“Tag! You’re It!” — One More Analyst’s Thoughts on Tag Management
By Tim Wilson on in Web Analytics with 11 Comments
Unless you’re living in a cave (and, you’re clearly not, because you’re spending enough time trolling the interwebtubes to wind up on this blog), you’ve seen, heard, and felt the latest wave of news and excitement about tag management. Google announced Google Tag Manager last month, rumors are swirling that Adobe is going to begin providing their tag manager for free to all Sitecatalyst clients, and, most recently, Eric Peterson wrote a post trying to bring it all together. (Well…that was the most recent post when I started writing this, but Rudi Shumpert actually weighed in with a wish list for tag management systems, and his post is worth a read, too!).
My awareness of tag management dates back just over two years — back to Eric’s initial paper on the subject, which was sponsored by Ensighten; this coincided with Josh Manion’s “Tagolution” marketing stunt at the Washington, D.C. eMetrics in the fall of 2010. Since then:
- I’ve had multiple discussions and demos from multiple enterprise tag management vendors (and even training from one!).
- I’ve had one client that used Ensighten.
- I hosted a recent Web Analytics Wednesday in Columbus that was co-sponsored by BrightTag, who also presented there
- I’ve chatted with several local peers who either already have or are in the process of implementing tag management.
- I’ve taken a crack at rolling out Google Tag Manager on this blog (I failed after an hour of fiddling — broke several things and couldn’t get Google Analytics working with it)
Along the way, of course, I’ve read posts, seen conference presentations, and chatted with a number of sharp analysts. I’ve also, apparently, derided the underlying need for tag management to Evan LaPointe of Satellite. This was over a year ago, and I don’t remember the conversation, but I am a cynic by nature, so I don’t doubt that I was somewhat skeptical.
My fear then, as it is now, is this:
Once again, we’re treating an emerging class of technology as a panacea. We’re letting vendors frame the conversation, and we’re putting our heads in the sand about some important realities.
Tag Management Doesn’t Simplify the Underlying Tools
Example No. 1: In the spring of 2011, I got a demo — via Webex — of one of the leading enterprise tag management systems. The sales engineer who was demoing the product repeatedly confused Sitecatalyst and Google Analytics functionality in his demo. It was apparent that he had little familiarity with any web analytics tool, and questions that we asked to try to understand how the product worked got very vague and unsatisfactory answers. If the sales guy couldn’t clearly show and articulate how to accomplish some of our most common tagging challenges, we wondered, how could we believe him that his solution was, well, a solution?
Example No. 2: When it came to our client who used Ensighten, we were set up such that analysts at my agency developed the Sitecatalyst tagging requirements as part of our design and development work for the client, while an analytics consultancy — also under contract with the client — actually implemented what we specified through the TMS. Time and again, new content got pushed to production with incorrect or nonexistent tagging. And, time and again, we were told by the analytics consultancy that we needed to make adjustments to the site in order for them to be able to get the tags to fire as specified. Certainly, this was not all the fault of the tag management platform, as a tool is only as good as the people and processes that use it. But, the experience highlighted that tag management introduces complexity at the same time that it introduces flexibility.
Example No. 3: I had a discussion with a local analyst who works for a large retailer that is using BrightTag. When I asked how she liked it, she said the tool was fine, but, what no one had really thought through was that the “owner of the tool” inherently needed to be fairly well-versed in every tool the TMS was managing. In her case, she was an analyst well-versed in Sitecatalyst. She had BrightTag added to her plate of responsibilities. Overnight, she found herself needing to understand her companies implementations of ForeSee, Google Analytics, Brightcove, and a whole slew of media tracking technologies. In order to deploy a tag or tracking pixel correctly through the TMS, she actually needed to know what tags to deploy and how to deploy them in their own right.
Example No. 4: In my own experience with rolling out Google Tag Manager, I quickly realized how many different tags and tag customizations I’ve got on this blog. My documentation sucks, I admit, and over half of what is deployed is “for tinkering,” so, in that regard, my experience with this site isn’t a great example. On the other hand, sites that have been built up and evolved over years can’t simply “add tag management.” They have to ferret out where all of their tags are and how they’ve been tweaked and customized. Then, for each tagging technology, they need to get them completely un-deployed, and then redeploy them through the tag management system. That’s not a trivial task.
Putting all of these examples together is concerning, because there is a very real risk that, in an industry that is already facing a serious supply shortage, a significant number of very smart, multi-year-experienced analysts will find themselves spending 100% of their time as tool jockeys managing tags rather than analysts focused on solving business problems.
Tag Management Doesn’t Simplify User Experience
Completely separate from the discussions around tag management is the reality of the continuing evolution and fragmentation of the online consumer experience.
I recently completed a tagging spec for a client whose technology will be rolled out onto the sites of a number of their clients. As I navigated through the experience — widget-ized content augmentation our client’s clients’ sites — I was reminded anew how non-linear and non-“page”-based our online experiences have become. Developing tags that would enable the performance management and analysis that we scoped out in our measurement framework, that would be reasonably deployable and maintainable, and that would deliver data that would be interpretable by the casual business user while also having the underlying breadth and depth needed for the analyst, required many hours of thought and work.
And …the platform has pretty minimal designed integration with social media.
And …the platform does not yet have a robust mobile experience.
In other words, in some respects, this was a pretty simple tagging exercise…and it wasn’t simple!
The truth: Most of our customers and potential customers are now multi-device (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, TV,…) and multi-channel (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, apps, web site,…). Tag management only works where “the tag” can be deployed, and it doesn’t inherently provide cross-device and cross-channel tracking. (For the record, neither does branding the next iteration of your platform as “Universal Analytics,” either…but that’s a topic for another day.)
Tag Management IS Another Failure Point
But, with the power of tag management comes some level of risk. I can deploy and update my Webtrends tags through a TMS. That means there are risks that:
- I could misdeploy it and not be capturing data at all.
- I could deploy it in a way that hangs up the loading of the entire site.
- I could use my tag management system to implement some UI changes rather than waiting for IT’s deployment cycle…and break the UI for certain browsers.
IT departments, as a whole, are risk averse. They are the ones whose cell phones ring in the middle of the night when the site crashes. They’re the ones who wind up in front of the CEO to explain why the site crashed on Black Friday. They are the ones who wind up in the corporate counsel’s office responding to a request to provide details on exactly what systems did what and when in response to lawsuits.
In other words, every time a TMS vendor proudly delivers their, “No IT involvement!” claim…I feel a little ill for two reasons:
- The friction between IT and Marketing is real, but it needs to be addressed through communication rather than a technology solution.
I have a lot of empathy for the IT staff that gets cut out of TMS vendor discussions until after the contract has been signed and are then told to “just push out this one line of code.” That puts them in a difficult, delicate, and unfair spot!