Tag Management, A New Emerging Category.

With every month of every year websites are growing more complex. I’m not talking about just the design – in fact, design trends are moving towards increased simplicity and a focus on conversion. But under the streamlined, elegant, design layer are tiers of data growing in complexity. For internet marketers, an area of concern is tags.

What is Tagging?

If you’re using Google Analytics or any other tracking on your website, then you’re using tracking tags. Copying and pasting the Google Analytics JavaScript snippet to your pages adds a tag. Once you start tracking different goals, events and campaigns you’re adding more and more tags. When your page loads, the snippet loads and starts tracking data.

Take a look in the source code of any webpage and you’ll find tags. Here’s a basic tag from Google Analytics.

<script type="text/javascript">// <![CDATA[
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www."); document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));
// ]]></script>
<script type="text/javascript">// <![CDATA[
try{ var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-xxxxxx-x"); pageTracker._trackPageview(); } catch(err) {}
// ]]></script>

As web tracking becomes increasingly useful to us, we end up with an increased number of tags. It’s easy to fall prey to tag bloat: web pages are filled with tags for third party services that internet marketers use to measure user experience and activity. Tracking codes for everything from website testing tools to tracking advertisements, heat tracking to conversions, channel optimization to everyday analytics, are operating on websites.

As you can imagine, all of these JavaScript snippets firing adds to the page load time; this can have a negative effect on conversions and on search engine optimization. Google was the first to tackle this by developing the asynchronous snippet. The asynchronous tracking code is an improved JavaScript snippet that loads ‘ga.js’ in the background concurrently while your other scripts and content load.

The Google asynchronous method was so successful that other tracking services started doing exactly the same thing. If you start inserting lots of asynchronous tracking codes then you have lots of code loading all over your website and you have little to no control over when they load.

So what?

If you just have a small website, you may not be using many tags, but as your business and website traffic grow you’ll carry out significantly more tracking of your website visitors’ and customers’ activity. For example, if you’re part of an affiliate marketing network, tracking heat maps or re-marketing audiences you’ll have tracking tags from the network on your website. This means adding more scripts for third party services and if you are just adding them haphazardly you could start experiencing some, or all, of the following problems:

  • Latency… slow page load times – as well as loading all of the code needed to run your website. You’ll be loading lots of JavaScript code as well, much of which might need to completely finish loading in order to yield accurate results or perform its given function.
  • Conflict variables in JavaScript – adding JavaScript code from third parties gives you less control over the code you’re adding to your website. The variables may conflict with other variables on your page and cause errors.
  • Redundant tags – who doesn’t use an include file nowadays? You may end up with tags tracking the same events, so you could end up with skewed results or even end up paying an affiliate twice!
  • Incorrect load sequence – tags may need to load in a specific order depending on their use case.

Enter Tag Management

Tag Management is a new category that’s becoming a new Software as a Service (SaaS) in online analytic’s for managing your tags. It’s a way of turning complexity into simplicity. Rather than inserting tags for each of your services, you insert just one for the Tag Management Software (TMS). All of your tags are managed by the TMS, which makes sure that everything is optimized and that there are no conflicts between the scripts.

Forrester Research produced a report outlining the reasons why tag management is important for people running complex websites. You can find them outlined on TagMan’s blog. They are:

    • Accuracy – Tag management improves consistency and relevancy across your website by deploying the correct tags on all pages.
    • Efficiency – You can add or edit your tags at any point in your website’s development.
    • Freedom – By supporting tags from many different applications and applying them to any page, a TMS gives you increased flexibility. It’s easy for you to add or remove any services you want, and try out anything you want to subject to a test run.
    • Control – Tags can be managed by internet marketers and analytics experts, rather than the IT department. This gives much more flexibility and control to the people who need to know your analytics information.
    • Stewardship – You can standardize tags across applications, sites and users.
    • Enhanced page load time – Your page is more streamlined with only necessary tags loading. This will improve your conversion rates and your search engine optimization.

Tag Management Services

There are lots of services out there offering tag management. Let’s take a look at some of them. (Disclosure: we are still in the process of vetting out some of these products and don’t endorse any of them.)


TagMan

TagMan‘s focus is on providing tag management for enterprise level ecommerce. These types of customers are often using their own tags rather than third-party tags.

Notable Customers: Virgin Atlantic, Debenhams, Boden


Tealium

Tealium is an enterprise level tag management solution aimed at internet marketers. Tealium has made it as easy as possible for users to insert tags, using a point and click interface to make it simple for people who aren’t familiar with code.

Notable Customers: Fox, NHL, The Wall Street Journal


Ensighten

As well as offering standard tag management, Ensighten provides additional privacy controls, simple tag management for your mobile apps, and tag management for Flash and Flex.

Notable Customers: Microsoft Store, Lenovo, Sony


BrightTag

BrightTag provides tag management for internet marketers. They have a point and click interface that you can use to share data with partners, and they make it easy to turn on and off services using their growing catalogue of partners.

Notable Customers: Crate & Barrel, Westin, JetBlue


QuBit OpenTag

As an open source TMS, QuBit OpenTag is available for you to download on Github and host your own TMS. If you’re not a developer or don’t have the capacity or skills for a self-hosted TMS, they also offer a hosted solution, starting out free for low traffic websites.


Learn More:

Check out these resources to learn more about tag management.


Adam Boalt
About the Author Adam Boalt

Serial Entrepreneur and Emerging Technologies Evangelist. Interactive Strategy, User Experience, Search Marketing, Search Optimization and Social Media enthusiast.
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  • Melissa Button

    This is a very interesting article. It provides a very thorough explanation of issues relating to tag management and gives great insight as to web companies that offer tag management services.