By Kyle Smith on January 12, 2016
Beginning to understand a tag manager, A.K.A. a tag management system (TMS), can be tough process. These tools can have a high learning curve – but we’re here to help. In this blog, we’ll help you get up-to-speed with tag management. But first, we’ll need to start with a quick history lesson.
A Brief History of the Tag Manager
Back in the day, and likely before any “all-in-one” digital marketing solutions were available, Advertisers would work with many different vendors. It was common for an Advertiser to have partnerships with upwards of 20-30 different companies (or media). These media would run the gamut from social sharing platforms, to early forms of retargeting, to affiliate marketing, paid search, and even internal campaigns being run by the Advertiser (such as email).
The world of digital Advertising back then was very complicated – a single Advertiser could have a huge mess of unconsolidated data from all of these vendors, forcing their marketing team to spend hours trying to wrangle everything into spreadsheets.
For instance, a retargeting provider might want several pixels on every page of your site: 2 on the homepage, 2 on every product page, and 2 separate tags on the confirmation page after purchase. Naturally, if you were working with even a few vendors, these tags would add up. As an example: today I can pick an Advertiser at random, and potentially see 50+ tags on one page.
Each time an advertiser signed a new vendor, someone “techy” on the advertiser side, such as a programmer, IT person, or webmaster, would need enter the website backend and install the tracking pixel(s). Comprehensive testing would then need to happen, in order to ensure the pixel wasn’t crashing the site. If this were a large company, then you can imagine the result after a while – years of legacy tags ended up installed in the HTML all across the Advertiser site. The HTML body of the Advertiser website became a bloated mess, full of third party tracking scripts without rhyme or reason. These tags would quickly become impossible to manage, and an employee on the IT side could easily delete a tag they weren’t familiar with, stopping one of the Marketing team’s ad campaigns dead in its tracks, negatively impacting revenue. Obviously something needed to change.
Enter the TMS
The Tag Management System (TMS) was created as a way of making life easier for Marketing, Engineering, IT, and everyone in between. With the advent of the TMS, all tags could be added in a third party “container”. For the developer, this meant installing a single piece of code once the website, and likely never touching it again. For the marketer, this allowed them to deploy tags from the safety of the TMS. The tags, once deployed, would then be served via the container tag on the website.
The dozens of unidentified tags were now organized, served by the single TMS container script. Any incompatibilities, either between individual tags, or the website and a given tag, could be easily solved.
The marketing department wouldn’t have to rely on the developers any longer – they could now deploy tags themselves, from the easy-to-use interface of their TMS. This meant less waiting for marketers to rely on IT to deploy these tags, and overall, savings in time and money across the board.
More than a Container
Simply showing tags is one facet of a tag manager’s feature set, but it can do other tasks as well.
For instance, you might sign a contract with a new vendor, with the goal of running a campaign. If your tag management system is up to date, you may be able to find an existing tag template already available for that vendor. That means no real integration time or cost, including waiting on the vendor to send over complicated documents covering their tracking process.
Some tag management systems also include “rules engines”, allowing you to specify when, where, and how tags fire. Using rules, you can configure a tag to fire only when a specific cookie is present, or you can control firing based off of the traffic source. The sky’s the limit.
Save your Spend
Aside from what we’ve already covered, there’s another big draw tag managers offer.
Remember those 50+ pixels from earlier? Well, in that scenario it’s very common to run into duplicate commissions for customer orders/actions. A customer on your site might have cookies from both vendor A, and vendor B. With so many pixels firing hardcoded on your website, and without them communicating to each other, you’re bound to run into many issues where you pay multiple vendors for the same action. This is a serious issue, and if it’s not dealt with, it can cost you a substantial amount in needlessly paid out ad spend.
Since tag managers have insight into every tag you’re running, they can mitigate the problem of duplicate actions. Tags will only fire when the correct media has been attributed with the order. And if your tag manager is tied into a full reporting suite, you’ll get data on the entire click path, from first click to last click – not just the winning media.
There’s much more worth mentioning when it comes to tag management, but the origins remain the same. The digital advertising industry moves quickly, and tag managers are adding new and sophisticated functionality faster than ever. Is there a key feature that we should know about tag management? Comment below!