My Love-Hate Relationship with the New Google Tag Manager

October 21, 2015 | 4 min read
By Adam Smith

Three years ago, Marketing Mojo wrote an introductory article on Google Tag Manager. That is like 21 years ago in Internet years. In the fall of 2014, Google Tag Manager V2 was launched with some pretty significant changes. After a year of playing with it, I’m here to explore the changes and tell you whether GTM is the greatest thing since canned cheese or the harbinger of the marketing apocalypse.

You CAN put lipstick on a pig!!!

The most obvious change is the UI design. Google added a heaping spoonful of Material Design language and ended up with a tool that is easy on the eyes, clean, and a cinch to navigation through. The new interface is workflow-focused, making it simpler to understand the process.

Google Tag Manager Interface

So pretty

You don’t make the rules! You aren’t my mom!

In V2, rules are now triggers. The setup process is a little different (for the better). You can now setup a trigger in three steps. First, you choose the type of event. This can be a page view, click, form submission, history change, JavaScript error, or a timer. To add some flexibility, there is also a custom event option. Second, you configure the trigger. For example, with a page view trigger, it can fire on “page view,” “dom is ready,” or “window is loaded.” Third, you choose when to fire the trigger. Back to our page view example, you can setup a filter so that it’s fired only on pages that contain “/thank-you/” in the URL.

Macros, variables, and bears, OH MY!

Macros are now variables. Like any type of programming, a variable is used to store data. In GTM, this variable can now be used to define a trigger or to pass information at runtime. A good example of the latter is to save the Google Analytics ID in a variable for use by the Analytics tag.

But wait, there’s more! GTM has added built-in variables that are enabled with just a click in the interface. There are six categories of built-in variables — pages, utilties, errors, clicks, forms, and history — and about two dozen of built-in variables in all, so I’ll just go over the highlights:

  • Pages – Page URL
  • Pages – Referrer
  • Utilities – Random Number Generator (fun with numbers!)
  • Errors – Error URL
  • Clicks – Click URL
  • Clicks – Click Text
  • Forms – Form ID
  • Forms – Form Target
  • History – New History State
  • History – Old History State

Snake_Oil_in_VietnamThe snake oil that I’m not buying

The premise behind Google Tag Manager has always been that it will make life easier for marketing professionals to start tagging their site without the help of their IT department. This frustrates and terrifies me as both a marketing professional and a web developer.

One of the most powerful aspects of Google Tag Manager is the Data Layer. It’s basically a JavaScript object that allows you to push information from your page to Google Tag Manager. It’s a super powerful tool. I use it at Marketing Mojo to populate Custom Dimensions we have setup in Google Analytics using our own data. Here’s the rub, though: You’ll need someone with code access to implement this. Strike one for making anyone’s life easier.

I work with some incredibly smart and talented marketing professionals and many find the concepts in Google Tag Manager confusing. You start throwing around programming language terminology like variables and triggers and you can see the eyes start to glaze over. I’ll give points to Google that V2 is a step in the right direction, but it has a long way to go before I would let just anyone loose with it.

As an IT manager and web developer, I have two issues.

First, the tool is too flexible. You can add any tag you want even if it’s not included as a point and click tag template like Google Analytics. From here, anyone with access could add malicious code to your site. More likely, Larry, the Marketing Automation guy from your marketing department, is going to add code that will screw up your website. When the homepage is down for an hour, does the CEO come looking for you or Larry? In its defense, Google Tag Manager does allow you some permissions granularity, such as giving a user edit but not publish capability. However, full control is enabled by default.

Second, I have a lot of control over the code that I put on my pages — more control, I feel, than when I put the code in Tag Manager. The other day, I did some onClick events for a client through Google Tag Manager to record conversions in Google Analytics. This process would have taken me just a couple of minutes if I was up to my elbows in the source code. Through Tag Manager, the process took significantly longer, and I still feel like I gave up an element of control over the process.

Wrap Up

While I do think that Google Tag Manager is a powerful tool, I also believe your organization should put some serious thought into it before drinking the Kool-Aid. If you have a great web development department but your marketing department isn’t terribly savvy, it can create problems for both.

Questions, comments, or want to send me pics of pigs wearing lipstick? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter @schmack!

