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Background
I work on a website that gets a fair amount of traffic, and as such, we have implemented different tracking pixels and techniques across the site for various specific reasons.

Because there are many agencies who are sending traffic our way through email campaigns, print ads and SEM, we have agreements with a variety of different outside agencies for tracking these page hits. Consequently, we have tracking pixels which span the entire site, as well as some that are on specific pages only.

We have worked to reduce the total number of pixels available on any one page, but occasionally the site is rendered close to unusable when one of these third-party tracking pixels fails to load. This is a huge difficulty on parts of the site where Javascript is needed for functionality built into the page, but is unable to initialize until a 404 is returned on the external tracking pixel. (Sometimes up to 30 seconds later)

I have spent some time attempting to research how other firms deal with this sort of instability with third-party components, but have come up a bit short. The plan currently is to implement our own stop-gap method to deal with these external outages, but rather than reinventing the wheel, we wanted to find out how this is dealt with on other sites.

Question
Is there a good set of guidelines that should be followed when implementing third-party tracking pixels?

I would love to see some white papers or other written documents about how other people have dealt with this issue.

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Just out of curiosity, how many different types of tracking pixels are we talking about here? Tracking outbound traffic is certainly important, but it's a lot to ask to have all of your partners whom you direct traffic to to tag every page on their site that you link to--especially if they've got multiple partners all demanding the same thing. –  Lèse majesté Dec 18 '10 at 3:28
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There are no more than five pixels at a time allowed on a single page by our new guidelines. We are a web development firm on contract with this large corporation, and they tend to make deals with outside vendors for various mutual requirements, which we must attempt to balance with the technical issues. –  Strozykowski Dec 20 '10 at 15:58
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3 Answers 3

After spending much time attempting to research this growing issue, we've come to the conclusion that there doesn't seem to be any one set of standards and rules when applying tracking pixels/cookies.

In fact, it seems to be a topic that no one wants to talk about. The web's dirty little secret.

Browser companies, though, are getting into the game with functionality which allows users to disable tracking cookies from being installed during their page visits.

As a company, we have decided on two standard ideas when applying tracking pixels:

  • Allow as few pixels as possible per page. - This idea stems from the fact that allowing too many pixels on a page not only adversely affects the pageload and network calls the client has to make, but also restricts how overboard the Marketing experts are allowed to go.
  • Wrap ALL external tracking pixels in a Javascript container function - This allows us to add pixels to the page after the rest of the DOM has loaded, so that we do not negatively impact the user's experience when they load our page.

We developed an in-house management system for these pixels, which has allowed us to more easily restrict what pages show what external pixels/scripts using regex values.

Hopefully as this becomes more and more of a hot topic, open standards will be reached, and we can all move on with our lives.

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Obviously I'm not an authority on these matters, given that I have no experience with this directly, but I have come across various tag management systems or universal tag or single-tag solution vendors in my research.

Some of the vendors I've come across are Ubertags, Ensighten, Tagman, and SPIWEB. Web Analytics Demystified has published a whitepaper on the advantages of tag management systems, but it requires registration, which I can't find on their site. You can however get it from the Ensighten website by submitting your contact info.

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There are plenty of whitepapers on this subject on www.tagman.com under 'business case'.

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Welcome to the StackExchange. FYI, it's generally bad form to promote your own business or website here, especially if you haven't contributed to the site before. –  John Conde Jun 9 '11 at 14:44
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