Google Tag Manager (GTM) has been around for a long time, and I’ve been using it for most of that time. Just not very extensively. I’ve known that it has tremendous capabilities beyond how I’ve been using it, but only recently did I decide to explore ways to further benefit from it. It seems practically endless in how it can be helpful to those wanting to track events and activity on websites and in mobile apps. Skilled developers can create sophisticated implementations for tracking through the “data layer” of Google Tag Manager. But that’s not me, and I won’t be venturing that far. I have, however, found some important reasons to make it a key tool in my process, which I’ll share with you here.

What is GTM?

Google Tag Manager is a free tool meant for organizing and implementing codes on websites or mobile apps so that information can be tracked about user activity. For example, owners of e-commerce websites want to know which product pages were looked at and which products were purchased. Or, someone who runs Instagram ads for leads wants to know how many viewers of the ads actually go to their website and request a quote. Bits of code (a.k.a. “tags”) get placed to send information when events like these occur. Although events like these are commonly tracked using tags, there are countless other ways that tags can be useful, and Google Tag Manager is the ultimate tool for managing them.

Four ways GTM is useful to me

Remote access for tag management

Pre-GTM, it was necessary to put the tracking codes/ tags directly on the website. That meant access to the backend of the website was required. This was a significant problem in some situations. For example, suppose the marketer running ads needed to change the tracking codes occasionally but didn’t have website access to do so. The marketer would be dependent on whoever manages the website to make each change. If the webmaster is capable and responsive, it might not be a problem. But if the webmaster is too busy, lazy, or unresponsive, it could take weeks or months to get tag changes implemented.

With GTM, only one tag needs to be placed on the website. It’s called the GTM “container code.” The idea is that the container code contains all of the tags and tracking instructions implemented in the GTM interface. With GTM, a marketer can make all the tag implementations without depending on anyone else or needing to login to the backend of the website (as long as the GTM container code is properly installed). This feature alone is a total game-changer for when ads and websites are not controlled by the same person.

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Triggers

Another huge reason to use GTM is the built-in options for triggering tags. If the remote access feature is not enough to inspire you to use GTM, the trigger options certainly should be. I admit I was late to the party on this one. I didn’t get for a while how this really set GTM apart from placing tags directly on a website, or just using a typical “page view” as the firing trigger.

Now to explain. When certain user actions take place on a website or in a mobile app, it can help to track them for the purpose of analysis but also for future ad optimization. The view of a certain page (such as a “thank you” page) after an action takes place is a common action to be used as such. In this case, the “trigger” that causes the tracking code to fire is the view of this specific page. But GTM offers other trigger types so that different types of actions can be tracked as well. Standard triggers in GTM include:

  • Clicks on links
  • Clicks on any element
  • Form submission
  • Scroll depth
  • YouTube video view
  • Timer (how much time is spent on a page)
  • Trigger group (combining more than one trigger)

There are many, many use cases for how these trigger types could be valuable. For example, perhaps it’s a one-page website, so there’s no “thank you” page view to be tracked. You might want to track engagement activities such as a view of a YouTube video, submission of a form, scrolling to the bottom of the page, or time spent 1 minute or more on the page. These events can help you determine the quality of traffic that comes to your page and give you events that can be optimized for with ads.

Organization

GTM allows you to have all your tag management elements and entities in one organized place, which can be an enormous help — especially if you are working with many tags and many accounts. The GTM interface is smartly laid out and user-friendly. The three main areas you’ll switch in and out of are:

Workspace – Where you do most of the work with tags and triggers.

Versions – Every time you go live with a new tag configuration, you create a new version of the container. This is where you can see the current version being used as well as previous versions, which you always have the option of switching back to.

Admin — Here, you can assign access to the account to other users, change the name of the account, import or export containers, set notifications, and more.

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Testing

An important feature of GTM is that you can test to see if your tag-firing implementations are working properly. First of all, you can preview it before publishing a new version of your container. This allows you to test to see if the tags are firing properly. Also – with the Tag Assistant Companion browser plugin in Chrome – you can do a live monitoring session of how your tags fire as different actions are taken on your website. As pages are viewed, and actions are taken, you can see the list of events load in the left panel of the monitoring interface.

How to start using GTM

To get started using GTM, go to https://tagmanager.google.com/, then click “Create Account.” (An “account” is normally what you’d create for a single business. The GTM interface allows you to create many accounts through the same Google login, so you can manage tags for many businesses.)

While creating an account, you’ll also be setting up the container for that account. You’ll choose the type of container you want, such as for a website, IOS, or Android app.

Next, you’ll place the container code on the relevant property (i.e., the website or app). When that’s done, you’re ready to start actual tag management. That means you’ll set up tags and triggers so that codes fire when you want them to, which gives informative data about website (or app) in-app actions being taken.

Is GTM something you should use?

The only negative part of adopting GTM for your tag management needs is that it requires learning yet another new tool, and that takes time. It also can come with frustration. If you spend a lot of time, money, and energy on online marketing (as I do), there always seems to be another tool to learn. If your tag management needs are very simple, and if you have full access to place tags on a website or mobile app, it can make sense to leave GTM out of the picture. But if you want to benefit from the advantages mentioned above, such as remote tag management, versatile triggers, organization, and testing features, you’ll need to start using GTM. You can start very simply and get more complicated from there. Its possibilities are endless, so there could always be a new challenge if you are of the developer ilk. But there’s nothing wrong with sticking with its standard features that offer much-needed solutions for many of us.