What Is Google Tag Manager and Why Does Your Site Need It?

Google Tag Manager Hero Image Direct Online Marketing

Google Tag Manager (GTM) provides an easy-to-use method by which marketers and website owners can manage multiple technologies on their sites. It all has to do with JavaScript tags, which are little snippets of code on a web page that send information to third-party software.

You may not realize it, but your website almost definitely has tags on it. JavaScript tagging is the tool which makes it possible to run ads on Google or Facebook, as well as tracking how users engage with your website.

Before the creation of tag management technology like GTM, tags had to be hard-coded and applied to every single page of a site, whether directly on each page or through a shared template. Many websites still apply tags to their site on a page-by-page basis, resulting in a lot of manual placement and troubleshooting.

For many years, site owners were left with few options to manage all of their tags. Then in 2012, Google Tag Manager was introduced as a simple interface and central hub for site owners to control how and what they track on their website. Not only does GTM make tag management easier, but the service has also always been free to use.

GTM is designed to streamline tag management while eliminating the need to work with a web developer to implement tracking code to one or more pages on your site.

However, implementing Google Tag Manager isn’t always a simple process. Some developers debate whether using it is even worth getting it set up on their site.

Read on to learn how GTM works and why you should start using it now.

Google Tag Manager Terminology

Developer Looking At a Screen of Code Google Tag Manager

Before we jump in, let’s get familiar with a few definitions and terms which pertain to Google Tag Manager.

Containers

Similar to the account structure within Google Analytics, a user can create a Google Tag Manager account to manage multiple websites or mobile apps. When managing individual properties, account users will set up what is known as a container.

A container functions as a method for grouping tags together. Through the GTM interface, users can integrate all of their supported tags into a single container.

Think of GTM containers as a shopping basket where you drop in all of the items you want to buy. You could try and juggle each item in your arms, but the basket functions as a more effective way to keep them together.

Within the GTM interface, the container is where you will also find the code snippet you’ll apply to all pages on your site. This is your container code, and it needs to be in the source code within each page of your site.

Once a container exists, and you’ve configured all tags in GTM, this container code is all you need on your site, as opposed to multiple code snippets on each page.

Main takeaway —Within the Google Tag Manager platform, you create containers to house your website’s tags into one central dashboard. From there, GTM breaks out tracking configuration into three categories: tags, triggers, and filters.

Tags

A few of the uses for tags include monitoring form submissions, conducting surveys, generating heat maps, placing cookies for retargeting, and tracking how people interact with your site.

Tags can also monitor specific events or actions users take such as downloading files, clicking on particular links, or adding items to their shopping cart.

Websites often leverage multiple tags, and they usually require assistance from developers or designated CMS plugins to manage them. With GTM, website owners can add, edit, or disable tags right from the GTM interface, removing the need for extra development efforts.

Triggers

Think of triggers as conditions that, once met, tell your tags to activate or “fire.” User actions taken on your website—commonly referred to as events—can only be monitored with the help of pre-defined triggers.

Common actions that will cause triggers include form fills, link clicks, and page scrolls. In order for an engagement metric to be measured, events must have a trigger associated with them.  

Triggers in GTM essentially automate your tagging efforts and require you to input less time assigning new tags to the pages of your site.

Filters

After defining the type of trigger you want, you can refine your trigger further with filters. Categorized into “operators” and “values,” these factors are specific to their trigger.

  • Operators define whether a numerical event is significant enough to cause a trigger; For example less than two, equal to 3, or greater than ten. Operators specify when a tag should fire based on an event, such as several successive clicks, time spent on a page, or time spent watching a video occurring a set number of times.
  • Values dictate whether a trigger should be fired based on a met condition. The value may have to contain a specific URL or words like “thank you.”

Variables

Variables are defined conditions that signify when a trigger should cause a tag to fire, containing information a trigger needs to evaluate beforehand.

  • Tag Variables: Capture dynamic values. This variable adds context to your tracking for when you want details about the event.  
  • Trigger Variables: Define filters for when tags should fire. Trigger variables make sure your GTM tracks specific actions instead of a broad umbrella of actions. For example: fire a pageview trigger when the URL variable is “directom.com/contact-us/.”

Immediate Benefits of GTM

If you’re wondering whether GTM is right for you, GTM’s functionality for managing tags, most notably with an application to Google’s suite of other platforms.

Google Tag Manager with Other Google Products

GTM is often used to install Google Ads tracking code on your site. If you are contemplating using Google Ads and haven’t set up appropriate tracking or you feel like optimizing your current configuration, doing so via GTM will make your life easier.  

Paid Search Performance Dashboard with Google Tag Manager

Outside of Google Ads, GTM and Google Analytics work together to track your website events and reduce code edits on your backend. With GTM, Google Analytics can collect event data like button clicks and scroll length.

In fact, Google Analytics by itself is not equipped to track events. GA alone is only configured to record traffic data, and not for recording events like button/link clicks. Note that you can implement event tracking in GA without GTM. However, you would need to apply your tracking code on a page-by-page basis.

As you can imagine, that is an extremely manual process and a huge time-suck.

Utilizing Google Tag Manager for both GA and Google Ads will reduce the amount of friction between marketing teams and web developers while enabling marketers to implement advanced tracking for their campaigns.  

Here’s a look at a few other uses for Google Tag Manager:

Other Common GTM Uses

  • Heatmapping/CRO software: Conversion rate optimization (CRO) aims to make your website more conversion friendly by tracking how users interact with your site. With the help of GTM, CRO implementations can be put in place to track events and user behavior without having to code it into the specific pages being tested. For those familiar with heatmapping software such as Hotjar, GTM allows you to implement their tracking code easily.
  • Pixel conversion tracking: Using GTM to install display and social pixel conversion tracking works, in the same way, is it does with Google Ads and GA implementation.

Making Your Life Easier in the Long Run

The learning curve for understanding GTM is steep; however, once you master the basics, tracking becomes simpler in the long run. Luckily, with its testing feature, you have more control over the implementation of your tags before publishing.

This platform may not make sense to use if you have a couple of main pages and don’t run any extra platforms. However, it does cut out your reliance on a web developer to implement new code you want to leverage in the future.

For sites and businesses engaged in multiple online marketing platforms, GTM will condense all your separate codes and pieces into one place.

Google Tag Manager takes a little getting used to, but the possibilities for its implementation will help your website in the long run. GTM allows you to house all of your third-party codes, test new ideas, and potentially reduce page load times.

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