3 Advanced Approaches to Web Analytics Tagging

I bet you didn’t think there was more than one advanced approach to web analytics tagging, did you? Sadly, there are many approaches to tracking visitors to websites, some of which have been around since the advent of mainframe computing (which should have probably been retired back then too!).

But with great choice comes great opportunity to define advanced segments, workaround organizational immaturity, and gain the upper hand on cross-browser and cross-device compatibility issues.

The ‘Not So Great’ Approaches

  • Log files. Anything that measures behavior using a metric such as “hits” should be strictly reserved for baseball or hockey pools. And don’t be swayed by the potential attractiveness of developing an advanced log file parser internally, it often involves more time and resources than signing a contract with a vendor.
  • Counters. Remember back in the olden days when GeoCities was all the rage and the web was covered in animated GIFs? At that same time, people started to think about how they could count the number of times their pages were accessed, and many services started popping up that enabled casual web developers to proudly state their pages received three hits. Sad.
  • External conversion tags. Advertising platforms such as Google AdWords afford users the ability to tag single pages of high importance and ignore everything else. Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but not ideal either. Think twice about relying solely on any measurement system that may introduce an external conflict of interest.
  • Nothing at all. Not measuring web traffic isn’t an option.

Status Quo

  • JavaScript “tagging.” I hate the word “tagging” but it’s become synonymous with web analytics, and tagging via JavaScript is king. There are several advantages to JavaScript tagging, including endless customization, the ability to make asynchronous calls, relatively low barriers to implementation, and easy debugging.

3 Advanced Approaches

  • Tag management solutions. These are often highly customizable systems that rely on a single line of JavaScript and offload much of the development work to a third party website. If your web development teams just don’t understand the need to continually customize and improve JavaScript variables on a routine basis, or you have long development cycles, consider tag management solutions such as TagMan, Tealium, or Ensighten.
  • Hard-coded image GET requests. If you have serious performance requirements, troublesome cross-browser and device compatibility issues, consider formulating and concatenating image parameters yourself, especially if scope is limited to just a handful of important pages. It’s not as hard as you think, and may save you a ton of custom development and testing time.
  • Server-side API injection. Sounds boring, right? It’s actually very sexy technology that lets you offload the work of communicating behavioral information from the client’s browser to your own webserver. It’s not that easy to implement, but if you have security or privacy concerns, compatibility issues or want to try something new, API injection might be right for you.

Notice anything missing, or prefer those log files that count hits? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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