Marketer with tag management system on monitor

DATA Avoiding the pitfalls of tag management systems

For marketers wrangling multiple tracking tags or making frequent updates, a tag management system (TMS) can make it much easier to master data tracking, without relying as heavily on developers. Similar to a content management system, a TMS allows you to house all the code needed to track users on your website and to control the logic that decides when and where to send what data. And you can do all of that with minimal technical know-how.

As with any other technology platform, TMS vendors make a lot of promises about the benefits of their solution, but rarely explain the potential pitfalls and misconceptions that could come back to bite you. In this article I'll throw a healthy dose of reality at you, and provide more realistic expectations about exactly what you are getting with a TMS.

You're not independent of IT

By far, this is one of the most common misconceptions about tag management systems. The phrase “never have to talk to your IT team again!” is thrown around a lot and is categorically untrue. At the very least, you need a working knowledge of HTML. While you don’t need to be able to write HTML code, you will need to be able to read it and understand terms like “element,” “id” and “class.”

In general, your dependency on programmers is diminished, but there are still situations where you'll need the assistance of a dedicated developer. Commonly, these would be tracking things such as validated form submits, accessing user information in a database, or working with APIs, such as interactions with a Google Map that is on your site.

Additionally, if you (a non-developer) can write simple JavaScript, then the number of times you need to work with your developers to implement tracking is greatly diminished. Having knowledge of jQuery and “if” statements will take you a long way.

In the wrong hands a TMS can cause harm

With great power comes great responsibility, and a TMS is powerful. With the ability to inject pretty much any JavaScript or HTML on a page, it doesn’t take much to break functionality on a site. For example, I’ve seen faulty JavaScript logic break things like the login functionality. Governance is paramount here:

  • Track all published changes so that issues can be easily diagnosed.
  • Make sure there's a solid QA process before any changes are published.
  • And, most of all, be fully aware of who has full admin rights in your TMS.

Just because you have a TMS, doesn’t mean you’ll reap the benefits

There's implementing analytics via a TMS, and then there's implementing analytics correctly via a TMS. And that means more than accurately tracking user behavior. To make the most of your TMS and avoid potential pitfalls, it’s essential to do the upfront work and follow a few best practices:

  • Take advantage of modular design, so that work can be reused.
  • Use clear and concise nomenclature for all the tags, rules and variables, so that someone can get a sense of how everything is connected without advanced technical knowledge.
  • Enforce hierarchical governance, so that it doesn’t become the wild west of analytics.
  • Ensure that every page of your site has your tag management code on it, because no TMS, no matter how advanced, can do anything on pages without code on them.

Initial implementation takes time

In practice, it really isn’t faster to implement your analytics through a TMS. Implementing the analytics in a modular fashion takes extra planning and forethought. So it could take more time to implement your analytics this way than just hard coding in a JavaScript file or even directly on the page. But, any modifications that are needed post-launch are significantly easier and faster with a TMS.

I’ll say that again: any modifications that are needed post-launch are significantly easier and faster with a TMS. That's where you save time and gain the benefits of an agile implementation.

In the end, just remember that a TMS is not magic. Like any other tool, it gives you leverage. You can do more with less work, but it still requires work—and potentially new knowledge—to make the most of it. Whether you’re still deciding whether a TMS is the right solution for your data tracking pains or are actively evaluating a solution, it makes sense to understand all the implications and go in with your eyes wide open.

Related Thinking

​How a tag management system helps track data

​A tag management system makes it much easier for marketers to track data, but before investing time and money to implement a TMS, ask whether you really need a TMS and whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

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