What is the Data Layer?

Posted by Ciro Alvarez, Senior Developer on February 6, 2020

The data layer is the technical infrastructure that websites tap into to send and receive information and deploy applications. What does that mean in normal human speak? 

The data layer is the middleman between the webpage that users see and interact with and the third-party applications behind the scenes that make the page function. It takes in requests for information, gathers the information, and tells the page exactly what to display. If we think about a webpage as a painting – think of the browser as a blank canvas, the applications as the paint, and the data layer as the paintbrush.

A website’s user experience relies on three basic layers of the internet: 

experience-layer

 

Experience Layer - This is the webpage that users see and interact with. This is generally the only part of your website anyone besides you or your Dev team will ever see. 

 



data-layer

 

Data Layer - The data layer is a JavaScript array (storage device) that lives behind the experience layer on your computer’s browser and processes information requests between the experience layer and the application layer. It is a repository for the data that applications use.



application-layer



Application Layer
- This is where your website functionality vendors (such as: website chat, analytics, content personalization, and display advertising) live.

 

 


Here’s How All the Layers Work Together: 

Now that you know what each layer does on its own, let’s see how all the layers work together to get the job done. 

We’ll use content personalization as an example.

When someone from Company X visits your website, a piece of JavaScript code, referred to as a tag, sends a request for information from the vendors in the application layer. The information is sent from the experience layer, through the data layer, and ultimately to the application layer.

data-layer-stack1


This is where the website’s IP data vendor takes the visitor’s IP address and calls their IP database to gather firmographic information about the visitor, such as company name, industry, revenue, etc. 

The IP address vendor pushes this firmographic data to the data layer, enabling it to be used by the content personalization application to run.

application-layer-2


The directions of exactly what to personalize on the website are then sent back through the data layer and displayed on the experience layer.

The visitor is then presented with a highly personalized and relevant browsing experience based on company attributes like their company name, industry, revenue, employee count, etc. As a result, the visitor is much more likely to engage deeper with your website, and ultimately reach out to your sales team.

data-layer-stack2


Why is the Data Layer Important?

Whether you know it or not, your website constantly interacts with the data layer. It passes information back and forth between your website and the applications that make it run. The beauty of the data layer is that instead of having to facilitate and maintain 10 different applications running on your website at any given time, the data layer makes it possible to simply have all the data needed by these apps in one place. 

 

Tag Managers 

Don’t let the picture of the data layer fool you, it’s not just for your Dev team. Many teams across your organization can benefit from utilizing the data layer on your website, and if you use a tag manager, it’s a lot less technical than you might think. 

Tag Managers are tools that allow you to manage and deploy application tags on your site without having to change the website’s code. Once installed, tag managers are the conductors of the symphony, making sure that the right app gets the data it needs from the data layer, and in turn, passes back the requested information to the experience layer. Thus ensuring the data from the experience layer to the application layer flows smoothly. The beauty of tag managers is that they do all of this without the need for dev resources. 

So let’s say your marketing team wants website analytics. Using a tag manager, instead of knowing how to code everything yourself, you can simply pick and choose what you want on a page, copy and paste a small snippet of code onto your page footer, and boom you’re done!

 

In Conclusion

The data layer is the unsung hero of your website. It provides a solid foundation for the constant flow of data between your website and all the wonderful applications that allow your site to draw in and convert potential buyers. With a well-built data layer and a tag manager running the show, your website will be able to take full advantage of all the cutting edge technologies available and enable it to become the sales and marketing powerhouse that it can be.