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What is Google Tag Manager (GTM) and how to use it on your website

Written by Brendan Wright

Jul 01, 20
What is Google Tag Manager (GTM) and how to use it on your website

Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a free tool that makes it easier for website owners to manage the website's marketing code, without necessarily having any coding skills. This could mean you don't have to rely on a website developer, but it's still more technical than many businesses will be used to.

If you're making changes to your business website or ecommerce store, you need to be sure you know what you're doing. GTM simplifies coding, but it doesn't stop you making costly errors that could slow down your pages, mess up the formatting or break your site completely.

This short guide won't tell you everything you need to know about how to use Google Tag Manager, but it could help you get started – or make you realise you need a little help.

Google Tag Manager

Why are tags important?

Tags are small lines of code that are added to web pages to collect data on your website visitors – how they arrived at your site, what they did there and what their interests are.

When analysed using a tool such as Google Analytics, this data can be valuable for planning and improving your digital marketing campaigns.

How does Google Tag Manager help?

Traditionally, tags were embedded in the source code of web pages by developers (what you see when you view the page source). Sites that use tags normally use more than one to collect a variety of customer data. Unless you've had training in coding websites, the old-school way of doing things can be intimidating at best, and more likely incomprehensible.

That's where Google's tool helps. Its user-friendly layout lets you choose from a list of tags or add your own and guides you through the process of embedding them in your website, or editing or disabling them – all without going near the website code. Once you've set up tags to collect the data you want, you can see the results in Google Analytics.

Do I need Google Tag Manager?

Using tags can give your digital marketing a boost, which will ultimately impact on sales& ROI. But like any new business activity, it's important to consider the pros and cons to help you decide whether it's worth learning a new skill or having a Digital Agency handle it for you.

Pros of GTM

  • Save money on website services when you do it yourself
  • Can benefit businesses of all sizes, in all industries
  • Can be used on many types of sites, including ecommerce stores and mobile apps
  • Manage all your marketing code in one place
  • Trigger when tags 'fire,' reducing issues with page loading times
  • Preview and debug tags before making them live

Cons of GTM

  • Some technical knowledge is required to get started
  • Improper use of tags can cause problems with page layout, performance and other issues
  • Takes time to learn, use and test
  • More complex processes & tasks may still need a developer's expertise

How does Google Tag Manager work?

If you're planning to use GTM yourself, you need to have a basic understanding of how it works before you can start collecting meaningful data on your customers.

The first step is understanding the following terms you'll come across:

  • Tags
  • Triggers
  • Variables
  • Containers

If you already know what these are, and don't need a refresher, you can skip to the step-by-step tutorial.

Tags

Tags are the pieces of code that Google Tag Manager uses to collect data. These are embedded somewhere in the source code of the page.

One great thing about GTM is that it's not restricted to Google tags. You can also use third-party tags for other search engines and social media marketing. Some examples of tags you can use are:

  • Universal Analytics (UA) tracking code to collect data from any device
  • Conversion tracking and retargeting code for Google Ads and Bing Ads campaigns
  • Facebook pixel for tracking users through their Facebook ID
  • Heatmap and scroll tracking showing you how people use your website
  • Website events (link clicks, video views, downloads, shopping cart activity)
  • Abandonment (incomplete forms, abandoned shopping cart, website exit)

There are many more that could be relevant to your marketing needs, but it's recommended that you don't include too many tags on one page, as this can make the page harder to manage and slower to load. This impacts on the user experience and in turn SEO, so decide what's the most important data to know.

Triggers

Having all of your tags activate at once when the page opens is a recipe for slow loading times. That's where triggers come in. These can be set to tell GTM when to 'fire' each tag, which will vary depending on the type of data you want.

Tags can be triggered:

  • when the page loads (e.g. to see the view count)
  • when the user clicks a certain link (to track events)
  • when the user scrolls down past a certain point (to measure engagement)
  • when an activity is abandoned (to improve engagement or send a reminder)

Knowing the right time to trigger a tag can make a big different to your website's conversion rate.

Variables

Getting more advanced, a variable is what tells a trigger when to fire a tag (or when not to).

In most cases, this will be a simple yes/no statement, but variables can also have a numerical value if a tag should fire after a user has completed a certain number of actions. Since some of your tags may interact, you might need to tell some tags not to fire if others are already in use.

Common variables are already preset in GTM, but you can also add your own. If you'll be using the same variable multiple times – such as your Google Analytics ID number or tracking codes – these can be saved as constant variables.

Containers

Less complicated, a GTM container is what holds all the tags, triggers, variables and other information to be added to your website or app. You'll create a container when you first install GTM on your site and update it as you go along. The container has its own code which needs to be embedded in your site's source code.

How to use Google Tag Manager: step by step

Google Tag Manager is free to use and compatible with most platforms, but you might want to brush up on the basics before you dive in. Keep in mind that broken tags can lead to a broken website, so you should only make changes to the source code of your website if you're confident that you're doing it right.

1. Create an account

Go to tagmanager.google.com to set up a new account or use an existing account. Google recommends using your business name for clarity.

2. Install the container

A container will be created automatically when you create an account. Google recommends using your website's domain name as the container name. That's because you can add multiple containers to the same account, if you have different websites, subdomains or apps and you want to manage them from the same place.

After naming your container and assigning a page or app, you'll be given your unique container code. This should be embedded in the page's source code. Some content management systems such as WordPress have a handy plugin that will embed the code for you, but if not, we recommend asking your web developer rather than risk getting it wrong.

3. Create a tag

Now you can use the GTM dashboard, you can start to create tags. You can choose from a list of common templates or add your own custom HTML code. Give your tag a descriptive name so you'll remember what it does.

You should already have some idea of what tags you want to use, but you'll have the chance to experiment before making them live.

4. Set triggers

Every tag needs to have at least one trigger to tell it what to do. You can choose from a list of preset triggers or create your own, which will need a name and variables assigned.

5. Test your tag

After configuring a tag, you can preview it to make sure it's working properly. GTM lets you give each tag a test run, which shows a detailed summary of the events that took place. This is your chance to catch and fix any errors, rather than affecting your website's performance by experimenting later.

6. Publish your tags

When you've created and tested all the tags you want on a page, submit the update to your website. This creates a new version of your container – keep the previous versions in case you need to go back. You can update or add new tags to your container at any time.

Want to know more?

We've only scratched the surface of what Google Tag Manager can do for your digital marketing.

If you want to know more about how to use tags on your website, or you need someone to help with the coding, call our web developers in Perth on 08 9443 2221 or contact us and we'll help you to get started.

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