What is tag management?
Most websites use a multitude of tracking tags to collect information about website visitors and to improve website functionality. Website analytics tags capture pageview and session-level information, media tags enable retargeting and look-alike marketing opportunities, and other tags can deploy everything from a live chat module to promotional popup banner.
Prior to the popularization of tag management software, all of these tags needed to be hard-coded on the website, or added directly to the source code of a webpage. This not only increased the workload of front-end developers to deploy and manage all the website tags, but it also made it much more difficult to take advantage of asynchronous loading.
What is asynchronous loading?
All major tag management platforms default to asynchronous loading, which aims to minimize the perceived page load speed for the website visitor. Synchronous loading does just that, it loads assets in an ordered sequence from first to last while requiring that each tag is addressed before moving on to the next. Asynchronous loading, however, allows assets to load in parallel, and enables the browser to continue loading subsequent elements on the page without waiting for the preceding elements to finish loading completely.
Said another way, if you liken all the elements of a full webpage (like images, buttons, text, and tags) to grocery store shoppers, synchronous loading basically requires all of those customers to wait in one big line, and the proverbial webpage will not be fully loaded and usable by the end user until each customer (or element) makes it through checkout. Asynchronous loading is the equivalent of the store manager opening up several other checkout lines, but goes further to prioritize use of a primary checkout line for all the elements that are required for a website visitor to interact with the page. Other secondary elements, like tags, that are not required for the website visitor to interact with the page, use other checkout lanes to streamline the flow of the primary checkout line. As soon as the primary checkout lane is complete, the webpage is ready for use by the website visitor, while tags can continue to load in the background through secondary checkout lanes.
Asynchronous loading goes a long way to streamline the speed and efficiency of a webpage’s load speed.
What if I’m using a tag manager and asynchronous loading but my page load speed is still too slow?
- Check for errors: oftentimes one faulty tag can ruin the bunch. If a single tag fails to function, a web browser can still waste a lot of time and resources waiting for the tag to work, which can delay page load speed considerably; one bad apple can spoil the bunch.
- Systematize the removal of outdated tags: even with asynchronous loading, supporting a ton of tags can still delay page load speeds (grocery store checkout can still be slow even when all the checkstands are open if there are too many customers in the store). Therefore it’s important to regularly review your full list of tags to ensure tags are removed whenever they become unnecessary.
- Only load tags when truly necessary: tag management software allows you to be very calculated in deciding where and when tags load on your site. Yet all too often tags are configured in a way where they load on pages or events where they aren’t necessary. As a rule of thumb, if the information a tag gathers on any given page isn’t meaningful or actionable, it’s best to make an exception and prevent the tag from loading on that page.
- Utilize server-side tagging: most tags today load client-side, meaning the end user’s web browser is responsible for executing the functions of the tag before passing the related information on to its destination (which can be Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, etc. depending on the tag). Server-side tagging is becoming more prevalent because it can minimize any timing delays by utilizing the support of a server to handle the passing of information as opposed to solely relying on the user’s own web browser. Additionally, server-side tagging can be less impacted by 3rd party cookie tracking limitations and is a favored alternative by a growing list of media & technology partners.
Last but not least, remember tags provide a tangible business value; they’re not just speed bumps on a webpage. Many stakeholders concerned with website speeds can view tracking and media tags as unnecessary bloat, but it’s important to ensure these tags hold their rightful place in the priority list of necessary website resources. Typically a large webpage banner with a high-resolution graphic can outweigh the resource demands of a huge number of tags. And while there’s likely a justifiable argument that a highly visible banner is a valuable component of a webpage and should be high-resolution, it’s not always fair to assume tags are any less valuable simply because they aren’t as visible to the end user. Tags advance our ability to understand our website visitors, to make data-driven decisions, and to deploy more effective marketing campaigns with profitable results. As a result, it’s important to appreciate that even a perfectly-deployed tag manager will have an impact on page load speeds, but as long as you follow best practices to minimize the impact to page speeds, your tag manager can often be the most valuable resource loaded on a webpage.