Paid Tag Management Solution or Google Tag Manager?

I was recently asked an excellent question from a client/friend about tag management that I thought was worthy of an answer on this blog. The basic question is as follows: 

Why would I go with Google Tag Manager when there are so many other premium tools available? The premium solutions have dedicated support and more tools to get things going, so why would I use Google Tag Manager? The premium solution providers are adamant that if I use Google Tag Manager I am missing out.

This is an excellent question and something that doesn't always have a clear answer. I would even say that there isn't really a definitive answer as to which tool is best or whether you need a tag management solution at all – it all comes down to your unique perspective.

That means we need to first gain perspective before we can really make a firm recommendation on what to do. The answer I provided started with a story in order to set the tone for why we need tag management in the first place, and then explained how each tag management solution fit into the equation. Here is my attempt at framing up the problem.

Why is Tag Management Necessary in the First Place?

Websites use JavaScript to help us do all kinds of fun things on the site, like display content, connect with social media, collect data, etc. It makes websites dynamic because it is accepted by something like 98% of all web browsers in the US.

It's everywhere and anywhere around us… to the point where such wide adoption and use has made it so that many websites are extremely cluttered with scripts performing myriad functions.

Rather than getting into a long explanation about what JavaScript is, I chose to explain the situation in a more lighthearted context that the client could easily understand.

JavaScript tags are like clothes in your closet

Think about JavaScript tags as a closet filled with clothes. When you first begin to fill your closet, it is fine to put clothes in without organizing. However, after a while it becomes cluttered and it is too much to manage without some sort of organization system. You need to organize your closet because it is unwieldily and it takes a long time to find the right clothes.

In real life, when your closet needs to be organized, you have a few options:

  1. Do nothing and ignore the problem, maybe rearranging a little bit along the way
  2. Build a new house or get a bigger apartment that can store your clothes better
  3. Install a closet organizer that you get from the store that is pre-built as a Do It Yourself project
  4. Hire a professional to install a custom closet organizer for you that fits an exact blueprint

There are surely other options as well, but the point here is to lay out a few simple options to set the tone for the purpose of tag management.

Much like dealing with your closet organizer, when it comes to getting a grip on all of the JavaScript on your site, you can do one of the following:

1) Ignore the Problem

The easiest and likely cheapest thing that you can do when you have a website cluttered with JavaScript tags is to keep on doing much of the same, effectively ignoring the problem. You might rearrange tags a little bit to gain efficiency, but you still have more tags on your site than it was designed to hold.

Many sites do this every day without knowing that it is being done, because unlike a closet, JavaScript tags are not something you will usually have to pay attention to every day. Since it's behind the scenes in your source code, you may not even notice it and it is easy to ignore.

2) Build a New House

If your site has been cluttered with tags over the years, one way to solve the problem is to completely overhaul and rethink your tagging paradigms through a website refresh, redesign or re-platforming. While this isn't practical for many website owners, it gives you the ability to adequately plan your closet space to make sure that you can accommodate any current and future tags you anticipate.

However, much like any closet you create, you will find that the new space just allows you to add more JavaScript tags to your site without having a plan to organize. Much like the saying a fish will only grow to be as big as its tank, your website will eventually fill itself with tags until you reach capacity – no matter how well you plan.

3) Use a Pre-Built Tag Manager

Sites that have been around for a while might want to consider going with a pre-built solution, much like a closet organizer, to store their tags. In this case they will choose a tag management solution that is reliable and easy to understand. This will often be a do it yourself project, with the tag management solution provider giving very clear instructions each step along the way. The product has been tried and tested by many people, with all of the major kinks worked out.

4) Hire a Professional to Create a Custom Tag Management Blueprint

For some of us, we want top notch results and are willing to pay for someone to create the perfect solution for our needs. We may have an idea of what we want, or we might not, but we know that a professional installation will set us up for success now and in the future. The professional may start from scratch or use an existing framework that they can customize into the solution that fits your needs.

These professionals will evaluate your needs as well as the available solutions, and implement a solution that fits your best interests… often standing by their work with a warranty.

Google Tag Manager or a Paid Solution?

In the descriptions above, I view Google Tag Manager as being a case of example #4 above – hiring a professional to build a custom solution of your choice. This is especially true for the product in its current state. While it is an elegant solution with a robust set of features and seemingly endless opportunities for customization using custom HTML and JavaScript tags, it definitely needs to be installed and managed by a professional consultant in order to make sure that everything is working properly.

In fact, I wrote a post a few months back about Google Tag Manager troubleshooting specifically for this purpose – there just was not enough quality information available about how to use the product online. This should change over time as the product becomes more widely adopted.

Google Tag Manager is not the only tool that works well for professional tag managers. There are literally hundreds of paid (and possibly some free) solutions that can be used for tag management. The biggest advantage for Google Tag Manager may be its price point being a free product, as well as its seamless integration with other Google products requiring tags.

What Google Tag Manager likely will not be able to help with at this point is for a Do It Yourself implementation. For those types of installations it is likely best to use a paid solution that offers technical support, training programs and ongoing maintenance contracts.

There are many great vendors in this space that should receive due credit for their quality solutions, so if you have any tag management solutions that you recommend, please feel free to bring it up in the comments section.

Why I'm using Google Tag Manager

As a professional web analytics consultant and Google Tag Manager certified partner, I view Google Tag Manager as the best solution to recommend to clients for the following reasons:

  • I need a blank canvas solution that allows me to build a customized solution that fits my clients exact needs, and I know that I can do this with GTM
  • It is at a price point (free) that allows the client to invest their money in making the tool work for them, not for purchasing the tool themselves
Others may find themselves in a different position and utilize a paid tag management solution. In many cases, this is all that they will need to get the job done. Instead of paying a consultant to build them a custom solution, they can get by quite easily with a paid solution and robust instructions.

Author's Note

For the purpose of this post, I am positioning the tag management space in a very simplistic manner: Google Tag Manager vs. the world. This is because I do not have hands on experience with most other tag management solutions, so I can only talk about my hands on experience with GTM in an educated manner. This does not mean that other tag management systems are not worthy of similar praise or a complete explanation. If anyone reading this post has hands on experience with other tag management solutions and can offer more insight into their benefits, I would love for you to share in the comments below.

Did the Analogy Work?

For the client, it definitely did: Wow, love your analogy – – speaking my language!!!  Clothes and closet space!

How about for you?

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