Why Is Tagging So Hard?

The internet, as we all know, is the most trackable vehicle for marketing ever created. Everything that goes through these tubes can be perfectly tracked, traced, documented, and reported on.

Ya, right.

They never mention the two little requirements:

  1. Every page must be properly tagged.
  2. Every inbound/referring URL must be properly tagged.

(In the broader sense there is of course a third issue – I’m leaving aside for now the vast weaknesses of cookies and the role they play in online tracking/accuracy.)

Why Is Tagging So Hard?

By which I mean to ask two questions:

  • Why do people find it so hard to add tags? The requirement (in the simplest cases) is to accurately cut-and-paste. (Yes there are more complex cases where parameters have to be passed, for now let’s leave those aside.) Yet in enterprise environments we often see multi-month waiting times, panels and commissions and committees who need to approve them, and all forms of insanity as prerequisite to getting 316 characters in a single text-block added to the universal footer of a website, or 75 characters appended to a URL.
  • Why do the environments make tagging so complex? This is the other side of the coin. Web pages and URLs need tags. This may have been a requirement not foreseen in the mid ’90’s when core web technology was developed, but it has one for many years now. Yet neither web servers nor CMS systems nor email managers nor Google/Yahoo themselves have made tagging anywhere near as simple as they could.

Tagging – A System Requirement

While I’ll fully admit to having no understanding or appreciation for ‘IT Depts’ who can’t figure out how to allocate time to update page tags (and testing them thoroughly) on at worst a weekly or monthly basis, the more I think about this problem the more I think the root of the problem is in the technology layer itself.

Software that builds or serves web pages should have the ability to conditionally add ‘tracking pixels’ or ‘code snippets’ or ‘page tags’ or whatever you want to call them to each page, and provide a single management interface for controlling these included codes, defining the conditions on which they’re embedded, and even to make the parameter passing necessary in the most complicated cases, easier.

Software that creates or delivers URLs should similarly have the ability to simply and centrally administer the appending of tracking codes to those URLs.

In Adwords, for example, there should be Account, Campaign, and Ad-Group level parameters for tracking codes you want appended to every target URL. Why should it be necessary to manually insert them (150,000 times) at the ad-group or keyword level?

Let’s face it, they’re universal 99.9% of the time. Didn’t they teach me in High School that computers simplify repetitive tasks?

And Verify Please

On both sides – the site and the URL – these systems should validate and report on the presence and contents of these codes after they’re served.

Sometimes it seems like 25% of the man-hours of the entire online marketing industry is spent find those situations where pages or URLs were missing tags. And almost certainly a percentage of all our reports are incorrect based on places where these tags are missing and nobody detects it.

This Rant Sponsored By

As a marketing and paid search agency we’ve had our fair share of (which is to say more than humanly endurable) issues related to getting tracking pixels on client websites and managing the tracking codes that need to be placed into emails, affiliate promotions, and paid search ads.

Very often weeks or months of reporting was ruined, never to be corrected, by pending or incorrect tracking code issues. I know this is typical and true in online marketing deptments everywhere.

As we’re rolling out ClickEquations we’re now living through another aspect of this problem.

Clients and prospects that want to take full advantage of our system and use our ClickEquations tags, but they just can’t get their organizations or vendors to support them – at least in reasonable time frames. Or there’s a problem dealing with the complexity and delay involved in having all target URLs updated in the engines (although this can at least be automated via the APIs).

We’re working on ways to make tagging easier for our clients, but the universality of the problem suggests that it really needs to be solved down a few layers in the infrastructure.

I think it’s time the amount of pain and trouble this problem is causing got more organized visibility, so the creators of those lower level systems could start feeling the pressure to add the kind of tagging support we all need.

How have tagging problems or complexities impacted your online marketing reporting? How can we fix or improve this situation?

Will you be at SMX in New York this week? Stop by as see ClickEquations in the Exhibit Area.



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