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Google Tag ManagerScenario: you are the “website person” at your organization, and someone from marketing sends you an email with a few lines of code. They ask you to add it to your website so they can start tracking conversions. You write back, “Where? Why? What is this?” The response, “It’s a conversion pixel from Facebook. Just add it please.”

I see this happen far more often than I’d expect in 2017. Whether you manage a small website, or are responsible for interacting with your web management company, the process of adding tracking code to your website shouldn’t require hours of effort. That’s where a tag manager comes in.

What is Tag Management?

First, we should probably answer the question, “what are tags?” The knowledgeable folks at Moz published this article in October of 2012, just as Google was launching its Tag Manager product. Tags are snippets of code, typically used for analytics and tracking purposes, that are placed in the <head> of a web page. These could be related to your CRM tool, web analytics, heat mapping software, or your online advertising.

Prior to tag management systems, these snippets would have to be added directly to the page template, which would often require support from a developer. If your website is on a content management system, like WordPress or Drupal, plugins/modules are generally available to assist with the placement of those snippets – but could still require some assistance to test in staging, prior to adding it to the production site.

The advent of tag managers takes the onus off the development team, and empowers marketing teams to implement their own tags. Now, don’t go crazy adding tags, but it certainly helps streamline the process. There are alternatives to Google Tag Manager (GTM), such as Tealium and Adobe’s Dynamic Tag Management, but many organizations find GTM’s price point (free) and capabilities sufficient for their needs.

Where do I Start?

If you have a Google Analytics account, for consistency’s sake, it’s best to use that same account (whichever Google-associated account is the admin) for Google Tag Manager. Go to googletagmanager.com and sign in – assuming there isn’t already an active property in GTM, you’ll be able to setup your property. Tip: use intuitive, consistent naming conventions. This is true for both Google Analytics and Tag Manager. When I create a new account, I might use “Unleashed Technologies” as the account name. Then, my container name may be the website where I’m adding this container to, so “unleashed-technologies.com.” If you have more than one website, and each has its own Google Analytics tracking ID, you can create each as a separate container within your main account.

From there, you’ll be given a container ID. This number looks like GTM-XXXXXX. In order to add this to your website, you basically have two options:

  • Add the two separate snippets of code to the appropriate places on your site (after opening <head> and the other goes after the <body> tag)
  • Install a Google Tag Manager plugin or module, and add your container ID to it

As another tip, we always recommend having separate Analytics and Tag Manager properties/containers for your development or staging sites (if you have them). It’s critical to the process to test your code and tags prior to deploying to your live site. Just remember to swap out the container IDs when in production!

What’s Next?

You have your Google Tag Manager container now, but you’re not done yet, because you need to add a tag. First up is your analytics tracking code. Assuming you’re using Google Analytics, this takes just a minute. Go into your Analytics and grab the appropriate property ID (UA-XXXXXXXX-X). In your GTM workspace, you’ll see “Tags,” “Triggers,” and “Variables.” Click on “Variables” and then “New.” This opens to “Choose Variable Type” – locate “Constant” and select that. Input your UA-XXXX tracking ID in there. In the upper left, set the name of the variable (something like “UT Google Analytics Tracking ID” is good) and click “Save.”

Now, go back to “Tags” and click “New.” You’re given pre-built options, and there are quite a few products that GTM already integrates easily with, which reduces your effort. In this case, you’ll select “Universal Analytics” as your Tag Type, and then your Trigger will be “All Pages” – unless you do not fire your GA on all pages, of course. That will require a little more advanced setup. Again, give the tag a name (UT Google Analytics) and save it, and now you’ve got your first tag.

Before you publish the container, you have the option to enter preview mode. This is a good practice to follow; if you enter preview mode and load your website in the same browser (new window), the GTM console will load at the bottom of the page and tell you what tags fired. Always do this before publishing!

Once you’ve tested and it looks good, you can publish the container, and the changes are live. GTM is version controlled, so give that version a name and add a description of the changes to track your progress.

To Infinity and Beyond!

For me, as a marketer, the real value of a tag manager is that I don’t have to pester my development team to add in code, have them question me about what it does, or go through dev/QA/testing before finally getting a simple AdWords remarketing tag live. It also enables me to test different “events” I may want to track on our site, by providing the flexibility to setup event tracking much easier than before.

Google’s own support and help center is a clutch resource, and while I’m one of probably very few who still uses Google Plus, I find their Google Tag Manager Community incredibly helpful.

But without a doubt, the most useful resource I’ve found when it comes to Google Tag Manager is Simo Ahava. If you get to the point where you’re looking to do more advanced functions, check it out.

Have questions? Want to see more detail? Let me know!