Tag Management Systems Guide: What is Tag Management?

Tags are a ubiquitous presence in this day and age, found on practically every website you might visit, but like any tool, they only work properly when they’re maintained. Let’s take a look at the basics of tag management, and why it’s so important for so many different stakeholders.

What is a Tag?

Tags are snippets of code on a website that collect data for third parties. As an example, a tag for Google Analytics looks like this:

<script type ="text/javascript" async src="https://www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js"></script>

As you can see, it’s a simple string of code which tells the browser to run a JavaScript item, and specifies that it should reference Google Analytics for the actual instructions to be executed.

What kind of Data Do Tags Collect?

Tags collect actions performed on a website, such as which pages have been viewed, as well as user data like the web browser, or how a user navigated to the website.

In essence, the collected data can be briefly summarised into three different categories:

  • User Context: Contextual information such as the IP address of the user’s mobile phone or PC, the web browser they are using and how they were referred to the site (e.g. organic search, direct from social media, etc.)
  • User Profile: Anonymous data stored in cookies such as a Profile ID or targeting criteria
  • User Behavior: Data relevant to the products, content or ads that the user has viewed, links clicked, time on the page, etc.

How do Tags Collect Data?

When a tag is loaded, it tells the browser to connect to a particular third-party server and send data there. The process looks something like this:

  1. The user’s web browser requests a page from the server.
  2. The website’s server sends the page contents to the browser. This includes code for third-party tags.
  3. The browser executes this code, collecting data according to the tag’s code.
  4. The data is sent to a third-party data collection server.

Once the data is stored on the collection server, it can be used for reporting on user activity.

What’s the Difference Between a Tag and a Cookie?

Though the two terms are often (wrongly) used in lieu of each other, it’s important to note that tags are not cookies and the same is true for vice versa. Cookies are generally used to remember a user’s settings or their activity on a website for later use. Tags can set cookies, but their purpose is information gathering, rather than performing a function on the site itself.

What is Tag Management?

Tag Management is the process of organizing and managing the tags on a website to ensure that they are firing correctly and collecting accurate data.

Why is Tag Management Important?

Individual tags are simple, but most websites have several dozen tags firing at once. It’s important to ensure they’re all behaving correctly, otherwise, the data they collect could be incomplete or inaccurate. Just like with any resource, tags need to be monitored and adjusted to stay relevant and useful.

Digital Marketing

With the rise of the internet in the early 2000s, it quickly became obvious that marketing technology would soon follow suit. Traditional marketing techniques were less effective here, and thus the industry needed to adapt. Analytics paved the way for businesses, endowing digital marketers with the ability to gauge the success of new campaigns using the data collected.

Web Analytics

Web analytics allowed marketers to see in real time how users interacted with their company’s website. As we continue to see customer experience migrate to online channels, data collection has become crucial for understanding consumer behaviour and website performance in the digital age.

How did they find this product? How long did they spend on a certain page? Which pages prompted them to leave? All of these factors have become assessable through web analytics, and it was initially enabled by tags.

The Rise of Tag Management

Managing website tags was initially a relatively simple prospect. There weren’t that many marketing technologies in the space, and it was all done on the website itself. However, by the end of the 2000s, this was no longer the case. MarTech had exploded as an industry, and there were now thousands of solutions. 

Managing them all by hand became unfeasible, as was maintaining them on each individual website. Tracking tags were now handled by third-party servers, and the rapid growth meant that improperly configured tags were all too common.

What is a Tag Management System or Tag Management Solution (TMS)?

A Tag Management System/Solution (or TMS) is software that is used to manage all of the various tags in use on a given website. Also referred to as automatic tag managers, these systems focus on making the process of managing tags easier so that marketing and analytics departments can track and manage their tags without needing to involve IT.

How do Tag Management Systems Work?

Tag Management Systems are web-based interfaces that control the deployment and management of tags. Without a TMS, developers would need to adjust the code on a website every time a tag should be added, removed, or modified in any way.

