Every organizations knows that it's important not just to have an engaging website or online marketing campaign, but to also track what is happening on the website or campaign. This is typically done by applying tags to the underlying code. If you find these tags are becoming difficult to manage, maybe it's time for a Tag Management System.

One of the hallmarks of modern “2.0” websites is the widespread use of externally hosted JavaScript "page tags" designed to provide additional functionality to the site. This functionality powers a variety of systems, platforms and solutions including web analytics, surveys, email, search marketing, ad servers, testing, personalization, social media, …honestly, the list is endless.

If you have Google Analytics, AdWords, DoubleClick -- heck, just about anything that Google develops -- you have page tags. If you aren’t sure, do a "View Source" on your website’s home page and look for lines that look like this:


All of those lines reference some external file that, once loaded, imparts some additional functionality to you, your site or your end-user clients. The approach is very powerful and forms the underpinning of most modern web sites -- these external files can be centrally maintained and managed, and are often designed to be cached in the user’s browser to improve site performance over time.

Sounds Great, So What’s the Catch?

If your site is like most, when you did that “View Source” I described above you likely found more than just a few included script files. The reality is most sites are making tremendous use of JavaScript page tags, so much so that in many cases Information Technology has lost control over the situation.

Case in point -- Despite the fact that nearly all of our clients have a strict process for site development, I routinely see code on pages that Information Technology insists “could not possibly be deployed.” When I show them the source code the response is usually grumbling about “those damn marketers pushing JavaScript through the content management system” or something to that effect.

Damn marketers, indeed.

Of course when I ask the marketers they gleefully admit having deployed the code. “We needed it to measure a campaign,” they say, or “it gives us awesome functionality.” When I ask why they didn’t go through normal channels to deploy the code I get funny looks, laughter or commentary about the company’s technology resources that are best not repeated.

So What Should the Company Do?

Without going into a long history of the relationship between Marketing and Information Technology, let’s cut right to the solution -- Tag Management Systems. Just like they sound, tag management systems (or TMS) do exactly what their names imply: they allow technology resources to control the deployment and use of tags in much the same way content management systems (CMS) allow control over content.

Awesome, huh?

Provided by a wide array of relatively new vendors, tag management systems are the future of tracking technology and, potentially, site development itself. Offered through a wide range of purchase, hosting and deployment models, TMS are an elegant solution to two fundamental problems:

  1. The “moving target” nature of web analytics and many other tag-based technology deployments;
  2. The general pace that Information Technology groups are forced to maintain in these increasingly hectic times.

How Does Tag Management Work?

Tag management systems work by essentially replacing the multiple scripts deployed to your site with a single line of Java script. This single line places a call to the tag manager which, based on a pre-established set of rules, returns whichever scripts are required for the page making the call. The best TMS extend this simple framework by compacting code to improve performance and, when necessary, otherwise parse the document to ensure that the right data is passed to each system rendered by the tag manager.

The result is often dramatic time savings associated with tag-based system deployments. For example, Nestle Purina who, thanks to their use of one tag management system (Ensighten), was able to save over 600 hours deploying Omniture SiteCatalyst over a dozen sites in about two weeks. Another, Internet Broadcasting, was able to deploy Google Analytics on over 75 different sites in less than three days.

Websites are only going to get more complicated over time, not less. If you already struggle with managing tag-based technologies including web analytics I would strongly encourage you to give emerging tag management systems a look. I have written a full-length white paper on the subject which is freely available from the Web Analytics Demystified website.