How many tracking tags are on your website?
It’s a common enough occurrence – you build a website and are delighted with it being all new, tidy and shiny and you start to use it. Time passes and you add more functionality to the site, but all too soon you realise that that all the widgets, plugins and content are causing the site to run more and more slowly.
This is where we found ourselves at the start of this year, so 2014 has been earmarked as the year of the tidy up as we work out how to improve our website. As I’d mentioned in my last post we’re trying to make Web Analytics World run faster for our readers and so we’re working through a long list of “must-fix”, “should-replace” and the always present “ooo-shiny-can-we-have?”.
One piece of this work was to run a quick housekeeping check on the tracking tags and cookies present on Web Analytics World with the aim that we’d delete those no longer in use and confirm that there were no unexpected tags or cookies hiding in our pages from forgotten experiments.
Enter Tag Inspector (Free trial)
This was an excellent case of good timing as Tag Inspector were offering a free trial, which gave us the opportunity to run an audit as part of our housekeeping work and also getting to share the information on with our readers.
I was first introduced to tag auditing two years ago and realised that:
- The tools providing us with information make use of tags and cookies to gather the raw data vital for reporting and decision making, when tracking website visitors
- These aren’t always set up correctly, creating duplicates or not counting what they should be counting.
The Tag Inspector team set up a scan on another site to get me started, but starting a new scan is as easy as:
- Clicking on the green button at the top right hand side of the screen
- Enter the URL you want to scan
- Select your scan frequency
- Submit your scan request
At this point I watched the progress bar for half a minute to have a go at working out how long the scan will take, but for the more efficient among us; it’s probably best to get on with something more productive.
The Overview Report – Your website will show more tags than you expect
The reports come back with an overview which covers the basics: the site scanned, how many pages scanned, how many tags found and an overview of the top tags found on the site. I was surprised at the number of tags (65 in total) but most of the tags identified in the Top Tag list were known to us.
The one visual that stopped me in my tracks showed how the tags were loaded and here it is in all its “glory”:
The first batch of tags loaded were mostly those that we expected; social channels, analytics, tools we’d embedded in blog posts. The following batches you can see are tags that were loaded by the first batch.
As a report goes it’s a good visualisation of the waves of tags coming into your website, but at this level there is far too much to see. I’d mentioned earlier that we recognised most of the tags shown in the Top Tag list as ones that we had added, so let’s take one we didn’t recognise as having added and see if the Report Details will show where it came from.
Getting into the Detail – Where are the tags coming from?
We can see that the majority of tags are loaded from the first wave and one tag which appears to be loaded on the majority of our pages is from AppNexus, an internet advertising platform. I know we’ve not deliberately loaded this tracking tag – so one of our other plugins or tools must be bringing it in but how can I see which one?
When you are in the Report Details section, clicking on a tag brings up specific information in the right hand side of your screen. These information blocks explain more about the tag, how it was loaded, the pages containing/missing it and if the tag sets any cookies. You are given a view showing how the tag was loaded and I personally preferred the list style (shown below).
It appeared that the tag comes from the Shareaholic plugin we use. I confirmed this by checking the Shareaholic WordPress plugin page, where Shareaholic advise that their script is hosted with Amazon’s CDN and their application may use services like AppNexus.
Returning to the Overview report, if I look for the Shareaholic cloudfront container I was able to isolate all the tags loaded by this plugin.
To be fair this is quite neat when compared against, say, Google AdSense which has six waves of tags.
We’ve chosen to use both Shareaholic and Google AdSense; however this does highlight how easily plugins and tools can introduce multiple tracking tags and cookies.
Piggy-backing your way to Data Leakage – What are your site tags doing?
Tag Inspector’s visual tree reports are an ideal illustration when trying to explain how piggy-backing and data leakage can occur in websites when you aren’t in control of, or at least keeping an eye on the plugins and tags in use. It is one thing being aware that tags can load other tags – it’s quite another to see the daisy-chain effect when you see six or more waves of tags being loaded.
Of course this is the easy bit! The real work starts when the website owner begins; reviewing all the tracking tags, identifying their origin and confirming what action is required for each. We’ve now identified these following actions for Web Analytics World:
- An excess of tags being loaded will negatively impact the site speed, so it is essential for us to review our site performance reports, we’ve already started this with Google Analytics and Pingdom
- For tags our plugins and tools are loading that we still want to use, we need to do some additional reading to see what is being loaded
- For tags we’re deliberately loading – we need to review how we load this as it may be time we took the plunge into Google Tag Manager
- Remove/replace any plugins or tools if we believe the tags being loaded are excessive or unnecessary
- Ensure we maintain an eye on the tags being loaded on the website. In the short term we’re going to be taking full advantage of the free Chrome extension offered by the Tag Inspector team, but if you wish additional support the paid plans available through Tag Inspector do include a level of guidance and help when trying to gain more control over tags and cookies.
So it looks as if our to do list for the Web Analytics World 2014 tidy up is going to get a bit longer than we expected!
The important focus for me with the tag check was improving our site speed but I’m keen to hear what prompted you to check out your site’s tags and cookies? Were there any surprises hiding in there?