Imagine that you're in charge of throwing a really big party for your company. It's massive - every client, potential client, interested consumer, and even investors are all invited. Once the doors open it's non-stop. And for almost everyone, it's how they're introduced to what you do and may be the only way they ever interact with your company at all.
Designing and maintaining a website is not dissimilar to party planning. Your guest list is massive, things are only celebrated when they run perfectly, and you have to hire some help. Your version of a party's bands and bartenders come in the form of data-driven technology. Analytics scripts, social tools, advertising pixels, video players, and loads of other third-party code come in, set up, and go about their various tasks.
But just as temperamental band members or avant-garde catering chefs can drag down a party, third-party tech partners can cause your site to lag in performance. Here are a few simple party-planning style steps web managers can take to keep the party in full swing.
01. Clear out the hangers-on
A slow-running site is very much like a overcrowded party where no one has room to move and you can't get to the bar all night. Which makes you think: next time I'll only invite the people I really care about and ditch all those hangers-on. As it is with people, so it is with site-slowing scripts, which currently clutter up far too many websites.
The data collection industry has enjoyed a decade or so of unprecedented innovation - but it's not all been positive. In the past, site owners frequently placed greater value on the promise of innovation than on careful consideration of performance trade-offs. As the industry matures, it's a good time to reflect on efficient and responsible ways to collect and use data.
Critical to this process is taking a look at what found its way onto your site during the wildest days of that wide-open guest list. Trials with tracking vendors, conversion pixels from old ad campaigns and antiquated analytics accounts can linger among active code. These scripts can slow site performance and leak data to bygone partners.
02. Speed up the service
Party-goers don't want to wait in long queues for drinks or get lost in crowds of other revelers. And in a web ops department, you're constantly trying to speed things up - it's a game of reaction time where seconds can make a huge difference in user experience.
Third-party code can often contribute to page latency - collectively, third-parties across top sites contributed almost one-half second (487ms) per page during January. Carefully evaluating the performance of these tags and weighing any additional load-time against the provided service or revenue is an important step for site optimisation.
03. Mix things up
Booking a band to play at your party can really help it kick into gear - but if the performance is poor it can have the opposite effect. So if you really want to guarantee a great night, you might invite more than one band, or a DJ, to play at the party as well.
Often sites find themselves with a suite of tracking tags all serving the same function and so, like at our party, it makes sense to diversify your tracking portfolio among analytics scripts, social tools, ads and conversion/segmentation pixels.
Multiple social tools also make sense: they represent multiple social networks and a group of data collection pixels can work together to help reach your audience and properly monetise your data.
But just as you wouldn't hire more than one clown or sword-swallower, some tools don't need duplicates. Multiple analytics pixels, for example, should provide unique information from service to service. Conversion pixels should represent active campaigns and align with as many as possible. Duplicate tags not returning useful data to your organisation should be escorted out of your page code.
04. Watch out for gatecrashers
Finally, uninvited guests can plague any party planner. Curated guest lists and properly trained doormen are essential to make sure you're not plagued by badly behaved, uninvited guests you never should have been there in the first place.
The problem is when your friends invite their friends, who invite their friends and so on. And it's a similar story online, where many third-party tags have their own partnerships to better qualify and reach specific user segments.
Technically, these partnerships often mean page script redirection or piggybacked deployment (ad tech scripts delivering more tags to the page when they execute). Those tags then fire and can return further scripts; publishers risk remaining unaware of technologies present on pages they 'control'.
Ghostery data shows that across 500 leading websites, just 45% of third parties were deployed directly by the site owner. Over half of the party staff was there without explicit invitation. With the rapid emergence of new technologies and evolution of established services, it's important to stay informed of how far the tracking tag chain can reach. The longer it is, the bigger the risk of data escaping a site's back door to a technology partner never engaged by the site itself.
Third-party tools offer a wide range of interesting options for web designers, site operators, and online marketers. But they have to be managed like any other service provider - and they should be routinely audited to be sure your company is benefitting from the partnership. By thinking like a party planner, web designers can build and maintain sites that, like great parties, are remembered for ages.
Words: Andy Kahl
Andy Kahl is senior product strategist at Ghostery.