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Google Tag Manager Facts and Fiction


Google Tag Manager Facts and Fiction

Aug 04, 2014By Greg Zguta

With the recent move to Universal Analytics, Google is encouraging the use of Google Tag Manager, a tool released in the fall of 2012, to manage tracking code on websites. Google continues to add features and support to Tag Manager to make it more robust.

In higher education, the responsibility of website measurement and analytics has a history of bouncing around from IT to marketing and communications. It can be everyone’s and no one’s responsibility. How do you know if it is time (or a waste of time) to implement Tag Manager? Here are some thoughts based on our experience using it with our clients.

Tag Manager is another free Google experiment that could go away.

One thing is certain, Google experiments with products and ideas all the time, often giving them away for free with no guarantee of longevity or support. Tag Manager seems to be here to stay. Adobe made their dynamic tag management tool free last year partly in response to the emergence of Google Tag Manager. Marketers from leading companies like Moz and LunaMetrics think tag management tools are the future of how analytics solutions will be managed. Google has made continued updates and improvements to Tag Manager since launch, and closely coupled it with Google Analytics and now Universal Analytics. As we approach the two year anniversary of Tag Manager, I think it’s a tool higher ed can rely on.

Getting started with Tag Manager is easy.

It’s a fact that Tag Manager is easy to get started with, and Google bills Tag Manager as something that marketing managers and other non-technical users can own and use. Beyond basic tracking code, however, I find this to be a little over sold.

Doing more complex but common tracking tasks like using Universal Analytics event tracking requires a combination of tags, rules, and macros within Tag Manager to get exactly what you want in your reports. Sometimes a little custom javascript and other more tech-oriented configuration is needed. The concept around how Tag Manager does its work is different than the old method of embedding tracking code and custom javascript into pages directly. There is a corresponding learning curve and the high end of that curve feels more like the realm of a developer than a marketer or communications professional.

Setting up a Tag Manager account and placing the basic Google Analytics or Universal Analytics tracking code on your site isn’t hard. But it’s also a fact that when it comes to event tracking or targeting areas of the site for unique tasks, it’s best to have some support from a developer with javascript experience to help configure and test the site. As with most initiatives around analytics, a little planning goes a long way to help understand the resources and support needed to make a rollout of Tag Manager go smoothly.

Tag Manager is primarily meant to manage Google Analytics.

Certainly Google wants people to use their website analytics tool, and a lot of features are baked in specifically for Google Analytics and Universal Analytics. But it’s fairly easy to add other bits of tracking code and marketing pixels to pages. In fact, the best use cases for Tag Manager are when there is more tracking taking place then just Google Analytics.

Targeting a specific page or set of pages for special tracking requires some regular expressions (LunaMetrics has a nice guide to regular expressions) which can give experienced programmers headaches, but the complexity required to target a few pages is low and easily borrowed and repeated from other examples. It’s often easier to use Tag Manager to target tracking code for a few individual pages than to try to do it within content management system templates which are generated automatically and contain the same code across all pages of the site.

Overall, Tag Manager shifts where the implementation work for analytics tracking takes place out of the CMS and into the Tag Manager tool. This is progress and a benefit, but it doesn’t completely eliminate some of the technical complexity of more robust implementations. I think the switch to Universal Analytics is a great time for institutions to consider moving to Tag Manager to manage their tracking code. Check out Google’s own FAQ for more information on the tool and for help determining if it’s valuable to your organization.

  • Greg Zguta Director of Web Strategy I've been working on education web projects since the late 90's and enjoy visiting campuses and watching how technology has transformed higher education since I got my first email account at Oberlin College in 1992. Back then, I mostly used the web to check weather radar and sports scores . . . I suppose technology hasn't transformed everything yet.