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Google Tag Manager: A Disruptive Opportunity

by Bill Gassman  |  October 1, 2012  |  9 Comments

Here comes Google again. In 2006, Google disrupted the Web analytics industry with its free product, Google Analytics. On October 1’st, 2012, Google announced availability of Google Tag Manager,   also free.  A Tag Manager is a proxy-like service that converts a single tag on every web page into any number of additional tags for tag-driven products and functions.

Free and good enough, Google Tag Manager will disrupt the current market dynamics for tag management products. Within 18 months, we can expect more users of Google Tag Manager than all others combined, similar to the adoption ratios that Google Analytics enjoys.

Tag managers are a great for marketing analysts and advertisers, but that is not the point of this post. Gartner clients can learn more about tag managers and those that provide them in this document: Tag Management Systems Boost Website Efficiency, Quality and Results G00238074.

More importantly, Google’s disruptive entry is a golden opportunity moment for the digital marketing industry to standardize a data exchange model across all tag management systems.

Of the many benefits that come with using tag managers, having a common definition for variables and events  is key requirement for advanced users.  Here, variables about  the visitor, page or transaction, and events like filling in form fields are picked up by a tag and passed on to the tag-driven product. Tag carried data is how tag-driven products work, such as web analytics, A/B testing and advertising attribution.

Normally, each tag-driven product has its own variables in a page and its own tag to retrieve the data. Tag managers consolidate the data passing phase, then maps common variables to whatever is needed for each tag driven product. Imagine how much more simple it is to configure tags in a management system versus maintaining tags within a web page.  Now it is easier for web site and content developers to define variables without having to know which tag-driven products will be used.

Now, here is the problem and opportunity. While common data models in today’s tag management systems are a great step forward, each provider represents a different common data model. We are swapping many proprietary data models for a single one, but that one still locks you into a single tag management provider.

If the tag management providers could agree on an standard data exchange model, developers, content management systems and even off the shelf commercial application developers wouldn’t have to care who’s tag management system would be used.

Why is the time ripe for a standard? Let’s face reality. Google will quickly be the new 500 pound gorilla in the tag management market. No other provider has enough market share or market clout to dictate a data model standard, not even Adobe and IBM. Yet, Google’s data model is not finalized yet. There is more work to do. This is the perfect time to try for standardization.

Standards are hard to create, especially among competitors, but it can be done.  The networking industry is not without precedent. Ethernet, TCP/IP, SNMP and HTML are prime examples of evolutionary standards that each sparked rapid growth in the overall industry and got us to where we are today. Standardizing a tagging data model would reduce market inhibitors by shifting competition from data model lock-in to more sophisticated management of tags and more use of applications that tags enable.

The standardization effort could be driven by Google, but involvement by a neutral party would help ensure success. The Digital Analytics Association is one obvious candidate for driving a standard, but advertising associations, such as the Internet Advertising Bureau must be represented too.

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Category: digital-marketing  digital-marketing-platform  web-analytics  

Tags: google  tag-management  

Bill Gassman
Research Director
15 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Bill Gassman specializes in helping marketing leaders manage, measure and optimize their Web, mobile, social and search marketing programs. For more than 15 years, he has advised marketing teams on how to use technology ... Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Google Tag Manager: A Disruptive Opportunity

  1. Andy Batten says:

    Great post. Love that you included standardized tags built into applications, because I think that’s where this goes next. Much like how most web services now include a ‘default’ GA integration, tag management will take a big step forward as well.

  2. […] Once again Google is disrupting a new category within the Tag management space which has seen some new startups trying to build solutions for managing web page tags targeted at the Enterprise. With this new announcement Google is levelling the playing field and making this technology accessible to the masses. Gartner – Free and good enough, Google Tag Manager will disrupt the current market dynamics for tag management products. Within 18 months, we can expect more users of Google Tag Manager than all others combined, similar to the adoption ratios that Google Analytics enjoys. Bill Gasman – Gartner […]

  3. Hi Bill – I find your observation on the tag management industry very interesting. At QuBit we’re big believers in open standards for web data, and that this shouldn’t be determined by a couple of companies proprietary formats.

    With OpenTag ( we’ve been developing open standards in tag management for the last 12 months. We host our source code on Github as well as a fully defined set of universal variables defined and open to the community to keep adding to on Github ( There are currently 1200 websites using a hosted version of OpenTag and 1000s more that have downloaded the code – as it’s open source it could be incorporated into anything from CMS to other ad technologies. We are continuing to develop this open approach and are working with a number of leading ad technology companies to adopt the open standard – which as you indicate in your article means the more 3rd party technologies that integrate into websites seamlessly the better. There is an opportunity for the industry to work together around a ‘Structured Data Web’ that is not controlled by one proprietary format.

  4. Des Cahill says:

    Hi Bill –

    Great post. Agree that Google GTM is a disruptive event for TMS market, though I see that as mostly for low to mid range providers that provide simple container tag-generic CDN based tag management solutions. For enterprises, they still require support, SLA (way more critical for a TMS than a web analytics tool!), optimized/redundant infrastructure, support for complex and visual tags (e.g., MVT, customer experience/survey, chat, etc.).

    The key thing is that Google’s market entry further validates and accelerates general awareness of TMS from the ground up.

    Here’s a post I wrote on the impact of GTM on TMS:

    Re: TMS data exchange standards, it’s a worthy goal but it’s also a super competitive and early-stage market. Will take a concerted and long effort IMHO.

    thanks – Des

  5. […] Google Tag Manager – A New Tag Management Tool from Google […]

  6. Bill Gassman says:

    Thanks for your comment Des. There are already stories of those who have made Adobe’s Test & Target work with GTM, but apparently it is not for the faint-of-heart. This is a good opportunity for all TMS providers to rethink their differentiating messages and strive to be clear. When claims are made about competitors weaknesses, they should be backed up with an explanation, so we can all really learn the architectures. There is a lot of fud flying around, but that is a sign of a healthy competitive market. It will be sad if standards don’t come soon however. That just puts a weight on broad adoption. It wouldn’t surprise me to see packaged application providers adopt the Google data standards and leave it up to other TMS providers to map from it.

  7. Bill Gassman says:

    Thanks Graham. I applaud your effort to open your data model. This won’t be enough for all others to adopt it, but at least it is there should an independent body take up the standardization effort. I can’t see the CMS vendors picking a favorite horse in the race though, until there is some movement towards a standard that will stick. A standard will have not only a wide variety of defined attributes and events, but be extensible by private and third parties. In my history, I saw the SNMP (simple network management protocol) transform an industry through provider cooperation, so feel rather strongly that it could happen again.

  8. Bill Gassman says:

    Thanks for the post Andy. Perhaps the way it will go is GA becomes the standard by default and all others learn to adapt and extend. Other providers make some good points about why their approach is better, but meanwhile,the “good enough” crowd can declare the winner and get on with it. For example, imagine a call center application that tags and embeds metadata, along with pre-packaged apps on Google Analytics. There is another aspect of using a TMS which should get a lot of use. That is forking a data stream to an internal source, such as a big-data appliance. The TMS acts like an ETL (extract, transform and load) tool. Without a standard data model, it is hard for market innovation to thrive in building applications to analyze the data. That’s where we are today – that is where we have been for the last 15 years. Data collection and exchange should be independent of analysis.

  9. Beyond Web Analytics Podcast; featuring Justin Cutroni, Analytics Advocate at Google, and Kevin Rogers of Keystone Solutions about the New Google Tag Manager.

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