Tag Management Systems

A quick overview of modern tag management systems, and how Webtrekk Tag Integration was born


By Michael Diestelberg, Head of Pre-Sales Consulting
&
Sven Kliem, Pre-Sales Consultant

 
 

What is a tag manager?

Technically, a tag is a compact JavaScript code that is integrated into websites and apps.

Colloquially, a tag is a tool to make sure you get the data you need.

The tasks performed by various tags could not be more different. There are audience measurement tags used on news portals to track the number of visitors. There are tags that measure the distribution of ads and conversions. There are (exceedingly) complex analytics tags.

Implementing tags into a website has been a little-loved task in IT departments since the dawn of the internet. While the technical challenge is minimal, the dependencies on other code fragments – as well as general dangers from foreign code – have to be understood and evaluated.

For many years the conflict between marketing and IT departments has rumbled on when it comes to implementing another tag.


All in all, implementing tags is an unpopular task. Therefore, for many years the conflict between marketing and IT departments has rumbled on when it comes to implementing another tag.

Tag managers aim at solving this conflict by empowering marketing departments to implement new tags by themselves – or at the very least with only minimal support from the IT crew.

Put simply: The tag manager is a kind of universal script that collects all conceivable information on the website, centralizes the information for the user and distributes the information to tags.

The advantage for the IT department is obvious: Only one tag has to be implemented, resulting not only in considerably less work but also in one central contact point for managing all code from third-party providers.

One example: A classic online shop tracks order information on the order confirmation page. Instead of implementing the tags of the online marketing tools used one by one and transferring order value, order ID, etc., only the tag manager receives the data. In the user interface of the tag manager, the marketing manager would have already assigned the order value to his conversion tags, e.g., the Google AdWords conversion tag, a Criteo retargeting tag and a solution like Webtrekk as his analytics central.

Decision time: Do I need a tag manager?

The short answer: Yes!

Regardless of which sector we’re talking about, the competition in the online world is tough.

Whether it’s shops vying for money or publishing competing for attention, the best product and content is worthless if it cannot be found.

Online marketing has become very complex in the past few years: search engine advertisements, tradition display ads, retargeting and remarketing, newsletters, price comparisons, affiliate programs, SEO, RTA and combinations of all those elements are essential for gaining and maintaining customers and users.

For every one of these online marketing measures, there are many vendors. Which of them are actually beneficial to one’s business is best found out by trying them out.

Should the IT department have to implement a tag for every trial run of a tool of a vendor? From a business perspective, this is hardly a feasible or reasonable option.


At this point, the tag manager comes into play. Should the IT department have to implement a tag for every trial run of a tool of a vendor? From a business perspective, this is hardly a feasible or reasonable option.

The tag manager breaks the cycle of less-than-perfect decisions by enabling marketing to execute these mandatory vendor tests by itself.

Of course, there are additional arguments that can be stated in favor of a tag manager: Tags can easily be kept up-to-date, errors during implementation can be fixed without the need for a new release and the management process in a specific interface is much more convenient than in lines of code in the website templates.

Although the recommendation to use a tag manager is unambiguous, potential counter arguments should not be ignored.

For starters, not all tags can be integrated with a tag manager. Most problems are caused by tools for executing website tests (e.g., A/B tests). These tools often use a technology that, even before loading the website content, decides whether or not to use an alternative testing variation. Tag managers – with their asynchronous code execution – can have problems here. In a worst case scenario, the decision for distributing a testing variation is made too late and the original variation was already loaded. Therefore, it makes sense to integrate testing tools directly on the website instead of through a tag manager.

That said, tag managers are an invaluable tool for marketing departments to gain insight (and IT departments to save time).

History


Tag managers are a relatively young tool in the web world. Some specialised providers have been on the market for a half-dozen or more years, but only when Google presented Google Tag Manager in October 2012 did the development of the systems really pick up the pace.

Google Tag Manager

Analogous to Google Analytics, the California giant created a habitually easy web service with which predominantly Google products can be integrated into a website. The free availability and close affiliation and integration with the already widely used Google Analytics also provided a rapid growth opportunity for Google Tag Manager.

Many Webtrekk customers are also using Google Tag Manager. The individual Webtrekk products can be implemented via Google Tag Manager without a problem. Even a piggyback solution, the loading of Webtrekk Tag Integration via Google Tag Manager, works without problems.

Webtrekk Tag Integration

Webtrekk Tag Integration was released in 2012. Back then it was named ‘SafeTag’. Similar to Google, initially Webtrekk’s plan was to offer a tag manager with which the individual products of the Webtrekk Suite could be implemented into a website easily and without a bunch of technical know-how.

After all, not every company has complex requirements for a tag management solution that would justify investing in an enterprise product such as Ensighten, Tag Commander or Tealium.


After all, not every company has complex requirements for a tag management solution that would justify investing in an enterprise product such as Ensighten, Tag Commander or Tealium.

This niche between Google Tag Manager and professional enterprise solutions is where Webtrekk comes into play with Tag Integration.
 
The functionality of Webtrekk’s own tag management solution was continuously expanded in collaboration with the first Tag Integration customers. The most frequent request was to provide third-party plugins so that tags from other online marketing vendors could also be integrated alongside Webtrekk solutions.

