What is Google Tag Manager (GTM)?

Google Tag Manager is a free tool that allows you to manage and deploy marketing tags (snippets of code or tracking pixels) on your website (or mobile app) without modifying the code.

Google Tag Manager
The way Google Tag Manager works

Here’s a simple example of how GTM works. The information from one data source (your website) is shared with another data source (Analytics) through Google Tag Manager. GTM becomes very handy when you have lots of tags to manage because all of the code is stored in one place. A huge benefit of Tag Manager is that you, the marketer, can manage the code on your own.

Is Google Tag Manager easy to use?

I may get run over in the comments section for saying this, but I’m standing my ground. Google Tag Manager is not “easy” to use without some technical knowledge or training (courses or self-taught).

You have to know some technical knowledge to understand how to set up tags, triggers, and variables. If you’re dropping in Facebook pixels, you’ll need some understanding of how Facebook tracking pixels work.

If you want to set up event tracking in Google Tag Manager, you’ll need some knowledge about what “events” are, how Google Analytics works, what data you can track with events, what the reports look like in Google Analytics and how to name your categories, actions and labels.

Although it is “easy” to manage multiple tags in GTM, there is a learning curve. Once you’re over the hump, GTM is pretty slick about what you can track.

How does Google Tag Manager work?

There are three main parts to Google Tag Manager:

  • Tags: Snippets of Javascript or tracking pixels
  • Triggers: This tells GTM when or how to fire a tag
  • Variables: Additional information GTM may need for the tag and trigger to work

What are tags?

Tags are snippets of code or tracking pixels from third-party tools. These tags tell Google Tag Manager what to do.

Examples of common tags within Google Tag Manager are:

  • Google Analytics Universal tracking code
  • Adwords Remarketing code
  • Adwords Conversion Tracking code
  • Heatmap tracking code (Hotjar, CrazyEgg, etc…)
  • Facebook pixels
Examples of tags in GTM
Examples of tags in GTM

What are triggers?

Triggers are a way to fire the tag that you set up. They tell Tag Manager when to do what you want it to do.  In order to fire tags on a page view, link click, or is it custom?

Sample Trigger

What are variables?

Variables are additional information that GTM may need for your tag and trigger working. Here are some examples of different variables.

examples of different variables.
Examples of different variables.

The most basic type of constant variable that you can create in GTM is the Google Analytics UA number (the tracking ID number).

tracking ID number
Set up tracking ID number

Those are the very basic elements of GTM that you will need to know to start managing tags on your own.

If you’re bored reading this right now, you won’t have any issues managing your tags. If you are completely lost, you are going to need help from someone who has more technical knowledge.

How is Google Tag Manager different from Google Analytics?

Google Tag Manager is a completely different tool used only for storing and managing third-party code. There are no reports or any ways to do analysis in GTM.

Example of Google Tag manager workspace
Example of Google Tag Manager workspace

Google Analytics is used for actual reporting and analysis. All conversion tracking goals or filters are managed through Analytics.

tracking goals or filters are managed through Analytics.
Google Analytics in charger of tracking goals and filters

All reporting (conversion reports, custom segments, eCommerce sales, time on page, bounce rate, engagement reports, etc…) are done in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics workspace
Google Analytics workspace

What are the benefits of Google Tag Manager?

Once you get over the learning curve, what you can do in Google Tag Manager is pretty amazing. You can customize the data that is sent to Analytics.

You can set up and track basic events like PDF downloads, outbound links, or button clicks. Or, complex enhanced eCommerce product and promotion tracking.

Let’s say we want to track all outbound links on the website. In GTM, choose the category name, action, and label. We chose offsite link, click and click URL.

Track outbound links on the website
Track outbound links on the website

In Google Analytics go to Behavior > Events > Top Events > Offsite link.

Select Offsite link in Google Analytics
Select Offsite link in Google Analytics

Now select either event action or label to get the full reports. The data that we set up in Google Tag Manager is now appearing in the Analytics reports. Nifty!

Select either event action or label
Select either event action or label

Want to try out a tool on a free trial basis? You can add the code to Tag Manager and test it out without needing to get your developers involved.

Free trial of sample tool
Free trial of sample tool

Other perks:

  • It may help your site load faster depending on how many tags you are using.
  • It works with non-Google products.
  • Flexibility to play around and test out almost anything you want.
  • All third-party code is in one place.
  • GTM has a preview and debugs mode so you can see what’s working and what’s not before you make anything live. It shows you what tags are firing on the page. Love this feature!
Preview Tags Fired on Page
Preview Tags Fired on Page

What can you track in GTM?

  • Events (link clicks, PDF downloads, add to cart click, remove from cart click)
  • Scroll tracking
  • Form abandonment
  • Shopping cart abandonment
  • Video tracking

Since 2011, I founded LitExtension Solutions offering shopping cart migration service including Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify,... LitExtension has been the leading provider of automated Shopping Cart Migration Service in the world with more than 20,000 global customers and we have delivered 30,000+ successful migrations to our customers over the past 5 years.