Google Enters the Tag Management Arena

When Google Analytics was launched as a free product, the web analytics market changed forever. Rather than eating into the enterprise tool market share, they introduced new audiences to both free and paid-for Analytics, growing the industry substantially. Now they have released a tag management solution for free too, are we similarly going to see the far reaching consequences of dropped prices, increased innovation and increased usage that we saw with GA?

Analytics JavaScript tags

The premise of Web Analytics is as basic as you can ever imagine. The website owner puts a bit of html on the page pointing towards a JavaScript file. When someone loads a page the JavaScript file sends a call off to the server telling it which page has been looked at and by what randomly assigned cookie id (plus any other parameters you might want to include). The tool in the background strings this information together into a massive, multi-dimensional database to give you the reports that you see.

Tag Management

Tag management solutions work by hosting the JavaScript themselves, with a funky front end so that you can control what is in the JavaScript remotely. This could include which parameters to pick up off the page to which servers to send the data.

This has several advantages:

  • You can have your own release management system for changing tags without having to go through IT processes (potentially much quicker)
  • You can have more configurable attribution models, especially where third party tagging automatically starts the payment process for affiliates
  • You can add new affiliate network, email provider, paid search provider tags to your conversion pages without having to go through IT processes
  • You can add new variables to existing analytics tags without having to recode the JavaScript and re-release, ideal in situations where the IT team has ‘forgotten’ about analytics or new functionality on the site isn’t tagged correctly
  • Your vendor releases an update to the tag to take into account new functionality in the tool or to take into account new types of browsers
  • Changing privacy rules and regulations, particularly around cookies, throughout countries in Europe (or changing standards within browsers) sometimes make it difficult for organisations to keep up and maintain consistency. Rule sets that you wouldn’t find in your content management systems are available in tag management systems to make this easier for multinational organisations
  • There is potential to add and remove other JavaScript based functionality, such as onsite surveys, quickly and easily

It also has several disadvantages that mean that many companies won’t want to use Tag Management:

  • An extra point of failure in the process – whilst most tag management tools will provide guarantees of uptime, it is still going to be lower than the uptime of your own server (even if somewhat negligible)
  • Companies may be nervous about putting third party JavaScript on their site from a relatively unknown tag management company
  • The tool interface can be difficult to understand and administer – not having the right skill set in place may mean that the tool isn’t used and the money invested is wasted
  • IT governance structures are in place to ensure that things shouldn’t go wrong – these aren’t necessarily there in tag management solutions and mistakes can be made very quickly that will affect how and what data is being collected meaning incorrect decisions are made due to incorrect data

This changes everything

The existing market for Tag Management was based on two broad business models:

1.Vendors who used a tag management system to manage their range of products, but with the option of having additional third party tags – this is often seen as an extra layer of ‘vendor lock-in’ to their tools and services

2. Independents who sell tag management across a variety of third party tag providers

Google appears to be opting for the former rather than the latter in terms of their positioning of their new tag management tool. Currently the ‘out of the box’ options are Google’s range of tools (Google Analytics, Adwords conversions and DoubleClick floodlight). The custom HTML tagging is somewhat limited for anyone hoping that they might be able to use this in conjunction with a Web Analytics tool other than Google Analytics.

But as with Google Analytics, this might also just cause an increase in the use of tag management solutions. The paid for, enterprise solutions will see the benefit of those who want to use tag management but where Google Analytics doesn’t fit their needs.

Regulated Markets

When regulated markets are using tag management, they need to take the following into account:

1. Companies need to be careful when allowing third parties to provide custom JavaScript on their site, especially those who have logged in sections. If going down this route then you must ensure that:

a. the provider you use passes all the associated privacy rules on how and what they can do with your JavaScript

b. you make sure the users of the interface have a governance procedure in place to only collect data as per their privacy policy

2. IT teams often work in a waterfall process rather than in an agile way with regulated markets meaning simple changes can take a while to be implemented. Tag management can therefore be an alluring way of bypassing these processes, but:

a. make sure the IT team are involved in the procurement process to ensure that it fits in with their procedures and that they can help with audits of existing tags

b. Remember: Tags don’t manage themselves whether you go through standard IT operations or have a tag management solution. Therefore, ensure that you either have the right resources in house or that you buy them in from the provider or an independent organisation

This post was written for Blue Latitude by optimisation expert Alec Cochrane.

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