Q&A: Stéphane Hamel on Tag Management – Part 1

The word “guru” is an overused one, but when it comes to web analytics, Stéphane Hamel is undisguisedly worthy of the title. An all-round online analytics advocate, Stéphane is also director of strategic services at Cardinal Path, an educator and a prolific speaker.

We caught up with him to discuss tag management in the context of web analytics, organizational change, and implementation best practices.

Q: Where does web analytics intersect with tag management?

A: The interest for tag management is really growing as a way to formalize the process of managing tags. In the past I think TagMan was much more about campaign attribution, how you were going to measure and allocate marketing dollars and make sure you get the right figures. Now I think it’s about how you manage the process of tagging, going back and forth between business and marketing requirements: “here’s what I want to measure,” and IT understanding how to place the tags. There are always little issues and it’s an iterative process. The goal is having good quality data.

One discussion around tag management is that you can get rid of IT. It’s just an illusion.  You need someone in IT to understand how tagging really works.  I think the illusion some people have is that marketing will be able to manage tags by themselves. I don’t think it’s true. Tag management is useful to formalize the process and maybe ease the collaboration between marketing and IT.

I’ve never heard the argument that tag management can eliminate IT, but rather give marketing more autonomy in the process. Is that accurate?

There’s maybe more autonomy, but up to a certain point. The main issues I always see are that as long as you are in the informational part of the website; anything that’s content and usually template-driven, you put the tags in the template. That makes it easier to manage them. When we say IT, it may just be a web developer or web integrator. Those people know about JavaScript, they know how to put the tags on the web page.

So what are the advantages of tag management to marketers?

Tag management  provides greater autonomy to make simple changes, especially if the tags are encapsulated into snippets of code that can be easily embedded. So maybe the marketer doesn’t have to understand everything technically, but knows if they put that on my web page I can be tracking social media or outbound links, for example. If you know you’ve got the right piece of code, the marketer can put it in the tag container and know what they’ll be tracking.

Marketers can have high confidence that if they add something to the tag container it will work. The other advantage is to increase the confidence that the tags are working on every single page of the website. It’s a kind of interesting challenge. I’ve done a lots of website audits and an interesting issue is a page that doesn’t have any tags.  So using a tag management system is not an absolute guarantee you’ll have tags on every page if they weren’t there in the first place.

So it’s not just a matter of deploying tag management. There needs to be an audit to make sure everything is fine when you deploy the tags. Often a 404 page, for example, has no tags. If you deploy tag management and forget to tag that page, it’s an issue.

What steps should be taken to implement tag management correctly?

There’s a need to do an audit to know what is tagged, how it’s tagged, missing tags, what are the various tags being fired? It’s not just a matter of having a Google or Omniture tag on the page, but also ad networks and other tags to be managed. So audit, review the implementation, reassess the business needs so you don’t collect the wrong data or data that is not useful. You want to reassess that.

Configure the various containers that you will need for every type of page. So part of the audit is reviewing the templates. For a checkout process you may have three pages, and one is special, it’s a ‘thank you’ page.  You need a different set of tags on that type of page. Using tag management also makes it easier to have a development QA production setup. You can make sure that when tags are in production they are foolproof.

Next week, in Part 2 of this two-part interview, Stéphane Hamel discusses the future of tag management.

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