By on June 4th, 2019

Why You Should Be Using a Tag Management System

Benefits of Using a Tag Management System (PrograMetrix)

Accurate tracking and measurability are the backbone of any data driven initiative. It is one of the primary advantages that digital advertising offers over more traditional channels. We can see a customer’s journey through a site, re-engage with previous visitors who have already shown interest, and get a deep understanding of what kind of ROI we are generating on our ad spend.  

In order to achieve this, there is typically a small (and sometimes significant) amount of upfront work that is needed. This work comes in the form of installing tracking tags, also known as web beacons or pixels (fun fact: most tracking tags today are actually JavaScript snippets and, technically speaking, not pixels at all. Early on, however, the majority were invisible image tags that were the size of a literal individual pixel, which is where this name comes from). The installation of these tracking tags can be cumbersome for many organizations, and a major pain point for agencies who are relying on the data these tags capture to run a successful campaign. Fortunately, we now have access to some great platforms that make this process significantly easier than it was several years ago. I’m referring to tag management systems (TMS).  

See also: The Key to an Effective B2B Programmatic ABM Advertising Strategy

Many of you may be reading this and thinking this is old news by now, and if you are that’s great, as it means you are likely already utilizing one. But the fact of the matter is that an overwhelming amount of organizations still aren’t taking advantage of this technology.

There are some great tag mangement systems out there now, such as Google Tag Manager (GTM), Tealium, Adobe’s new Launch Platform, and many more. Some of these are even free, like GTM, so the barrier to entry is practically nonexistent. We won’t be diving into how to use these platforms as that falls outside the scope of this article, but rather why you should be using one regardless of your company size. Let’s dive in. 

What is a Tag Management System (TMS)? 

Put simply, a TMS is an interface that allows you to make changes and additions to the code of your website without having to edit any actual code. It can also gather information that you’d like to track and pass that data to different ad tech platforms. The TMS itself must initially be installed, typically in the same way a tracking tag would, but once it’s installed you can then make any changes within the TMS interface itself. Now that we know what it is, let’s explore why they are a great option. 

1. Faster and Easier Implementation 

The traditional way to implement tracking tags has been to file a ticket with IT or the development team, where they would then embed the tracking tag into the literal code of the website. This can take days or even weeks to get this task accomplished, especially when considering the disconnect that often takes places between these two departments. The request has to enter a queue, then the implementation has to be done, then they have to test, and only then can the changes be deployed. When you are working on campaigns that have a tight window, time is a luxury that you may not have. 

TMS’s streamline this process significantly. No longer do you need to edit the code of the website itself. Now almost anyone can implement these changes faster and do significantly more complex tracking that would normally require an actual developer. Setting up certain triggers, such as specific button clicks or page views, or setting tags to fire during certain time windows on specific days can now all be accomplished in a matter of minutes without advanced coding knowledge. 

See also: Programmatic Private Marketplace 101: Definitions & Ways to Use PMPs

This now opens up endless possibilities for what actions to track and what data points to gather, which can all be used to not only to measure the success of your campaigns but also where to optimize to generate the best performance possible. Do you still need some knowledge and understandings of the concepts that go into this? Absolutely. These systems still have their complexities and possess some very advanced features, but they empower digital marketers to accomplish tasks normally reserved for development teams at a much faster rate. 

Graph of TMS Survey

The graphic above details just what sort of impact a tag management system can have on implementation time. This was a survey done by Forrester Research, Inc. and is actually several years old now. TMS’s have come a long way since initially gaining tracking, and if this same survey were done today the difference in the results would almost certainly be even more staggering.  

2. Version Control and Unique User Permissions 

Another advantage to using TMS’s is the ability to have different staging instances and being able to assign different people to those instances. This is particularly useful when different people manage different properties or sections of a website. Someone can manage and make changes to their instance without their work getting in the way of anyone else. These changes are all made in a staging environment, which means nothing takes effect until they are actually deployed into the live environment.  

See also: How a Programmatic Ad Campaign Is Optimized & Measured

It’s also a great feature to have when partnering with an agency who knows their way around these systems as it empowers them to do some of the leg work. For example, let’s say a brand is using Google Tag Manager (GTM) and they are working with an agency as their programmatic partner. The brand can grant GTM access to that agency, who can go in and add the tags themselves. They can even be granted edit-level access only, so they can make changes but not actually publish those changes. That way, the brand can review everything that was added and then publish them once approved. Alternatively, they could grant them read-only access if they wanted to install the tags themselves and just have the agency check the implementation. 

You can see the flexibility that these platforms offer. Previously, the brand would have never considered allowing the agency to add the tags themselves because it would have meant direct access to the website source code, which brands are understandably reluctant to do.  

3. Data Layer and Load Speed 

The Data Layer is one of the key concepts of tag management systems. We won’t be getting into technical details regarding how best to utilize a data layer as that topic could take up an entire article in and of itself, but at a high level a data layer stores information about a site (transaction data, for example) and then allows that data to activate different triggers or populate certain variables to be used across other platforms. Because this information is stored within the data layer, you can access this from one source instead of having to pull this data multiple times across various different platforms and tracking tags. 

Data Layer Illustration

(Source: Tealium)

You are able to track data points that go beyond what is physically viewable on the site. Transaction ID’s, meta data, and different audience segmentations are just a few basic examples of things that can be tracked using the data layer. It acts as yet another way to consolidate and supplement the collection and transferring of data across multiple different ad platforms.  

See also: How to Pre-Optimize a Programmatic Ad Campaign

Additionally, as more and more tracking tags and various external scripts are added to a site, the page load speed can increase rapidly. This can be bad news for a variety of reasons, from hurting your web rankings to viewers just dropping off due to being impatient. One of the ways that many TMS’s can help with page load speed is by the way they load these tracking tags. The TMS’s container tag (which essentially houses all the other tags/scripts) will fire these tags asynchronously. This means that they will all load simultaneously as opposed to one by one, one after the other. This alone can have a significant impact on load times. 

It’s important to note that using a TMS does not guarantee a reduction in page load speed. There are rules and best practices that need to be followed to maximize this. And if you have an obscene amount of tags and scripts that have been collecting over the years without any purging, load times are going to be impacted regardless of what system you are using.  

Final Thoughts on Using a Tag Management System 

If you are having trouble implementing proper tracking across your various ad campaigns, a tag management system should be your first stop. Clean data is essential to measuring ROI and should always be viewed as a top priority prior to launching.

No longer is it necessary to have to endure the process of putting in a request with a development team to install tracking codes, test the codes, and then deploy only to discover that they were installed in the wrong spot and repeating the entire process. Stop allowing this implementation process to have a negative impact on your ad spend. Take control of this situation and put the tracking and analytics in the hands of a marketerwhere they belong. If you are looking for a partner that can help you plan and execute digital campaigns, as well as assist in properly tracking the correct KPI’s, don’t hesitate to contact us.  

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Riley Tompkins is a data analyst at PrograMetrix.

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