Why “Tag Management” is a subset of “Universal Tag”

Tag Management or Universal Tag?

If you attended X Change, one of the huddles offered was around universal tagging. There are a growing number of companies taking different approaches to the same problem: web site tagging is a mess – whether it’s for web analytics, ad, affiliate tags or a combination. The industry as a whole is starting to tackle the issue – something that we started addressing over two years ago – and that’s a good thing.

Some are using the term “universal tag” while others call it “tag management”. The term embraced by the industry in the long run is anybody’s guess. Our feeling is that it’s pretentious for any one person or organization at this point to decide what the term is. The industry is still very new. In the long run, the clients will decide what the best nomenclature is.

I’ve been in this industry long enough to remember all the different terms that people used to describe the “Web Analytics” industry:
Web Metrics, Site Statistics, Web Stats, Site Analysis, Web Traffic Analysis, Web Intelligence, eBusiness Intelligence, Online Metrics, eMetrics – and I’m sure I missed a few. Eventually the industry started standardizing around the term “Web Analytics”.

Remember ASP? No, not “average selling price” or “active server pages”. It was the term referred by almost all SAAS (Software as a service) providers in the 2000-2003 era. It stood for “Application Service Provider”. Now everyone’s using SAAS. The business models are the same. Only the names are different.

We’re now going through same nomenclature education/battle within the “universal tag” industry. You’ve probably heard the various terms: Universal Tag, Tag Management, Tag Management System, Container Tag, and two other terms that I’d personally like to throw into the mix: “Master Tag” and “Tagging As A Service” (TAAS) – you’ve heard them here first.

So what’s the point of all this?

The point is that it doesn’t matter. This is what marketing people do in order to educate the market. Unfortunately, most of the time they end up confusing the market more than educate it.

So what’s our position on this? Well it depends partly on the methodology used by the provider to tackle the issue. But there are some key features that companies should take into consideration when looking at a universal tag/tag management solution:

Hosted vs. On-demand

Our belief is that a true “universal” tag should provide customers with either option. Some customers prefer the entire solution to be hosted by the vendor – it’s easy, clean and void of headaches. Others (especially clients with large traffic) insist on hosting their own solution. For such clients, any third-party server point of failure is an important determining factor.

Dashboard vs. Programmatic Editing

As of today, there are two ways to change tagging rules within a deployment. One choice is to use a dashboard or a user interface to make such changes. For Tealium, this is the Tag Management Console, which lets business users modify their tag deployment by adding/removing vendors, setting load conditions, data inputs (meta tags, breadcrumbs, javascript variables, etc.), variable mappings, commission rules, etc.

On the other hand, some customers, specifically those that are more technical in nature want to go beyond what can be made available in a user interface. They want to get under the hood and understand the solution at its core and not treat it as some black box magical tag manager. Our belief is that the solution should provide both options to the user.

Lease vs. Perpetual Model

With the lease model, the solution is a SAAS, or as I’d like to call it TAAS. Many of the tag management solutions fall into this category. However, many customers may prefer to own the license outright and not pay based on the number of server calls, especially since one of the value propositions of universal tags is to reduce any reliance on one vendor. Again, the solution needs to provide the necessary level of flexibility in this regard.

Rich vs. One-line Tags

A one-line tag means a simple include line pointing to a JS file which then makes one or many calls to a server yielding the actual “tag” implementation either statically defined or via server configuration. A one-line tag provides the simplest deployment to the client, but comes at a cost. The server dependency can cause reduced customer experience and a single point of failure. The concept of a rich-tag is more of a “master tag” allowing the client development team to expose data relevant to the application.  A rich tag has more initial upfront work but is ultimately more flexible and from a performance standpoint, optimal. We usually see clients that have over 5 data points (variables) opt for rich tags and others with less demanding needs opt for one-line includes. If your site already has meaningful meta data tags, microformats, or consistent elements in the page like breadcrumbs, you may already have a rich tagged site. Our belief is that a “universal tag” supports both tagging options.

Our Take

For Tealium, a universal tag is about choice. Henry Ford once said “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”. Although the philosophy works for industrial assembly lines, a “one-size fits all” strategy is the wrong approach for enterprise-level web sites with distinct environments.

This is the Tealium philosophy – a solution that can adapt to client needs and environment. This is why we feel that “tag management” as it stands today only provides a subset functionality of an enterprise-level “universal tag”, and why we have chosen to build universal tag products and to provide universal tag services.

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