Surprises can be pleasant or unpleasant. An interception in a football certain qualifies, depending if you are the offense or defense.

Third party tags for a digital marketing campaign can make your marketing team feel like they’re seeing interceptions on every offensive play they run.

And they’re not alone in struggling with unfamiliar tags. Advertisers and digital advertising agencies are increasingly discovering their ads appearing on additional sites inserted with third-party tags.

(Editor's Note: Pierre DeBois will be speaking at CMSWire's DX Summit 2015 on Nov. 3 in Chicago.)

What Data? What Tag?  

The result is a mystery in managing campaigns accurately: What party is capturing which data with what tag? But the answer also identifies potential erosion of customer experience. Is the third party the right association for a product or service?

That question is becoming more crucial everyday as more advertisers rely on tags.

The number of web tag types used by agencies and businesses surged 53 percent in 2012 according to a tracking report cited in Adage. A revealing statistic: While 45 percent of tags were applied directly by the publisher, the rest came from other sources — the syndicated networks.

Here’s How It Works

To understand how third party tags appear, let’s examine the ad campaign process.

First, the advertisers partner with agencies to select digital sites on which the ad campaigns will appear. When a visitor arrives to an advertiser site through a placed ad, advertising tags are appended to the destination URL. This is administered usually with a tag management system.

Some site networks that have been selected to serve ads of a planned campaign share content with other syndicated site networks.

In the planned campaign, ads are served through a network chosen by the agency and company for a campaign. However, the ads can also be served through the partner networks as well. These partners are, accordingly, the “third-party.”

Retargeting and Other Behavioral Campaigns

The broader servicing of ads leads to some key complications.

More and more advertisers are deploying advanced campaigns such as retargeting and other behavioral campaigns. This, combined with campaign and networking combinations, means a potentially more involved quality assurance procedure.

That means making sure what gets appendixed to the main URL does not significantly impact latency, creating slower than expected loads for landing pages associated with the campaign. Slow page performance can hamper the customer experience online.

Another complication is ensuring regulatory compliance in geographic locations where measurement disclosure is mandatory. Sites hosted in certain regions must reveal when analytics tags are present and disclose how collected data is used.

Thus unknown tagging can blur how well a campaign meets compliance and introduce privacy concerns. A first-party tag would be acceptable where a third-party tag creates questionable acknowledgement that a visitor has accepted behavioral tracking.

Find Overlooked Audiences

Not all appearances of third-party tags are problematic. Overall analysis of traffic sources may lead to the discovery of an overlooked audience on another network. This audience could be added to a campaign plan to further meet marketing objectives.

But the demand for managing campaigns means managers must systematically evaluate campaign tags. Here are some ideas on how tag audits can be effective:

  1. Use HTTP proxy tools to verify which tags are operating or “firing” – using them for periodic audits can reveal where the tags are firing as well.
  2. Use tag audits as a focal point for communicating between marketing managers and technical managers – Doing so can highlight any technical or privacy compliance issues.

Tag management systems are beneficial to audit campaign progress, but that benefit is dependent on managers who stay vigilant on the network complexity that can creep into that progress.

It is the only way to keep the ball long enough to score. 

Title image by Luis Llerena.