Unlocking the Data Layer: An Introduction

January 13, 2017 Jason Call

No doubt you’ve heard the term “data layer” before. And you may never stop hearing about it. The data layer has revolutionized the way that companies collect, organize and distribute data to their various marketing applications.

But what actually is it? And why does everyone keep telling you to get one?

Here, take a look at one:

var dataLayer = {
“pageTitle” : “Receipt Page”,
“pageURL” : “/pages/checkout/receipt”,
“pageCat” : “Checkout Pages”,
“PageCat2” : “”,
“tranID” : “17658726382”,
“tranTotal” : “34.95”,
“tranTax” : “0.00”,
“tranShipping” : “0.00”,
“tranShippingMethod” : “USPS”,
“tranCurrency” : “USD”,
“tranProds” : “249|398”,
“tranSKUs” : “249-32|398-12”,
“tranProdNames” : “Kids Onsie|Kids Lava Lamp”,
“tranCategories” : “Kids|Kids”,
“tranPayMethod” : “VISA”,
“visitorType” : “RETURN”,
“visitorState” : “Logged In”,
“visitorFirstPurchDate” : “20111205”,
“visitorFirstProds” : “822”


Source: Make Analytics Better with Tag Management and a Data Layer by Justin Cutroni

Did that help? Probably not. The data layer is a pretty cryptic subject, but in the end, it’s important that decision-makers come to understand why investing in one is critical.

So whether you’re a decision-maker wondering why your analyst keeps bothering you about this, or you’re the analyst doing the bothering, this blog post will give you a basic introduction to the elusive subject that is “Data Layer.”

Simple Explanation of the Data Layer

To put it simply, a data layer is a piece of code that is a repository for structured data. It is a JavaScript object or variable that gathers and redistributes your most essential data to all the vendors in your MarTech stack.

You’ve heard of tag management, right? The data layer was created to streamline TMS-based data collection processes by bringing together all data into one location, to then be accessed by each marketing technology.

Let me give you an example. Suppose your MarTech stack is comprised of the following applications:

  • Adobe Analytics
  • Optimizely
  • Marketo
  • Demandbase
  • Salesforce
  • Google AdWords

If you’re using a tag management system like Adobe DTM, the code for each of these technologies is deployed onto your site based on certain pre-defined criteria. For example, DTM might deploy an account-based marketing tag from Demandbase that looks something like this:

<script async=”” id=”demandbase_js_lib” src=”https://scripts.demandbase.com/Pziofhx9.min.js“></script>

This tag contains script which runs on the site to gather the data that it needs. Without a data layer, each technology is responsible for collecting its own data, namely data about the content of the page and data about user behavior.

Having each marketing technology gather its own data is problematic, to say the least. Differing definitions of user events and changing HTML structures can interfere with this process.

The purpose of the data layer is to resolve this issue. The data layer is built and populated independent of the DOM or the marketing applications, giving you more control over definitions of user events and offering pre-defined data about the content of the page.

Implementing a data layer is a serious investment, but if you pride yourself in trustworthy data and efficient operations, it is definitely worth considering. In the long run a data layer will increase IT efficiency, expand marketing autonomy and give you cleaner, more trustworthy data.

For a more detailed explanation of how to implement a data layer, and of how ObservePoint’s solution can help you validate your data layer and other marketing technologies, check out the on-demand webinar Best Practices for Building a Dynamic Data Layer” by Mike Plant and Jason Call.


About the Author

Jason Call

Jason caught the “digital marketing bug” over ten years ago when his music went viral, and he became the first unsigned artist to reach a million downloads on the internet. Since then, he has devoted his career to mastering analytics and providing actionable insights for hundreds of clients, spanning many industries and verticals.

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