Tag Management is Dead

People in my industry love describing something as dead (who could forget me proclaiming web analytics is dead some three years ago – it feels much longer ago, believe me), so it should come as little surprise that someone is proclaiming that something is dead. That said, this is a fairly monumental time. Just as we raised eyebrows when Google Analytics was launched and changed the way that web analytics worked, we’re going to do the same now as Google has launched its own tag management solution.

What is Tag Management?

Tag Management is something that I’ve touched on briefly before when I talked about changing Web Analytics tools, but how does it work?
Normally you’d put a bit of JavaScript on your severs and a bit of HTML with all your parameters that you want to track pointing towards the JavaScript. What Tag management does is put a bit of html on the page that points towards a bit of JavaScript on your tag management’s server.
You can see Google’s version (more of that in a minute) on my site if you look at the source code:

Why would you want to do this?

The advantage of a tag management tool is that you can manage all of your tags without having to keep changing the code on your website.
The Tag Management company gives you a console which allows you to change the JavaScript on their site at a whim and suddenly you can change put a new parameter into your Web Analytics system on a whim.
The other thing that you can do is of course add new tags to the JavaScript without having to start changing HTML on the pages. This vital for people who want to put new conversion tags on their pages but don’t have the IT resources or processes to be able to do it.

What are the Limitations?

  • Most of the tools will allow you to pick up any parameter as long as it is on the page as part of the tag. This does of course mean that it needs to be set up in the code of the page with an ID that allows you to distinguish it
  • The tags can be fired only in certain circumstances through regular expressions (sometimes based on url, but the more advanced ones will allow you to do it through parameters on pages). Of course this means that you need to have some sort of system on your urls
  • Anything out of the ordinary like Flash tracking or custom onclick event tracking still needs to be coded onto the page as this is reliant on a bit of code firing off the tag again.

Who would do this?

I always used to tell clients that this was a process that companies who spent lots of time changing tags would use or those who had spare cash and wanted to reduce processes. Those with small budgets should just do it like they would do normally through their IT team.
That has just changed though because Google has just launched its Tag Management system. As you would expect, it is free of charge to use, but has some limitations, but it is ideal for people who use Google Analytics, Adwords and DoubleClick and are fed up of changing the tags all the time on their site.
It’ll be interesting to see if they step on the toes of the other big providers like TagMan and Tealium by adding more Analytics tools into the system. In the meantime I’m not sure that Google is really competing in the same market.

How Does the Google Tag Management Tool Work?

Rather than try and explain it all here, I’ll let someone else have that dubious honour.
What you do is paste the code into your html and now you can change your tags through the interface rather than having to keep changing it on the site. For someone like me that isn’t a problem because I can change my blog easily, but for others who have their website hosted by someone else, this could be important.
In the interface you just plugin all the values associated with your google accounts, click on publish and away you go.
But there is more – you can choose to have the tags only set on certain pages based on ‘rules’. This means that you can put your Google Conversion tag on a page as determined by a rule set.
Or you can put a custom event in Google Analytics on the site based on some parameters on the site without having to get your technical team to change the pages (assuming it is in them already, of course).

Does This Change Everything?

For those of you who follow XKCD you’ll be aware of this cartoon:
This could just be the introduction of yet another proprietary tag management solution in a similar vein to Adobe’s. It’s great for managing tags as long as you are using theirs and you aren’t intending to move.
Google need to make sure that this is a proper tag management solution and that means adding proper templates for other tools. It’s controversial and I don’t suppose that we’ll see it happen soon because this is designed to help people with Google tags.
But the reality of the situation is that many people use more than one Web Analytics solution and companies definitely use more than one spotlight tag for affiliates. There needs to be a simpler way of adding the tags without just adding in the HTML to a custom tag.

Are there any downsides?

Just like cookies, some things are better done first party because it is more difficult for tools to block your domain than it is to block a generic one. What do I mean by that? I mean that it is possible that an anti-virus tool or something similar could blacklist googletagmanager.com and suddenly you’ll lose a whole load of tracking.
This seems somewhat unlikely whilst the numbers are low, but it could increase as many people pick it up.
The other thing that you have to do with your tag management is manage the access to it very closely. Do not put it on a generic log in that everyone in your company has access to. It may be easy to roll back changes to previous versions, but unless you keep an eye on it then you may not notice the changes it is until too late.
Tag Management does of course solve some problems, but it may bring about a whole new set (although these should be potentially easier to fix).
Posted in Google, tag management

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