Advertising Guest Columns
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Publishers are all playing a game of tag: Here’s how to win

Tags are an important element of publisher revenue strategies, being central to monetization, fraud verification, and consent. If tags don’t work together seamlessly, however, they pose a risk to bottom lines. Here’s a closer look at what tags do for publishers and why improving tag management is essential for boosting revenue.

What are tags? 

Tags are snippets of code that usually enable third parties to perform a service. If a publisher works with a measurement partner, for example, the provider will add a tag to a web page that gives them access to the publisher’s user base, allowing them to read and analyze site traffic. Providers such as Taboola and Outbrain will use tags as well, to support widgets that provide content recommendations and personalize the user experience. Most providers prefer these snippets of code to sit natively on the page, so it doesn’t go through an additional system.

Digital advertising platforms, such as Google Ad Manager, also consist of multiple tags. Every ad placement on a web page corresponds to another tag, whether a static banner or a video content player. While tags are fundamental to digital operations, publishers need to be aware that each one added has an impact on a page’s speed and responsiveness. When managing a tool like programmatic header bidding, publishers must keep track of a complex array of areas encompassing tags, code and performance to ensure they are adding value, as opposed to detracting from it.  

How are publishers managing tags today?

There are many tag management solutions available, but the reality is that most tags sit outside of publishers’ chosen systems. A significant proportion of major publishers leverage Google Ad Manager to grow their digital advertising revenues, but even Google Tag Manager doesn’t work seamlessly with this platform. What’s more, some available “solutions” are simply additional snippets of code on the page, further contributing to performance and speed issues. The average page has between five and 25 ad units, meaning publishers must deal with a huge number of hard-coded tags per page.

This comes with challenges, because making changes to hard-coded tags is a complex, laborious, and costly undertaking, even though small tweaks are frequently needed to improve revenue-generating activities. Agility is increasingly important to publishers, as they need to respond quickly to market changes and business opportunities. For example, amending the sizes of ad units is a relatively minor change, but one that’s very technical given that all related code sits on the page and initiatives like Core Web Vitals need to be carefully considered. Publishers must therefore rely on product and development teams, which for smaller publishers are typically outsourced and incur greater costs, to implement adjustments. 

Another challenge this presents is that internal ad ops and commercial teams don’t have full control over their assets, making processes such as A/B testing difficult. When deciding how web pages should be optimized for desktop and mobile devices, publisher’s rev ops teams need the ability to test which configurations generate the most value for them and their audiences. 

What can publishers do to improve tag management?

The first step publishers can take to enhance tag management is to audit which pieces of code are necessary for current activity. Publishers will often have no alternative but to add hard-coded tags when testing new applications or providers, but they must be diligent about removing those that are redundant to minimise page latency. 

Furthermore, they can adopt a solution that enables them to bring multiple snippets of code to a single tag. Doing so increases flexibility and reduces the time for changes to go live. For instance, publishers can simplify their existing processes by bringing each ad type, from video to ecommerce, into one core piece of code. This streamlines operations and enables them to make changes with relative ease, reducing demand on development resources. Each piece of revenue-related code, such as ones for header bidding and safety providers, can also be consolidated into a single respective tag. Having an overview of these tags on one centralized platform allows publishers to be far more adaptable when it comes to tapping new revenue opportunities. 

By taking a streamlined approach to tag management, publishers can improve the user experience and decrease the time and costs required to change code, which will directly translate into revenue and efficiency gains.

Ben Erdos
Chief Services Officer, Total Media Solutions

About: Total Media is an established global digital & mobile advertising technology and solutions provider that specializes in buy and sell-side ad technologies.