Thinking About Thinking

What Is Tag Management?

Posted in Founder-Owned Businesses, Growth Equity, Technology, Volition Capital by larrycheng on September 14, 2012

This week we announced Volition’s newest investment in enterprise tag management leader, Ensighten.  I couldn’t be more excited to be involved with the company and to join their Board of Directors.  I was sitting down to write a post about why we invested in Ensighten, but after some thought, I realized it would probably be best to first write this post to explain what tag management is for those who don’t live it every day.   My next post, therefore, will be about why we invested in Ensighten.

So, what is tag management?  Let’s set the stage for the problem.

For many companies, their website is a mission critical part of their business.  Hence, to get the most functionality and intelligence from their websites –  the webpages themselves interface with many different best-of-breed third party applications.   You may not realize it, but when you visit a reasonably sophisticated webpage today, it’s probable that many different third-party applications are loading on that page because of your visit.  Some of these applications are visible to you as the end user.  Examples of these are ad networks, recommendation engines, video platforms, chat applications, social network plug-ins, re-targeting platforms and feedback engines.  Some of these applications are not as visible to you as an end user.  Examples of these are web analytics applications, a/b testing platforms, content optimization engines, audience measurement applications, affiliate networks and marketing automation systems.

The way these applications interface with a company’s webpage is typically through a tag.  Think of a tag as a little program that is inserted into the html code of that webpage.  When the webpage loads, the tag fires, and the application runs.  That tag contains the instructions for how that third-party application will operate on that particular webpage for that particular user.  For a web analytics platform, it could define what specific parts of the webpage to measure.  For an ad network, it could contain instructions on what type of ad unit to run.  For a feedback engine, it could set the parameters for what type of feedback module to render.  For an a/b testing platform, it could set the algorithms for how different tests will run.  Simple enough.

Here’s where it starts to get complicated.

First of all, the tag for a single application can take many different forms.  For example, if you want a different ad unit on one webpage versus another, it could necessitate a different tag even if the ad is delivered from the same ad network.  If you want the web analytics platform to pull different data from different webpages, which is often the case, that could require different tags.  In short, tailoring any application creates many different variants of tags from any single vendor.  So, the first complication is there are many different tags, within a single application vendor.

The second complication is that sophisticated websites have lots of different tag-based applications running.  In our conversations with Ensighten’s enterprise customers, they may have 10-50 different tag-based applications on any single webpage.  The volume of tags is driven by two things.  First, companies want best of breed functionality on their websites across all application categories.  Secondly, they may be testing different application vendors within each application category.  So, that adds even more complexity to the equation.

The third complication is volume.  A single website can have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of webpages.  If a tag for a single application needs to be placed on every page, that can be hundreds of thousands of tags on hundreds of thousands of webpages for a single application.  Not only can companies have websites with lots of webpages, they may in fact have lots of different websites.  Many large enterprises have different web properties with distinct domains often in many different geographies.   Some enterprises have hundreds, if not thousands, of distinct web properties.  That obviously multiplies the volume problem.  Then throw on top of all those websites and all of those webpages –  tons of web traffic.

Therein lies the complexity: (lots of tags) x (lots of tag-based applications) x (lots of websites) x (lots of webpages) x (lots of traffic) = millions of tags firing every day to users like you and me from a single company’s web properties.  And, I won’t even start talking about other platforms like mobile and flash at this point.

That sets the context, now what’s the problem?

The problem occurs when you want to change, delete, add, fix or reconfigure a tag.  Think of a typical marketing analytics or optimization organization at a large enterprise.  They’re sitting on top of this sea of potentially millions of tags firing every day as users interact with their web properties.  Let’s say they need to change a single tag.  Maybe they want to run a different ad unit or capture slightly different analytics data.  Because that tag sits in the html code of the webpage, marketing must convince IT that the single change should be in the cue of the next release cycle for the website.  If they are successful in that, which is an if, then they must wait until the next IT release cycle for the website which could potentially be many months away.  Think about that, it could take months to make a single and simple change to one solitary tag.

In reality, large enterprises need to change tags all of the time.  Tags can be programmed improperly, so they need to be fixed.  The website itself could change which could necessitate a change to a tag.  Maybe they were testing an application on part of the website, and now want to roll it out to other parts of the site.  Maybe they want to take down an application or deploy a new one.  There are reasons why enterprises need to engage with their tags and their tag-based applications in a dynamic way.  But the current model of being beholden to the IT release cycle brings marketing agility to a halt.

That’s where Ensighten comes in.

Ensighten turns the entire methodology for managing tags upside down through its Tag Management System (TMS).  They start by placing a single line of code in the header of the website:

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”//”> </script>

That’s it, one single line of code.  That code interfaces with Ensighten’s cloud-based TMS every time a user views a webpage.  The magic of Ensighten’s TMS is it enables marketing organizations to manage all of their tags without ever touching the code of the website.  That means they can now fix, change, add, delete, and reconfigure any and all tags in Ensighten’s TMS right there in the cloud without ever engaging with IT – and those changes will render on the webpage as if the tag was hard-coded onto the page itself.  It bears repeating, Ensighten enables this flexibility for any tag-based application.  Enterprises now have ultimate flexibility to try different applications, configure existing ones differently, and remove underperforming applications with complete ease.  What could take months, if not years to do, can now be done in a days with Ensighten’s TMS.  We talked with many of Ensighten’s blue-chip clients like Microsoft, Sony, Symantec, United, Dell, Seagate and several others – and the feedback was very consistent with this sentiment:

“For me to get a new tag added to the site or change an existing one, it would take 4-5 months.  In order to get that tag changed, I would have to go through IT, log a defect, get in a release cycle, fight and claw.  I was at the mercy of our bureaucratic IT processes.  This is one of the best things we’ve ever done.  I can go in and change tags within a day.  If I need to add something new, I can add it within a day.  It has made my life much easier.  I am in control of my own destiny.” – Fortune 500 Ensighten customer.

Hopefully that gives you a window into what tag management is and what Ensighten does.  I could go into how Ensighten does it, but that would be a longer post.  But, let me just say that what sounds simple required some really brilliant technical minds to come together to create.  We think the problem of tag management will be a pervasive problem.  We think the tag management market will quickly accelerate to be one of the most prominent sectors of the web because the problem is unavoidable.  And, we know that Ensighten has a significant lead in the market.  But, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.  Now that you know what tag management is, my next post will be about why we invested in Ensighten.