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Tracking issues and solutions of single page websites

Do you have recurring issues with your tracking on your website? Perhaps you have implemented Google Tag Manager, but it only fires tags on the homepage of the website. Or your website URL stays the same when you navigate from one page to another…

Perhaps your website is setup as a single-page format, or ‘single-page web application’, which means that a standard tagging setup may not work for you. Here we will explore what the reasons behind this could be, and what can be done to ensure your website is setup correctly and optimally in order to track visits accurately throughout the funnel.

What are single-page applications?
Single-page applications (SPAs) are when you navigate throughout a conversion funnel – from first visit to checkout page – yet the URL in the address bar doesn’t change. Or perhaps the URL does change, but in fact a script is running in the back-end of the webpage which makes a different set of content available from the same page.

Generally, businesses utilise a SPA to decrease development time, increase website responsive design (mobile ready layouts), improve caching capabilities and streamline the development and maintenance of the website.

It does however present some obstacles in practice:

  • SEO optimisation becomes more difficult as there are less pages to index
  • You cannot navigate back to previous pages on the site using browser history (apart from if you have advanced JavaScript controls)
  • They are less secure due to cross site scripting (XSS) and it can cause your website to run slower as there are heavy client frameworks that all need to load within one page.

What are the issues with this setup?
The way we would normally track a page is by uploading a tag directly to the source code of the page in question. Alternatively, we would apply a container tag (such as Google Tag Manager) to every single-page of the website and use a trigger to specify which page we would like media to fire on. However, if the actual page never changes after the first page is reached, then the tag will only ever track the visit to the first page and will ignore the rest.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to identify single-page application issues, and often the issue can apply to your entire website rather than just the conversion process. To investigate whether this is the cause of your tracking issues, the obvious option would be to contact the website developers and ask them if the site is in fact an SPA, but that is not always an available option. However, there are a few elements that you can check yourself to understand if this SPA scenario is relevant to your website:

1. Are you only seeing traffic for the homepage?
If you are only seeing traffic for homepage visits within your reports, but no other pages, this suggests that your entire website has been built on one URL. If you are seeing traffic on all pages, but the application pages are not showing traffic (anything beyond the conversion start page), then this suggests you have a single-page web application. Both could cause tracking issues.

2. Does each new page generate a click or history status?
When you are in preview mode from Google Tag Manager and you navigate throughout your application, there should be a new ‘Page View’ or ‘Window Loaded’ for every new page you navigate to. If this does not happen but are you seeing a ‘Click’ or History’ for each new page your website might be running as a SPA.

3. Does the URL change a ‘URL fragment’?
If the URL changes, but the change starts with a #, this is known as a URL fragment. For example, www.domain.com/home/#application_complete. If this is the case and everything before the # stays the same within your tracked results, your website may be working with a single-page URL fragment that could impact your tracking.

All Response Media viewpoint
If you have identified any of the issues above, it is likely that you have a single-page application. 

We encourage clients to inform us about any suspected single-page web applications before we create and deploy ARM tags, such as the Tag4ARM used for TV attribution, DoubleClick tags, Google Analytics tags, and more. This will potentially add more time to the tag setup and this needs to be highlighted in advance to ensure we have earmarked the time to resolve the issue before launch. Regardless, there should not be any reason for your website tracking to have consistent issues that seem insurmountable. We strive to achieve a true view of website activity for our clients, to ensure their media spend is planned and optimised effectively.

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