On Monday Google announced the launch of its new free tag management system, simultaneously raising the profile of analytics tags and putting the wind up suppliers who currently charge for the service.

As Google explained in a blog post, the new tool “consolidates your website tags with a single snippet of code and lets you manage everything from a web interface,” which should mean you can add new tags without bothering the IT team.

This sort of technology is nothing new, and it’s something we investigated in more detail in our report The ROI of Tag Management

But what does Google Tag Manager (GTM) mean for other vendors, as well as marketers who already use Google Analytics?

To find out, we asked several analytics experts for their views…

What does this product launch mean for companies using Google Analytics (GA)?

Ali Behnam, CEO at Tealium

Probably very little. The average GA user will not use GTM because it is simply too complicated and requires IT assistance.

Depesh Mandalia, Digital UX, conversion, and marketing professional: 

I think there are two sides to this. For those using GA without tag management systems I think Google would need to get in front of these customers and get them signed up – it seems like a no-brainer since it simplifies and centralises tag management (a few key reasons to use a tag management tool in the first place). 

Those using GA and existing tag management systems, which for reference are mostly paid for, will certainly be interested in testing the feasibility and saving money with a potentially like for like system.

Google will need to persuade them however to up and leave the existing supplier which lets not forget, probably was something which made big improvements on whatever was in place previously and due to the pain most companies go through getting IT changes made, many will be hesitant to move to a new supplier. For those, I think Google’s tool will need more time and some big names to join before they move over.

There’s also the scenario of non-GA users with or without existing tag management systems which Google will have more of a job of convincing. Again referencing major players in each target vertical will help.

Brian Clifton, author of Advanced Web Metrics With Google Analytics:

The idea for this is to simplify the whole tagging issue website owners have. In the old days (e.g. five years ago!), websites only deployed one or two javascript “beacons” one their pages. That has grown considerably recently with the use of social media buttons, advertising remarketing, site plugins, testing tools, survey tools, chat programs etc.

For example, TRUSTe reports that the top 50 UK sites by traffic volume now have an average of 14 tracking beacons. That can be a headache to manage.

Tag management tools simply make the management of tags easier by bringing them under one roof so to speak. Think of them as CMS’s for tags. That means tools such as GTM are not specific to Google Analytics itself.

For complex websites – that is, those that are difficult to amend for specific GA function calls – having a free TMS tool allows web developers to manage the code changes required much more efficiently and quickly.  

Often a best practice implementation of GA can stall for 6+ months due to the technicalities of getting the code in. The hope is with GTM, this can drop dramatically and site owners/marketers can get at actionable data quicker.

Dan Barker, E-business consultant

Technically it means the same for companies who are using GA as it does for those who are using any other analytics tool.

It’s a tag management solution, so any tag-based product or tool can fit within it, whether that’s an analytics tag, an ad tag, an affiliate tag or any other kind of tag.

In practice, it’s much easier to use this to manage GA tags at present than competing analytics products’ tags, and to use it to customise your GA setup, but either is totally achievable.

From a GA point of view, there are lots of really interesting things you can do with this. If you’re vaguely technical it allows you to manage your GA setup and configuration in much more depth than you can at present, before needing to actually change any of the code on your site.

As an illustration, here’s an example showing how an e-commerce retailer could use GTM to track various product-specific information in GA, without having to go through the pain of development tinkering on a page-by-page basis.

Andrew Hood, MD, Lynchpin:

For companies that just use Google Analytics, the benefits of Google Tag Manager are predominantly around longer term management of tags and the ability to roll out future changes quickly.

The benefit will be felt more for companies using Google Analytics and tags for advertising networks, where both a performance and an ease of maintenance benefit will be immediately apparent.

Jon Baron, CEO and Co-founder, Tagman

For companies who wish to invest solely in the Google stack, this launch represents a way to start leveraging the benefits a tag management system will bring.

We find that many Google Analytics clients also wish to use technologies not sourced from Google, and it’s those businesses that would likely want an independent tag management system built that works seamlessly across all technologies, such as TagMan does.  

In a the same way that larger clients who use Google Analytics usually invest in an enterprise version of an analytics provider when they need enhanced capabilities and large scale data management, we’re likely to see these same clients requiring a more sophisticated Tag Management System that offers greater customisation options.  

