Google Tag Manager (GTM) is an invaluable yet often misunderstood tool for marketers. This comprehensive guide will provide you with a complete overview of GTM, when and how to use it, and tips for getting the most out of this powerful tag management system.
For example, A visitor arrives at a landing page, greeted by a welcome message. Next, they navigate to a page where they engage in various activities, such as watching a product video, selecting options, and then proceeding to purchase. Following their purchase, they’re directed to a thank you page. Platforms like Google Analytics automatically track the user’s movement from one page to another, capturing the sequence of their visit.
However, from a marketing perspective, there’s often a need for a deeper understanding of the customer’s path. It’s not merely about acknowledging that the customer viewed the landing page, the details page, and then the thank you page.
The actual journey involves more interaction: the customer lands on the page, clicks a button, engages with a video (possibly starting, pausing, and completing it to some extent), makes a selection from various options, hits the ‘buy now’ button, and, following a successful transaction, lands on the thank you page. This is a far more intricate and detailed pathway taken by your customer or user.
Traditional tools like Google Analytics are limited in capturing the full spectrum of these actions. They’re not designed to provide a complete view of such a detailed and nuanced customer journey.
What Is Google Tag Manager and Why Is It Useful?
Put simply, Google Tag Manager allows you to deploy marketing and analytics tags on your website without coding. It acts as a layer between your website and various 3rd party scripts, providing a GUI for managing tags rather than hard-coding them.
Some key benefits of using GTM include:
- No coding required – Marketers can deploy tracking pixels, scripts, data layers etc. without needing developers. This makes updates and changes much faster.
- Centralized management – All your tags are managed via one intuitive interface rather than scattered throughout code.
- Cross-platform capabilities – GTM can be used across websites, mobile apps, and beyond. The same container can be leveraged across platforms.
- Improved data collection – Collect more insightful data on user interactions thanks to greater tag implementation flexibility.
- Debugging capabilities – Preview and debug tags to ensure they are working as intended before publishing changes.
For marketers, GTM revolutionizes how you can deploy and manage analytics and marketing tags on your site without waiting on developers. Everything from collecting data to remarketing to A/B testing is made simpler with Google Tag Manager.
How Does Google Tag Manager Work?
At a high level, GTM uses “containers” to manage when and how tags are deployed on your site. Here’s an overview of how GTM functions:
What are Containers in Tag Manager?
A container houses your tags, triggers, and variables – essentially your entire GTM configuration. It’s the engine that determines when and how each tag fires on your site. You can have multiple containers per site if needed.
What are Tags in Tag Manager?
Tags are the marketing, analytics, and other scripts you want to deploy. Each tag has an associated trigger defining when that tag should fire.
What are Triggers in Tag Manager?
Triggers specify the condition or event that causes a tag to fire – page views, button clicks, form submissions etc.
What are Variables in Tag Manager?
Variables allow you to dynamically pass data into tags – for example, using a variable to populate your Facebook pixel with the page URL.
After setting up and configuring a container in the GTM interface, an installable code snippet is generated that you add to every page on your site. This allows GTM to load and fire tags according to your configured triggers and variables.
Difference Between Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics
A common point of confusion is the difference between Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics. While complementary, these serve different purposes:
- Google Analytics – Used to collect, measure, and report on user behavior data like sessions, conversions, etc. Requires you to add the tracking code directly to site pages.
- Google Tag Manager – Tool to deploy your Google Analytics tracking code (and other scripts). Lets you manage tags through a GUI rather than code changes.
GTM and GA work great together, with GTM typically being used to easily deploy your GA tracking code across your site. But GTM can also deploy tags for tools like Facebook, Hotjar, remarketing pixels, and much more.
Google Tag Manager is a distinct tool that operates independently from Google Analytics. Its primary role is not to analyze data but to facilitate the collection of data from websites, which it can then relay to various platforms, including Google Analytics. The Tag Manager can also transmit this data to other services like Facebook, enabling the integration of Facebook pixels, or to advertising platforms such as Google Ads.
Thus, Google Tag Manager serves as a neutral conduit that captures and forwards data; it is not inherently tied to any particular analytics or storage service. It is important to note that Google Tag Manager itself does not retain data or generate analytical reports. Instead, it relies on other platforms to perform data storage and analysis.
So remember – GA for analytics data, GTM for tag management and deployment.
