Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some Context to Web Analytics: A Remedy to “Smiling and Nodding”

Each of us at some point have been guilty of smiling and nodding during conversations to hide the fact that we actually have no clue what the other person is talking about. For those just joining the Web Analytics 2.0 discussion there is a lot of smiling and nodding going on. The purpose of this post is to provide some context in which some of the discussions on techie blogs such as Beyond Web take place.

First, it is important to understand that in conversations dealing with web analytics tagging or tags has nothing to do with graffiti artists, childhood games, or your Aunt Mertyl’s neck. The words "tag" or “tagging” in web analytics refers to a structure to capture and categorize codes in JavaScript (most commonly) or some other computer language (Briggs 2013).

When a user enters a website a long tail of JavaScript follows. This long tail is not obvious like a long trail of toilette paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe. Instead it is only visible to those looking for it behind the scenes. If you would like to see the code right click on a web page and click “view source.” Once a viewer requests a site in the URL (you know the bar in the top where you enter the web address), the chain of code is dumped into the web analytics tool (Wilson 2011). The web analytic tool draws out codes that have been “tagged” as important to the company.

The long continuous chain of JavaScript codes reveal information about the user and about the website. For example, the JavaScript is different for those who enter a web site through an emailed link, a certain website, or even a GoogleAd. By tagging these codes a company can learn how effective a new advertising campaign is as they track how many viewers originated from an email link, a GoogleAd, or some other site (GoogleAnalytics 2010, Kaushik 2010). Similarly, the codes can provide key performance indicators about their own website (Kaushik 2010). For example, if a viewer enters at point A, exits at point Z, or drops out somewhere in between.

Since about 2009 tag management systems have been making it easier for companies to engage in tagging (Manion 2010). This is done by automating the process to some degree. Previously, a Trekki or IT analyst had to copy and paste each code onto every page manually. Tag management systems provide the structure to enable analysts to enter code once and indicate which pages to assign the tags to. This is similar to how Excel can do somewhat sophisticated analysis for you as long as you know the syntax formula.

Now you know what tag, tagging, and tag management means in regards to web analytics. You can feel rest assured that you can postpone the inevitable smile and nod reaction for at least another 30 seconds in your next web analytic conversation.


Briggs, Jaron (2013) Software Systems Specialist at Software Technology Group. [Conversation on January 13, 2013].

Google Analytics (2010). Introduction to Google Tag Manager, [Viewed January 12, 2013].

Kaushik, Avinash. (2010) Web 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability & Science of Customer Centricity. Wiley Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana

Manion, Josh (2010). “Tag Management Systems”. Beyond Web Analytics Episode 32 [Viewed January 12, 2013]

Wilson, Tim (2011). Web Analytics Tagging and Tracking Explained [Viewed January 12, 2013].