Google Tag Manager for Beginners: Tags

By Adam Smith | Mar 14, 2016
More Articles by Adam


Tags are the heart of Google Tag Manager and are its reason to live.

A tag is also the thing hanging from Minnie Pearl’s hat.  If you aren’t younger than 40 or not from the South, you’ve probably never heard of “HeeHaw,” so watch this video to get up to speed:

What the Heck Is a Tag?

Google defines a tag as “a snippet of JavaScript that sends information to a third party, such as Google.” What kind of site features are implemented using JavaScript?

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Adwords
  • Marketing Automation
  • Comcastify.js from our good friends at The Onion — because sometimes images just load too damn fast (or you have nostalgia for the dial-up days).

Tag Templates

To make your life easier, Tag Manager supports a bunch of prebuilt tags. Instead of having to know what JavaScript needs to be put into the tag, it guides you through some questions to configure the tag. Here are just a few of the tag templates available to you:

Screen shot of Google Tag Manager tag template choices

The one most people will use first is the Google Analytics tag. When you choose the template template, you are presented with four steps:

  • Choose a Product (which you have already done by choosing Google Analytics, congrats!)
  • Choose a Tag Type
  • Configure Tag
  • Fire On

For “Choose a Tag Type,” your only choices in this case are Universal or Classic Google Analytics.  I REALLY hope you have upgraded to Universal Analytics by now, but Tag Manager still supports you hold outs.

In the “Configure Tag” step, all you need is the ID for your Google Analytics account, a decision on whether or not to enable Display Advertising Features (spoiler alert: you should), and track type.  In this case, where we are doing a normal Google Analytics install, our track type will be “Page View.”

Finally, you get to the “Fire On” section.  This will tie the tag to a trigger that will eventually fire the tag. We’ll get into this more in my next post, but a trigger can be set up to fire on every page, click, form submit, etc. In our case, we’ll want a trigger that fires on every single page since you want Analytics across your site.

Screen shot of Google Analytics tag template inside of Google Tag Manager

Custom HTML Tag

Custom HTML tags allow you to add any other tag that is not officially supported using a tag template. It is a pretty simple affair — you get a text box to copy and paste your JavaScript code into and a checkbox on whether or not you want to support document.write. Document.write support is important if your JavaScript snippets needs to be able to update content directly in the browser.

Example time!  Let’s say you use a fancy marketing automation system. If the user is cookied and the marketing automation system knows their name, one of its features will allow you to address them personally in certain spots of the site. JavaScript does this using the document.write() function, allowing the script to actually change the HTML on the page.

Custom Image Tag

This option is less about being able to add your own images to a site and more about adding tracking pixels. What’s a tracking pixel you say? Basically, you are loading a small, transparent, 1-by-1 pixel image onto your site.  What the heck does that do, you ask?

  • Allows for analytics when the user has turned JavaScript off or is using a browser that doesn’t support JavaScript.
  • Measures number of opens in an email campaign.
  • Enables event tracking.
Roy Rogers and Trigger

Roy Rogers with Trigger

Wrap Up

Now you know how to set up a tag, but how do you actually get the sucker to work? Stayed tuned for part three on triggers. No, not that Trigger.

Questions, comments, or want to have a rap battle? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: @Schmack.

Roy Rogers with Trigger image by born1945Flickr, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32461749

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