How to Handle Tracking Tags on an Ecommerce Website

Ecommerce websites track visitor behaviour in many different ways. One of these is using”tags,” small pieces of code out of third party sites, like analytics applications and affiliate marketing partners. An active website can have many tags, and they sometimes conflict with one another. Tracking and handling tags could be burdensome.

Tagman is a business that offers tag management services. We recently spoke with a member of its advisory board regarding the management and use of tags. He’s Richard Last, an ecommerce pioneer who launched the first department store site — JCPenney.com — in 1994. Last is also the past chairman of Shop.org, the industry trade association. He’s now a lecturer in the University of North Texas in its own Digital Retail program.

Practical eCommerce: This dialog is about tags. What’s a tag?

Richard Last

Richard Last:“In general, a label is a bit of code — a bit of information –attached to a web page which permits you to monitor visitors and clients. Not necessarily the traffic and clients as much as their browsers. In this manner, you can track their internet behavior.”

PEC: Please give us a few examples of a label that would be on an ecommerce website.

Last:“As ecommerce merchants, all of us use various affiliate marketing relationships — revenue share connections — where we bring visitors to our website from a marketing partner of a sort. The way we have the ability to monitor the motion of the customer is the placement of a label. It might also be on your email program to track email performance or merely within our analytics packages, to understand our client’s site behaviour.”

PEC: If a merchant is using an affiliate marketing system, probably the merchant has a label or tags out of that network on its own website.

Last: “Absolutely correct.”

PEC: and whether the merchant is using Google Analytics, it probably has a label on its website.

Last:“That’s true also. Where it gets real interesting and what got me interested in TagMan, about a year and half ago, was something that I never really knew, as not a technical person, is that so much of this goes on, on the internet. If you’re relying on third party tags, such as the ones you described, after a while you lose track of what type of tags you’ve got on your website. While I’ve done this myself and on other websites, it’s almost shocking. It’s so surprising how many tags can be attached to one page. That has an effect on a range of things, including only the load time of the page, when it’s bogged down with all these various tags.

“What I discovered was that, sometimes, on an ecommerce website you may end up with essentially duplicate tags, if you will, taking credit for the identical conversion since there are several third party tags such as this which are involved. You might have ended up paying two distinct partners for the identical conversion, depending on the way this information was recorded and tracked.”

PEC: How can a label get into a merchant’s website?

Last:“For the most part, it’s gets there by a third party that we, as merchants, are working with. So that label is coming along with the specific action. That’s where it gets to be tough to monitor without, for the lack of a better term, a traffic cop that sits at the center and controls all of this, which was the whole thought behind the TagMan procedure, utilizing a universal label that you handle.”

PEC: Is there another term for a label?

Last:“It may be known as a part of metadata. It may be a cookie that’s placed. It may be a web beacon that’s placed.”

PEC: Can a merchant have a label on its website with no merchant knowing about it?

Last:“Unfortunately yes, and it’s more prevalent then you may think. It’s certainly more widespread than I thought until I began to research that topic, and it has plenty of implications. Not just for site performance and website ROI but also for solitude.”

PEC: So, you may have conflicting tags if you have got different affiliate relationships or alternative referral sources, all which are searching for a commission. Could you enlarge on that?

ListenListen to the complete audio interview with Richard Last.

Last: “Sure. You summarized it nicely. I believe there are likely three significant advantages of label management to an ecommerce website. The first one, before the one you mentioned, is just basically this entire problem of loading time. If you were able to clean up webpages and remove all the various third party tags and cookies which are loading up each time a page loads up, then you can dramatically increase speed. So that’s a really basic benefit that’s measurable.

“The next one is that you may, sometimes, actually be paying two unique parties for the identical conversion without realizing it. And the savings may be quite substantial once you add this up. The fantastic thing about people like this is that they have the ability to go in and do this sort of analysis on your current site and return and look at your information and determine where this may have occurred. So that’s a real hard benefit they can measure for you.

“Then the next one, which is probably the biggest benefit of all and it’s the newest one, is that this whole area of attribution of our advertising span. By that I mean many people essentially evaluate our advertising budgets based on past click methodology. Customers search on a specific term, they came to the website, made a purchase, and so that specific search phrase gets the credit for that specific transaction. Or the client goes to an affiliate website, picks up a voucher, looks on to your website, makes a purchase, we pay the affiliate their whole revenue share, they receive full credit for creating that voucher and that sale.

“What we have been missing with last click attribution is what actually prompted the behaviour in the first location. It may have been a display advertisement that you conducted on a specific site the customer saw, they made a decision to purchase from you but made a quick stop over in the affiliate website, to be able to find out whether there weren’t any coupons available first, found one and then proceeded .

“So the question is what actually led to this sale? What the attribution modeling lets you know ,’Wait a moment, there was more involved in this particular transaction and you will need to make some adjustments as to how you allocate your advertising enlarge, by taking into account the pathway to conversion.’ That is impossible to do if you’re relying on multiple third party tagging. On the other hand using a universal attend capacity, like TagMan, they could provide the attribution modeling as well so you can make the necessary tweaks to the advertising budget.

“So advertising attribution of your electronic behaviour is almost like a completely new area, for the majority of us, but quite rewarding concerning enhancing the ROI on our main expense, meaning advertising expense.”

PEC: Anything else?

Last:“Only 1 thing additional to consider, and we touched on it very briefly, is that this entire topic of internet privacy. The direction that the legislation will take is up in the air at this time, but the one rule which does exist and it’s existed for quite a few years, together with the Federal Trade Commission, is an ecommerce company must comply with whatever they say in their privacy policy.

“It sounds pretty logical and pretty simple, but this is where not understanding all of these third party tags can definitely cause problems. To put it differently, all of us have links to our third party partners, while it’s our analytics company, our ad serving firm and so forth. We can disclose these partners in our privacy policy. Where the difficulty comes into play is when you have other tags on your website and third parties that you’re unaware of, then so that they aren’t called out in your privacy policy, so the consumer can’t opt out. This means that, technically, you’re in violation of your privacy policy and that’s the only place that the FTC could come down to you, the ecommerce merchant, and rightfully so. And the fines might be pretty costly. So that’s just another thing to consider, beyond the cost savings, that there are a number of practical reasons why this notion of having a universal label management is that it may get you out of plenty of trouble too or keep you out of trouble.”