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Tag Management Best Practices How-To Guide

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Executive Summary

This How-­To Guide will explain tags, tag management, how tags are used, why it is important to manage them and concludes with considerations for determining if you need a tag management solution.

Marketers are working in an era where much of what they do is digital marketing. The capabilities for marketers to create stunning digital experiences and track a visitors journey through a website were unheard of less than a decade ago. The increasing sophistication of digital marketing is underpinned by a technology component that many marketers remain ignorant of: the tag. The technologies and applications that leverage tags are legion and comprise the core of marketing’s infrastructure, such as analytics and marketing automation. The importance and impact of tags is such that marketers need a better understanding of them so they can manage them more effectively.

Read this 6-page guide to learn:

The definition of tags
How tags are used
The importance of tag management
Tag management implementation plan

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Tag Management Best Practices How-To Guide

  1. 1. How-To Guide © 2013 Demand Metric Research Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Tag Management By Jerry Rackley, Chief Analyst November 2013 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Marketers are working in an era where much of what they do is digital marketing. The capabilities for marketers to create stunning digital experiences and track a visitor’s journey through a website were unheard of less than a decade ago. The increasing sophistication of digital marketing is underpinned by a technology component that many marketers remain ignorant of: the tag. The technologies and applications that leverage tags are legion and comprise the core of marketing’s infrastructure, such as analytics and marketing automation. The importance and impact of tags is such that marketers need a better understanding of them so they can manage them more effectively. This How-To Guide will explain tags, tag management, how tags are used, why it is important to manage them and concludes with considerations for determining if you need a tag management solution. WHAT ARE TAGS? Most commonly, a tag is a section (typically referred to as a “snippet”) of JavaScript code that is embedded in an HTML web page. Tags are sometimes also single pixels that are small and transparent, and therefore visually undetectable on an HTML web page. A web page may start its life with no tags. As requirements dictate, tags are added to support the functions that tags enable. A single web page can have multiple tags, and across an entire website, there is often a proliferation of tags. Tags are routinely added to a web page by a web developer or an IT resource using an HTML editor or Content Management System to modify the page to insert a tag. For this reason,
  2. 2. How-To Guide © 2013 Demand Metric Research Corporation. All Rights Reserved. even though marketing is the primary beneficiary of tags, there has been a historical dependency on IT resources to place and manage them. HOW ARE TAGS USED? Tags are used to transmit information to external applications about visits to the web page on which the tags are embedded. For example, one of the simpler things a JavaScript tag can do is detect and transmit the date or the version of the viewer’s browser. The capabilities of tags to detect, transmit or invoke browser plug-ins go well beyond these simple examples. For the most part, tags exist on web pages and perform their designated functions outside the awareness of the page visitor. There are hundreds of external applications that rely on tags, including those for analytics, pay-per-click ad tracking, testing, personalization and marketing automation to identify just a few. When a web page visitor’s browser loads a web page containing tags, those tags are activated. They gather the information they were developed to collect, then transmit it to the external application those tags support. A tag’s ability to communicate is not just one-way. They are also capable of delivering content to the web page or browser, such as personalized content, an ad or a cookie. Examples of how tags enable digital marketing are many. When marketers send HTML email blasts where each message has a personalized salutation (e.g. “Dear Fred”), tags are in use. Tags drive the personalization of web pages, dynamically detecting a new or returning visitor, then serving up content specific to that visitor. Analytics are made possible through the use of tags, and the wonderfully rich set of information marketing automation systems provide is also tag-driven. The growing trend toward Marketing Attribution is certainly tag-dependent. There are many ways that tags enable function that is critical to marketing’s success; these are but a few of the more recognizable examples. It suffices to say that tags are important and have much to do with the creation of rich, digital experiences. WHY MANAGE TAGS? While tags enable much of the digital marketing in use today, they present some challenges:  The proliferation of tags. Tags are everywhere on a website, and many web pages have multiple tags that were manually
