Are You Bored by Tag Management?

  |  August 11, 2014   |  Comments

Tags allow marketers to conduct precise data collection and without them the analytics process can devolve into chaos. So, are you still bored with tag management?

You shouldn't be.

In fact, if your digital footprint is large and complex, you ought to be clamoring for it.

That such an arcane digital offering should in fact be a bedrock of data collection success is only testament to its primacy.

Why should you care?

Let me first state the problem:

In a galaxy far, far away, perhaps they continue to use server log files to figure out what users did on a website, but in that same galaxy they are probably still experimenting with more effective ways to build a fire with two sticks and no matches. On Earth, almost no one uses log files anymore.

We deploy digital analytics tools that rely on a much more targeted and accurate manner of collecting user data: tagging.

Why is this such a big deal, and why is improper or nonexistent tagging the most common stumbling block to reliable analytics?

It's a big deal because tags enable (relatively) precise data collection. It's also a big deal because getting tags properly implemented and then managed in an enterprise is about as easy as herding jungle cats - the kind that maul you suddenly.

Without tag management, "the process" (more accurately "the chaos") almost invariably looks something like this:

A marketer says they need to know X, Y, and Z about user behavior on a digital property. Typically it goes beyond the basics of unique visitors and total page views. In order to get reports that illuminate user behavior, the marketer needs someone to create a "tag specification": a document, often a spreadsheet, that describes the reporting need and the tag (small snippets of code) that must be placed in HTML so that when reports are created, they in fact have data in them. This part is usually executed without too much difficulty as long as the tag-specifier knows the tools and the tags very well.

Then, too often in my experience, the chaos really begins.

That's because people who create tag specifications do not control (and do not want to control) the HTML that drives the site. The tagging spec needs to be handed off to developers (not the marketers) so they can place these tags. Sometimes it goes OK. Often it does not. Tags are placed, but incorrectly. Or they are not placed, and with little explanation as to why they are not. Weeks go by. Marketers get frustrated and too often end up settling for much more basic reporting than they had hoped. Often they end up with whatever basic reporting comes from putting just the simple tag provided by the vendor and the tagging spec becomes an artifact of hope but with little chance of becoming a robust reporting suite.

Compounding the problem in an enterprise is the multitude of sites that have wildcatted their own analytics, usually flawed implementations of free tools like Google Analytics (which can be quite powerful when properly deployed). Nothing can be measured against anything else because there is no common tagging protocol, no agreement on what is measured and how it is reported upon.

Tag management solves both of these problems rather handily and should be part of every marketer's toolkit where they have more than a couple of sites to manage.

There are several flavors of tag management tools, ranging from Tealium's container paradigm to Ensighten's "server conversation" to Adobe's integrated package and more. What they all have in common is inherent in the category name: They manage tags and tagging.

With tag management, instead of sending off a tagging spec to a range of developers responsible for different sites hoping they all do the tagging in the same way, the marketer can have one group of developers implement a tagging structure once, and then deploy it widely.

Moreover, they can, using a graphical user interface (anyone remember the term "GUI"?), decide the conditions under which certain tags "fire" (become active); and on which digital assets. Parameters can be set globally and then with little fanfare, the tag management system actually manages these tags globally. With robust error-detection and selective deployment capabilities, many if not most of the problems associated with data collection simply go away.

Tag management tools centralize the management of data collection and can be the foundation of excellence in reporting. It's really that simple.

You ought not be bored by tag management. You ought to be excited about it, you ought to deploy it, you have every right to benefit from it once deployed. There is little excuse today for an enterprise not to use tag management in maintaining control over data collection and reporting over a wide range of sites.

If you're still wondering why your enterprise analytics are in disarray, you now know why. Don't let a good tag specification go down to defeat. Collect data reliably and globally.

With tag management.


Andrew Edwards

Andrew V. Edwards is a digital marketing executive with 20 years of experience serving large organizations, and has been an operating executive and digital marketing consultant since the 1980s. 

In 2004 Edwards co-founded the Digital Analytics Association and is currently a director emeritus. He has designed analytics training curricula for business teams and has led seminars on digital marketing subjects.

Besides writing a regular column about analytics for ClickZ, Andrew wrote the groundbreaking Dawn of Convergence Analytics report, and authored the book, Digital is Destroying Everything, in 2015.

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