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What You Need to Know to Get Started with Google Tag Manager

Fred PikeFred Pike/Managing Director & CFO
October 13, 20164 min read

One hundred percent of you reading this article have Google Analytics on your site.  I suspect a much smaller percentage of you manage GA with Google Tag Manager. It’s time to change that!

First, some background. 

Google released Tag Manager in October of 2012 and revised GTM substantially in 2015. In August of 2016, Google changed the interface. The ongoing updates and support indicate commitment. GTM will be with us for a while.

It’s free, new, and improved. What’s not to like? But…

What is Google Tag Manager?

What are tags, exactly, and why do you have to manage them?

A tag is a small snippet of code that runs on your website and gathers data about how visitors interact with your site.

If you're running Google Analytics, you're working with a tag.  The GA tag typically runs on every page of your website and returns information -- page views, time on site, landing page, etc. – to Google.

Call tags what you will --  tag, javascript snippet, code snippet, tracking pixel, etc.  They all mean the same thing, and you can manage all of them in GTM.

Google Analytics isn't the only package that relies on a tag.  Google AdWords, Facebook ads and many more functions rely on tags.  Hundreds of different tags could be running on your site.

A tag manager gathers them into one place and makes them easier to, well, manage.

Must you use a tag manager?  No - particularly if you're not running a lot of tags.

Should you use a tag manager - specifically, GTM?  Absolutely.  Even if a single tag runs on your website (Google Analytics, for example), GTM is the very best way to deploy it.

Where do I find it?

To set up GTM, or to open it once you’ve created your account, go to google.com/analytics.  You’ll see it listed in the pulldown menu.

Advantages of running Google Tag Manager

1. GTM provides built-in documentation.  Any changes you make in GTM reside in a test mode until you “publish” them.  At that point, the new version starts running.  You can add notes to the version information, and you can also go back and see what was different in prior versions.

The GTM account below shows some of the documentation that lists the differences between the versions.

2. GTM is the easiest way to set up events in GA.  An “event” tracks specific site-user actions, such as watching a video, downloading a file, and filling out a form. Event tracking provides key metrics for most websites.

3. The single biggest advantage of GTM is that it allows you to test your changes before you go live.  You can always preview how the changes will work.

Once you are in preview mode and call up the site, information about all the GTM tags and variables appear in the bottom half of the page, and you can see exactly how your GTM code behaves.

The “Preview and Debug” window is a life saver.  It can help you make sure you’re getting the data you think you should be capturing.

Nothing like this exists in a standard implementation of Google Analytics.  And you get this for free?  Cool!

4. GTM makes your life easier.  GTM is installed once in your CMS, and then you do everything through an external interface.  You don't have to dig into the bowels of your CMS to make changes; it's all done externally.  You don’t have to rely on your programming staff to add new tags or adjust the tags you have. 

Those four reasons alone justify moving to GTM tomorrow, but they barely scratch the surface of what GTM can do.  The more information you want to get out of the analytics on your website, and the more you want to fine-tune that information and slice and dice it, the more you gain from GTM.

Caveats

While almost anybody can install and set up GTM, I recommend working with someone very knowledgeable about best practices and set-up procedures. 

As great as GTM is, it’s too easy to set it up really badly, particularly in complicated situations. So call upon a reputable company to set up GTM for you. (Hey! You know who’s good at this? Northwoods! Also, Google Tag Manager is very compatible with Titan CMS.)

More resources

Measureschool.com offers a decent video course for beginners and a four-week intensive GTM course that I found to be outstanding.

If you want to get really nerdy, Simo Ahava's blog is the definitive source on detailed explorations of the inner workings of GTM.  Really great information.

But whether you intend to dive deep or just skim the surface, do yourself a favor and improve your data collection. Install Google Tag Manager. 

Fred PikeFred Pike/Managing Director & CFO

Fred Pike is Google-certified in Google Analytics (GAIQ) and Google AdWords. He is also certified in Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) through Conversion XL.  Fred is passionate about finding the best ways to drive traffic to websites, making sure visitors find what they are looking for, and making sure Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager track everything correctly. 

Helping clients use data to make their website better? Man, that is a great gig!

Connect with Fred on LinkedIn | Read Fred Pike's Blogs

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