At this point in the history of digital marketing, I think it’s safe to say that — for better or worse — tags are required table stakes of digital measurement.
Your analytics solution, your search marketing platforms, your UX tools, your testing platform, your voice of customer solution, your bidding platforms, your retargeting strategies… most, if not all of these, require those little snippets of code to be configured and added to your web properties, your apps, and basically your entire digital footprint.
And for years now, we’ve done it. We’ve taken the code from vendor X, adapted and configured it to our needs, and asked our IT departments/agencies/nephew’s-cousin’s-kid-who-needed-a-summer-internship-and-was-”good-with-computers” to pop in the code and tell us when it’s in production.
And while this has certainly worked, after years of new tags and changing technologies and website redesigns and app redeployments, many organizations are now left with a bundle of band-aids that is nearly impossible to manage and is almost certainly costing you in efficiency, governance, performance and ultimately, accuracy in your resulting data sets.
Here are 8 reasons why, if you haven’t yet made the jump to a tag management system (TMS), now is probably the time.
1. Minimize IT Dependence
Notice I didn’t say “eliminate” IT dependence.
The concept of a tag management solution encompasses two major components. The first is a “container” that can be generically placed on every page or screen that allows additional code (or tags) to be run within that container.
Once this is in place, the tag management solution can then “inject” whatever is needed against whatever conditions are defined, which means you’ll be having very different, more streamlined, and more efficient conversations with your agency, IT department or “web guy.”
But the second component is perhaps the most important: the “data layer.” In order to use data in those tags you’re injecting, that data needs to be exposed in one way or another, and this means you will absolutely need to continue to need to play nice with IT.
For example, if you were using a TMS to accomplish e-commerce tracking, you would need dynamic things like SKU, quantity, price, product name/category, and all of the other appropriate data to be exposed either in the data layer or in clearly identified document object model (DOM) elements so that you can look for that data, create the proper tag on the fly and then execute it.
The bottom line, however, is that with a well-architected and deployed tag management solution, the time you spend bartering with IT can be significantly reduced.
2. Increase Your Efficiency
The world is constantly changing, and new technologies are sprouting up every single day. Those that have spent time with technology deployments know that the day of the launch to production marks only the first day of the maintenance phase.
When you’re working with multiple tags for multiple solutions across multiple web properties and multiple platforms, just having all of these tags and rules available in one single place can provide enormous benefit.
And think of common tasks such as deploying existing tags across a new set of pages, or ripping out a technology you no longer use. Rather than having to schedule development resources and cycles or hunting for random code in every source repository, you can log in, make your changes globally according to your process, log back out and enjoy the rest of your day.
3. Increase The Accuracy Of Your Data
Perhaps one of the most commonly heard phrases when the subject of data and analytics comes up is, “I don’t really trust the data.” (This is especially true when the data suggest an action you might disagree with!)
Data accuracy is indeed a problem when the tags generating a hefty portion of these data are subject to little oversight. How often does it happen that the new microsite goes up in a rush without tags?
Or worse, with the wrong tags, so that the data flowing in is present, but inaccurate? Or the global header file was tagged, and then a developer writing a new page/app/screen/function puts in a second or even third occurrence of that same tag? Or some new code conflicts with an existing tag and stops it from firing?
All of these things and more are commonplace, and good governance and tag management can help to avoid virtually all of these situations, giving you confidence in the data you’ll use to make your most important decisions.
Tag management systems can help your pages load faster, and faster loading pages have been proven time and time again to lead to good things all around.
First, a TMS will help by serving tags only when needed and when rules / criteria have been met. This alone can shave precious milliseconds off of load times.
Second, virtually every enterprise level TMS allows (or defaults) to asynchronous tag serving. This means your tags are loading and firing at the same time the page elements are loading, and not slowing down or preventing any component visible to the user from appearing in their browser. Of course, tag management solutions can also be told to fire specific tags after certain things have loaded or when certain events are detected, and this also has performance benefits.
Last, for those not taking advantage of content delivery networks (CDNs), the good news is that virtually every TMS out there is leveraging some of the world’s fastest networks to get those tags to users as quickly as possible.
5. The Landscape Has Matured
When we installed our first TMS for a client, there was barely even a user interface to go along with it… and that was less than five short years ago.
In that time, we’ve seen tremendous growth and maturity in this industry as a result of consolidation, active funding, and differentiation.
Google has invested heavily in its free Google Tag Manager and Adobe’s acquisition of Satellite provides Adobe Analytics users a free option, and both of these tools are really, really good.
The paid solutions have invested and been invested in to enable tremendous growth and development of differentiated offerings.
All this is to say that while there’s likely a vendor/solution that’s best for you and your specific needs, you’ll have a hard time going wrong with any of today’s market leaders.
6. Tag Management Facilitates Governance
When marketers and IT departments and agencies and consultants all have free reign over what tags to slap into the various areas of your digital footprint, the only certainty as time goes on is utter chaos.
We recently worked with a client just to inventory and understand the various tags that were out in the wild using advanced features of the WASP (Web Analytics Solution Profiler) tool. We found tags from more than 60 unique vendors, many of them duplicating the same functionality.
Managing tags from a single solution provides a foundation for control, compliance, and overall good governance. Often, we find that putting a TMS in place is a catalyst for organizations to put in place formal digital intelligence and change control boards and centralize ownership, processes, and procedures around data collection.
An added benefit is that when leadership gets involved, this raises the profile of data in the organization, which often starts the virtuous cycle of higher levels of data maturity.
Of course, with any technology decision, cost becomes a factor in the decision, and it’s important to understand the short and long-term impact that tag management can have.
Up front, there will be costs. Many of the tools come at a price, but even with the free options, you will need to invest in the solution design, removal of what could be years worth of remnant code, and implementation of the TMS.
And once you’re up and running, you’ll need to be realistic about your maintenance costs. As mentioned earlier, you’ll still need to budget for IT resources, and you’ll need to plan for keeping up with the updates and enhancements sure to continue in this fast paced world of digital.
But compare those to the costs of managing vendors, agencies, and departments, endless troubleshooting and hunting down issues, waiting on production cycles and resource availability, and ultimately, not trusting the data you end up with.
In the end, tag management is a bargain.
8. You’ve Probably Got A Good Reason To Do It Right Now
Many organizations that move to a tag management system do it in direct response to a current situation.
Take, for example, the present push for Google Analytics users to upgrade to the new Universal Analytics codebase before they’re able to take advantage of all the features only available with Universal Analytics.
The job of having to re-tag your entire digital footprint is a daunting one, and as organizations prepare to go through it, they’re asking, “How can I avoid having to go through all this again next time?”
Well, we all know there will be a next time, no matter what tag or technology we’re talking about. Knowing tag management can help minimize these efforts makes installing a TMS a no brainer.
Whatever your stage of data or analytics maturity, if you’re working in digital and not using tag management, odds are pretty good that you’re either swimming or drowning in tags right now. And if you’re in or under the water, you’re definitely not getting what you should out of your investment in the tools and technology you’re tagging up.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.