AB Analytics : Web Analytics and Optimisation

13 Golden Rules For Successful Tag Management Solution Adoption

A Tag Management Solution Checklist

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Over a number of years we've helped large multi-national eCommerce companies to implement, fine tune and leverage different Tag Management Solutions (TMS). 

This article attempts to consolidate key learnings for organisations who are considering adoption and also build upon recently published work by notable commentators like Stéphane Hamel.

The Golden Rules

1.     One size does not fit all.

TMS platforms allow for a simplified deployment using one snippet of code but, adding one “tag” across the Site isn't quite how it works.  If a Site contains static (http) and secure (https) pages or, includes dynamic content than the chances are that different variations of code will be needed.   Allocate resource and set aside time to investigate Site content and perform an inventory of existing tracking technologies.  This will speed up deployment and mitigate against the proliferations of tag variants.  If the task of auditing the Site seems overwhelming, consider asking an organisation like Pikslme to help.  During the implementation consider using an independent monitoring software like ObservePoint to ensure tags work as intended.

2.     Change is inevitable - be prepared.

The business release process is guaranteed to change when adopting a TMS and during the design phase think about ownership and governance of data too.  Is it Marketing or I.T. that hold the platform keys?  

Similarly, consider which part of the organisation will be responsible for development and on-going costs.   What about expertise? Should the business develop in-house technical expertise of the TMS platform or be reliant on a knowledgeable third party be it the Vendor or Agency.  How much training is provided if an independent route is preferred?

What about external changes?  Using a TMS can also impact relationships with existing Partners.  Using attribution methods provided by some TMS vendors allows for a revised assessment of channel performance.  Sit down with the third parties used for marketing acquisition as early as possible and explain that reward, recognition and commercials may change.  Remember to be nice to those poor Affiliates!

3.     ROI calculator rules, ok.

Calculate a true ROI and manage expectations within the business according.  Ask the TMS vendor for a full declaration of service costs and build the business case for adoption.  Start by estimating the financial impact from faster page load times and more efficient marketing budget allocation but, don't forget to establish all the associated TMS usage costs.

Pixel tracking, redirect services, 3rd Party Vendor support and (in some cases) data extraction and storage all have a knock-on impact in terms of cost.  A popular TMS vendor called, Ensighten also provide a nice Excel ROI Calculator template to get you started.

4.     Avoid the 'emperors new clothes' trap.

Its easy to be wooed by a technology that promises so much - resist that temptation.  Don't scrimp on research during the discovery phase.  Shortlist a maximum of three TMS vendors that can exceed internal requirements gather from a cross-section of business stakeholders.  Decide whether a hosted solution is needed or, not and in those preliminary meetings, dig beneath the buzz words and rhetoric to establish if the vendor technology is platform compatible, robust, secure and scalable.  Ask for a Proof of Concept (Poc) and put the vendors to the test.  A popular TMS vendor called, BrightTag has a good introductory article on tagging for starters.
Also worth reading is an overview on TMS by Forrester.

5.     Trust the sales people…only kidding.

During pitch time, don't be surprised if all the answers from across the table start with the word, “Yes”.  Make sure the IT team are in the room to probe on Technical capabilities.  This may be new technology to them too but, the underlying principles about how it works should be stress tested.   Ask the vendor to set up a conversation with an existing happy customer and be cheeky by requesting to talk to an ex-customer who hasn't renewed.

6.     Establish who ultimately owns third party tag testing.

Tag Management Solutions are working with established marketing campaign tracking companies to build relationships and partnerships.  However, don't be surprised if some third party providers choose not to support testing activities if their tags are hosted inside a TMS container and not natively on the page.  Get the I.T. department to help out or a knowledgeable third party.

7.     Understand data accessibility.

The price of data storage has been slowing coming down over the years and some TMS vendors are moving service into the cloud.  Besides cost, other benefits include scalability and reliability but, there are some important considerations.  Is your business data easy to access, how long is data stored for and what is the cost of exporting it raw (if required).  Be sure to ask about privacy and cookie laws too if within the EU.  A popular TMS vendor called, TagMan provide a good summary of considerations that have been detailed in this ePrivacy info sheet.

8.     Crash test, dummies!

Sadly, on more than one occasion a company has chose to ignore advice and released new code using a TMS vendor without prior testing on a Development environment to the detriment of Site performance and user experience.  Using a LIVE environment to test new code is only ever going to end one way - it will hurt sales or, even the company's reputation… eventually.   Resist the temptation or business pressure to deploy quickly and never push code out before the weekend, peak period or a national holiday. 

9.     Be prepared to re-implement site analytics...argh! 

Hosting Site Analytics tracking code within a TMS is perhaps one of the greatest uses of this type of technology.  It is important to understand if the TMS has in-house technical experts for your particular Site Analytics Tool(s).  Often a complete re-implementation is required and support from the Analytics vendor may not be free.  Make sure to ask up front about any charges resulting from additional consulting hours.   If your company is data driven, highly focused on measurement and has a sophisticated Site Analytics implementation, look for a TMS vendor who has a proven track record in this field.  Mistakes will impact data quality and confidence in the numbers otherwise.

10.     Mitigate against 'chinese whispers' style deployment.

During implementation, a TMS vendor will request tracking tags that currently exists on Site to be added within their system.  Make it a habit of requesting a copy of the exact code once it has been inserted.  On a number of occasions, vendor engineers changed or removed key components the tracking code that rendered them useless. Check and check again to avoid disappointment.

11.     Think 'russian dolls' when tagging.

The cornerstone to any successful TMS deployment is that the setup mirrors established organisational structures, taxonomies and marketing campaign naming conversions.  For a global company, it might be easy to deploy one “tag” Site wide but, there could be limitations in terms of restricting views for the data collected.  Be sure to ask how regional, country or, product data siloes can be achieved (if this is important to the business).  

