What is Tag Management?



Tag Management: What it is and why you should consider it for your organization

Analytics implementations can get pretty technical, and often that side of things lands in the hands of the IT or web development team, with a technical consultant or extended analyst being the link between the business users and technical needs. It is a necessary part of a solid analytics program – proper data collection is the foundation on which everything else is built. Having a surface level understanding of how the technical side of things works is critical for any good analyst, and having some control is desirable for those with more technical acumen. So all analysts should have a good understanding of tag management, and tag management systems.

Tag management is a concept, and an industry, that has grown dramatically in the last several years. In a nutshell: tag management is the use of a container tag, to consolidate and control all of your analytics, site optimization, and advertising tracking codes with a single script. Analytics tracking codes are those bits of JavaScript that need to be put on your site in order to collect data on your visitors and their actions.  Advertising tracking codes are the scripts from Doubleclick, AdWords, Search Alliance, and other advertiser networks, that are used to track conversions, view through conversions, push remarketing, and track ad viewers who visit your site. Most marketers and analysts are at least familiar with the AdWords conversion code that goes on the “Thank You”, order confirmation, or form submission confirmation page of a site. Tag management systems take all of these scripts, analytics, advertising, etc. and remove them from the site, replacing them with a single script. The use of those scripts, and where they are triggered for visitors, is then all controlled through the tag management systems user interface.

Lets look at how this affects a web site and the implementation of tracking code on the site. First, there is now only one snippet of code. This means the pages have “cleaner” code, and there is generally less code on the page. Now, you may need to still add small amounts of code to your site for advertising or analytics data collection, but it is far less. You’re probably figuring out the implementation benefits – far less involvement for your IT and development teams to deal with, on the coding side of things. Now, IT may manage and work with the tag management system, but they no longer need to push code every time a tag needs to be implemented or changed. This saves considerable development time, limits potential bug-related headaches, and reduces the potential for incorrect tracking code.

Tag management is good for IT and web development, but how does it affect the business users, and ultimate need for improved data collection and analysis? First, the benefit of pushing changes through the tag management UI is that it can generally happen faster. Let’s say you want to tag visitors with a custom variable based on whether they click on a featured link on your home page; this can be done through the user interface – no need to send code to your developer! Let’s say you’re testing out a new remarketing network, and they have their own JavaScript snippet you need to put on your site. Add it through the tag management system in minutes, and you’re up and running. Let’s say 3 months later you decide the network doesn’t work out – simply remove the code in minutes from the tag management UI.

This hopefully gives you an idea of the benefits tag management provides to the technical and business users. You’re probably wondering why more organizations aren’t using tag management. Many organizations haven’t had a need, because they’ve had limited scripts to put on their pages – maybe the standard analytics tag, and the AdWords conversion code. But now they’re doing remarketing with AdWords, and they’ve expanded their Bing and Yahoo advertising, and are looking to get that code in place. More importantly, they’re starting to explore advanced analytics tagging. Suddenly they have a lot of code to manage across their sites.

Another reason tag management hasn’t been adopted too quickly, is the cost is somewhat prohibitive for non-enterprise users. But there is more competition now – a number of new vendors have sprung up in the last couple years, and there are about 10 established vendors now. Prices are going down, allowing medium and smaller businesses to enter the game.

Where does this leave the analyst? If you aren’t using it yet, expect prices to continue to drop, and start to consider if tag management isn’t a good option for your organization. Evaluate the amount of time you wait for code to be implemented, and the amount of code that is deployed, or going to be deployed, across your sites. In terms of man-hours, and efficiency in data collection (i.e. quicker analysis turn around) – you may find that there are dramatic financial benefits to be gained for your organization.

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About Adam Ware

Adam Ware is one of the founders and the current CEO of SwellPath in Portland, Oregon. He has been working with digital marketing and web analytics for over a decade, and now works with the talented team at SwellPath to help businesses measure and optimize their digital initiatives.
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Comments

  1. Hey Adam,

    Great article about tag management! I’m pretty excited about all the analytical tools assisting digital marketers and the time they save all of us. Have you heard about Google Tag Manager? It just came out and it should shake up the market big time. A problem we noticed is the time spent initially searching for those tags in your website’s code, especially if you’re a marketer and not a programmer. So InfoTrust created a free tool that finds tags in your website’s code and generates a report of all tag locations for you. Check out http://www.taginspector.com, which automatically pulls tag locations for you and sends you a report. It’s still in beta but let me know if you have any questions or suggestions on how to improve the tool. Love hearing an expert’s opinion!

    Jimmy

  2. Hi Adam,

    Seeing how tag management has grown in popularity throughout 2013 has certainly been exciting! We just wanted to post a quick update on that status of Tag Inspector. Recently re-launched, Tag Inspector now has a new and improved UI, the ability to search scan results, schedule scans, and a premium offering! TagInspector.com offers a free 100 page scan, so definitely worth a try!

    Jill

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