What is tag management?

Published Jun 1 2023 Last updated Jun 1 2023 5 minute read
what is tag management

Check out the source code on your favorite website, and you'll probably notice strings of code like "spotlight tag" and "floodlight tag" — also known as marketing or tracking tags. This code, written in JavaScript, has nothing to do with how a website functions! Instead, marketers leave these tags in the source code to track and collect data from website visitors. 

So what is tag management? Well, it's the process of placing and managing all those tags so marketers can generate insights about the people who visit their sites. That helps marketers know whether they are tracking their KPIs properly. As you're about to find out, a tag management system makes this process so much easier. 

This useful guide helps you answer the question, "What is tag management in digital marketing?" and learn the benefits of enterprise tag management solutions in your business. 

What is a tag management system?

Traditionally, if marketers wanted to track something on a website or app, they would have to ask developers to place or edit tags in the site's source code. Unfortunately, this process requires adding complicated JavaScript code for each tag you want to add, and ensuring these are triggered at the right point and don't conflict with each other. This level of coding skill is one many marketers lack this level of coding skill, so they frequently relied on developers to add each tag.

Now, marketers can add or edit tags on websites and mobile apps themselves, thanks to a tag management systems, which are also sometimes called tag managers. This marketing technology automates the tasks associated with tag management, allowing you to manage the tags on your website with minimal coding skills, only requiring one piece of Javascript to be added by a developer, the tag manager itself! And the best tag management systems deploy tags properly so they don't interfere with website elements like page loading times. 

How does a tag management solution work?

To understand how tag management solutions work, it's first important to quickly explain what tags actually are. These are short snippets of JavaScript code added to a web page to collect first-party data for digital marketing. 

Related reading: Third-party vs. second-party vs. first-party data

A tag management system helps you deploy tags via a web interface, so you don't need to write or edit any code. Typically, you add, remove, or change tags through a drag-and-drop or point-and-click interface, making tag management easier. 

A tag manager works by creating a container — which Google defines as a "collection of tags, triggers, variables, and related configurations" — based on the information you give to your tag manager. These containers make it possible for tag management systems to place tracking tags on your website.

Once you (or a developer) has placed a single piece of code onto your website, you can then add as many tags as you wish. The tag manager does all the heavy lifting, and removes the manual code insertion associated with tag management. However, you need to add tracking scripts from your website to a container through your tag management system account so the container knows what to track.

There are two tag deployment methods used by tag management solutions:

  • Asynchronous deployment
  • Synchronous deployment

Asynchronous deployment

Asynchronous deployment means a tag manager places a single line of JavaScript at the top of a web page, allowing tags to load at a separate time from other elements on that page. This can actually speed up page loading times and provide a better user experience for visitors.

Synchronous deployment

Synchronous deployment means a tag manager places two lines of JavaScript on your web page — one line at the top of the page and one line at the bottom. That allows tags to load at the same time as other elements on the page, meaning the page won't load until the tags do. That can slow down page loading times. 

So should you use asynchronous or synchronous deployment in your tag manager? The former is probably your best bet for tracking data from website visitors, as they will be less likely to hit the 'back' button on their browsers because of slow-loading pages. The latter is a good choice for A/B testing, helping you decide if one version of a webpage outperforms another.  

What do tag managers track?

A tag management system won't track anything on your website unless its container has tracking scripts from your website. A JavaScript object called a data layer, which lies between the system's experience and application layer, passes tracking information from your website, such as customer variables and attributes, to the container. Then you can add and edit tags from the system's user interface. 

Client-side vs server-side tagging and conversion APIs

Talking about tag management, you should know the difference between client-side and server-side tagging. Client-side tagging is when you place tracking code on the client side of a website — in other words, the website visitor's device. This tag management method is the quickest and allows for real-time tracking. Server-side tagging involves placing tracking code on a website's server. This can improve data privacy because data comes directly from the server and not the user's device. 

Related reading: The future depends on server-side tagging

Many tag managers will place tracking code either on the client or server side, depending on your chosen technique. Others will focus on one method or the other. Regardless of whether you use client-side or server-side tracking, conversion APIs can connect tracking data to third-party analytics platforms, allowing you to generate conversion insights from website visitor information. For example, you can learn how many conversions your landing pages generate within a specific period. 

Related reading: What exactly are conversion APIs?

Why are tag management systems so popular?

Tag managers are becoming increasingly popular because they streamline tag management. It's that simple. Why write JavaScript from scratch to track visitor behavior when a tag management system can do it for you?

Tag managers let you add and edit tags without going through your IT department. No more JavaScript. No more relying on engineers. More time spent on other marketing tasks! 

Here are some of the benefits of tag management systems:

  • Quickly add, edit, and delete tags without code
  • Quicker web page loading times
  • Enhanced data accuracy 
  • Better change management and team coordination–with multiple workspaces, you can see changes between published container versions and manage and track many tags simultaneously.
  • Many tag managers let you improve data governance when managing website visitor information, helping you comply with frameworks like GDPR and CCPA.

Once you start using tag management solutions, you can compare website visitors against your KPIs and improve your marketing campaigns. For example, find out how customers engage with your web pages at different points in your marketing funnel. 

Related reading: 2023's top marketing KPIs explained

Choosing the right tag management solution

There are multiple tag managers on the market, and you'll want to choose one with a simple learning curve and drag-and-drop or point-and-click user interface. Also, choose a tag management system that lets you run and deploy tags without impacting the performance or structure of your web pages. 

Here are some of the most popular tag managers right now:

Google Tag Manager

Here's an interesting stat that might surprise you: 47.1% of all websites now use Google Tag Manager, which allows marketers to add and edit tags for analytics and conversion tracking. It's understandable why Google has the most popular tag management system — it's free and integrates seamlessly with Google Analytics. It also provides fast tag loading, security features, and error checking. 

Related reading: Learn Google Analytics 4 with this list of top resources

Adobe Experience Platform Launch

Abode's tag manager has a simple interface and requires absolutely no code, making it a good entry point for businesses wanting to improve tag management. Free for Abode Experience Cloud customers, Experience Platform Launch also integrates with other Adobe products that provide insights into your marketing.

Tealium iQ

This product has a more difficult learning curve than Google Tag Manager and Adobe Experience Platform Launch but offers over 950 integrations with ecommerce platforms, content management systems, and customer relationship management systems. Tealium IQ promises faster tag deployments, increased marketing agility, and advanced security, helping you keep website visitor information safe from bad actors. 


Jentis is a data capture platform that can improve tag management in your organization with its wide range of features, such as advanced server-side tracking, data privacy, and data sovereignty. The company also provides lots of documentation on its website, helping you get more value from this tool. 

Worth keeping an eye on too - Zaraz

From what we’ve heard, Cloudflare is making a move with its Zaraz product. It’s the type of candidate in this list you may want to check out or research for yourself.

What is tag management? Final word

Long gone are the days when marketers had to rely on IT teams to add and edit code. Tag management systems make this process simple by running and deploying tags based on your tracking requirements. As a result, you can generate more information about the people who visit your web pages and improve marketing outcomes. 

Want to work smarter with your marketing data?
Discover Funnel