Admit it.. All those years of working in online advertising you had to rely on your coders and site owners to implement your tags, you were always just a little bit jealous. If only marketing could implement some basic codes. All those years of getting the pixels and writing an email to your website and/or programming teams asking to implement your tags and telling them which pages to add the tag. You'd pray you communicated properly, only to find out once in a while your conversion counts matched your click counts (unless you are giving away free beer). Well with this version of Google Tag Manager you can embrace your coding dark side and it least manage your conversion and marketing tags while controlling most of what you need to do. Google Tag Manager is definitely a way for you to manage your conversion and remarketing programs while at the same time only turning towards your programming team when you really need some help.
I first heard of GTM about a year ago and I looked like a complete idiot. I just landed a new client and I dutifully passed on Google AdWords and remarketing codes to the client for implementation. I waited a day or two and checked out the code on the thank you pages and couldn't see my pixels. When I followed up I was told they were implemented via Google Tag Manager which sent me scurrying off to see what that was.
GTM version 1 wasn't very good so I really didn't pay much attention to it. It was a way to consolidate my tracking tags on one platform. Basically, you add the Google Tag Manager container codes to the pages of your website and then using the platform you implement the tracking and conversion pixels.
So a year passes and I didn't pay a lot of attention to it other than it was a way to make my programmers a little happier with working on my projects. Then I received notification in one of my Google Analytics accounts about getting Google Tag Manager certified by taking their fundamentals in GTM class. I decided to take the plunge while sitting on the beach in Avalon NJ and was I ever surprised about how useful GTM 2.0. It's so useful that I don't even take a whiff on setting up a new advertising account without thinking through the tracking setup.
The Good in Google Tag Manager
There are a lot of great things about GTM but the most important part of GTM is the ability to give the marketer complete control over which tags are included and how they are fired. Before GTM it really was an adhoc process with little controls. Here's how it works from a marketing perspective.
1) Setup your own Google Tag Manager Account and then get a container code for each domain you are managing. Have your programmers DELETE all other marketing pixels including Google Analytics and install your GTM container code on EVERY page of your website. If you are an agency, it is better for the client to set it up and give your agency permission.
2) Figure out what types of actions you want to track and what they are. Let's keep things simple and say you want to track email signups, sales, and build a remarketing list. For each one of these actions, you'll need to know how they are defined - changes in URLs (thank you page), changes in messages, submit buttons or even all pages (especially for GA and remarketing tags) as well as how you want the event fired - page view, page load, DOM, and etc.
3) If your actions are based off of simple URL changes (like a confirmation page being served) you really don't need a lot of help from your coders. You can actually DO THIS YOURSELF. What you are doing is creating Triggers of your events. Here's a simple list from one of my accounts. I set all of these up myself - just needed to know the URLs.
4) Next up you need to set up your Tags. Your Tags are just what you think they are - pixels from your media partners that you want implemented. Some of the tag setups are already preloaded but for the most part you are creating custom HTML tags for your media parters. DoubeClick, AdWords, and Analytics are already preloaded so you'd select them from the list and then add some of the ID numbers from those pixels. Mind you, you still need to generate the conversion and remarketing pixels on each platform first and then instead of emailing your coder, you are taking care of it yourself. Other tags I've implemented are Twitter, Facebook, Bing, Adaptv, and more. For the most part all of the Tags are custom HTML but a few are image based (Adaptv was image based).
So to setup Tags you need to know which Triggers to fire the Tags with. Your Google Analytics (for a simple setup) should be ALL PAGES as well as your individual Remarketing tags. Your Conversion Tags should be served when an event is triggered that you want to count (sales completion, email signup, etc). Here's a sample list of my tags. I've only had a few problems with this but that will be listed in The Bad section.
5) Before publishing you can use a preview tool and preview how your pixels fire. Basically follow the steps of what you want to track (in a different window of your browser) and watch the preview pane to see which tags are firing and when. If you aren't getting the expectations you want, then start checking your triggers and tags to make sure it is set up properly.
6) You can also pass transaction values into Google Analytics and back to AdWords for reporting and optimization. It involves something called a Data Layer which is really a temporary field that your code can access to pass information from the page into say Google Analytics. More on this in a second.
In the end, a simple setup should take you under an hour to build and you should have control over your tags and triggers. It's even easy to add more triggers in and tell your tags when to fire and when not to fire. However, there is a hard side to this....
The Bad in Google Tag Manager
Most of what you need to do in GTM is very straight forward and your website manager and programmers will love you for simplifying the additional codes on your page and the fact that you pushed managing the codes from them to yourself (where it should have belonged in the first place). However, there is a bad side to GTM
1) Passing variables like transaction amounts into the Data Layer for use in Google Analytics. This isn't easy no matter how pretty Google makes it seem when the transaction amount is passed in a confirmation page URL. I've watched that video almost 100 times AND I had to reach out and read this Google Tag Manager expert's blog for help. Long story short on this is you need to create variables in GTM which isn't hard as well as in Google Analytics which isn't hard either and then create a custom report in GA to report on these new variables. That's straight forward enough BUT you do need your programmers support in implementing additional tags on your transaction pages to actually create the Data Layer variable. If you look closely on my Tags and Triggers you'll see a GA tag that is serve on DOM Ready transactions. That's basically the same GA pixel duplicated but the trigger is a DOM ready event on the transaction page. It had to be on the DOM event (and not page view or load) for the transaction to be picked up. You'll need help with that from someone who is writing code for your website.
2) Cross Domain tracking is another issue that seems like it should be solved easily using this lesson from Google but to be blunt, I'm not 100% sure if it works or not. Basically the issue is whether other domains (say a transaction site or shopping site) and/or subdomains are passing variables and data properly through to your main GA account. The only way for you to confirm whether cross domain tracking is working is if you look in your GA reports and it looks like what you'd expect. I had trouble with passing the transaction amount from one subdomain to another subdomain so I ended up down this rabbit hole that after a few weeks, looks like it is fixed.
3) You are not a programmer. Repeat it. Say it again. Memorize it. Yes you are dealing with URLs, cross domain tracking, Data Layer variables, and implementing pixels that used to be done by your programmers but you are NOT ONE OF THEM. Basically, you are taking a job from them that you should have been doing in the first place, only there wasn't an elegant way for you to do it.
The Ugly in Google Tag Manager
There isn't much that's ugly about GTM. I did find two things that frustrate me still.
1) There are a lot of mix ups between the old and new versions of GTM. GTM 2.0 is a giant leap forward from the original version but unfortunately Google still maintains steps and procedures from GTM 1.0 and even if you ask them for help, often times you'll get redirected to an older page. For example, in this instruction there aren't any cookie configurations even though Google still directs people to that page
2) I think Google sugar coats some of these procedures too much. When I first contacted my programmers about passing transaction values into the Data Layer, Google made it look so easy but it wasn't. Once you get beyond the basic GTM configurations you'll need to involve your coders and you'll need to do more than just pass them a link for it to get implementations.
I hope you are still with me at this point. In the end, Google Tag Manager puts the conversions and remarketing in the hands of the marketers where it belonged in the first place. It is an awesome tool that will have your website owners and programmers thrilled you have taken some work and management off their plates while also simplifying the amount of pixels on your website. Just tread carefully when you start trying to implement Data Layer variables, cross domain tracking, and anything else like triggering an event off of a click to a button because you'll be sitting down with your programmers again.
Happy tagging and PardonMyFrench,