Picking a Tag Management Solution: Google Tag Manager vs. Tealium

March 27, 2019

A tag management solution (TMS) allows both marketers and developers to implement and update tracking tags through a user interface rather than by hard-coding scripts individually.

Within the TMS interface, tags can be set up with custom variables and custom triggers, making future tag updates quicker and easier, as well as providing high level visibility to the current overall tag setup.

In the early days of tracking script implementation, every tag from every vendor would need to be hard-coded individually within the site code. Many tags, such as Google Analytics and the Facebook universal pixel, needed to be placed on all pages, in addition to having separate events pushed for various KPIs. These hard-coded scripts would need to be placed in the site code by the software development team and would then get added to the next code push before being made live. This created a bottleneck and resulted in loss of tracking while waiting for new tags or updates to be implemented and pushed live. A tag management solution solves these issues and allow updates to be implemented by marketers and published independently from a code push.

This article will look at two tag managers that I encounter most frequently: Google Tag Manager and Tealium. I will highlight a few pros and cons of each solution to help you decide which tool is the best fit for you.

Google Tag Manager 

Google Tag Manager is a free tag management solution that only requires a Google account to get started. It’s the most commonly used TMS due to its no-cost aspect and offers tag templates for Google’s own tracking tags, in addition to a few other common tags. The three main sections within the user interface are “Variables,” “Triggers” and “Tags.” The “Variables” section is where data is pulled in from the website, such as page URL or click text for a button, which are built-in variables. Custom variables, such as a Purchase Transaction ID, can also be pulled in from a variety of sources, most commonly from the data layer, URL fragment or first-party cookie. 

“Triggers” define when the tag will fire and can be set up based on specific page URLs, custom events or form submissions. Once a trigger is configured, it can be applied to all tags that need to fire at that same point, which saves setup time. The “Tags” section is where the actual script is placed and configured. For templated tags, there are configuration options that allow you to easily customize how that script fires, such as adding Custom Dimensions to a Google Analytics script. Google Tag Manager also has the ability to add custom HTML scripts for any tags that do not have templates. The custom HTML option also allows for more complex implementations, like running JavaScript A/B landing page tests. However, these types of setups typically require advanced programming knowledge. 

Tealium 

Tealium is an enterprise-level TMS with advanced implementation features and dedicated technical support. One of the main advantages of Tealium is its robust offering of over 1,000 tag templates, which is always expanding as additional tags are released. Another perk to Tealium is its “CMS Provider Bundle” feature, which will add key information such as page name and page description automatically to the data layer after the user provides information on the CMS used to build the site. 

Tealium also has a built-in jQuery Selector to track jQuery events on-site, without the need for custom scripting. These are just a few highlights of the advanced offerings of Tealium. The main sections within the user interface are “Data Layer,” “Load Rules,” “Tags” and “Extensions.” These sections correspond closely to the Google Tag Manager sections described earlier, with the key difference being the presence of the “Extensions” section. The Extensions section is where advanced features like variable manipulation, currency conversion, modal overlay insertion and cryptographic hashing can be configured without having to write out complex code. 

Google Tag Manager vs. Tealium 

Google Tag Manager and Tealium offer similar functionality in terms of getting popular tags set up and recording data. The two systems also have subtle nuances; for example, in GTM, multiple triggers can be added to one tag and the tag will fire if any of the triggers are met, whereas with Tealium, if two separate load rules are added for one tag, both load rules must be met in order for the tag to fire. This results in an occasional need to create separate load rules for specific tags in Tealium. These types of differences are highly subjective and the preference for one TMS over the other typically lands with whichever system a user has the most familiarity with. I’m most familiar with GTM and, in my experience, it’s easier to navigate, with all areas in the UI offering a search bar at the top. I also find it much easier to implement custom scripts that don’t have a pre-defined template within Google Tag Manager. 

Conversely, Tealium categorizes by labels and doesn’t offer a filtered results list in the “Tags” section of the UI. Tealium also requires the custom teplate to be modified if a tag that isn’t included in the list of tag templates needs to be added. The Tealium custom template is 121 lines of code with three main sections that need to be edited to add the custom script, resulting in a much longer implementation time when compared to GTM. Where Tealium shines, though, is that it features over 1,000 tag templates, so only rarely is it necessary to have to add a custom script. Google Tag Manager only has about 80 tags, so you will need to utilize its custom HTML container more often. Fortunately, the custom HTML container in GTM is very user-friendly. 

Another aspect that GTM makes easier than Tealium is its solution to the Safari “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” update, which requires no change to the existing AdWords and DoubleClick templated tags and just requires one additional “Conversion Linker” tag to be added to all pages. In Tealium, all previously-existing DoubleClick and AdWords tags need to be recreated with the “Global Tag” template. From there, the tag needs to be configured to fire on all pages and conversion events need to be mapped in the “Data Mappings” section using UDO variables with the value acting as a load rule utilizing the “Data Value” extension. This gets very confusing, especially when revisiting the tag after initial implementation, since the UDO value acting as the load rule is viewed within the “Extensions” screen, causing a lot of back and forth navigation to get a handle on where the event is firing. 

One other feature that I really like about Google Tag Manager is that it auto-saves all updates in the “Preview” workspace. Tealium requires updates to be saved manually and has an auto sign-out feature after a period of inactivity. There have been times when I’ve been working on a Tealium implementation and had to switch to an urgent project for a few hours and, upon returning to Tealium, realized I had been signed out and my changes weren’t saved. A big advantage Tealium has over GTM is access to support representatives because it’s a paid service. Tealium definitely has a place for users that want access to support representatives or would utilize the advanced features of the “Extensions” section; however, I rarely find the need for the advanced features in my day-to-day use. 

The advancement of tag management technology makes the lives of marketers and developers far easier. Whether you choose Google Tag Manager, Tealium or another TMS, having a central platform to view and manage all tags across a site is far more efficient and beneficial than individually hard-coding them. I would highly suggest implementing a TMS if you are still hard-coding marketing tags on your website. 

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