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Tag Management Systems (TMS)
Tag Management Systems (TMS)
Image source: themacx, iStock

By now, the use of a tag management system (TMS) is widely considered a best practice. And yet, research shows that there are still many organizations that are still not taking advantage of the time savings, quality assurance, and optimization benefits of this tool.

Our most recent webinar explored the business and technical considerations and benefits of implementing a TMS. Nick Iyengar and Nick Wei, our in-house TMS experts, were joined by Mia Vallo, National Geographic’s Senior Director, Marketing Analytics and Optimization, for practical implementation tips, an overview of the TMS vendor landscape, and lessons learned from real-world deployments.

Our presenters took the time to respond to all the questions that we didn’t have time to answer after the webinar, and we thought it would be worth sharing the entire Q&A below.

Q. What are some of the key differences between the tag management systems you worked with?

A. GTM is a very approachable tool while remaining very flexible and powerful at the same time. The interface allows for the execution of more complex tags but allows less technical users to see, understand, and adjust simpler tags as well. GTM does lack a little on the tag organization standpoint but it is an evolving tool and the introduction of folders and environments recently at least partially addresses this need.

Tealium and Ensighten have good tag organization built-in and their execution of spaces/environments (ie. one for Dev, Prod, QA, etc.) is robust. They also support incremental deployment of selected tags which is more difficult in GTM if you forgot to publish changes in different versions. Tealium also supports a “load only when necessary” mechanism via load rules which is particularly nice given that any extra code that doesn’t need to be downloaded and executed will only improve page performance and reduces possible points of interference with other things going on in-page.

Q. What are the pros/cons of using a paid solution like Tealium over GTM?

A. The only real pro or con in this case is price and the fact that a free product may not have as robust (or any) SLA. The real comparison, therefore, really comes down to:

  • The comparison of feature sets.
  • The type of user that will be managing the TMS and therefore the suitability of the tool to the job.
  • How much of an advantage or a disadvantage more heavily investing with a particular vendor actually is (ie. whether or not to use GTM given that you are using Google Analytics or other Google products). The advantages include tighter integration, and automatic updates to tags from the same vendor. A third-party TMS likely won’t apply necessary updates to tags which it does not own as quickly as to ones it does.

Q. Do you know anything about the announced Google Tag Manager 360?

The new tag manager is part of the bigger Google Analytics 360 Suite announcement last month. There isn’t that much to say about GTM 360 just yet. The biggest difference is that Google is now formally supporting GTM with a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with the same level of support that you would be getting if you were a Google Analytics Premium customer. We’re guessing and speculating that over the coming months and years there will probably be a divergence from a feature standpoint between the regular GTM and GTM 360. Potentially some of the features that paid tag managers have that GTM does now may start appearing in GTM 360 before they do in the regular GTM.

Q. What are some reasons to use more than one TMS platform?

A. Here are some reasons we’ve come across in the past:

  • This might be a temporary situation where a website is transitioning from one TMS to another and wants to verify tagging on the new TMS before completely abandoning the old one.
  • Third-party vendors using a TMS to deliver code to a target website in order to facilitate maintenance and control of proprietary code.
  • For certain analytics scenarios (although this may also be equally applicable to some marketing tags) it is necessary apply a local tracker for only the target site and a global roll-up tracker that, along with many other sites, feed data to the same global roll-up account. An example of this would be the incorporation of a newly acquired site by a larger company that wants traffic from the new site to be rolled into its global reporting.
  • Different internal teams use different tools because that’s the way it always has been and that’s the way it will always be.

Q. Would we lose data or record incorrect data during the transition from JavaScript code to TMS?

A: If approached correctly, no. It’s important that the push to production does two things simultaneously:

  • Disable the legacy Javascript tracker
  • Enable/include the TMS installation code

If either of these steps are missed then you will either double track every user interaction, or lose all tracking entirely. There will be a short period of time immediately after deployment in which some visitors are sending hits via the old method and others through the new TMS but no data should be lost. Staging your releases during low traffic times will further minimize any possible impact.

Q. For a site that’s built as a single page app, can data layers still be used? I hear different viewpoints – the developers will do work-arounds and not implement data layers, but also have problems because they did their own thing.

A. Yes, SPA’s definitely can and should leverage a data layer.  The key difference between an SPA and a standard web site from a TMS standpoint is that you can’t rely on page location changes to “reset” and therefore and that you have to something other than the built in Page Load trigger to fire your page views.  In lots of ways this makes implementation of a TMS for an SPA more similar to app tracking with a TMS.

The difficulties you mention are likely due to the fact that the developer has not accounted for the fact that since the page never reloads, the data layer is truly persistent and needs to be carefully maintained with each transition.  Contrast this with a web site where the data layer naturally resets with each page transition which helps to clear out old stale values that are not relevant to the current content.

View the webinar on-demand: Marketer’s Guide to Tag Management Systems


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