Q&A: Andy Kahl On Third-Party Tags, Page Load, Latency, And Site Performance

TagMan recently caught up with Andy Kahl Product Manager at Evidon, Ghostery’s parent company, to talk about their recent study: Biggest Lagger: The Top Ten Elements that Slow Your Internet Down (US), in which they tracked their GhostRank Panel volunteers to monitor the Internet and most third-party content. Out of nearly 800 companies they watch, they found the top 10 that lag the web browsing experience the most in the U.S.

Biggest Lagger: The Top Ten Elements that Slow Your Internet Down (US)You guys at Ghostery recently released a study of the top third-party content that was slowing the Internet down in the US, highlighting the top 10 lagtags. Is there a large dropoff after those top 10?

I wouldn’t call it a large dropoff. It’s a gentle slope. We see a 4000 millisecond load time in spot 11 and it trends down after that. You have to look in the 20s before you get below 2000 milliseconds. It’s actually when you get to about spot 19 that you see a latency number that dips below 2000 milliseconds.

Why did Ghostery conduct this research to measure tag speed and page-load times?

There are a number of issues involved here. But first let me say that Ghostery’s core goal and mission is to provide transparency and education to the average Internet user. They have a misunderstanding of what’s happening during their browsing experience and that publishers are perhaps trading off data for content. The user doesn’t get that embedded objects on a site are affecting their browsing experience. So for the user it’s, “Not only am I surrendering data that I’m unaware of, but my experience is being affected by my interactions with these third-party elements.” Again, our goal is to educate users, not to cast dispersion on companies controlling tags. Users have never heard of any of these companies before. They’re not even aware of what they do, because they’re not named or disclosed by the site. We just want to show that there’s an ecosystem behind these services and our goal is to help users better understand.

What type of elements cause higher latency in terms of tag and page speed?

There are mainly two issues when it comes to higher latency. First, there are complicated functions such as heavy flash animations that take a long time to load, or it could be keywords used for targeting advertisements on a site. But it could also be the company’s server that’s incapable of handling all of the functions and traffic coming to the site. So it’s a function in the tag itself or the infrastructure built around the website. And they’re not mutually exclusive either. If your tags are more robust you need a more robust infrastructure to service them.

Have page speed and tag latency become hot topics among companies with an online presence?

Page load has been an area of concern for web developers since the dawn of the web, especially since no one has ever created a real solution for many of these issues causing the problem. As new technologies develop, the concern becomes greater. How much are we willing to give up in latency as a trade off for using these new technologies that capture data about site visitor’s behaviors? The topics remain continually relevant. These are issues that we’ll never be able to ignore.

In your study, you mentioned that the top 10 slowest tags don’t disclose how long they retain your data or who they share it with. How is this related to latency?

Typically, Ghostery users are concerned with privacy. Tag latency is a secondary concern. For the web publisher, it’s a double whammie in terms of risk factor: not only do they not disclose how data is shared they’re slowing the page down. If users understood how the data collection might provide value to them or to the web publisher, they might take a hit on speed. But it’s difficult for users to make a positive decision when disclosure is withheld.

Do you think it’s important for companies to invest in site performance?

There are multiple reasons why companies should, but it all gets back to the user. Latency is a direct indicator of user satisfaction. It’s important for web publishers to both collect valuable data about users and to provide users with excellent service. It’s a high price to pay when you start to compare the value of using the necessary technology to collect that valuable data versus the value of latency. Especially since it’s hard for publishers to measure things out in the wild. At Ghostery, we don’t drop tags on websites nor or we a media-based web company that is using a lot of these third-party tags and widgets. We’re objective, impartial observers looking closely at the tech vs latency tradeoff.

What’s important to note in this discussion is the finding from Aberdeen Group that says  a 1-second delay causes a 7% loss in conversions, that could mean up to 10% of sales lost, just thanks to slow-loading tags. TagMan can speed up advertisers sites and vendors tags through our smart tag loading features and vendor services. For more information on our vendor program, contact  partners@tagman.com.

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