Similarly, when marketing campaign tracking is set up within a TMS vendor, ensure that it at least reflects current activity and naming conventions.  If a format does not exist already, follow the Russian Doll  rule - start big and end small.  For example, the top of a tag hierarchy might start with the broadest element like Geographic Region (e.g. EMEA) and end at the lower hierarchy level with the most minuscule like Campaign Creative (e.g. Promo_Banner_160x600).   Performing this exercise when setting up campaigns within a TMS will pay dividends later on as the business  grows.  For more information on campaign naming conventions, read this post over at E-Nor for a most informative and coherent explanation.

12.     Marketing retribution

Tag Management Solutions are in a unique position to provide accurate measurement of marketing performance across disparate media to enable channel attribution evaluation.  However, there is a bit of work required to get there.  The methods used to detect various referral sources include a mix of;  i) landing page detection rules, ii) pixel tracking and iii) click re-direct services.  Therefore, in some cases it will be essential to re-deploy existing marketing campaigns with revised tracking links.  Don't under estimate how resource intensive this process is and work with channel Partners or us to ease the burden.

13.     Get in sync

The way that Site pages retrieve objects impacts the speed at which the page loads.  A number of TMS now offer various methods to minimise the weight of their tags including a approach called, asynchronous tracking.   Be sure to ask the TMS vendor how their tags work and what impact they have on Site performance.   A popular TMS vendor called, Tealium who was an early adopter for asynchronous tracking has an easy to understand explanation of how these tags works article.

Thanks for reading this article and now it's your turn to share.

Tag Management Solutions: Panacea or, Placebo?  

We would love to hear your opinion in the comments section below so go ahead and don't be shy.

About the Author

Alex Brown is a  Digital Analytics and Site Optimisation expert who works as an independent freelance consultant.  The opinions shared in this blog are based on personal experiences gathered over a decade of data crunching and technology evaluation.  The author makes no attempt to be grammatically, politically (or otherwise) correct.  Spelling was never a strong point and for practical reasons, not all vendors in the market are referenced in the article - no hard feelings.

Related Products & Services

With extensive in-depth knowledge of both the market place and major technology vendors, allow us to help select, negotiate, support and manage TMS development for your business.  Contact Us for an informal discussion to see how our solutions can improve your business 

Resources(In Alphabetical Order)
101 Guide to Tagging
Campaign Naming Conventions
ROI Excel Calculator for TMS
Tag Management Overview
Site Cookie Auditing
Stéphane Hemal 
Selecting a Tag Management Solutions 
TagManePrivacy Info sheet
TealiumAsynchronous tags

Like this article?  a) tell us  b) share it c) download it and d) keep updated

Image courtesy of Digitalart / Freedigitalphotos.net

Comments: 7


    Alex - This is probably one of the most informative and independent/agnostic views that I have seen in market. I hope that it gets the distribution that it rightly deserves. Thank you. Chris Brinkworth TagMan Inc
  • DES CAHILL May 31

    Well written piece. Especially liked point #5. LOL. The amount of dis-information in the hyper-competitive tag management space is incredible. Caveat emptor. Do your homework on vendors, talk to their existing customers. If at all possible, run a competitive proof of concept with your 2 or 3 top TMS vendor choices. See our recent post on the topic at http://bit.ly/LwoJpT thanks - Des Cahill, VP Mkting Ensighten

    Alex, Thanks for this post, that's a great job. I'd like to point out two dimensions frequently underestimated : - Ergonomy of the interface : The interface will be used by marketing people and will help them to handle technical objects whereas they have no deep technical skills. - Hosting : Very few TMS solutions are offering self-hosting to their customers. Generally speaking, TMS are sold as a package including the use of a CDN. It can be useful in some situations but some of our customers prefer to host by themself both for costs, security reason and performance (loading time). It can be critical in the Finance and insurance company and also in the telco field. Tag Commander had this experience with many clients and we are offering the 2 options : the use of a CDN or a self-hosting approach. Thanks again for the puting the lights on TMS ! Michael Froment -VP Marketing @ Tag Commander
  • ALEX May 31

    @Chris @Des, Thanks for the much appreciated feedback! @Michael, there are valuable considerations. It’s clear from the examples provided that there are specific markets where a hosted approach may not be the most appropriate solution. However, your point about User Interface (UI) cannot be emphasised enough. One only has to look at the transformation of Urchin by Google (in the web analytics space) to appreciate what a dramatic impact a fresh lick of paint and an intuitively designed UI can have...
  • Chee Aug 31

    Nice post Alex. One thing I would add is be prepared for numbers on two analytic system to never match up. Just make sure there are no errors and move on!
  • Amin Shawki Oct 03

    Hi Alex! Great article about tag management. I'm pretty excited about all the analytical tools assisting digital marketers and the time they save all of us. Have you heard about Google Tag Manager which was just launched? It just came out and it should shake up the market big time. A problem we noticed is the time spent initially searching for those tags in your website's code, especially if you're a marketer and not a programmer. So InfoTrust created a free tool that finds tags in your website's code and generates a report of all tag locations for you. Check out www.taginspector.com, which automatically pulls tag locations for you and sends you a report. It's still in beta but let me know if you have any questions or suggestions on how to improve the tool. Love hearing an expert's opinion! Amin
  • Alex Mar 15

    Hi Amin, As it happens, Google Tag Manager (GTM) is used on this site and for entry level, it does the job. However, companies with complex tracking requirements, might be inclined to see how the features stack up against paid and established players. About InfoTrust, I did use the tool for a brief test. The beta version results were promising and with the bar is set high ObservePoint and Pikslme, the evolution will no doubt continue at pace. Thanks for commenting.

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