October 3, 2012, 10:49 AM

Google releases a tag management tool

The free product competes for retailer clients with a handful of on-the-rise vendors.

Lead Photo

Search engine giant Google Inc. is offering a free tool to help online retailers manage the plethora of tracking codes added to their web pages by advertising networks as well as by Google Analytics to track site activity, the company announced Monday on its Analytics blog.

Small segments of tracking code, or tags, are designed to record information such as when a site visitor clicks an ad, goes on to make a purchase, clicks a free-shipping offer or takes any other action that a site operator wants to measure. Retailers add tags to their sites from advertising and affiliate networks so that they can pay commissions when consumers coming from those marketing channels make a purchase.

But installing and managing all these tags on a web site can be difficult and time-consuming, and having many tags firing data back to a retailer and ad network tracking system can slow the performance of a web page as well as of the tags themselves, experts say.

Google Tag Manager is an Internet-hosted software platform that collects all the tags on a web site and stores them in an off-site repository, or “container” in Google’s lingo, replacing them with a single line of code, which Google calls a “container snippet,” on each page of a web site. That allows the web site operator to use an online interface to control, for example, which ads load on a page every time a consumer visits, as well as to track purchase conversions without having to write or update software code on each page.  Without a tag management system, retailers must edit the source code of each web page that needs a tag, line by line, which can take employees hours or even weeks to do, says Danielle Leitch, executive vice president at interactive ad agency MoreVisibility.

Google Tag Manager fires tags asynchronously, that is, in parallel with other elements of a web page as they are ready to load, Google says. That way, a slow tag won’t hold up the loading of the entire page, Google adds, leading to faster overall load times.  

Although other tag management systems are available, Google Tag Manager appears to be unusually easy to use, Leitch says. “It’s very much in line with the difference between Google Analytics and all the other analytics platforms out there—it’s extremely user-friendly,” she says. “It’s not going to be this arduous process to try to learn this system or navigate this system. It really eliminates any barriers to entry.”

Additionally, retailers that use Google Analytics will have an advantage in setting up custom tracking for reports because Google Tag Manager provides a simpler interface for adding code to their web sites, she says. MoreVisibility has been working with Google leading up to the release of Tag Manager and is one of roughly 20 companies in the United States that Google has named a Tag Manager Specialist, she says. As a Google Analytics certified partner, MoreVisibililty will help retailers with custom analytics coding that leverages the data from the Tag Manager, she says. Since early Monday, MoreVisibility has been in conversations with retailers large and small, she says, and it started rolling out the first Tag Manager projects yesterday.

Even Google’s competitors note the value of its new tag manager. "Google Tag Manager helps validate the fast-growing tag management market, while also reflecting the increasing demand for solutions that streamline digital complexity,” says Ali Behnam, CEO of tag management company Tealium Inc. “It will be a good fit for small businesses that have limited digital marketing requirements and are dependent on Google products, such as Google Analytics.” Tealium offers tag management technology that it says is designed for larger organizations with features such as workflow management, which allows multiple managers within a client company to participate in setting and approving how tags are used, privacy compliance, data validation, mobile and video tagging and support for other web analytics programs, such as Adobe Systems Inc.’s SiteCatalyst, Behnam says.

The tag management industry is booming, as evident by significant growth and fundraising among its top vendors. In April, vendor BrightTag raised $15 million in a funding round led by Baird Venture Partners. In July, Tealium raised $10.5 million in funding from Battery Ventures. In September, Ensighten closed $15.5 million in series A funding led by Volition Capital. And recently TagMan hired two new executives from the web analytics unit of Adobe and rolled out mobile app support, says CEO Jon Baron. “The space is really hot right now,” he says. “All three of our nearest competitors have had like $15 million put in them in the last three months.”

An important feature of many tag management systems is their ability to help retailers determine which advertising channel, such as an affiliate ad network or retargeting vendor, should get credit for particular sales. If they can’t see the click-through data of all tags in one place, retailers are generally stuck relying on last-click attributions, that is, whichever ad was the last one a consumer clicked before buying receives credit for the sale. However, since ad networks, affiliates and other marketing channels don’t see data from each others’ tags, sometimes more than one will claim credit for a sale and bill a retailer for commission, ad experts say. A retailer unaware of such billing could end up paying in duplicate. Among new TagMan clients, 25-35% of commissions are duplicates on average, Baron says, with the highest he’s seen at 80%.

Rather than give the entire commission to one marketing vendor, tag management providers can view all the data tags and present a percentage breakdown of how much of each sales commission should go to each marketing channel, eliminating duplicates in the process. TagMan’s retailer clients gain about 20% more revenue from affiliate networks when they do this, with one saving $2 million annually, Baron says, declining to name the client. In addition to the retailers paying less, the digital marketing vendors they employ in turn improve their campaigns in order to win commissions, he says.

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