Data Layers: From Buzzword to Best Practice

If you’re a member of the ever-growing digital marketing community, then chances are you’ve come across the term “data layer.” There’s been a lot of buzz about data layers throughout the industry recently, and with good reason.

This past December, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published its standard for implementing a digital data layer on a website. This W3C standard, which was the result of a collaboration among many leaders in the industry, represents a very important (and exciting) moment for the digital marketing community. Given the recent rise in popularity of enterprise tag management systems—including Adobe’s own amazing and free dynamic tag management (DTM) product—the deployment of a digital data layer on your digital properties makes collecting and handling your most crucial data points easier (and more powerful) than ever.

Essentially, the W3C specifies a digital data layer as a JavaScript object that’s placed on the pages (or on specific events) throughout your website. At face value, that’s actually not unlike the “s” object that Adobe SiteCatalyst uses for its data collection. The main difference is that of structure. To further explain this point, let’s look at an example.

I’ve included two code snippets below for an article page from a fictional media site “” The first example follows the traditional method of SiteCatalyst data capture, which relies on the familiar props, eVars, and events. The second example shows what the same data points look like within a digital data layer.

As you can see, there’s a solid structure to the elements within Example 2’s digital data layer. This structure is known as JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), and is handled by a Web browser in the same manner as the SiteCatalyst code in Example 1. JSON is a subset of JavaScript, so any browser (or device) that can read and interpret Javascript can do the same with JSON objects.

Within the digital data layer, the typical props/eVars/events have been replaced by contextual elements that can be easily understood by developers and marketers alike. This helps reduce confusion when determining which variables are placed on which page, and fosters a universal understanding of your digital marketing strategy. It also globally defines your strategy’s framework. That is, the data layer becomes your standard for deployment—meaning that the coding structure will never change, unless new data elements are introduced.

The digital data layer’s real power comes when you combine it with an enterprise tag manager, like our phenomenal DTM. When the elements of the digital data layer are captured and handled by an enterprise tag manager, they can be sent to any digital marketing tool that you host within your tag management system. So, while the above data layer elements can be easily mapped to the appropriate SiteCatalyst variables within DTM, you can also share those components with any other tool that DTM hosts! If you want to synchronize this data with SiteCatalyst, Test & Target, Audience Manager, or any third-party digital marketing tool that might benefit from the data, you can do it easily!

To sum up—deploying a digital data layer is quickly becoming recognized as a best practice for collecting digital marketing data and sharing it in a standard method across all of the tools in your digital marketing arsenal. To learn more about how you can benefit from implementing a digital data layer—and about the power and flexibility that DTM provides—reach out to your Adobe Account Representative today! And, in an upcoming blog post, I’ll show you how the elements of a digital data layer are consumed by DTM and ultimately mapped to SiteCatalyst variables. Don’t miss it!