Classic examples are the conversion tracking of Google AdWords; flagging and unflagging users for retargeting with Criteo and Facebook, for example; as well as cookie switches for the individual provisioning of affiliate partners.

The next step: Custom Plugins


But how should the countless plugins flooding the online world be prioritised? How can you make sure that all of these plugins are always up-to-date and all functions of the third party vendor can be used?

We addressed this challenge with Tag Integration’s Custom Plugins.

The JavaScript code of a third-party tag is copied and saved as a Custom Plugin in Webtrekk. Within the tag, placeholders can be positioned in order to import the order value into a conversion tag. This way, virtually every third party plugin can be deployed with Webtrekk Tag Integration.

A short technical excursion: It has to be guaranteed that the individual tags can “play nice” with each other – that the website will not stop loading due to a faulty script, and that there are no unwanted changes on the website. This last point is a phenomenon that can occur due to the asynchronous execution of the tag manager code. Simply said, the tags are not executed one after the other, or line by line, but in parallel.

Webtrekk Tag Integration Explained in Detail

Using Webtrekk Tag Integration is easy to learn and offers many configuration possibilities, even for sophisticated users. In connection with a data layer, the complete range of Webtrekk products can be integrated into the website, and their advantages can fully reveal their potential.

Similar to other well-known tag management solutions, there are a few key components in Webtrekk Tag Integration: data layer, container, plugins, regions and parameters. With their help, the configuration of tags and the distribution to different domains is realized.


Following the implementation of the Webtrekk tracking library and the configuration of Tag Integration, the next step is the creation of a container within the Tag Integration user interface for each respective domain. A container can be thought of as a folder containing all plugins that are executed domain-specific on a website. Therefore, different domains require different containers.

The data layer is the temporary storage for information on the website. (We’ll come back the data layer in a moment.)

After its configuration, parameters can be defined in Tag Integration that contain data layer information, and forward that data to plugins in the container. This tracking-relevant information can be available as a JavaScript or URL parameter.

Plugins contain the main functionalities of tag managers, specifically tracking and third-party tags. The configuration of a plugin eventually decides which information is available where on the website; when it is transmitted; and to which plugin. Tags provided and predefined by Webtrekk, as well as individual custom plugins, can be used. The setup of custom plugins is done comfortably via the Tag Integration user interface in which the JavaScript function or HTML tag is implemented and parameters and regions for execution are defined.

Regions describe areas of the website on which specific tags are executed. After successful configuration of the other components, the selection of the region is the final step before publication of the container. The definition of those website areas can be made via URLs or JavaScript parameters. Common examples are conversion pages such as the order confirmation page, the checkout process or “all pages”, the complete website.

Data Layer


What is a data layer?

The data layer is basically a warehouse for information from which the tag management solution can gather data and distribute it to specific tags. The kind of data that is written into a data layer encompasses all areas of the website and application use. It is a dynamic object filled with different content depending on the page viewed.

In the data layer, there is a wide variety of different data available. You can find the usage data of the respective platform, as well as the e-commerce-related data such as product information, order data and user information. After collecting this information, the tag manager processes it and makes it available for further use by the tags. This can, for example, ensure that product names are the same across different systems and tools and therefore provide the ability for data to be easily compared across systems.


How is a data layer implemented?

The data layer should always be created before the tag manager script on each page of the website. Only then is it guaranteed that the tag manager can use the data layer from the moment it begins operating.
 
An important aspect is the use of the same key identifiers in the data layer on all pages in order for the information to be available to all tags everywhere. Similarly, it should be ensured that the data layer not only contains the key attributes for use in tags but also information that might be needed at a later point in time. An alphabetical order of the variables in the data layer makes debugging remarkably easier.


Why should I use a data layer?


Creating and using a data layer object is optional since a tag manager can get variables directly from the HTML DOM structure as well. However, the data layer offers many advantages in comparison with the individual declaration of single variables on the website.

With the help of the data layer, the tag manager can distribute data collected on the website to different tags without requiring the DOM structure of the website to remain static. Especially in today’s dynamic digital world, it is not uncommon that the structure of a website changes frequently and regular DOM scraping for passing values to variables can only deliver correct results with loads of maintenance. In addition, the time saved with a properly configured data layer eases the burden on the IT department when new tags have to be implemented. The marketing team now has the ability to make tag-related changes to the website on its own. Furthermore, this accelerates the release time for marketing tags in general.

The decision as to which variables should be written into the data layer is an important choice for the ongoing implementation and use of the tag manager. Not only static information can be saved here but also dynamic values such as product name, order value and e-commerce parameters. These variables are generally representative of the business interests of the company. A data layer of a web shop normally contains information on transactions, user, time, location and additional details for micro conversions. More data can encompass information on campaigns, social media channels and the page navigation. It should be noted that a careful pre-selection of variables while creating the data layer does not release the administrator from maintaining the data layer and viewing it as an organic construct. A dynamic goal requires a dynamic use of the data layer.

OK, so now what?


If you don’t use Webtrekk and want to learn more about the super-simple Tag Integration – and it seriously is simple – then just get in touch:


If you already have a Webtrekk account but are not yet up-and-running with Tag Integration, then let’s get started.

This document will take you through exactly how to launch, configure and maximize your tags.

Tag Integration only works in the Webtrekk Suite. If you are using Q3, you can switch over to the Suite for free:

 
 
 

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