Minimizing Third-Party Tag Risks through Tag Management

Adding third-party vendor tags to your site allows for some very nice benefits, from improving the customer experience to increasing online revenue, but there are also inherent risks. Risk is included anytime you add another third-party tag to your web site. Even though the benefits of these digital marketing tags outweigh the risks, from an operational perspective you need to be aware of these risks.

The top risks of third-party tags come in the form of site stability and page load  performance. In the next three sections you can read how the architecture behind tag management systems can dramatically lower these risks. The focus will be on tag management methodology; how the tags are served; and how data is sent to the third-party vendors. You will see comparisons of different tag management solutions and an explanation of the benefits or risks associated with each.

Risk #1: Site Stability

One of the biggest pain points that tag management can improve is site stability. When you add a third-party tag or tracking pixel to your site, you’re leasing away a portion of your site’s stability. Many vendor tags have been known to slow down your site or even break it. Tags are infamous for blocking your pages from loading or making your pages go blank. Every tag on your site is another potential point of failure. Additional tags increase the potential for site stability issues.

A tag management system can reduce those risks with asynchronous loading or conditional loading of external vendor tags. Another option is to completely outsource your vendor tags to a third party. All of these choices are good for improving site stability, but be cautious about relying on an external vendor’s architecture as their shortcomings will be intrinsically linked to your site.

Tag management systems offer two common methodologies: client-side and server-side. The server-side systems collect data from your web pages through a third-party tag. The data is transmitted to the third-party’s server, processed, then sent to all of marketing vendors’ servers. This method lowers site stability risk, but it doesn’t cover all third-party tags.

The client-side systems can reduce site stability risks even more due to total coverage of all third-party tags. There are two different types of client-side systems, one that uses a “dynamic” delivery method and the other that uses a “static” delivery method.

Dynamic delivery sounds cool, but it’s a greater risk for site stability than static delivery. Dynamic means there are multiple layers of servers (web, app, database) responding to your requests. Each layer has its own service-level agreement (SLA), so you’re only as strong as the weakest link. You’re actually only as strong as all of the links put together, meaning the probability of site failures go up by adding the possibility of failure in each layer. For example, if each layer has a 99 percent SLA and there are three layers, the overall SLA can only be 97 percent. Each layer has a 1 percent chance of failure, so add up each layer and the overall system as a 3 percent chance of failure at any given moment.

Static delivery utilizes multiple layers of caching and geographically distributed servers for greater stability, scalability and performance. Static delivery uses content delivery networks (CDNs) with thousands of servers in nodes around the world. Even if multiple servers go down, you still have an extensive array of alternate servers and nodes available elsewhere. With this redundant architecture, you will never have an issue with the tag management system blocking your pages from loading.

Static delivery is also the best way to address scale on the Internet, especially for serving HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (third-party tags). With static delivery you only need to use the CDN, so you don’t have the increased risk with multiple layers of servers. This type of delivery is exactly how companies like Netflix can stream videos to millions of subscribers.

Risk #2: Page Load Time Performance

Each third-party tag adds at least 50 milliseconds to your page load time on the first visit to your site. The average tag takes well over 50 milliseconds to load. If you have 10 tags on one page, that can add seconds to your page load time. “Time is money” rings true when frustrated visitors leave slow-loading sites. A single slow-loading tag can add seconds to a page load or even completely stop the page from loading.

Server-side tag management systems can reduce the number of tags on your site, which will improve page load performance, but this type of system cannot manage all third-party tags. You will still need to rely on managing the remaining tags by yourself or through a client-side tag management system using dynamic delivery or static delivery.

Dynamic delivery systems are very similar to server-side systems because they have multiple layers that can cause slowness. The dynamic delivery system relies on a server to balance requests from all clients, another server to execute logic specific to a client, possibly another database server where configuration information is stored, and then it can finally respond to the original request. This layered process is repeated for every page viewed by the visitor. Each layer introduces latency, adding around 50 milliseconds of page load time per layer.

In a system that contains three layers, you can imagine a tag management system that takes at least 150 milliseconds to respond, if everything is perfect, compared with a static file that is delivered in almost no time at all.  Static delivery systems simply eliminate the latency and risk created by multiple layers, so the tags are delivered that much faster. Plus, the files are cached in your visitor’s browser further reducing page load times on each subsequent page view. It just doesn’t get any faster than that.

The Best Tag Management System for Your Business

Each choice for tag management systems improve site stability and page load time performance to varying degrees. Server-side systems are like a car without enough gas. Their benefits only go so far, because they only cover a portion of the tags. Client-side systems with dynamic delivery are the next step in improvement, but they still contain the added risk and slowness of multiple layers. Finally, client-side systems with static delivery outperform the others by removing the risk and slowness associated to the additional layers while taking advantage of browser caching for the fastest delivery system known to man.

Tealium iQ is a client-side system with static delivery, making it the fastest tag management system that reduces the most amount of risk associated with third-party tags.

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