Deciding If You Need Google Tag Manager
Given its flexibility and broad capabilities, GTM can provide value for most websites. That said, here are some signals indicating you may benefit from implementing GTM:
- You want to add/edit tracking codes frequently without developers
- Your website uses many different marketing and analytics tools
- Cross-platform usage – website, mobile app, etc.
- Frequent tagging inaccuracies or errors to troubleshoot
- Adding dataLayers for enhanced analytics
- Regular A/B or split testing of new tracking codes
Conversely, if your tag needs are simple or static, GTM may be overkill. For example, a small business site with just basic GA tracking and a Facebook pixel may not get tremendous value from GTM just yet.
Evaluate your needs – if you can check several boxes above, odds are GTM can help streamline your tag management.
How to Install Google Tag Manager on Your Site
Google Tag Manager consists of two distinct script parts. The first segment is embedded within the ‘head’ tag of your webpage, which is active during a browser session. Here, alongside the Google Tag Manager script, you might place other scripts for A/B testing, such as Visual Website Optimizer or Optimizely. The second script is inserted within the ‘body’ tag, which supports various other tags that compile the main content displayed on your webpage.
To start using GTM, you first need to install the container code on your site. Here are the steps:
1. Sign up and create a GTM account
Head to tagmanager.google.com and sign in with your Google account. If you don’t have an account, you’ll need to create one.
2. Create a container
Once signed in, click “+ New Container” to create and name your first container. Make sure the container type is “web”.
3. Configure container settings
- Enter your website domain so GTM can properly configure the code snippet.
- Choose container usage permission settings if using GTM across accounts or teams.
- Select a container workspace – either default or (recommended) create a new workspace.
4. Copy container snippet
Inside your new container, copy the generated tag manager container snippet. You’ll need to paste this across every page of your site.
5. Add snippet to your site
There are a few options for adding the GTM container snippet on your pages:
- Plugin – A plugin like DuracellTomi’s GTM for WordPress makes implementation easy.
- Web editor – Manually add the code through a site editor like WordPress.
- Code push – Have your developers add the snippet via a code push to your site.
- Tag manager UI – Some tag managers let you automatically implement the GTM container via their UI.
You want your GTM snippet loaded right after the opening
<body> tag. Once added everywhere, you are ready to start creating tags!
Essential Google Tag Manager Terminology
Before starting to use GTM, it helps to understand some key terminology:
- Account – Your overarching GTM login housing your various containers.
- Container – Where your tags, triggers, and variables are configured and stored for a site.
- Workspace – Different environments in a container for developing changes before publishing live.
- Tag – A script or tracking code deployed on your site via GTM.
- Trigger – The event or condition that causes a tag to be fired.
- Variable – Dynamic values that populate tags based on your parameters.
- Data Layer – Objects used to pass data on the site into GTM for use in tags/triggers.
Familiarizing yourself with these terms will make navigating GTM much easier.
Getting Started Building Your First Tags
When you first access your new container, the interface can seem overwhelming. Here’s a simplified step-by-step process for creating your first tag:
1. Create a trigger
Triggers determine when a tag will fire. For example, you may want a tag to fire on all pageviews.
- Click “Triggers” on the left menu and click “+ New” to create a trigger.
- Select a trigger type – often the “All Pages” trigger works as a starting point.
- Configure the trigger settings.
- Save the trigger.
2. Create a tag
Now that you have a trigger, you can create a tag to fire based on that trigger event.
- Click “Tags” on the left menu and click “+ New”.
- Select a tag type – for example, Google Analytics or Google Ads.
- Name your tag for easy reference.
- Select your previously created trigger to associate it.
- Configure any tag-specific settings required.
- Save the tag.
3. Publish and test
With your trigger and tag created, you can publish and test:
- Publish your changes to the “live” workspace.
- Preview your live site to ensure the tag is firing as expected.
- Use Google Tag Assistant Chrome extension to validate.
Add additional triggers and tags to meet all your needs. Google Tag Manager enables you to easily build upon your implementation over time.
7 Google Tag Manager Best Practices
Mastering GTM requires understanding some key best practices. Here are 7 tips for GTM success:
1. Start with a plan
Determine your goals and needs with GTM before diving in so you build an optimal configuration. Audit your existing tags and identify new tags you want to implement.