Should companies ideally be using an independent tag management system?

Ali Behnam:

Enterprise organisations should absolutely be using an independent tag management solution as it gives the digital marketer the most flexibility and choice. For one, Google only provides out of the box support for Google products.

Secondly, Google will never have any incentive to integrate with competitive digital marketing technologies, such as Adobe SiteCatalyst.

In fact, according to data included in The ROI of Tag Management report, the number one vendor criterion among those looking for a tag management solution is vendor neutrality, i.e., the ability to work with any technology vendor.

It is not in Google’s best interest to integrate competing solutions for web analytics, retargeting, advertising and more.

Depesh Mandalia: 

Firstly, I believe tag management systems are a must. Many businesses are slow to adapt and this is one change to how websites are managed which I think should become the norm.

There is the argument between in-house tools and independent suppliers. This falls down to how resourced you are to support this. The in-house route could again fall back into the IT bottleneck so I’d personally go for a tried and trusted independent tool.

I imagine Financial Services are the most averse to external technologies so an in-house system will be expected as standard.

Brian Clifton:

I can’t see what difference that makes, which is why the GTM is such a game changer. Of course there are companies that will never share data with Google – think Amazon, Apple, eBay – and so the GTM is not for them.

However, if you are comfortable with GA, then using the GTM makes sense.

Dan Barker:

It depends. I’ve worked with three or four different tag management systems. Some are good and really useful (I’m a big fan of DC Storm for example), some don’t really add a huge amount of value outside of their commodity ‘container tag’ function.

The main reasons people tend to use them are to make it easier to add/remove tags, for deduplicating different marketing channels against each other, for ‘attribution’ purposes, and to give them the ability to alter analytics setup ‘on-the-fly’.

I like GTM and will recommend it to people once I’ve tested it and seen the value. For some of the clients I work with, I think they should carry on using their current systems. For some it may even make sense to do both, as odd as that sounds.

Andrew Hood: 

The reality is that a lot of tagging and data collection is inherently tied to Google already (think DoubleClick), which means companies have an implicit dependency already.

The lack of Service Level Agreement for a free tag management product might make people nervous, but that is probably largely a theoretical risk if you look at Google’s infrastructure scale and their track record for uptime with things like Google Analytics.

Jon Baron: 

Yes. Independent tag management companies work with all vendors. Also an independent tag management system ensures that it will be built with full support of any type of technology in mind, enabling freedom of choice for the client – which is a major reason to have a tag management system in the first place.

In addition with an independent tag management system the data remains the clients, rather than the tag management  providers, advertisers may prefer a system that is not also getting a lion’s share of their media spend.

What does this say about Google’s wider strategy and intentions?

Ali Behnam:

The release of GTM is consistent with Google’s strategy to have its tags spread across all sites and collect as much information as possible, which could then be processed to provide targeted advertising.

Depesh Mandalia: 

Google’s a commercial business, we knew that 10 years ago and we certainly recognise that more today.

Every product Google lands has a direct or indirect commercial edge to it; tag management is, I believe, building the armoury of Google commercial entities such as Analytics, Adwords and AdSense.

Google is making it even easier to choose its products. It’s not going to instantly switch companies away from competitors but over time, each incremental product strengthens the overall offering.

Brian Clifton: 

I would say that it has been clear for a long time that Google wishes to see “optimised” web content deployed on the web in the most simplified/streamlined way possible. Having a TMS makes sense for Google and has been on the cards for some time.

Dan Barker

I don’t think this is one of those things like mobile or social where Google has obviously chosen to place a particular, big strategic push.

But I think it’s a great product that glues together a few of their others very, very nicely and opens up some new opportunities for them.

