[This article was written by Peter Saulitis]
Earlier, we covered how the abundance of third party tags on a site can harm its performance, ultimately torpedoing the marketing efforts with which the tags are supposed to be assisting. Fortunately for IT, there are best practices and technologies that can improve your site’s performance in the face of all of these tags, save it from failure, and shift the control back to IT.
Better Configuration and Management
Many problems stem for poor configuration and management of your tags. Here are some tips to making sure your tags are configured safely, securely, and optimal for performance:
When utilizing any third party tag, particularly ones that have such a big effect on your end users’ interaction with your site, it’s imperative that you make sure the code is asynchronous with your own to prevent it from affecting your entire site’s performance. Single points of failure (SPoF) need to be eliminated, as they can take down your site completely. Eliminate SPoFs with async code.
Load after Doc Complete
Load your tags after document complete (the point at which the onload event fires) so your users can still click through to the links they want without any impact if the tag is down. However, be careful when doing this with ads that you’re hosting, as it could lower impressions and impact the revenue that they bring in.
Companies affected by last year’s Facebook outage were using outdated tags. To avoid similar problems, ensure that you’re using the most up-to-date third party tags. Keep a strong line of communication with your providers so you are notified immediately when tag updates are made.
Having too many tags increases your load time and risk of failure. Audit your site for tags that are no longer in use – perhaps ones you forgot to remove at after a campaign or analytics initiative ended. If the tag is not being used, remove it.
Utilize a Tag Management Systems
Tag Management Systems (TMSs) can reduce dangers stemming from the complex delivery of assets and mitigate risk of third party issues. Most TMSs ensure that your tags are all delivered quickly, firing asynchronously, only firing on necessary pages, staying updated, and not breaking when the site changes. And perhaps most importantly, when a tag does break, a TMS allows you to disable or remove it with a single click
IT’s Third-Party Failure Prevention Plan
While the measures above can keep your site up and running, tag failure is still bound to happen, and each one has a negative impact on your business. Your users may not see it, but when a tag fails you might lose data, fail to serve an ad, or miss a tracking or retargeting opportunity. Additionally, this often results in discrepancies between different tracking systems, which can lead to confusion when trying to troubleshoot a problem.
Here’s how you can cut down on failures, hold your vendors accountable, and align with the business team:
- Get on the same page as your business team
It’s important to ensure that the goals of the business/marketing teams are aligned with those of the IT department, and that the two are aware of each other’s objectives so that they can work together to achieve the ultimate goal of increasing revenue.
In the case of third party tag management, this will help you:
- Learn the business goals and value associated with your third-party tags
- Understand the implications of tag failures on the business
- Communicate your performance goals
- Establish limits for what sort of performance degradations you’re willing to live with as a result of their presence on your site
- Assess your current tags
Take inventory of your current tags and how they’re already impacting your site. Decide which metrics are most critical to your site’s overall performance like load time, content availability, number of requests, and number of failures.
Using these metrics and the business goals as outlined above, determine the impact/ROI of each of your third parties, considering things such as:
- What does the tag do?
- What is its importance to the business?
- Can it be written asynchronously?
- Does it load on critical pages?
- What if it slows down?
- What if it fails?
Simulate blocking or delaying third party requests to fully understand what impact it may have on your site if its delivery is interrupted. If you’re using Catchpoint, you can perform these ‘What-if’ tests by using HTTP request overrides within your synthetic monitoring tool. You can also measure using zones to determine the bottleneck times and see how the third parties are impacting your pages’ load times.
- Define minimum performance requirements
Any one tag can harm your performance if it slows or fails, so you must establish a minimum performance requirement and uphold the requirement through consistent testing and monitoring.
Use Differential Performance Measurement to understand when a specific tag’s performance can be harmful to your site. Here is another perfect opportunity to use Catchpoint’s Zone and Host features to determine exactly how each provider is delivering their data and their impact on your overall page performance. Consider setting more lenient requirement for tags that bring in more value than others (understood from prior business discussions).
- Put SLAs in place with all your providers
Make sure your providers keep their promises to you by building SLAs around your minimum performance requirements. It’s imperative you establish a clear-cut, measureable way to identify performance issues caused by the third party tag so you can report an SLA breach to your providers.
- Test and certify new tags before going live
It’s important to have a certification process in place that can be used to vet every potential new vendor’s presence on your site. Just as you wouldn’t let anyone into your house, you must be able to assess every third party’s potential impact to see if they meet your requirements
Test prospective third parties’ performance and availability from a QA environment for a week and make sure they don’t breach your performance requirements. Use synthetic tests from multiple locations because tags are served differently for users depending on their location and browsing history.
Understand the new tag’s technical requirements, open a line of communication with the vendor to be immediately informed of updates, changes, or errors and be sure to repeat your ‘What-if’ tests to understand how your site reacts to the prospective tag’s failure.
- Monitor and alert on third parties
Don’t stop testing once your tags are live; ensure that our providers are continuously meeting your certification requirements. Monitor individual tags to detect poor performers and create alerts to notify your team when there’s a failure to ensure they don’t disrupt your site’s performance. Make sure you fully understand all of your tags’ technical requirements so that any errors that occur can be corrected internally.
Additionally, group your third party requests into a zone and set up tests and alerts to notify you when the performance of the zone has breached a pre-determined threshold. Monitoring your third parties as a whole will ensure that you’re not adding too many technologies that will compromise your site performance.
- Circle back with the business team
Demand for new marketing technologies will only increase. Adding new technologies may help marketing hit their KPIs, but IT’s performance KPIs suffer as a result. A company must have a clear set of rules and processes for vetting new tags that could be problematic, removing tags that are impacting performance, or enforcing a maximum allowable number/size/speed of third-party tags.
Here’s how you can make your case:
- Present the data you’ve collected
- Correlate to business metrics – saying a tag costs the company $10,000 in revenue resonates more than saying it costs 1.5 seconds
- Trust your data and stay firm with your requirements
Constant evaluation of both your tags and your business goals will allow you to keep your house in order and maximize your site’s efficiency as it relates to your company’s bottom line. By establishing a clear set of standards and adhering to them, you can get everyone on the same page, eliminate finger-pointing, and save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.