ADOTAS – Ask any digital marketer, IT pro, web analyst, publisher or service provider how they feel about tags. Their answers will likely range from slight annoyance to resounding disgust, depending on the day, project, team, campaign or initiative. Aside from tag management system (TMS) providers, nobody in the digital marketing business seems to like tags or want more of them.
Yes, tags can be managed to reduce problems with data collection, site latency and privacy, but marketers ought to replace this 20-year-old technology outright with a better, more modern data collection system.
An Outdated Data Collection System
Tags represent the status quo of data collection on websites and the common thread across all digital marketing. Everything from analytics, online advertising, search, social and more function, because code from the company offering the service resides somewhere on a client’s website. Marketers wanting to try a new technology or analytics service just need to “put this snippet of code on your website…”
Sites commonly have tags from 50 to 150 third-party data collectors on their site. That simple request to add or change a tag to a specific page or two or 20 often causes heartburn for the team responsible for site performance or the group trying to conduct an A/B test that has reached the limit of how many tags their IT team will allow chief privacy officers, who protect consumers’ choices around online data collection, often have no insight about how many third parties are gathering data on their site at any given time.
More Tags, More Problems
This multi-billion-dollar industry (projected to be a $200 billion industry, according to recent statements made by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt) is built atop a brittle infrastructure that hasn’t changed since the birth of the internet.
To put this legacy method of data collection further into perspective, consider the fact that we rely on the same infrastructure used when Netscape dominated the browser wars, AOL CDs littered curbside mailboxes and everyone thought they would never need more than 1GB of disk space.
While the rest of the internet forged ahead with new innovations that gave rise to social media and predictive analytics, site owners and their marketing services providers continue to futz around with an outdated infrastructure where third-parties push code through already overburdened browsers.
Manage or Replace Them?
Tags remain the common thread tying the digital economy together, and marketers can either manage them or get rid of them.
Most tag management companies provide a tag container to corral tags into a centralized repository and make them easier to activate and deactivate via a simple dashboard. These tag containers do all kinds of fancy tricks to improve performance, such as loading tags asynchronously in the browser or conditionally firing tags based on business rules.
Unfortunately, these containers fail to address the tag itself as the problem. While they simplify the front-end operational aspects of dealing with tags, they mask the complexity that still exists in the browser when a consumer visits a site riddled with tags and fail to bring data collection under the site owner’s control. When consumers spend time browsing a site using a tag container, vendor code still must pass through their browser, and the pervasive problems still exist. While they can make the problem easier to deal with, they do not make the problem disappear.
More companies are beginning to evaluate tag management systems (TMS) as a necessary solution for their business, signaling a heightened awareness of the problem. A wealth of solutions exist to help companies deal with the complexity tags create, but all this talk of managing tags misses the bigger need.
Marketers need a new infrastructure that puts ownership back in the hands of the site owner, offers built-in privacy controls, and stands the test of time in an industry defined by rapid change. We’ve come too far to continue to gamble the growth of our industry on an outdated foundation to carry us into the future, and new and exciting data collection methods have begun to emerge.