Clarifying Google's New Tag Manager

Clarifying Google's New Tag Manager

October 15th, 2012

On October 1st, Google announced Google Tag Manager, a free tool for managing marketing and tracking tags on your site. There’s been quite a bit of confusion around its launch, so let’s discuss what tag management is and why it's so powerful.

Tags are snippets of code that is usually placed in the <head> of a page which enable 3rd-party tracking, analysis, and reporting. Google Analytics and other analytics platforms are an obvious tag, but remarketing, conversion tracking, affiliates, and advanced customer insight services utilize tags as well.

Tag management is a concept that was born out of the increasing need for more agile marketing measurement and tracking ability. Managing and making changes to tags can be tedious and involve unnecessary red tape.

Tag managers allow marketing to have control over their own little space on a web page. The 6 or 7 tags on any given page are replaced by a single container. That container contains code that listens to rules dictated in the tag manager's backend as to when to fire what tags.

GTM offers some nice versioning and debugging features. Additionally, the container blog is an asynchronous JavaScript snippet so it will not effect page load or block other JavaScript.

GTM uses macros and rules to decide when a tag is fired. Macros are just a name-value pair that can be used to build rules around. The value itself, in many cases, is populated in runtime. That is, at the moment the page itself is being built for the user.

Out of the box, GTM has three default macros that can take care of a lot on their own:

  1. URL macro: This is an easy one. The name is URL, the value is whatever the current URL happens to be.
  2. HTTP Referrer macro: Another easy one. The name is HTTP Referrer, the value is the previous page that the user visited.
  3. Event macro: Events can be used to track interactions on a page after the page loads. As an example, if a user interacts with a form on your site, you can push an event. If there are any rules that depend on that event value, the specified tag will fire.

In conclusion, tag management is an agile marketers dream. Like Google Analytics did back in 2006, GTM has entered a paid market with a free offering that is a solid product from launch. If GTM follows the GA model, it will continue to improve. There are already a few features slated for future release, like the ability to manage A/B testing snippets. I also have a strong feeling that Google Analytics will be embracing GTM for their upcoming changes to cross-domain tracking, which is currently a very cumbersome process.

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