Snake Oil Pic: By Nik Azwaa Azmi from Ampang, Malaysia (Snake Oil) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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My Love-Hate Relationship with the New Google Tag Manager

October 21, 2015 | 4 min read
By Adam Smith

Three years ago, Marketing Mojo wrote an introductory article on Google Tag Manager. That is like 21 years ago in Internet years. In the fall of 2014, Google Tag Manager V2 was launched with some pretty significant changes. After a year of playing with it, I’m here to explore the changes and tell you whether GTM is the greatest thing since canned cheese or the harbinger of the marketing apocalypse.

You CAN put lipstick on a pig!!!

The most obvious change is the UI design. Google added a heaping spoonful of Material Design language and ended up with a tool that is easy on the eyes, clean, and a cinch to navigation through. The new interface is workflow-focused, making it simpler to understand the process.

Google Tag Manager Interface

So pretty

You don’t make the rules! You aren’t my mom!

In V2, rules are now triggers. The setup process is a little different (for the better). You can now setup a trigger in three steps. First, you choose the type of event. This can be a page view, click, form submission, history change, JavaScript error, or a timer. To add some flexibility, there is also a custom event option. Second, you configure the trigger. For example, with a page view trigger, it can fire on “page view,” “dom is ready,” or “window is loaded.” Third, you choose when to fire the trigger. Back to our page view example, you can setup a filter so that it’s fired only on pages that contain “/thank-you/” in the URL.

Macros, variables, and bears, OH MY!

Macros are now variables. Like any type of programming, a variable is used to store data. In GTM, this variable can now be used to define a trigger or to pass information at runtime. A good example of the latter is to save the Google Analytics ID in a variable for use by the Analytics tag.

But wait, there’s more! GTM has added built-in variables that are enabled with just a click in the interface. There are six categories of built-in variables — pages, utilties, errors, clicks, forms, and history — and about two dozen of built-in variables in all, so I’ll just go over the highlights:

  • Pages – Page URL
  • Pages – Referrer
  • Utilities – Random Number Generator (fun with numbers!)
  • Errors – Error URL
  • Clicks – Click URL
  • Clicks – Click Text
  • Forms – Form ID
  • Forms – Form Target
  • History – New History State
  • History – Old History State

Snake_Oil_in_VietnamThe snake oil that I’m not buying

The premise behind Google Tag Manager has always been that it will make life easier for marketing professionals to start tagging their site without the help of their IT department. This frustrates and terrifies me as both a marketing professional and a web developer.

One of the most powerful aspects of Google Tag Manager is the Data Layer. It’s basically a JavaScript object that allows you to push information from your page to Google Tag Manager. It’s a super powerful tool. I use it at Marketing Mojo to populate Custom Dimensions we have setup in Google Analytics using our own data. Here’s the rub, though: You’ll need someone with code access to implement this. Strike one for making anyone’s life easier.

I work with some incredibly smart and talented marketing professionals and many find the concepts in Google Tag Manager confusing. You start throwing around programming language terminology like variables and triggers and you can see the eyes start to glaze over. I’ll give points to Google that V2 is a step in the right direction, but it has a long way to go before I would let just anyone loose with it.

As an IT manager and web developer, I have two issues.

First, the tool is too flexible. You can add any tag you want even if it’s not included as a point and click tag template like Google Analytics. From here, anyone with access could add malicious code to your site. More likely, Larry, the Marketing Automation guy from your marketing department, is going to add code that will screw up your website. When the homepage is down for an hour, does the CEO come looking for you or Larry? In its defense, Google Tag Manager does allow you some permissions granularity, such as giving a user edit but not publish capability. However, full control is enabled by default.

Second, I have a lot of control over the code that I put on my pages — more control, I feel, than when I put the code in Tag Manager. The other day, I did some onClick events for a client through Google Tag Manager to record conversions in Google Analytics. This process would have taken me just a couple of minutes if I was up to my elbows in the source code. Through Tag Manager, the process took significantly longer, and I still feel like I gave up an element of control over the process.

Wrap Up

While I do think that Google Tag Manager is a powerful tool, I also believe your organization should put some serious thought into it before drinking the Kool-Aid. If you have a great web development department but your marketing department isn’t terribly savvy, it can create problems for both.

Questions, comments, or want to send me pics of pigs wearing lipstick? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter @schmack!

Snake Oil Pic: By Nik Azwaa Azmi from Ampang, Malaysia (Snake Oil) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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