Today, on the Analytics blog, Google announced the launch of their new "Google Tag Manager" product. What does the tag manager do? Google says that Tag Manager was created to provide marketers with the ability to add tags (tracking codes, etc.) to their websites without having to bother IT people. Essentially it's a "cut out the middleman" tool for marketers:
Google Tag Manager is a free tool that consolidates your website tags with a single snippet of code and lets you manage everything from a web interface. You can add and update your own tags, with just a few clicks, whenever you want, without bugging the IT folks or rewriting site code. It gives marketers greater flexibility, and lets webmasters focus on other important tasks.
What kind of "tags" are we talking about here? Google's intro video clarifies:
Google also highlights the following as among the top features:
Asynchronous tag loading—so your tags can fire faster without getting in each other's way, and without slowing down the user-visible part of the page
Easy-to-use tag templates, so marketers can quickly add tags with our web interface, as well as support for custom tags
Error-prevention tools like Preview mode (so you can see proposed changes before implementing them), the Debug Console, and Version History to ensure that new tags won’t break your site
User permissions and multi-account functionality to make it easy for large teams and agencies and clients to work together with appropriate levels of access
Plus we have exciting plans to add great new features over the next several months
This all sounds great, but I worry that people might come to rely to heavily on the Tag Manager and if/when problems do arise, they may not suspect they way they set something up in Tag Manager, simply because they've come to take for granted that it works flawlessly. I can foresee situations where IT has to be brought back in to research the cause of lost data, etc. which sort of defeats the purpose.
There's also the issue of "migrating" (Google's word) your existing tags into the new "container" you would need to create. For starters, none of us are immune to human error hiccups, which means there could be some overlap if all original manually added tags aren't pulled out correctly, or if crumbs of code are left behind. Even if everything goes perfectly, IT staff will still need to be involved - both for pulling out the old tags and then inserting the code for the new container you create with Tag Manager. Admittedly the goal is to eliminate the need for their further involvement after that setup process, but it's worth noting that IT involvement isn't 100% eliminated.
Again, in many cases Tag Manager should work without issue on simple static websites, but when I think about the complex websites and web apps we create, I would worry that this overly simplified tagging snippet may not work so smoothly. Our sites and applications are so complex and customized, there are a lot of variables to consider when setting something up like this. For example, does the new container code need to be added just to regular web pages? What if there's an online store? A blog? How about database driven pages? Adding the types of code we're talking about here isn't as simple as opening an HTML editor and pasting the code. Developers and IT people will be able to take into account all aspects of the website and understand how the code would need to be added in various places to ensure it is included on ALL pages, including dynamically generated pages, new blog posts, new products, etc.
I'm being extra cautious here mainly because I'm the type who knows just enough to get myself in trouble. I could add code to static webpages easily enough, but I wouldn't have the first clue where to add it in the back end of any given eCommerce software solution. And I've seen clients hire part-time employees who "know basic HTML" cause serious problems on their sites by tinkering around with things they don't fully understand. I could easily see, for example, a client setting up Tag Manager and figuring out how to add it to their main website but not their online store. This would not only lead to wildly out of whack tracking data, but it would eventually mean they'd need to come back to us to track down and fix the issue.
If you have a very simple, bare-bones HTML driven website, I would say it couldn't hurt to give Google Tag Manager a shot. But if you've any sort of customized, advanced web solution, you should be extremely careful and be sure to keep track of every little change you make along the way. Unlike when you have an IT professional working on your site, Google's support services will be very limited because Tag Manager is a free product. As we all know, sometimes you get what you pay for. I would say that's less the case with Google products, most of which are great, but they're also not without bugs. Bugs that can be incredibly frustrating to deal with when you're left swimming around help forums searching for answers with thousands of other lost, non-technical souls.