2. Use descriptive naming conventions
Name your containers, workspaces, triggers, variables etc. in a way that you and others can easily understand. For example, site-section-scroll-trigger or first-time-visitor-variable.
3. Implement on all pages
Add the GTM container snippet on every single page. Often missed pages like 404s, confirmation pages, etc can lead to incomplete data.
4. Use a separate container per site
Unless you have mirrored sites sharing all tags, use different GTM containers for each of your websites for easier management.
5. Limit container access
Be thoughtful about who has access and editing abilities within each container to avoid accidental changes.
6. Test every change
Preview and test every tag you add or edit before pushing live to catch any errors. Don’t rely solely on the GTM preview mode.
7. Clean regularly
Audit your tags, triggers, and variables regularly. Remove unused ones and ensure everything is organized efficiently.
Following Google Tag Manager best practices will optimize your implementation and prevent common issues.
10 Google Tag Manager Tips and Tricks
Beyond best practices, there are also an array of tips and tricks to better leverage GTM:
- Utilize built-in debugging tools – Use Tag Assistant and GTM’s debugger to validate tags are firing as expected.
- Create reusable triggers – Build triggers that can be leveraged across multiple tags for efficiency.
- Learn lookup tables – Lookup tables allow matching custom criteria to fire specific tags.
- Automate with APIs and webhooks – GTM REST API and webhooks enable automation for advanced implementations.
- Implement Google Optimize – Easily deploy Google Optimize A/B testing with tags for improved optimization.
- Enhance analytics with dataLayer – Push enhanced data into the dataLayer for better analysis in Google Analytics.
- Troubleshoot with tagging – Use custom HTML tags to temporarily add debugging snippets during troubleshooting.
- Manage environments with workspaces – Build tags in a development workspace prior to pushing live for added safety.
- Integrate with Google Analytics – Connect your GA and GTM accounts for seamless interaction and data sharing.
- Segment users – Create user type variables for tailored triggering based on new vs returning visitor etc.
Mastering these tips and tricks will take your Google Tag Manager skills to the next level.
Common Google Tag Manager Mistakes to Avoid
As with any platform, there are also some common pitfalls to avoid with GTM:
- Not thoroughly testing tags before publishing live
- Failing to properly set up ecommerce tracking for analytics
- Using the same container for multiple sites that should be separate
- Neglecting to add the container code to every single page
- Overlooking the impact of caching on tag firing
- Inconsistent naming conventions making management tricky
- Lacking formal user permissions and access controls
- Confusing the difference between Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager
- Trying to override optimization tools instead of integrating them
- Not cleaning up old unused tags and triggers regularly
Being mindful of these mistakes will help you avoid significant issues and ensure maximum success with Google Tag Manager.
Implementing Google Tag Manager for the first time can feel daunting. But by following this comprehensive guide, you’ll understand exactly how GTM works and how to optimize it for your needs. Start with a plan for your tags and data layer. Use descriptive naming and keep your containers organized. Test rigorously. And make sure your developers properly add the snippet site-wide.
Initially focus on foundational implementations like Google Analytics tracking. Over time you can enhance with custom events, dataLayer, automation, and more advanced integrations.
As with any platform, mastering Google Tag Manager requires hands-on experience and learning. But with this guide as your reference, you have the foundation to start successfully managing tags in GTM. The benefit for marketers and analysts in understanding user behavior and optimizing experiences is immense.
Google Tag Manager FAQs
What are some examples of tags I can use in Google Tag Manager?
Some common tag examples include Google Analytics tracking, Facebook pixels, heat mapping tools like Hotjar or Crazyegg, remarketing/audience pixels, A/B testing platforms, and any other scripts for marketing, analytics, or optimization.
Do I still need Google Analytics if I’m using Google Tag Manager?
Yes, GTM and GA work hand-in-hand. Use GTM to deploy your Analytics tracking codes, then leverage GA for collecting and reporting on behavior data.
How do I add Google Tag Manager to WordPress sites?
Plugins like DuracellTomi’s Google Tag Manager for WordPress make implementation easy. Alternatively, the snippet could be manually added to your theme header.
What’s the best way to test changes in Google Tag Manager?
Preview mode allows live testing of changes in GTM. For true validation, the Google Tag Assistant Chrome extension is invaluable.
Is Google Tag Manager free?
Yes! The Google Tag Manager platform is 100% free, unlike some competitor tools. The only cost consideration is your time and resources spent managing it.