March 3, 2014

Google Tag Manager: What it is, how to use it and how it helps


How to take the tedium out of tag management

Target audience: Brand managers, digital marketers, SEO specialists, PR pros, business executives, entrepreneurs, educators, Web publishers.

Guest post by Rohan Ayyar
E2M Solutions

rohanUnderstanding user behavior on the Web is the key to success in digital marketing. However, managing that information isn’t as easy as it might seem.

There’s no shortage of information available — customers, data, insights, it’s all within reach. There was a time when all this information was buried deep within web logs, as we used to call it. Details about site traffic and visitor tracking fell under the purview of webmasters and “site admins.” Along came Google Analytics, which democratized and demystified all of this information for site owners. However, it still required the work of developers to insert code into the site and do magic with it.

Tags are typically snippets of code that go in the HTML <head> (publishing tools like WordPress do this automatically for you). This means you’re using tags each time you input Google Analytics code on your web pages. You use them when you deploy any third-party service that involves advertising, remarketing, affiliate marketing, A/B testing, click tracking, analytics or reports. Over time, tag management gets tedious, to say the least.

Google Tag Manager lets you add, edit or remove marketing and measurement ‘tags’ to your data without the intervention of tech experts

Data analysis today has a measurable return on investment, and better tag management is a godsend for agile marketing. It brings structure and efficiency to digital marketing. In October 2012, Google gave marketers the gift of Tag Manager, a highly functional and exciting tag management solution to complement Google Analytics and related offerings. Google Tag Manager allows you to add, edit or remove marketing and measurement “tags” to your data without the intervention of webmasters or other techies.

Curious to know how it works? In this post, I’ll run you through the basics and point you to some great resources, including Mike Pantoliano’s thorough walk-through on Moz, so that you can quickly start poking around by yourself.

Under the hood

Drew Thomas wrote in detail on Smashing Magazine how Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager can be combined to give you the timely data and insights you need to run your business better.

Google Tag Manager allows you to implement code for any and all sorts of tracking services on your website and manage it from your browser. Setting it up isn’t simple work by any stretch of imagination, but once done, it pays off in spades.

My new friend Daniel Weisberg of has written (and updated) a step-by-step guide that you can use to get going with Tag Manager. Daniel covers structure, publishing and permissions in the post.

You start off by creating containers – these are boxes you group your tags into. At the basic level, the name of your website could double as the container name as shown.


You then add your domain, copy the code created for you and add it to every page on your website, not unlike Google Analytics.

Setting up Google Tag Manager for your website or app now gives you insights and information on users (new and active), engagement, country/territory, goals, ecommerce and even in-app revenues.

Digging your site for gold

You can depend on Tag Manager to get your insights from a single dashboard (including all that Google Analytics can serve you). You can track events, isolate and analyze downloads (including PDFs and other files). You can set up rules – a set of rules in Tag Manager is called a version – and wait for specific data to come in, which can be used to make better decisions.

Google claims that the Tag Manager gives you marketing agility and allows you to “manage your marketing campaigns without getting bogged down by marketing technology.” What they mean is that Google Tag Manager gives you the ability to test, track and analyze mind-boggling amounts of data that can be generated by say, a re-marketing campaign for all of your ecommerce SKUs.

More benefits: Tag Manager is plug and play, allows for easy user-dependent testing, integrates with other solutions, and helps you plug into dependable data.

In October 2013, one year after Tag Manager launched, Google announced the biggest advantage it brings to the table yet: Auto-Event Tracking. This feature lets you measure events happening on the page without including any Javascript or even HTML. Tracking user actions, conversions, and any sort of events on your app or website is now much easier, as described here, here and here, in increasing order of complexity.

Auto-event tracking works by listening to events, detecting actions users take and capturing data from them, and collecting the data.

Mining for social gems

Social media is probably a big inclusion to your digital marketing strategy and so it’s not just about form submissions, outbound links, and clicks on buttons. Often, it could mean that you’d trade anything to track down social conversions.

Google Tag Manager allows you to do that, too. Simo Ahava explained very lucidly how social interaction macros work on his blog.

If you are technically inclined, you might also want to dig into his macro guide for Google Tag Manager. Tag Manager comes with many different pre-built macros, which would do quite well for most marketers and non tech-savvy business owners.

While you can always rely on dedicated social data aggregators and social sign-on tools such as LoginRadius to mine social data, using Google Tag Manager in conjunction with these gives you more mountains of data to sort through!

On the way to universal analytics

While Google is doing all it can to promote Universal Analytics, using Tag Manager already gives you access to what Universal Analytics can do.

Adam Ware of Swell Path not so long ago summarized how Tag Manager allowed them to implement both Universal and Classic Analytics for their clients, allowing for easier decision making on large accounts worth millions of dollars. Indeed, as Adam claims, Google Tag manager is an enterprise-quality solution made available to everyone at no cost. Vendors who offer similar paid solutions will have to up the ante quite a bit.

Have you used Google Tag Manager yet? If yes, do you find it easy to use? What value are you getting from it? If not, what do you think are the possibilities for you? Let us know in the comments!

Rohan Ayyar is a serial blogger and digital strategy consultant at E2M Solutions. He also helps startups develop remarkable user experiences at OnlyDesign. You should follow him at @searchrook on Twitter.

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