Lessons from the Digital Den: What is tag management?

When Crawford Strategy works with your business on a digital marketing project, chances are you’ll be asked: can we have access to your Tag Manager account?

A lot of times we’re met with blank stares, mostly because we forget that sometimes digital talk can seem a little like a different language to people who aren’t in it every day (sorry, people). So, we’re gathered here today to answer your most burning questions about our most burning question.

What is tag management, anyway?

A tag management system is an agile way to deploy data collection elements or pieces of code to your website without actually having to get into the source code. Back in the day—so, we’re talking 2012 here—if you wanted to add any kind of utility or software service to your website, you had to dig in to your HTML and add code snippets to the header or footer of your site. If you wanted to track a button click, download, form fill or anything else, you had to add a manual snippet around those elements in your code. It looked a little something like this:

That snippet would trigger an event into your analytics when someone clicked the button or link. This was problematic in a few different ways: one, if you had to make any changes or lost track of what you were tracking, you had to go manually pouring through lines of code. And two…well, you can only imagine what happens when you have marketers who aren’t well-versed in HTML or JavaScript messing around with your website.

If you were tracking a lot of things, it could get really messy. And if you had a developer implementing all of your tags for you—chances are, you were probably not their favorite person due to all the IT requests you were sending through. (One of the members of the Digital Den may be speaking from experience.)

A tag management system removes both of those problems, plus a few more. But most importantly, it lets you add any tracking elements or code snippets to your website through a utility that lives outside of it, so marketers can implement tracking or add code in a user-friendly way.

Back up. What are tags?

A tag can be a number of things: your Google Analytics tracking code; the Facebook tracking pixel; a heatmapping utility; a button click event; and many, many other things. Basically, it’s something that collects or carries information to your tools so you can carry on with your marketing activities.

For instance, if you have a Facebook campaign running, you’ll most likely want to add the Facebook pixel to your website via a tag. Then, you can configure your Facebook pixel to pick up conversions that you want to track—like downloads, leads, purchases and more.

Or, say you want to see how visitors are using your website, so you purchase a program like HotJar or CrazyEgg. Instead of having to add the code to the head section of your site, you can deploy it through your tag manager.

Where does a tag manager come from?

Probably the most widely used tag management system is Google Tag Manager. It’s free, it’s generally easy to use, it has lots of built-in integrations, and if you get stuck, it’s so easy to find help online. And, of course, it plays nicely with the rest of Google’s tools, especially Google Ads and Analytics—which every good digital marketer should be using.

But, there are a bunch of other tag managers out there. Adobe Analytics (or Omniture, for those of you who like catchy brand names) has their own, but that analytics system comes with a pretty hefty six-figure price tag.

There are a number of others, too, with varying levels of user-friendliness or industry-specific uses.

So why use a tag manager?

Really, it’s mostly so your IT team doesn’t want to strangle you.

Just kidding. (Sort of.) But there are a few good reasons:

Speed, for sure. We can easily add or remove tags within a short amount of time, meaning we can start tracking clicks, collecting audiences and measuring campaigns within minutes of getting tag manager access. We (usually) don’t have to mess with staging environments, HTML editors or any of that.

Organization is another one. When you’re able to name and label all of your tracking tags, it’s easy to find and remember everything you’re doing, especially when working with a team. We use pretty specific naming conventions here so that anyone on the digital team can open up a tag manager account and know exactly which tag is doing what.

Ease is another. Once you get the hang of it, tag managers are fun and easy to use. You’re also not putting your website in jeopardy if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s not likely that you’ll break your site when deploying tags, and if you do…well, just roll back to a previous version.

Long story short: tag managers let you track and deploy digital marketing campaigns quickly, easily and neatly, with little to no in-depth coding knowledge required—giving you more time to spend optimizing your campaigns, not pulling out your hair.