What is a tag manager and how it works

ProductBy Gladys Gordon

Managing tags is a crucial aspect of digital marketing and website management today. Tags are Javascript code snippets that allow you to track user traffic, run AB tests, and perform key marketing technology functions. So, using digital marketing tools, you can make all the difference in your business strategies.

But here's a caveat: tags not only increase your site's loading time but managing them can also be hectic. Implementing them directly on the source code usually requires a developer and multiple deploys.

So, is there a better option? Enter tag managers. They allow you to implement your tags and efficiently deliver more personalized and relevant experiences to your customers and prospects.

But what exactly are tag managers? How do they work, and when should you use them? In this article, we'll explore what tag managers are and their use cases. Also, we'll talk about the market-leading tag managers.

What is a tag manager?

A tag manager is a management system that allows you to deploy code snippets on your website or mobile application without modifying the source code. These tags collect data about a user's interactions with your application to send to an analytics or marketing platform.

Sometimes called a pixel, a tag can track specific events like page views, clicks, or conversions. Usually, a developer needs to change the source code to add and update these tags. But with a tag management system, marketers can quickly implement and manage tags independently.

Fundamentals of a tag manager

There are some concepts you need to understand when using a tag manager:

  • Containers: A container is a collection of tags, triggers, variables, and related configurations installed on a website. It serves as a hub for storing and managing tags. A website or mobile app can have multiple containers, each with its own set of tags. However, the best practices suggest having only one container per application.
  • Tag: A tag is a code snippet that performs actions like setting up specific website events in the page. Some examples include the tracking code needed for marketing tools like Google Analytics, Google Ads, and Facebook Ads.
  • Trigger: A trigger is a set of conditions determining when a tag should fire. It listens for specific events like clicks, submissions, or page loads. For example, you could set up a trigger to fire a tag when a user clicks on a specific button on your website or when a page loads.
  • Variable: A variable is a placeholder that holds data used by tags and triggers. For example, you could use a variable to store the URL of the current page so that it can be passed to a tracking tag.

What is a tag manager used for?

Tag managers help to simplify the process of adding and managing tags on a website. Using them, marketers can handle tags from different platforms and tools. And not only does this make it easier to configure advertising services, but they also enhance real-time ads.

Here are some other benefits of using a tag manager:

  • Improved efficiency in adding and updating tags: It helps reduce the time and effort needed for code snippets implementation, minimizing the risk of errors
  • Better collaboration with multiple stakeholders: Tag managers give you a centralized and organized way to manage, making your work easier, as you don't need access to the source code
  • More control for website owners and marketers: It gives you a centralized and organized way to manage tags, and what data they are sending.

How do tag managers work?

Tag management systems have two primary functions — managing tags from a centralized location and tracking digital activities.

Managing tags

A tag management system (TMS) consolidates all the pieces of code into one container. From there, it handles all the tag deployments, testing, versioning, documentation, and management.

In this central platform, you can also do many other things without touching your webpage's source code:

  • Control other tag implementations
  • Add a tag to your website
  • Update existing tags.

Tracking digital activities

A TMS also has an important part called a data layer. This layer can store all the needed information about the events, such as:

  • Page metadada
  • Variables about the user
  • E-commerce information.

The data layer allows you to serve personalized content in real time. But you must clearly define the data sets you're collecting, so the data is delivered to the marketing platform in a helpful way.

Besides these essential features, enterprise-grade tag management systems can also offer enhanced capabilities, such as:

  • Security and privacy controls
  • Data governance
  • Regulatory compliance.

What are the market-leading tag managers?

The top tag managers in the market are Google Tag Manager, Tealium IQ, and Adobe Launch.

Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager is a free, cloud-based tag management system widely used by marketers and website owners. It has many features and integrates easily with marketing and analytics tools like Google Analytics and Google Ads.

Google Tag Manager is designed to be simple. So, non-technical employees or marketers can swiftly implement marketing and tracking services. It also offers different trigger types and allows you to use tags for various different goals.

Tealium IQ

Tealium IQ gives organizations greater flexibility through customizable tag templates. Its robust data layer makes it easy to manage and share data across tags. Also, it integrates easily with a wide range of third-party platforms.

Adobe Launch

Adobe Launch is part of the Adobe Marketing Cloud. It's a powerful and flexible tag manager that provides advanced features such as:

  • Built-in tag templates
  • A visual rule builder
  • Managing code-based extensions
  • Deploying code-based extensions.

Also, thanks to its rule-based system, it gives marketers more control over tags.

Main use cases of a tag manager

As we've said earlier, tag managers have several use cases, such as:

  • Implementing analytics platforms
  • Tracking custom events
  • Integrating the website with marketing platforms
  • Making some visual changes to the website.

Tag managers can manage tracking tags for web analytics platforms, making monitoring user behavior and website performance easy, including pageviews, bounce rates, and conversions. It can also manage tracking tags for ad campaigns and target users with relevant ads.

Why is it recommended to use a tag manager over implementing tags directly in the website's source code?

Adding independent tags directly to your website's source code will lead you to depend too much on developers and require a deployment whenever you need to change or add something. Take Facebook, for instance. It uses many code snippets for conversions, retargeting, data enrichment. But, even if you're not a heavy Facebook user, you likely have 5 to 10 tags on your site. How to manage them easily and quickly?

When it's time to modify or update your tags, it will cost you lots of money and time, as you have to wait for a developer to make the changes.

But with a tag manager, you don't need to add anything to the website's source code. You can add all of the tags to the tag management system. Then you can easily add, modify or delete them without touching the website's source code.

Event tracking with Croct

Using a tag manager with Croct is especially beneficial for marketing teams. It lets them control a website's content by implementing code snippets without requiring a dedicated developer to deploy them constantly.

Tag managers help track events and send data to Croct's platform. Enhancing user profiles is easier when you have updated information about a user's actions.

In what cases it's not recommended to use a tag manager?

There are some cases where you shouldn't use a tag manager. Suppose you have a legacy website or it has a complex technical environment. In that case, the tag manager may not work as expected or interfere with other parts of your website. In this case, manually adding tags to the website's source code is more efficient.

Also, if you have security concerns about your website, you may want to avoid using tag managers. That's because they need access to sensitive data, such as user behavior and personal information. And that, as you know, may be vulnerable to security breaches.

It's also worth mentioning that you don't need a tag manager if you only want to manage a few tags or need the latency to be below 800ms. You'll definitely not get a latency below that threshold, and the overhead resource consumption is probably not worth it.

What problems do these cases bring?

In summary, these cases result in:

  • Higher resource consumption
  • Page flickering
  • Longer load time.

Personalization and AB testing with tag managers

Due to the long loading times, you shouldn't use a tag manager to implement page changes such as text and images. A tag manager typically takes 800ms and 1200ms to load. So, in that case, it would make your website take longer to load.

Suppose you implement personalization or AB testing changes with tag managers. In that case, you'll see at least a one-second delay. And, since an eye blink takes ~300ms, the user will view the original content before the implemented change.

But this is not an issue for event tracking, as users don't see the tracking happening. So it's okay if it happens with a one-second delay.


Tag managers are every marketer's dream, as they make it easier to run and edit scripts for marketing campaigns. That's because considering different goals and scenarios may take a lot of time and effort, as you'll need to hardcode each page. But, if you use a tag manager, you can manage all your scripts using one database and edit them when needed for better marketing reporting and analytics.

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