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How to use Google Tag Manager to make sense of your analytics

gstockstudio / Depositphotos.com

gstockstudio / Depositphotos.com

Google Tag Manager is one of those “hidden gem” bits of functionality that can make your marketing analytics way more digestible. But the learning curve can be intimidating for those without webmaster experience.

Here’s what you need to know about the basics of Google Tag Manager and some helpful hints to get you going.

What Is GTM?
Google Tag Manager is a free tag management system (TMS) tool that allows users to store and manage measurement tracking codes. After you layer in the first bit of GTM code into your web-based project, you’re able to deploy analytics and measurement of tag configurations online. No more manually adding tags into the back end of your website’s code, which can save huge headaches for those marketers without web developer help.

In plainer words, say you have a bulky blog that generates a lot of leads. A decent spot to be in, for sure, but you want to dig a little deeper on where all those leads are coming from; are certain topics or writers generating more leads than others?

GTM allows you to create segments into your performance analytics, so you can sort by category, author, or really whatever else your imagination dreams up. With this level of insight, you can then create more of what’s working well, and cut out the things that don’t help so much.

The first step is adding your working with your first tag to connect GTM and Google Analytics. It’s not too tricky, but even so, Google has a Tag Manager Help center with helpful overviews and an active community forum to help you beta test ideas and chat with fellow GTM users. Once your universal tracking code for GA is set up in GTM, the sky’s the limit! But before we really dive in, let’s go over some vocabulary.

Google Tag Manager vocabulary
“Tags” are the snippets of JavaScript or tracking pixels from other third-party tools that tell Google Tag Manager what to do. Common tracking codes include the universal tracking code for Google Analytics, as well as Adwords’s remarketing and conversion tracking codes. Though there are far more than just two; popular tracking codes include Facebook pixels or heat map tracking codes like Hotjar, CrazyEgg, and so forth.

“Triggers” or “events” are how GTM fires a tag that you set up. A simple way to think about triggers and events is that these are all the different actions your reader can make on a page. So you can set up triggers for when a user visits a page, clicks on a link, or even fills out a form or completes another action.

Lastly, “variables” are the additional information GTM may need for your tags and triggers to work. We say may because these are conditional and are not necessarily occurring each time or with each user. Variables, as you can imagine, can get as robust and detailed as your heart desires, with the most basic variable being the universal tracking code for Google Analytics.

This whole thing — tags, triggers, and variables — is called a “container,” and a tag manager container can replace manually coded tags on a site or app.

How GTM can make life easier
The biggest benefit to Google Tag Manager is just how “easy” it can be to customize your data as it gets sent over to your Google Analytics dashboard. Want to set up tracking for your complex e-commerce campaign? Or maybe you want to start tracking PDF downloads? GTM has you covered. You can even run a heat map to record where your user hovers before they click with GTM. And to Google’s credit, they do a great job of coordinating and supporting third-party tags and provide helpful tag templates for users just like you.

GTM is also great because it houses all of your tags in one location, making it easier to audit, clean, update and adjust as you go. In addition, your website may even load faster once you’ve cleaned up any unnecessary or stale tagging structures and only use what you need.

Best yet, GTM has a very handy preview and debug mode that allows you to see what tags are firing on what page. This is helpful, especially for those just starting to fiddle with this feature, because it allows users to test their tag functionality before going live with a page.

The biggest caveat with this free tool is the learning curve it comes with. Google has been doing its best to provide a Quick Start Guide and a free Google Tag Manager Fundamentals course to help with further learning.

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