Can Tag Management Systems and A/B Testing Tools Play Nice?

Tips for running your testing program via an enterprise tag management system
By Michael Galvez and Sean Dawson

Most enterprise marketing and analytics teams have a tag management system (TMS) implemented on their site. Along with a data layer, it’s become digital table stakes in the ultra-competitive marketing cloud landscape.

For the uninitiated, a TMS is designed to help manage the deployment and maintenance of third-party digital marketing tags. At it’s most basic level, it acts as a JavaScript container to fire tags, so that marketers and developers don’t need to touch the page code every time they want to add a new campaign tag or technology. The data layer sits between the application and experience layer and surfaces data from the customer experience to vendors at the application layer.

A key feature of a TMS is that marketing tags can be loaded in parallel (asynchronously) with the web page. This reduces overall load times and the risk of a marketing tag slowing down or blocking a page from loading.

However, your testing tool interacts with web pages in a fundamentally different way, which can cause problems for both your site experience and testing program.

Since test treatments alter the user interface, swap content and creative, and add personalized elements to the page based on custom segments, you typically want to finish loading the testing tool snippet (synchronously) before continuing to load the rest of your page code.

Addressing Asynchronous Flicker via TMS

If your testing tool snippet is not loaded synchronously, tests may cause content flashing or page flickering. There are workarounds like hiding the page element affected by the test treatment until the snippet is loaded. Some testing tools include this functionality, but you also may need to code this separately.

Avoiding Compromised Testing Results

Beyond the flicker, a more serious issue that occurs is a visitor being counted in a test despite not seeing the test experience. When a page loads asynchronously, the element you want to change may not exist on the page (yet). To avoid this, your testing team needs to include a function in the test treatment to check if the element exists before trying to make the changes.

Which TMS should I use?

No matter your optimization tool, you’ll need to make sure that your TMS supports synchronously loading tags. Depending on your TMS, some A/B testing tool/TMS integrations are easier than others, and some will require extra development time. As you consider testing platforms or TMS, look for platforms that offer partnerships or proven integrations. If all else fails, consider deploying your testing tool in the <HEAD> outside of your tag management system.

If you’re struggling to get your testing program off the ground via a tag management system, contact us for a free tagging consultation today.

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