Web Site Tagging Is Out Of Control

They say the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Well, when it comes to web site tagging, we most definitely have a problem. As so often happens in the world of internet marketing, a good thing has been taken to its extreme and taken with it the inherent goodness of the capability. A huge part of the reason that people are installing ad blocking software in droves is, I think, partly because of this out of control tagging.

I have a lot of conversations with clients that include “just because you can, does not mean you should” when it comes to online marketing. I think sometimes we get so excited about a new capability that benefits us as marketers that we often forget that this technology will be used on actual people. We get so lost in the data or targeting possibilities that we do not stop to think, even for a second, about what our actions might do to a user or customer’s experience. The decision to deploy a new technology should always be a combination of thought regarding the costs and benefits for all parties involved. To think that we can keep piling on tags that both invade privacy and degrade user experiences without consequence is crazy.

So Just How Bad Is It?

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a while, but today when I went to try to read an article on Venture Beat on a topic I’m quite interested in, I literally could not read the article because the site was running 72 tags. That is not a typo – 72 tags. I seriously did not even know there were 72 tags that could be run on a site. Needless to say, the site took forever to load and this was on a desktop. I let it go only because after a certain point I just had to know how many tags they were running. Under normal circumstances, I would have bailed much earlier. And if I had been on my phone, even faster – I’m paying for that data.

Here are tag counts for some big media sites:

  • Venture Beat – 72
  • New York Times – 36
  • Forbes – 26
  • Wall Street Journal – 23
  • Huffington Post – 23
  • CNN – 22
  • Washington Post – 18

Here are tag counts for some big retail sites:

  • Walmart – 43
  • Wayfair.com – 30
  • Overstock.com – 24
  • Target – 21
  • Drugstore.com – 19
  • Amazon – 5

Kudos to Amazon for only running 5!

It’s Time To Reevaluate What Is Actually Needed

Are any of your clients running this many tags? If so, might I suggest that it is time to take a long, hard look at not only what you’re running, but why you are running it…

Here are some basic questions to get this conversation started:

  1. What tags are currently active on our web properties?
  2. Why are we using each specific tag on the site?
  3. How do the tags affect the user experience on the site, on all devices? (Be sure to test it for yourselves!)
  4. Are the tags just for you/client data needs?
  5. Do they actually, truly serve the customer’s interests? If so, how?
  6. Are any of the tags being used redundant?
  7. Are we actually doing anything with the data being collected by all of our site tags?

I think we can all agree that overuse of tags is not good for anyone. Part of our job as search marketers is to help leverage the available technology and tools in the ways that make the most sense for our clients. It can also be part of our job to rein in clients who want to implement every tag under the sun. Everything we do should have a defined and deliberate purpose aimed at meeting the agreed upon marketing goals.

Are you as annoyed by this as I am? Do you have clients who pressure you to use a billion tags? Sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon).


  1. I mostly work with smaller clients so admittedly, I don’t know what it’s like to work on a website like Walmart. However, isn’t Google Tag Manager an option for bigger companies as well? Is there a reason they don’t use it?

    • Data security has come up as a concern with one of our bigger clients that run minimal tags.

    • Neptune Moon says:

      Thanks for commenting Kirk!

      Google Tag Manager would not cut down on the actual number of third party tags. I think it could possibly speed up their loading a bit, but 25+ tags is going to slow down a site no matter what.

      From the Tag Manager Support Page:

      “Google Tag Manager is a code management platform that fires all of your other tags according to triggers you specify in the Google Tag Manager interface. Google Tag Manager can fire both Google and 3rd party tags. Once the container snippet is deployed on your site or mobile app, little to no IT or web developer involvement is necessary to deploy new tags or edit existing tags.

      Google Tag Manager doesn’t reduce the number of tags on your site or app, but it does simplify the task of managing them. For websites, Google Tag Manager executes asynchronously and can be configured to fire tags only when they are needed, helping your pages to load more quickly.

      Google Tag Manager keeps track of which tags should fire and the triggers that have been set up to cause those tags to fire. Each time Google Tag Manager is engaged, the most up-to-date tag configuration is sent to the visitor with a set of tags and triggers. As the user interacts with your content, triggers are evaluated based on the events you have specified, and tags will fire accordingly.”

  2. Regarding your point on mobile data usage, this contributes to the larger issue of “hidden data costs” associated with mobile advertising. Reminded me of this study done here on the matter for in-app mobile ads: http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~halfond/papers/gui15icse.pdf

  3. Not only the number of tags that a site is running irks me. It drives me batty that the webmaster or IT teams don’t seem to understand how to set up asynchronous loads so that if they are running an absurd amount of tags it doesn’t impact page load time. Most marketing tags can fire/load after the page content.

    Come on, it’s 2015, if Justin Trudeau can appoint a gender equal cabinet then webmasters can use asynchronous load tactics to improve site speed.

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