A TMS replaces all of the individual code for every single tag with a container, which checks the software’s back-end for any changes. This also means that the website runs faster, as it’s only loading the container, rather than running the code for each individual tag.

This TMS contains a number of other tags within it
This diagram shows all of the tags which are contained within the TMS, on the left

What are the Most Popular Tag Management Solutions?

You may have noticed already, but there are several different TMS options out there. The two most commonly used TMS are Google Tag Manager and Adobe Launch. Let’s take a closer look at them:

Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager is the most commonly used TMS (no surprise, Google is everywhere!), and for good reason. It’s easy to use, robust, and is easy to integrate with other Google tools, such as Google Analytics, while still being very friendly to third-party tags. GTM is constantly being updated as well, so there’s little worry that it will become deprecated in the future.

Adobe Experience Platform Launch

Often shortened to simply Launch, this is an excellent solution for those who are already using Adobe Experience Cloud. It replaced the old software, Dynamic Tag Management (DTM), and has established itself on the basis of its extensive library of extensions, which enable a wide range of capabilities. However, if you’re not heavily integrated with Adobe’s products already, it might not be the best option.

What are the Benefits of Tag Management Systems?

Tag Management Systems provide numerous benefits, particularly in regard to stretching the capability of analytics tools and streamlining marketing efforts. Some applicable examples of how tag management solutions can help include:

  • Control your tag deployments without the need for coding or IT
    • Having an independent Marketing or Analytics team increases productivity
  • Easily integrate with reporting and analytics software
    • Google and Adobe already have robust reporting software, which is designed to integrate with their TMS
  • Increased website speed
    • Remember that a TMS loads a container, rather than each individual tag. Fewer items means faster load times
  • Web-based interfaces make QA easier
    • It’s much easier to check for duplicates or track hundreds of tags with a good UI

What are the Signs You Need a Tag Management Solution?

At this point you can see what benefits a TMS can offer, but deciding to implement one can be a big step. Here are a few signs that you need to set up a Tag Management System for your website: 

  • You’re looking to expand your digital marketing solutions and track more data
  • You’re already using several different digital marketing solutions (half a dozen or more)
  • You want your Marketing and Analytics teams to be more independent of IT
  • Your current marketing solutions are too limited and you want a more dynamic option

How Tools Can Help With Tag Management

Tag Management Systems make deploying tags easier, but also open the door to errors and inefficiencies. In order to make sure your tags are functioning properly and gathering the data you need, you’ll want to perform regular quality checks on your tag deployments. This can be a cumbersome process, but luckily tools exist to help you in this area.

These tools primarily serve to ensure that your tags are firing correctly on every page of your website, and contain the appropriate data. They often allow you to schedule tests to ensure that major updates to your website have not caused problems and that tags are continuing to function properly on an ongoing basis.

Tag Assurance with DataTrue’s Tag Audit Toolset

DataTrue offers a number of web analytics focused tools to assist with tag auditing, making it an invaluable piece of software when deploying a TMS. Tag Audits and Coverage Tests scan your entire website, capturing every tag fired when your pages load. Simulation Tests allow you to get much more granular, checking each step of a user’s journey through your website and ensuring that the correct tags are firing and collecting relevant data.

These tests also include PII detection, allowing you to ensure your customers’ data is not being shared with third parties. Any time customer data is captured, a thorough and ongoing audit should be conducted to ensure you know exactly where it is going. This sort of data leak can incur fines and reputational damage, so it’s essential to be aware of any potential leaks before they become a problem. DataTrue’s tools allow you to specify what data is sensitive and notify you instantly of any leaks detected in a test.

DataTrue’s Tag Audit toolset exists to ensure that your tags are working for you, and with our dedicated support staff, setting it up is a cinch. We’ll walk you through the tools, create your initial tests, and answer any questions you may have along the way with ongoing monthly support. Get in touch with us to schedule a demo, and let us show you how we can help keep your data flowing.