Brenda Malone tells SEOs that third-party tag governance is going to be crucial in 2023 to maintain performance-compliant websites, and gives tips on how to select the right code.
Brenda says: “You need to be very judicious about every single third-party tag that’s deployed on your website. Tags are the best and worst of things. There are little parasitic tags that reduce the performance of your website, slow it down, and can ultimately worsen your rankings. You should get control of those tags and only use them when necessary, as necessary.”
Why are tags both positive and negative?
“Tags are extremely useful, especially to marketers, SEO folks, and business operations. Tags do many things: they tell us who’s visiting a site, what’s happening on the site when visitors are there, what they’re doing, and whether they’re successful in their mission. Tags let us know if they’re able to purchase a product/service, they inform us about the pages which are very important to visitors, and they can also enhance performance. A lot of tags add animation dynamic actions to websites.
Some can be very useful but the problem lies in the fact that they’re very heavy and come at a cost. They’re very expensive to page loading and page performance. Going into 2023, you will need to manage that ratio of usefulness to detriment of website performance. Tags represent the best and worst of things.”
Should each organisation have someone who can take charge of tag management and make the ultimate decision?
“Perhaps in a utopia. Currently, it is the wild wild west when it comes to tags. Seemingly, every department of an organisation, every developer, and every SEO has their own specific set of favourite functional or non-functional tags. Unfortunately, often they’re all just tossed on a website with no thought as to what they do. Is it useful? Should we use it? How are we using it effectively? Most organisations don’t have a designated party to govern these decisions.
In many cases, the developer will get a call requesting to put something on a site. They won’t have the ability to question the business reason for the tag, and the SEO department may not understand the implications that a third-party tag will have on site performance. Many websites load a hundred tags on every single page and that’s dreadful for page load and experience. With the new rankings in Google, you’re liable to fail and have your developers running to the hills. They won’t be able to improve performance as long as the marketing and SEO department are throwing dozens and dozens of tags on the website.”
Elon Musk says that we should have to vote laws back in because they naturally expire over time. Should we employ a similar system with tags?
“That’s a great idea and a brilliant way to phrase the whole problem. Maybe then the debate will be about the length of expiry. Before a tag goes on a site there should be a governing body that approves it - whether that’s comprised of SEO members, marketers, IT members, or members from the business sector of an agency or company.
Police all of those tags, make sure the business case absolutely needs that, it’s performant, and get your IT team and developers to ensure the tag isn’t going to conflict with anything else that’s happening on the website.
Maybe your developers have another idea, maybe they did not exactly know the reason why you needed that specific tag. Include developers in the conversation because they might not know the reason why a specific tag is necessary.
You should also include the SEO, marketing department, and tag manager. Only allow tags that have been improved, and that are in the library with an expiration date. Pull a tag off when it’s not needed and only deploy it when necessary. For example, in A/B testing that tag will deploy across every page - and that’s not necessary. A CAPTCHA form for security will also load on, every page and that’s not needed. Use a tag manager, put your tags in order, and make sure that only approved tags which have gone through the vetting process are allowed. Also, have someone manage the expiration date so they can pull a tag off when necessary, put tags on a site, and manage, police, and use them properly.”
If you’ve got a website with lots of tags on it, what’s the best software to identify the biggest culprits?
“You should break it down with the waterfall chart. My favourite tool is webpagetest.org - an oldie that’s been improved dramatically. It’s at a level now where you can judiciously deploy and test what specific scripts do when they’re turned on and off, and whether they’re necessary. However, you have to manage them by looking at the page load and the waterfall chart to see the exact cost of that tag, how many seconds it’s taking to load, and what else it’s blocking.
Most tags are render-blocking, meaning when the tag calls back home nothing else can load on the website. Everything stops and waits for that tag to call home and come back with further instructions. Just stop it. Stop all those people from calling home. Don’t allow them to slow your website down.”
Is it possible for tags to fire after a partial load so that users can see everything above the fold and they can carry on scrolling?
“Absolutely. A tag manager could also do that. You can load it in layers and control when it loads, how it loads, and at what time it turns off. You can schedule your scripts to load asynchronously - which means you tell the website it’s OK to load these tags together because they won’t alter what’s already being loaded. Or, you could load them deferred - which means that after all of the other critical website resources (your images, text, blocks of copy, headers and footers) load you can load those tags without them impacting performance as much as if they were loaded with higher priority.
For the tags that you absolutely must have, use webpagetest.org and look at the loading priority. This will help you determine the exact loading order priority so you can play around with different tests and see what will happen if you move the priority around.”
You mentioned a tag manager a few times, are you just referring to Google Tag Manager or is there other tag management software that’s just as good?
“Google is the elephant in the room. Most people are familiar with Google Tag Manager and it synchronises so well with all of the other Google tags, your analytics, search console, and ad tags. There are quite a few other tag managers too, though. Microsoft has a tag manager and Adobe Experience is useful too. Google Tag Manager can be exploited to do precisely what you need it to do. It’s essential when you’re governing your tag employment on websites.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“SEOs should stop working in silos. Right now, we’re a separate department with no coordination between the business units of the organisation. Sometimes the marketing department doesn’t even know what the SEO department needs. The developers and IT department need to come to the table and there should be a seat at the table for SEO. Stop treating the SEO discipline as a separate cast-off division that just manages the website. SEOs should be present to save time when business decisions are being made and to increase productivity. Bring everyone together and stop operating silently in the background.
Emphasise business metrics and business ways of thinking about the time and productivity that can be saved. This is the type of language that an SEO should use to encourage top management to give them a seat at the table. Conversations with the business unit are a great way to prove your worth. Sometimes we navigate a difficult path when we should just divide the existence of SEO. If you’re at the table in the beginning, you can develop parameters that will make it easy to gauge the effectiveness of SEO. This is better than working in hindsight after everything has been deployed or spent, because you’ll just be playing catch up.”
Brenda Malone is a Technical SEO Specialist at NP Digital and you can find her over at npdigital.com.
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