Here are six benefits of this from Google’s point of view:

  1. It locks website owners in. Once you’ve installed a system like this and customised it, it’s not easy to move away from it.
  2. It gives Google instant knowledge about which tags websites are using, how they’re being used, and alerts them when new tag-based tools start to appear. To be honest that’s probably a bonus rather than a driver.
  3. There’s less chance of Google being intermediated by other people. Container tagging solutions sit at the top of the food chain in terms of tagging. If you own the container tag, you can in theory make it easier for people to deploy your other tags, and harder for them to deploy your competitors’.
  4. It means easier updates. For example, at the moment you can run Google Analytics tags from the Google Analytics server, or you can run them from a DoubleClick server to take advantage of slightly different functionality. At the moment it’s a fiddly job to do that. With GTM they can start to roll out the option to choose things like that at the click of a few buttons.
  5. As @richardfergie pointed out, ‘tags’ are generally related to advertising and analysis. Anything that crosses those two areas likely eventually leads to more money spent on advertising.
  6. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, it would be fairly easy to turn this into an ‘app store’ for websites. If Google launches a new tag-based product today – anything from an advertising tag to a survey tool to a payment system – it will take weeks or months for websites to install the tags in any volume. Once you’re running GTM, it makes that as easy as installing apps on an iPhone.

Andrew Hood: 

Interestingly, tag management creates a data source for the tag management vendor (whether they store or share that or not with their customers).

So part of Google’s strategy here may be to gather basic site data even when a company is using a different analytics package, or indeed prevent other vendors gathering that data by displacing them. 

Jon Baron: 

Google is building a proprietary tech stack for ad technology. However, it has historically been a closed system, meaning interoperability and business transparency have not been a priority as they’ve built out their digital capabilities.

What does this mean for other TMS vendors? Will this be a ‘rising tide to float all boats’ or something which limits their market share?

Ali Behnam:

Google’s entrance into the tag management industry is good for the market in that it validates the entire space and reflects the need for streamlining digital marketing complexity.

It will likely have no impact at the enterprise level given the limited functionality, but may present problems for smaller tag management competitors.

Depesh Mandalia: 

I think this will do a few things. It will provide some real competition to existing vendors and challenge the pricing models potentially quite dramatically. With Google’s offering being free, this may shore up many small and medium size businesses that are more cost sensitive.

The larger businesses will need more persuading since IT changes are more costly (time and resource) and there is often a negative view of ‘free’ products, such as Google Analytics which doesn’t for example allow you to report on 100% visitors on high traffic websites without upgrading to the paid version.

This would be my concern of GTM as to how much of the full functionality is scalable for larger businesses. 

I don’t think existing TMS vendors working with large businesses will instantly panic but it may also lead to additional product innovation to support a paid model which isn’t a bad thing (as long as costs also don’t increase!

Brian Clifton:

That’s a good question, as you know GTM is free. The problem I have seen with the TMS vendors to date is the cost. For one global client trying to manage a GA deployment for 150 domains, I was quoted a six figure annual sum by a TMS vendor. That was obviously ridiculous.

When an industry becomes over-inflated like that, a free product becomes more than attractive. It changes the whole way people perceive “value”. Instead of the product itself being perceived as valuable, the brains that define a tagging strategy, or perform a health-check audit are perceived as more valuable.

GTM is definitely a game changer – similar to the way Google Analytics was when launched in 2005. Like then, I expect the market to consolidate considerably.

Dan Barker

This will help some of the tag management vendors as awareness of the market itself grows, but it will also slowly kill off others.

The tool itself is definitely ‘enterprise class’ and offers more features than some of the current tag management solutions that cost several thousand pounds per year.

But there are some tag management providers who fulfil particular needs and can genuinely add a lot of value that GTM won’t as standard.

For example, I’ve seen some suppliers pulling in offline data, running multi-device attribution, and more. I think those will continue to do well and the launch of GTM will assist them, as they can easily point to the fact that they are ‘like Google Tag Manager only better.’

Andrew Hood: 

This has echoes of the web analytics industry 7-8 years ago: a market is full of loads of vendors, consolidation starts via mergers at the top of the market, Google enters the market with a disruptive product that accelerates that consolidation at the top end, the mid-market players struggle to differentiate and either get acquired (fire sales) or go out of business.

If history continues to repeat itself, we’ll now start to see functionality competition between the “enterprise” tag management solutions and the free Google one.

Jon Baron: 

It validates the market, just as Google Analytics helped validate the web analytics market while Omniture continued to thrive as an enterprise solution.

We believe tag management systems will become a “must-have” for enterprise marketers and Google’s investment in this space only reinforces that. For non-enterprise, long-tail advertisers, Google’s TMS will be a starter product.

However, many businesses will require a true enterprise TMS and it’s those marketers that will look towards companies like TagMan to provide an independent and universal solution.

Econsultancy has published a Tag Management Buyer’s Guide.