  3. 3. How-To Guide © 2013 Demand Metric Research Corporation. All Rights Reserved. inserted. Simply keeping track of which tags are on each page is complex, yet knowing this information is absolutely critical. The challenge of tracking tag usage is greatest for large, rich websites, which could easily have hundreds of tags. Manually tracking these tags with 100% accuracy is virtually impossible.  The IT dependency. Since tags are usually JavaScript, they are often inserted into an HTML web page by a web developer or programmer. Many marketers don’t have the technical skills to do this, creating a dependency on an outside technical resource to insert, update or remove a tag. The problem with this approach is simply one of agility. Marketing may miss some opportunities while waiting on IT to process a tag-editing request, and on the list of IT priorities, tag maintenance is probably fairly low.  The performance hit. Tags are executable code, so web pages that are loaded with tags may experience slower loading times. There is a real cost to this performance hit, as sluggish web pages drive visitors away, resulting in lost leads or even sales. ACTION PLAN: IMPLEMENTING TAG MANAGEMENT Fortunately for marketers, tag management solutions exist that address the previously described challenges. The tag management market is still emerging with many solutions and lots of differentiation. Like many technology solutions, early adopters were larger organizations that were really feeling the pain of managing tags manually. This technology is now becoming mainstream, accessible and affordable for smaller organizations. At the macro level, tag management solutions replace most or all of the tags on an HTML page with a single tag that communicates with the tag management system (TMS). Marketers can then use the friendly interface of the TMS to insert the needed functionality through the TMS tag on the HTML page. It doesn’t require IT expertise to insert
  4. 4. How-To Guide © 2013 Demand Metric Research Corporation. All Rights Reserved. and manage tags, and web pages don’t get bloated with lots of tags to load and execute. How do you know if you need a TMS? Here are some things to consider: 1. How long does it take to insert or update a tag?  Agility is an increasingly important marketing trait. If the lead-time required to insert or update a tag is more than just a few hours, you’ll save that lead-time through the use of a TMS.  Often the lead-time has to do with the availability of technical resources that are not part of the marketing team, or are not under the marketing team’s direct control. If marketing has to rely on an unresponsive IT organization or an outside web marketing agency for tag management, a TMS can eliminate the wait. 2. How many tags?  If you’re using multiple systems that are tag-driven, such as Google Analytics, Google AdWords and/or a marketing automation system, then your site will quickly become dense with tags you must manage. The more tags in use, the greater the likelihood that a TMS system will deliver a quick ROI. While there is no predetermined threshold that should trigger a move to a TMS, if you’re using more than one application that utilizes tracking tags, you should consider a TMS.  There’s a direct relationship between tag density and performance. If you’re using lots of tags and your page load times are over two seconds, you are at risk of having visitors
  5. 5. How-To Guide © 2013 Demand Metric Research Corporation. All Rights Reserved. abandon your site. If tags are impacting the performance of your site, you should implement a TMS. 3. How many domains?  If your web presence consists of more than one domain, perhaps including some microsites or sub-domains, tag management quickly becomes far more complex. A TMS is almost a necessity, unless you have plenty of free time to inefficiently manage your tags manually. 4. Privacy concerns?  Organizations must stay alert to changing privacy laws and standards to ensure compliance. The US “Do Not Track” law and European regulations about the use of cookies can challenge marketers that use tags, which may run afoul of privacy legislation.  To avoid embarrassing or costly privacy law violations, a TMS can help organizations detect visitors from countries with different laws, excluding them from tracking until after they have opted-in. Any one of the considerations listed above could easily justify the use of a TMS. BOTTOM LINE Marketers cannot afford to remain ignorant of the importance of tags, what they do and how to best manage them. TMS offerings are becoming more accessible to small and mid-sized enterprises. If you determine that a TMS is in your future, keep in mind that the TMS vendors currently enjoy a lot of differentiation. Some have their roots in online advertising, others in analytics or operations. As you investigate vendors, understand their orientation and conduct a proof-of-concept
  6. 6. How-To Guide © 2013 Demand Metric Research Corporation. All Rights Reserved. test to ensure the vendor you select is compatible, secure and reliable in terms of performance.

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