”
I agree in this statement, but what about the use of two tools for validation of trends, not the confirmation of numbers?  Although with the right tag monitoring tool in place the need for this would greatly diminish.

Data Confidence

  • Shoddy implementation is missing from the list.  All too often I have seen or heard of this!
  • Lack of good consistent documentation of implementation best practices.
  • Lack of internal IT help to manage the tags
  • IT has no clue what the tags do or the business requirements behind them

Load time
I have seen this first hand, and yes the tags can slow down a web site, especially when you have have multiple tagging solutions in place. ( Which is why you should track load times 😉 ) The other thing to watch out for is as more and more site use Ajax and the likes to provide a rich experience for the end user, there is a risk of double tagging a page if the developers are not careful in how they load content on a page and that can result in all sorts of wonky data.

This may all sound a bit daunting, but fear not!  The white paper has a solution for this very need.  A “Chief Data Officer”!!  The white paper does a great job explaining the responsibilities that the CDO would have, but what it all boils down to is someone to own all aspects of data collection with regards to analytics.   As a developer who is also tasked with these responsibilities I am thrilled  about this.   As sites become more complex and the tagging solutions evolve with them, the need for a technical person who can fill this role is crucial.   My hope is that companies will read and adopt this quickly.

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