Three Reasons You (Might) Need Tag Management

September 3, 2013 | Jonathan Weber

Implementing Google Analytics can be pretty easy: copy and paste the code, hopefully into some sort of template file that’s used on every page on your website. Done!

But you know it’s not always that easy. First, there’s not just one template, of course, there’s that special one for the landing pages, oh, and this application on our subdomain uses a whole different server. Oh, and you wanted to put some AdWords tracking code or another tool on all those, too?

Then, of course, you’re not allowed to just copy and paste code into the website. It has to go into the update and testing queue, and three months later, if you’re lucky, it will go into production.

A tag management tool can help you with some of these issues. It’s not a cure-all, and it’s not necessarily any better for you if you don’t face these kind of issues, but if you do, it can pave the way for an easier experience.

A tag management tool basically has a “container” that you include on all your pages, in place of the various tracking codes you have there now. Then you can control the tracking tags that appear in this container and rules for which pages they appear on. Google provides Google Tag Manager for free, which has built-in tags for things like Google Analytics and AdWords (as well as a variety of other tools, and the ability for custom tags). There are a number of other tag management tools out there as well.

Reason #1: You have multiple kinds of tracking


If you look at the source code of your site and there are whole screens taken up with tracking code for Google Analytics, AdWords, DoubleClick, ClickTale, Qualaroo, and every other tracking tool you can think of, because you’re a nut for data. That’s cool. But it’s a mess of code to keep track of.

A tag management tool helps. A single piece of JavaScript (the “tag container”) replaces all this in your site templates. Then you can add and remove tags from the container through the tag management tool — no directly fussing with the templates, copying and pasting, adding comments to keep track of what’s what, etc.

Beyond this, there’s a growing standardization around a data layer, which is a way of providing information to any of the tracking tools you may be running on your site. It’s a collection of data about the site accessible by all the tags within the tag management system. If there’s a button click you want to capture in three different tools, for example, you record that event to the data layer, and each of those tools can read it from there. No more adding code three times for three different tools.

Reason #2: Your IT team thinks like this Dilbert cartoon


Update processes for websites can sometimes be really onerous, and you don’t want to have to wait a month to add a line of code to your Google Analytics tag. And then, what if that didn’t work and you need to make another change? Another month.

A tag management tool helps here, too. Since the container is already on the page, you can add and alter tags just through the tag management tool.

Let me not be too hard on your IT team. Security is important, and we don’t want your site falling prey to hackers. We also don’t want them getting a call at 9pm that the site is down because you deployed a tag that generates errors that prevent your site from loading. So you shouldn’t use tag management as a way to totally circumvent testing. Google Tag Manager allows you to preview and test a new version of a tag before publishing it live, and you should make use of it.

Reason #3: Handling special exceptions


OK, you know that part where you put Google Analytics in your template and it’s automatically on every page? That’s great. Except… what if there are a couple of pages where I want to change the Google Analytics tag, just for that page?

This is most common for thank-you or conversion pages, where you might want to change the URL that’s recorded or add ecommerce code. It might also come up if you need to track search results pages but don’t have a query parameter) in the URL. And I’m sure in the comments you’ll come up with a bunch of other reasons.

So, if your site or content management system just uses the same old template for every page, how do you change the code just for one page? You could do a bunch of contortions with conditional logic, but that can turn into a mess real quick. With a tag management tool, you can apply rules to the tags: things like “Include on every page” or “Include on pages matching XYZ”, for example. Problem solved! You can have your default tag for every page except your special pages, and then deal with the exceptions.

So, there are three reasons tag management might be a good option. As I said, if you don’t have those hurdles, it might just be one added layer of complexity you don’t need. On the other hand, it can be a lifeline in any of the situations described here. What challenges are you surmounting with a tag management tool?