Tag management system on a monitor

​DATA How a tag management system helps you track data like a boss

Imagine, if you will, a world in which you’ve just launched a brand new email marketing campaign. You’ve taken everything you learned from your A/B testing, customer surveys and on-site user behavior to create the perfect landing page. The messaging, imagery and functional design are impeccable. You know this is going to win big. Now you just have to show your boss that all your hard work, ingenuity and resourcefulness will grow the company’s bottom line.

You’ve just entered the Promotion Zone.

Well, except that your site now uses a new module for forms (which you didn’t know about), so you don’t even know when they are submitted anymore. And it’s going to take at least a month for your developers to get in and modify the analytics code to track the forms properly. And then you have to wait through the development cycle for them to publish the changes.

Scenarios like the one above are familiar to anyone who deals with web data on a regular basis. If only there was a way that you, the non-developer, could update and publish changes to your website’s analytics code without having to go through the development process! The good news is that a tag management system (TMS) can help marketers master their data tracking, without relying as heavily on developers.

What is a tag management system?

The smart-ass answer is that a TMS is a system for managing your tags—but it’s also accurate. A TMS is analogous to a content management system (CMS). While a CMS allows you to manage all your website content in a central location and edit it with minimal technical knowledge, a TMS houses all the code needed to track users on your website and controls the logic that decides when and where to send which data.

Do you need a TMS?

As you might expect, there is a wide range of TMS options, from Google Tag Manager (GTM) and Adobe’s Dynamic Tag Manager, which are free, to more expensive solutions such as Tealium and Ensighten. But even if the platform itself is free, you still have to spend time and effort on implementation.

So before you decide whether to invest the time and money to implement a TMS or start exploring options, you should first ask whether you really need one and whether the benefits outweigh the costs:

  • Do you make changes to your analytics tracking more than once a year?
  • Do you have limited knowledge of JavaScript, HTML or CSS?
  • Do you have more than one tracking tag on the site?
  • Do you deal with a site or group of sites that spans across multiple CMSs?
  • Are you wary of the validity of the data you collect?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then a TMS could make it much easier to track website data and use that data to drive better marketing results.

5 common problems a TMS can help you solve

A TMS is not a panacea, but it can help you solve several common problems.

Problem 1: You want to make changes to what you track and how you track it more than a few times a year.

This is THE benefit you get from using a TMS. First off, a tag manager decouples you from the deployment cycle of your site. No longer will a developer have to retrieve the analytics JavaScript library, make edits, test it, then push those changes live with the next deployment. Now you (or your team) can make these edits through your graphical user interface on the web, test your edits through a “debug mode,” and then publish those changes without having to modify any code on the site.

Of course, you DO need to understand some code, which brings us to our next problem…

Problem 2: You don’t know how to code the analytics tracking

You can get pretty far without any knowledge of HTML, CSS or JavaScript, but you really won’t be able to utilize the full benefit of a TMS without working knowledge of the coding that allows websites to exist. Sure, a TMS comes with its own set of event listeners that can tell you when a user clicks on something or submits a form. But they are hardly perfect, and it is quite common for sites to be coded in a way that does not allow them to return the proper information (such as exactly which call to action a user clicked).

Problem 3: You can’t keep track of what tags are actually on the site

Oh, let’s see you’ve got your AdWords tag, Bing tag, A/B testing tag, HubSpot, DoubleClick, Hotjar and, of course, the actual analytics tracking tag. With a TMS it’s a simple matter of scanning over your list of tags to see which ones are there. You can control where and when they are fired. And they can all be triggered off the same logic, so that their records match as closely as possible.

Problem 4: You work with multiple sites or your site uses more than one CMS

Let’s not beat around the bush here, managing tracking on a site that uses Sitecore, a blog that uses WordPress, and landing pages built with HubSpot is a massive headache. And trying to keep all the data between those platforms in sync? It’s a tall order, and the amount of work it takes prevents you from doing productive work. Now, if only there was a platform that allowed you to control all of your tracking in one place. Oh wait...

Problem 5: The data isn’t trusted

To most of your organization the data is a large unknown entity, and humans naturally fear the unknown. So, it’s no wonder they don’t trust the data—or rather, more accurately, they don’t understand where the data comes from. A TMS won’t completely fix this problem, especially if decision makers just ignore whatever data you give them. But if the problem is that “the data isn’t right,” or “that doesn’t track right,” a TMS can help, albeit indirectly.

Questions about the validity of data arise out of ignorance about how the tracking is implemented. However, if you are able to implement the analytics and use the data yourself, you can shed light on this issue and be the ambassador for the data. When you know how data tracking works, you can speak about it with confidence and address the naysayers’ concerns with authority. It’s hard to argue with the facts.

A TMS is not for everyone

Are you still thinking to yourself: “Yeah, but I still think using a TMS to implement my analytics will take more effort than it’s worth?” Well, then here are a few scenarios in which using tag management won’t help:

  • You only use one analytics platform with little to no custom tracking and only a couple of other tracking pixels.
  • You have developers with extra time on their hands.
  • Your website has been exactly the same for years.
  • You know exactly what you need to track and won’t need to add to it in the future.

If any of these apply, then using a TMS to implement your tracking would likely be too costly.

Once you have determined whether a TMS would be a good fit for your needs, you should also consider potential problems that can arise. As with any other technology platform, TMS vendors make a lot of promises but seldom talk about the pitfalls. The best way to make the right choice about tag management is to understand all the implications and go in with realistic expectations.

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Avoiding pitfalls of a tag management system

Considering a tag management system to help track your data? Great idea! But before you decide, make sure you understand the potential pitfalls and go in with realistic expectations.

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