Wrestling with the tag team

As tagging becomes ever faster and easier to implement, marketers must stay focused on the quality and not just the quantity of the data
By Nicola Smith

FT iPad

Tagging used to be a term associated only with street culture – it refers to the form of graffiti gangs use to mark their territory. But today, a quick Google search demonstrates that data geeks have now claimed the term for their own. The current top search result associates tagging with the advent of Web 2.0.

And, it’s not just Google algorithms that are putting data tagging in a priority position, marketers are too. Tags are the critically important pieces of code used for collecting website data, and digital marketing innovations such as site analytics, optimisation and personalisation all depend on tags. As online marketing becomes ever more sophisticated, a proliferation of tags are being used by brands, putting increased pressure on both marketing and IT to ensure the right data is being collected without compromising privacy or user experience.

“We use tags for a range of purposes, from site analytics to marketing attribution to identifying customer segments for retargeting campaigns,” explains Chris Howard, head of online marketing at Play.com. “In order to optimise our activity, we wanted to be able to quickly add new tags, identify and stop any misfiring tags, decrease page load times and streamline the tag release process.”

Many marketers are looking for, and are finding ways to keep their websites in tip-top shape without depending on IT departments. Stephen Molloy, sales and online director at TUI Travel, which implemented Tealium’s tag management solution in March this year, says that marketing and content teams can now “amend the many tracking tags in use without the reliance of IT”.

Fast show

According to the latest Econsultancy Tag Management survey, one of the commonly cited issues caused by manually implementing tags is the time factor. The process has traditionally required site owners to manually place custom code on specific tags on specific pages of their sites. The IT team will then make the changes as part of a scheduled deployment process, something which can take time.

This “process” is an issue that Chris Ware, front end technology lead at the Financial Times (FT), is familiar with. “Historically, the marketing team have told us that they want to implement a new analytics or tracking pixel to improve our registration and subscription phase for the user,” he explains. “That would have gone through quite a convoluted 10 to 12-week cycle and we wouldn’t have been able to find out the benefits of using the tag or whether it’s working and also wouldn’t be able to remove it as quickly.”

The FT now works with Qubit to ensure the process is faster and smoother. “We have reduced the time it takes to tag the site to 15 minutes. We still go through all the due diligence with regards to putting a tag on the site so we analyse the function and how it will perform, but as soon as it is cleared instead of that long release process we can do it quickly.”

TM Lewin

London menswear retailer TM Lewin has been working with TagMan for two years. Guillaume Brocart, the company’s UK digital marketing and ecommerce manager, agrees that faster implementation of tags has had a huge impact. “It is quite easy for us now,” he says. “Before, if we had to pass through the tech team it could take up to a week. Now it takes about five minutes if I get the tag right first time. It does improve efficiency.”

Bang for your buck

Of course, being able to quickly and easily add and remove tags allows marketers to be more flexible with budgets. Play.com works with marketing and technology agency LBi and uses DC Storm’s tag management solution to enable it to accurately attribute value to its various online marketing channels.

Howard points to Play.com’s display advertising campaigns, which he says represent a “huge proportion” of the company’s overall marketing spend. The campaigns rely on the company being able to identify which customers have behaved in a certain way on the site in order to target them with relevant messages. “Smart use of tagging has been a key component in us more than doubling sales from paid marketing channels over the past 12 months at a vastly improved ROI.”

Pricerunner also relies heavily on tagging data to learn more about its audience. It works with Mediaplex to help it attribute every click on its web page to a different part of its marketing strategy. “Any time a user visits PriceRunner we know how they got there – whether they clicked on a banner, an organic search result, paid for search, or any other form of online marketing,” says Andrew Walker, UK country manager for the price comparison website. “In addition to that, and because of the tracking solution we use, we can also see how each customer interacts across these marketing channels rather than treating them as distinct channels. This level of attribution detail allows us to get a far better understanding of our marketing spend and enables us to increase spend in the right areas.”

At the start of 2011, Pricerunner completely changed its affiliate strategy as a result of the information gathered from tagging. “We’ve since invested in developing technologies like a branded shopping comparison widget that allows us to be positioned on content sites at the right point in the process,” says Walker. “Our affiliate activity now performs significantly better and compares favourably against our other marketing channels.”

Heavy load?

Tagging data to attribute marketing spend is essential to any marketer. But as the number of tags on a website grows page load times can suffer, consequently affecting the bottom line in terms of both conversions and user experience. A recent study by the Aberdeen Group revealed that a one second delay in page loading can mean a 7 per cent loss in conversions.

It is another common reason, cited in the Econsultancy report, why managing tags is fundamental to digital marketing. Tag management solutions replace the multiple lines of code relating to each tag with a single line of code, and according to Econsultancy, 64 per cent of the tag management solution users noted an increase in site speed as a result, with 34 per cent describing the increase as “significant”.

Private property

Privacy — another hot topic in the wake of the recent EU Privacy Directive — is also facilitated by using a tag management solution, making it easier for brands to enable privacy tools. Walker says using a tag management solution makes it far simpler to manage privacy, while Ware says the FT uses tags to ensure its ad providers are “behaving themselves” and not dropping cookies — namely using the tag management solution to provide cookie consent functionality.

