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Scott Fillman

Google Tag Manager: The Benefits of Tag Management

Scott Fillman

Every digital marketing team knows that tracking digital analytics and implementing paid media campaigns require the addition of small snippets of code, also known as “tags,” in order to track:

  • Pageviews
  • Events
  • Remarketing lists
  • Cross domain tracking
  • In-app analytics

Basic snippets, such as the tracking code placed on each page to track page views within Google Analytics, are now amazingly easy to install. Without practice, tagging can quickly becomes complex when you begin having to write multiple JavaScript tags to capture specific user events (clicks, form submissions, etc.) in order to analyze user behavior.

It can also get very messy. 

Aside from messiness and complexity, digital marketing teams usually end up having to hand tags off to developers for implementation in client sites. This can result in implementation delays and time wasted in back and forth communication to ensure the tracking tags are properly implemented. Time-sensitive campaigns are then affected by waiting a week or more for a release or code push to production servers.

Tag management circumvents this process by creating a container that is inserted as a snippet of code into a digital property in place of any current analytics tracking codes. The container has an HTML iframe that inserts tags created in the tag manager’s administrative user interface for tracking and remarketing within the digital property that has the container installed.

The History and Capabilities of Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager

In late 2012, Google launched a free tool with the intention of alleviating the pain and confusion that often accompanies complex analytics and paid media tag implementations within digital properties. The announcement of Google Tag Manager on the Google Analytics Blog went largely unnoticed by a majority of digital marketers. More recently, there has been increasing buzz about tag management — and for good reason.

Using event tracking tags to capture specific website conversions or remarketing tags for paid media list building is becoming necessary for serious digital marketers who need to go beyond the basic pageviews and simple metrics that stock implementations of web analytics suites provide.

Classic Tracking Workflow vs. Tag Management

In addition, the ability to quickly add and remove tracking tags without the need to send the request through developers is essential for nimble marketers who want to have the capability to resolve tag firing issues or change the event tracking configuration within a web property.

tag-workflow 

Tags, Rules and Macros

Tag management aggregates snippets of tracking code into a single user interface. The user interface has its own workflow for adding tags, rules and macros. To understand the workflow, a few important terms need to be defined.

1. Tags: small snippets of tracking code added to a digital property to track user behavior, pageviews, add users to a remarketing list, etc.

2. Rules / Triggers: Conditions added to tags to control when and if tags will be executed or send data to analytics views

3. Macros / Variables: Reusable key-value pairs that can be referenced in tags or rules

Another consideration is rules that define triggers for tags to fire can have specific conditions that have to be met in order for the tag to be fired, and that multiple rules can be added to a single tag. (The first rule that meets the firing criteria then executes, and no further rules are evaluated.)

For example, you can define a tag that uses a Google Analytics profile’s tracking ID to fire on all pages. This is a very simple tag implementation. A more complex example would be to implement an event tracking tag that only fires when a user clicks on a link that has a URL that contains “.pdf” and only on pages that have “/documents/” in the URL path of the page itself. You can use a macro to capture the text on the link that the user clicks and send it as the "label" parameter of the event. This provides granular data about specific user actions with minimal implementation time within Google Tag Manager, compared to writing the equivalent in JavaScript and handing it over to a developer.

Debugging Made Easy

Troubleshooting and correcting tag errors is simplified via Google Tag Manager’s debugging features that create an inspection pane in the browser that shows which tags are fired on a page and which are not. It also includes information about triggers that fire tags and data contained within tracking tags added to the page through Google Tag Manager.

Extended Features

We’ve only scratched the surface. Aside from allowing you to unleash the full potential of Google’s Universal Analytics, the power and flexibility of Google Tag Manager goes beyond the implementation of Google-specific tracking scripts. By using custom HTML tags it is possible to add third-party tracking tags and remarketing pixels.

In addition, the data layer object built in to Google Tag Manager allows for virtually any data that can be collected with a JavaScript variable to be captured and sent to Google Analytics, such as e-commerce transaction data or user profile information. Implementing AdWords remarketing through Google Tag Manager requires the simple click of a check box to enable display advertising features in your Google Universal Analytics tag.

Learning Curve

There is a learning curve involved with effectively implementing any tag management system. Google Tag Manager is no different. It requires an investment of time and effort in learning a new way of thinking about adding tracking tags to digital properties.

Unfortunately, custom dashboards, templates or galleries don’t exist for easy import/export. However, once you begin to understand how to create tags, firing rules and variables within Google Tag Manager, the investment in time quickly shows returns as code implementations that used to take weeks to setup and debug begin to take hours.

Do you use Google Tag Manager? Let us know if you have any other tips in the comments.

Scott Fillman is a Digital Marketing Manager, consultant and e-commerce expert with a background in Digital Analytics and Web Development.

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