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The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is working to release a global data standard for the inclusion of a data layer to sit on top of your site that will help improve developers’ lives in a variety of ways.

This isn't a topic that generally gets much coverage, so what is a data layer?

A data layer is a JavaScript object that sits in your pages for every user and holds the key pieces of information used by many of the technologies that you might want to deploy on your site.

In simplest terms, it is a standard way of defining user, page and product information for every page. 

The W3C standard was formed after looking at the many different technologies and products out there, including analytics, affiliate marketing, retargeting and site utilities like online chat.

The standards team (including ourselves) examined their requirements in terms of the information they need about the page, product, user, etc and built an in-page JavaScript object that can hold all of this information. 

So how can the inclusion of this data layer help developers and ecommerce businesses?

1. It allows easy integration of third-party technologies

If you work in digital marketing, you’ll almost certainly have spent many hours tearing out your hair in the name of integration.

With the use of APIs and modular code design, switching from one third-party technology provider to another should theoretically be easy. However it’s not because different applications have, until now, all handled data in a variety of ways.

Adding a data layer allows you to pass any information you'd like from the page to your scripts easily, without hassle. Third-party integration becomes a pleasure, not a pain. 

2. Improve the information you collect

How many pings do you collect for each pageview? How many variables have you got set up? Even if you don’t have hundreds of variables set up yet, what happens if you want to in the future?

As digital marketing gets more sophisticated, the demands digital marketers have of their technologies will strain the current model of manual tag addition.

With more variables, you can collect more granular data and therefore get a better idea of how your customers behave, and ultimately drive conversions. 

3. Future proof your site from the demands of future third-parties

The new data layer not only allows easy integration of third-party technologies, the huge increase in the amount of variables you can reasonably handle effectively future-proofs your site against the increasing sophistication of new, third-party technologies.

With the rise of disruptive forces such as 4G, more and more information is going to be collected, stored and acted upon. Don’t let your website let you down. 

4. Move beyond the IT development cycle

While you still need someone who can talk JavaScript, the time it takes to add a new tag to your website is minimal, and it's even quicker to edit it.

Adding a data layer streamlines the development process in several ways, as you will have made server-side changes for the last time for any tags/tools you might want to deploy. Just plug them in and play. 

5. Update all your tags from a single point

Edit the data layer and you edit your tags, site-wide. The marketer isn’t completely released from the developer, but the developer is released from the donkey work of editing a multitude of tags over a multitude of pages.

Moreover, the marketer is able to move faster in the deployment of new technologies, letting them be more nimble and customer-responsive. The new data layer saves time and cost for both IT and marketing - a clear win-win!

Econsultancy's Crunch - Data, Analytics and the Rise of the Marketing Geek, takes place on October 10 at Truman Brewery, London. Crunch is the event for the analysts, strategists and boffins who turns raw numbers into insight, then revenue. This event is one of five that make up our Festival of Marketing.

Ian McCaig

Published 6 August, 2013 by Ian McCaig

Ian McCaig is Founder at Qubit and a contributor to Econsultancy.

29 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

Steve Davies

Steve Davies, CEO at Fitch Media

Presumably such a data layer will help reduce conflicts between third party scripts and even allow a single tag to be shared by several.

about 3 years ago

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Mark

So is this the death knell of the container tag solutions that already exist? And in what timeframe will the data layer standard happen?

about 3 years ago

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Matt Stannard

It's actually come out of Container Tags in particular for eCommerce sites.

The issue is that different providers and developers pass data which describes objects in different ways. Having a standard way of encapsulating this data and passing it to a tag will make things so much better. It then means you can use proper logic in tags such as "is the order > 500 and the customer a new customer" as this information is passed in a standard way (assuming its known)

Google have developed a helper library and at the moment I think the working group aim to have v1 ready for December.

about 3 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Matt Stannard

It's actually come out of Container Tags in particular for eCommerce sites.

The issue is that different providers and developers pass data which describes objects in different ways. Having a standard way of encapsulating this data and passing it to a tag will make things so much better. It then means you can use proper logic in tags such as "is the order > 500 and the customer a new customer" as this information is passed in a standard way (assuming its known)

Google have developed a helper library and at the moment I think the working group aim to have v1 ready for December.

about 3 years ago

Ian McCaig

Ian McCaig, CMO & Founder at Qubit

I don't think this is the death of tag containers as the primary purpose of a TMS is to provide a useful UI to add, edit and delete 3rd party tags from a website outside the development cycles that websites and help improve site speed with asyncronous loading.

However, if W3C and its rapidly growing digital data community is successful in getting a data standard adopted at scale then the 'proprietary' data models which TMS providers have created will become obsolete as a single model will be used - making everyone's life easier!

As Matt mentioned we should see the standard officially launched at the end of the year but it might be sooner than December, perhaps October.

about 3 years ago

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