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Google Tag Manager: An Overview

Google Tag Manager: An Overview

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Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a powerful tool for tracking activity on your website. But like most powerful tools, it can be complicated to understand and manage. Let's take a look at what this service is...and what it isn't.

What Tags Does It Work With?

Many think this tool will help tag your site. "This is a photo of a dog." Not quite. The tags GTM works with are tags in your website's code. Meta tags, for example. So if you are looking for a quick way to categorize your site content, as Obi-Wan would say: this is not the tool you are looking for.

So What Does It Do?

GTM was built as an outgrowth of Google Analytics (GA). While analytics is most likely installed on your website, most people are not aware of everything it can do. Through events, triggers and other hooks, GA can track events within a page. GA can answer questions like:

  • "How many people clicked 'play' on that video?"
  • "How many people downloaded my PDF?"
  • "How many people put that product in their shopping cart but did not check out?"


Yep. It's pretty sweet. And very robust. But in order to get your website to share this sort of information with Google Analytics, a developer needs to put code ("tags") in your page to tell analytics what was happening at any given moment. It is these tags that can be cumbersome to manage, difficult to install and even more complicated to maintain. And all of it required a developer like us.

Enter Google Tag Manager.

How It Works

GTM begins with adding a snippet of code (actually two) to every page on your website. This code doesn't actually do anything by itself. It's like putting a blank canvas on your website which is waiting for you to tell it what you want. And you do this through the GTM website.

Through GTM, you can tell Google what information or actions you are looking to keep an eye on. Google adds its own code (called "listeners") into your website to watch for those events, and then records details every time that event happens on your website. Cool, right?

Careful, Though

Even the introductory video from Google (below) includes phrases like "conversion tracking" and "remarketing". Don't know what those really mean? Well, most people don't. And because of this, GTM remains a tool that makes really complex things (adding GA code to your markup) only mildly easier. The key is not just adding those listeners, but knowing which listeners to add and then understanding what they really mean.

Professional guidance to install, track and interpret your more advanced web analytics is most likely still required. But GTM is a good step towards making the implementation of that tracking a much simpler process.

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