Howard also acknowledges the role of tag management in simplifying the privacy process for Play.com. “Tag management made it easier for us to audit and document our existing tags and to ensure that our privacy policy clearly communicated the tags used and their purpose to our customers,” he explains. According to the Econsultancy report, 68 per cent of tag management solution users identified the easy support for these key privacy initiatives as a key benefit.

Tag happy?

Tag management might sound like a no brainer for brands, both empowering the marketing team and freeing up the IT team for higher level tasks, but there are some words of caution. Ware says that the FT has had to put a process in place to stop marketing getting carried away with too many tags. “We have to maintain the quality and integrity of what comes through the tag container the same way as we do for any other code. We now have to push back on this and say, ‘hold on, we need to analyse this and test it and make sure it will be ok before we can do it’. I think the initial sell was almost too successful and we have had to rein it in a bit.”

Howard echoes Ware’s views, urging brands to “make sure that there is a clear process in place between all stakeholders within the tagging process so that tag changes can be made as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Never before have marketers had so much data at their fingertips, and tag management is a powerful weapon in ensuring this data is leveraged. As Walker says, tagging and tracking is all about increasing ROI. “If you don’t get your tagging right you’re not receiving enough rich data to learn. If you get it right it can have a big impact on your bottom line as you waste less money on media that doesn’t offer a return.”


Thomas Libretto

Thomas Libretto

Vice president of digital marketing and CRM


Given that many companies are shifting more of their marketing mix toward digital, which is inherently measurable, tagging tools and discipline are critical enablers to ensuring that this shift is delivering the desired and expected incremental value.

Tagging and tag management are incredibly important across all of our online activities at Nokia. By implementing tagging systems and procedures, we are able to track online demand generation through to fulfilment, be it a product purchase, an app download, a successful customer service journey, a social media engagement, or virtually any other intended digital outcome. This enables us to monitor, in real-time, the effectiveness of different digital media and channels.

We have experienced several benefits from our tagging practices. The most important benefit has been improved digital marketing return on investment delivered through increased visibility to the performance of our digital media activities, and the continuous optimisation of our own and social media content development. We are able to see the real impact of the decisions we take faster than ever before, which in turns allows us to more fluidly adapt our digital strategies and our demand generation, acquisition, and retention activities.

Nokia will continue to push forward with tagging improvements in order to unlock even greater ROI. As tagging systems become more adaptable, we will look at extending the practices we’ve implemented in digital to offline channels. The ability to empirically link, measure, and optimise online and offline customer interactions holds great promise. We are beginning to see, and use, early adaptations of this with QR tagged outdoor executions and mobile location-based proximity tactics. I am personally excited by the pace of innovation in this area, and look forward to leveraging new innovations as they become available.

At Nokia we have a very strong commitment to responsibly managing our marketing investments and driving increasing returns on those investments. This drive is predicated on our ability to continuously measure and optimise our marketing efficacy. And this is only achievable through a continued focus on the fundamental basics of tag management and tagging discipline.

Sponsor viewpoint

Mark Wood

Mark Wood
Director of EMEA

Barely a blip on the radar a few years ago, tag management has emerged as one of the most important digital marketing innovations of the last decade. Few technologies offer such clear-cut value: replace all of your online vendor tags (JavaScript snippets) with a single line of code, and never burden your IT staff again.

Tag management finally puts marketers in control of the mission-critical online solutions they use everyday to maximize results. The benefits are many, including increased marketing agility, improved site performance and enhanced privacy compliance.

As you look at different tag management vendors, consider these important questions in your selection process.

1. Is the tag management solution designed for marketers? Tag management is a digital marketing enablement platform that empowers marketers to deploy and manage their online solutions by themselves without requiring IT assistance. Tag management needs to be designed for them, not serve as a content management system for JavaScript editing. See if your vendor delivers point and click functionality, including turnkey integration with hundreds of major online vendors. Marketers want less complexity, not more.

2. Is your tag management vendor focused on … tag management? Surprisingly, not all vendors are equally focused on the complex task of providing an enterprise-class tag management system. Some vendors have branched off into providing other digital marketing services, or morphing into different solution providers altogether. In a recent study by Econsultancy, “The ROI of Tag Management,” the number one criteria among participants was vendor neutrality. The message is clear: digital marketers want their tag management solution to work with as many solutions as possible.

3. Does your tag management vendor charge extra for privacy compliance? Enhancing privacy compliance is one of the important side benefits of tag management, helping organisations more easily comply with shifting international laws. This includes support for the “Do Not Track” feature within modern browsers, geo-based privacy management settings, and customised opt-out mechanisms (privacy widgets).

Yet, some vendors try to charge extra for privacy modules, when others offer the same capabilities for free. Don’t let your vendor capitalise on the current privacy frenzy by charging extra.

Tag management is one of the best technology investments you can make. Do your research, ask the right questions, and you’ll quickly find the right solution for your needs.



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