What Is Google Tag Manager & When Do You Use It?
By Marc Amigone
If you’re a marketer here in the back-end of 2019, you’ve probably had to deal with a tracking code or two in your time. Whether it’s for a marketing automation tool like HubSpot, a tracking pixel for an advertising platform like Facebook or Google Ads, or the code for behavior-tracking software like Lucky Orange, Hotjar, Crazy Egg, or even just Google Analytics, tracking codes are the street signs of the web — they’re everywhere and most people just take them for granted.
Tracking codes are so ubiquitous because they’re essential to the core functionality of all digital marketing: they enable all of the various software platforms marketers employ to track website visitors’ behavior.
Most marketers don’t think much about these tags beyond when they initially install them. Once we’re collecting the data from the tracking codes, they’re in set-it-and-forget-it mode — and we only really worry about them if something all of the sudden stops working.
You may be thinking, yup, sounds familiar, what’s wrong with doing things that way?
If one tracking code doesn’t play nice with another, it could disrupt the data you’re collecting or, worse, temporarily prevent your website from loading altogether. What do you do if the person who regularly manages the technical side of your website is unavailable (or just charges you by the hour for everything they work on)?
What if I told you there was a tool that could deploy all of those tracking codes for you without you ever having to get into the code of your website, and without slowing down your site performance? Imagine it would let you activate and deactivate individual tracking codes, test them before they go live, and give you a deeper, more granular capability to trigger them in response to specific behaviors people exhibit on your website.
Sound like a useful tool, right? Well, the smart folks at Google agree with you, which is why they created Google Tag Manager!
Google Tag Manager (GTM) gives marketers three distinct capabilities:
- Manage and deploy tags (think: tracking codes like Meta Pixel, Heatmapping, Google Analytics, or HubSpot)
- Manage triggers for those tags, or program-specific timings for when those tags fire or don’t fire
- Manage variables for those triggers or program-specific criteria for those tags to fire or not fire
One tracking code, easy management
GTM will make it a lot easier to install, test, and deploy tracking codes on your website. The more of these tracking codes you install, the more taxing it can be on your website performance, and the more value GTM provides.
Additionally, instead of installing all of those individual tags, you can just install the one GTM code and manage everything through its interface instead of breaking into the header tag again and again.
Beyond the time saved, it’s also a big help to have one centralized place with a running tab of which tracking codes are installed.
More trigger control
Triggers are specific instances that tell GTM when to fire those specific tracking codes.
This is where GTM starts to flex its muscles a bit.
Let’s say you want to run an experiment and only want your behavior-tracking software to fire when someone visits a certain page. Or, maybe you want to measure what happens immediately after they do something very specific like watch a video, download a PDF, or see the results from a pricing calculator.
Using triggers in GTM, you can define these specific actions to allow for the desired tracking codes to fire.
Say a visitor watches a video on your pricing page and you’re hoping they click on the CTA that says ‘Request a Quote’ right after the video ends. With GTM triggers, you can program a behavior tracking software to fire and measure whether that’s happening or not.
You can also define negative triggers. For instance, if you want a tag to fire on every page on your site except for a specific few, you can tell GTM to prevent tags from firing on those specific URLs.
Using variables for greater detail
Tags define what tracking codes will fire, triggers define when they’ll fire, and variables go a level deeper to create more specific situations when a tag will fire.
For instance, let’s say you’ve installed a behavior-tracking software tag and programmed it to fire when someone lands on a specific page, but you’d also like to measure what happens when someone lands on a page referred by a different specific page.
In other words, you're measuring what happens when someone exhibits a specific behavior you’re attempting to encourage on your website.
You can create a ‘referrer’ variable that gives you that extra level of granularity in your reporting.
How is GTM different than Google Analytics?
GTM is a tool for installing and configuring third-party code on your website, not for analyzing the data those tags collect.
GTM is designed and built to complement Google Analytics. All of the custom events you create in GTM are visible in Google Analytics once you configure what data you want to send to Google Analytics.
Should you install Google Tag Manager on your website?
Before you ultimately decide, see if you answer yes to any of the following questions:
- Would you like to manage third-party tracking codes on your website without touching any code?
- Would you like to reduce the load time of your website, improving SEO performance?
- Would you like to collect data and run experiments around specific actions people take on your website?
- Would you like to customize the data you send to Google Analytics?
- Are you okay with learning how to use a new tool?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, I would highly recommend leveraging Google Tag Manager.
If you’re interested in exploring some resources to learn more about how to use GTM, here are a few great resources to check out:
- Conversion XL blog
- Chris Mercer, Seriously Simple Marketing
As with most Google tools, there’s a bit of a learning curve involved, but don’t let that scare you. The more you learn, the more you’ll unleash the power of GTM and make marketing magic happen!
Wondering where to begin?