Google Tag Manager Overview

By Jessica Davidson | Dec 13, 2012
More Articles by Jessica

Between Google AdWords conversion tracking code, Google Tag ManagerGoogle Analytics code, and Google Remarketing code, we often find ourselves and our websites swimming in a sea of tracking code. It can sometimes be a daunting process working back and forth between the marketing and IT teams to ensure that everything is being properly tracked. But what if there was a tool that could ease the management of all of the various types of tracking code that we put on our websites? Well, you’re in luck, in October, Google released its Google Tag Manager that does just that.

What is Google Tag Manager?

Google Tag Manager is a free tool that combines all of the tracking code tags that you utilize on your website into a single, concise piece of code. This code signals to the Google Tag Manager to fire certain tracking code depending on the tags and rules you define in the interface. Now, instead of having three or four different sets of tracking code per page, there is just one piece of code that can fire various types of tags depending on the rules you set.

How Google Tag Manager Works

Google Tag Manager contains 3 main components:

1. Container

In order to employ the various tracking code needed for your website, a single piece of code must be added. This piece of code is called the container. The container holds all of the tags for your website. You can access the container code once you set up your Google Tag Manager account. The container code is placed on every page of your website after the opening <body> tag. Once you have added the container code snippet, remove all of the old tracking code, like Google Analytics and AdWords conversion tracking code, which you will be adding and managing via Google Tag Manager.

 2. Tags

The container that you first add to your website will be empty, therefore, the next component that needs to be added is the various tracking code tags. The tags you remove from your website in place of the Google Tag Manager container will need to be added during this step.

You can choose from various built-in tag templates in Google Tag Manager, which include:

  • AdWords Conversion Tracking
  • AdWords Remarketing
  • Google Analytics
  • DoubleClick Floodlight Counter
  • DoubleClick Floodlight Sales

Or, you can add custom HTML tags (for custom javascript tags) or custom image tags (for 1×1 pixel tracking images) that are not included as built-in templates.

3. Rules

Next, you must set up rules to define when the tags should be fired. Setting up rules in Google Tag Manager is similar to setting up goals in Google Analytics. Google Tag Manager supports the following types of rules:

  • URL-based Rules: The tag is fired based on a particular URL. You can define the rule so that the tag is fired on all pages, such as for Analytics code to track visits or for a particular page like a thank you page for tracking Google AdWords conversions.
  • Referrer-based Rules: The tag is fired based on the referral source for the page. For example, the tag can be fired when a user visits the page via a particular affiliate or if the user visits the page after visiting another specific page on your website.
  • Event-based Rules: The tag is fired based on a particular “event” on the website. For example, the tag is fired when the user plays a video or clicks a button.

Debug Console

By creating and managing various tags and rules yourself, it is imperative that they act and track as intended. For this purpose, Google Tag Manager provides the Debug Console. In the Preview & Debug Mode, as you visit different pages on your website,  a window at the bottom of the browser appears that displays whether or not each tag is fired.


Once you have created your container, tags, and rules and ensured that the tags fire correctly, make sure you publish the version of the tags created. Although this may seem to be common sense, it is often overlooked and users believe that tracking begins once the tags are created. With that being said, make sure you hit the publish button when you are ready for your tags to go live.

So, should you consider utilizing Google Tag Manager to manage your website’s various tracking code? Consider the following pros and cons before moving forward with its implementation.

Google Tag Manager Pros

  • Marketers can add tags whenever they please without having to coordinate with IT to put additional code on the website
  • Less code to manage on your website
  • Easy to use interface
  • All of your tags can be seen in one place – You don’t have to go to multiple pages to determine everything that you are tracking and on what pages the tracking code is placed.
  • Debug Mode – This tool allows you to see if your tags are firing correctly.

Google Tag Manager Cons

  • Initial Setup – The initial process to set everything up – adding the Google Tag Manager container, removing all of the old code, and determining what tags need to be tracked and where – takes some time and coordination. Once the initial setup is complete and correct, you will not have to worry about this process anymore.
  • Debug Mode – Although it tells you whether or not tags are fired, it still takes some investigative work to determine why the correct tag is not firing or why an incorrect tag is firing.
  • Although it is a simple tool with an easy to use interface, it still requires a good understanding about how the tags are fired in order to correctly set up the tags and rules as well as debug issues with tag firing. Because of this, it may still take some coordination with IT to solve any problems if things are not tracking properly.

For more information about Google Tag Manager, check out their recent webinar about the new tool.

Have you starting using Google Tag Manager? Let me know about your experience with the interface, any problems you have run into, or any additional benefits. Find me on Twitter or Google+.

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