Perfect tagging: mission impossible or holy grail?

Based on just the title of this post alone, can you guess what the #1 sticking point is between web analysts and the I.T. department?  You got it, tagging up pages across your organization’s website usually falls to the coders, webmasters, outside consultants, or I.T. folk within your company, and not the research, marketing, or business development department.  Although many software solutions are turning to single smart tags that can be defined later from within the tool, lots of enterprise class vendors still require on-page variable calls or customized javascript functions to assist in segmenting visitors.  So is perfect tagging mission impossible or the holy grail?  A rare discussion plus a Dwight Schrute bobble-head after the break.

I don’t think I’m speaking out of school here when I say, page tagging can be tough!

Step 1 – Identify the critical few, but don’t ditch the laundry list

In a world of changing business requirements, dynamic content, interactivity, and obscure “engagement” metrics, it’s essential to minimize your tagging requirements down to a critical few metrics or key performance indicators (KPI).  It’s usually easier to win over your implementation resources with a short list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” versus a laundry list including the kitchen sink.

Step 2 – Champion a Web Analytics Dev Lead

This part isn’t easy because development personnel are notoriously overburdened with more important things to do (obviously!).  However, as one ally in development once told me,

“Garry, you probably taught me more than I ever cared to know about Omniture, but it helped!”

That statement implies two things.  Development gurus won’t necessarily care to know all there is to know about any given web analytics platform or tagging methodology, but with that knowledge under their belt, they can go far in increasing their own personal net worth in an organization, or expand their skill set for future opportunities.

Step 3 – Evangelize and Train Followers

Turn into a huge proponent of comprehensive data collection while evangelizing user testing, statistical significance, and challenging intuition.  Consider a strategy posed by Avinash Kaushik: talk to anyone that will listen on the business side of an organization that might support the move to data-driven decision-making, and make them profitable.  Great idea, but not that easy.  What I would suggest is this: evangelize and train enough people within an organization, and funny things start to happen.

When you evangelize and train a critical mass of “followers,” the collective philosophy of an organization becomes fragmented and ripe for change.  I’m not talking about full-scale revolution here; what I’m talking about is evolution.  All of a sudden, the demand for additional metrics and specific KPIs starts to drive the development of better tagging.

Step 4 – Impress with the Impossible

There are ways to get what you need out of a vanilla web analytics implementation.  Many tools offer the ability to slice and dice segments after the fact, regardless of how whacky your requirements are.  The limiting factor being time, of course.  Given enough time, a hundred monkey’s could calculate the value of pi to eleven decimals, and so can you.

One of my favorite asks of all time was a geosegmentation question spanning a distinct site section of a popular media site.  Of course, this question was made all the more difficult by combining conversion metrics with unique visitor calculations.  Regardless of how sexy your implementation is, you wouldn’t be able to answer this question – guaranteed.  But I’m not here to show off, I’m here to prove a point.  If you demonstrate the impossible, you will get closer to your holy grail.  It may have taken a week to process that request, but it posed the question, “was the report that I provided insightful enough to introduce more complex tagging to cut reporting time to an hour?”

Step 5 – Make due with what you got

We’re not conceding defeat, but recognizing that even with the most complex implementation and site tagging you can get, you’ll still have funkified data.  A poorly coded banner ad could mess up your variables, browsers might not accept your cookie, visitors might disable javascript, page encoding might garble your image call, etc.  It’s not the cleanliness of your data that will make you successful, it’s what you do with it.

3 thoughts on “Perfect tagging: mission impossible or holy grail?”

  1. Garry,

    As a “Web Analytics Dev Lead” I enjoyed this post immensely. I think the lack of developers who “get-it” is one of the major issues the success of advanced tagging and data collecting faces.


  2. Garry,

    As a “Web Analytics Dev Lead” I enjoyed this post immensely. I think the lack of developers who “get-it” is one of the major issues the success of advanced tagging and data collecting faces.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *