Google Tag Manager (GTM): how it works and why you need it

24 Mar 2021

Today, successful digital marketing would be impossible without various tracking codes or tags. However, it can be overwhelming to find your way through the ocean of tags for various tracking purposes. Luckily, there is a smart free tool by Google that can help you manage all tracking codes in the same place and its name is Google Tag Manager (GTM for short).

How does this all work? Read on. Our team is starting a series of articles about Google Tag Manager. In this specific article, you will discover what Google Tag Manager is, what makes it different from the well-known Google Analytics tool, what key components GTM has, and why use GTM. Next, we will add exciting insights into the best practices of using Google Tag Manager and e-commerce tracking with GTM.

First, what are tracking tags?

Tracking tags (also referred to as codes, pixels, or scripts) are tiny snippets of code that contain detailed information about the behavior of your website’s users (page views, conversions, referrals, and so much more). They help you measure the success of your marketing activities, make improvements, and attract more customers.

You add the tags of the services you are interested in. For example, if you want to evaluate the performance of your AdWords campaign, you deploy the Google Ads Conversion Tracking code on your website. Or if you would like to track the activity of users who came to your website from Pinterest, you add the Pinterest Tag to your site. The list could go on forever, and with customization, you can actually track anything. When the tracking code snippets get numerous, the use of such a tool as Google Tag Manager becomes especially helpful for your team’s convenience and your website’s performance.

What is Google Tag Manager (GTM)?

Google Tag Manager is a solution that provides a handy web interface enabling you to install and manage (edit, enable, disable, remove, update, etc.) all tracking tags for your website or application. The main GTM version is free but there is also Google Tag Manager 360 with enterprise-level support and features.

GTM stores the code from various services in the same place. It serves as a container tag that holds multiple marketing and analytics tags. You can set up all kinds of standard and custom tags, configure at which events and on which conditions they should fire, and then just publish your whole GTM container live.

Is it easy to use GTM? It is relatively easy thanks to its key feature — when installing the tracking tags with Google Tag Manager, you needn’t modify your website’s code. This gives marketing managers independence from developers. However, despite the tool’s main slogan “Tag management made easy,” some technical background will be a plus for those who are going to use GTM.

The benefits of using Google Tag Manager

Here are at least some of the benefits of this free tool:

  • As mentioned above, marketing managers with at least some technical background can manage GTM tags without the help of developers thanks to a user-friendly interface and no coding.
  • Having all tags in the same place makes the tag management and update workflows much cleaner, easier, and faster.
  • GTM integrates with a great choice of analytics and marketing services that include both Google and non-Google services.
  • Google Tag Manager offers a library of templates that make it easy for you to get started.
  • No matter how many tags you are using, GTM makes sure your website’s speed does not slow down.
  • You can safely test and fix any new settings out before they go live thanks to GTM’s previewing and debugging capabilities.
  • A version control system allows you to roll back to the previous version in case you are not happy with your changes.
  • GTM workspaces enable your team members to work each on their own set of settings for the container.
  • A flexible system of user permissions controls who can make which changes in Google Tag Manager.
  • Google scans all tracking scripts for malware and immediately stops the suspicious ones.
  • You can import and export your GTM container file in JSON.

Key components of Google Tag Manager

Let’s now take a look at what’s inside GTM:

  • Tags. These are the actual snippets of the tracking code that we have been discussing above. To create a new tag in Google Tag Manager’s interface, you can start by selecting a tag type (Google Analytics, Google Ads, Quora Pixel, Crazy Egg, and so on) and then configure it.
  • Variables. These are placeholders that represent particular changeable values (URLs, names, dates, etc.) When the code starts running, variables are filled with values. Variable values are used by tags, triggers, and other variables. For example, you can configure GTM triggers to fire specific tags based on specific variable values. Google Tag Manager has a set of built-in variables and the functionality to create user-defined variables.
  • Triggers. Google Tag Manager triggers listen for specific events (page views, form submissions, window loading, or whatever you choose) in order to fire the tag. In other words, through triggers, you can tell GTM when you want your tags to be fired. Triggers make sure tags are fired when specific events are detected and specific conditions are met. To decide on which conditions should be met, you set trigger filters. You will need to create at least one trigger per tag.

What’s the difference between GTM and Google Analytics?

When it comes to tracking your website users’ behavior and measuring your marketing efforts, the first tool that usually comes to mind is Google Analytics. Hence the common question about the difference between Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics.

Google Tag Manager (GTM) and Google Analytics (GA) are two totally different products that just work together perfectly. Each of them can also work independently from the other. None of them is able to replace the other in functionality.

Yes, both GTM and GA have a final goal of helping you track your website’s analytics for marketing purposes. But they do different things for reaching this goal:

  • Tracking (by GA). It’s Google Analytics that actually does the tracking, stores the data, and generates reports about the activity on your website. It lets you know how many visitors come to your website, which pages they view, what your top-selling products are, and so much more (we gave a fuller review of this in the blog post about Google Analytics for Drupal websites). However, to make Google Analytics work, you need to install a GA tracking code on your website.
  • Tag management (by GTM). In the code installation and management part, it’s Google Tag Manager that comes for help (however, using GTM here is an option and not a requirement). GTM will not track anything by itself unless you add Google Analytics to its configuration. GTM is more generic and can manage the tags of GA like those of any other service. For Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics is a data source like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Twitter, YouTube Analytics, and so on.
To sum up

Hopefully, our introduction to Google Tag Manager has been helpful and clear. Stay tuned for the next portions of valuable GTM information. Of course, if you need help with setting up any analytics tools for your website, reach out to the Golems team at any time!