Google Tag Manager: Part 1


By Jay Adamsson

Google Analytics is pretty much standard on websites these days, particularly for small to medium sized businesses.  Although it does have its limitations, when it comes to determining what is happening on your website, there really is no other competitor that offers the type of information available through Google Analytics (excepting the somewhat expensive paid products).  It’s also pretty easy to get started – simply sign up for an account and put a short piece of Analytics code on every page of your website.  Then watch the results add up as visitors come to the site.

Because of the ease with which it can be used, it is a very simple act to add Google Analytics to a website. Indeed, most developers do this automatically as a matter of routine for a new site (although I still see some developers charge a substantial amount for what is a very simple, short, and routine process). However, tapping into the real power of analytics requires more than just the basic implementation. It requires that website goals and objectives are determined, and that key effectiveness indicators (KEIs) are developed. Google Analytics supports this strategic use of a website through features such as events and custom variables.

Here at Analytic-OR, we deal with lots of small businesses and non-profits, and a common thread is the cost of website maintenance. These organizations are beholden to their website provider, and are frustrated when even small changes to their website have a substantial cost. As a result, even basic website maintenance is rationed, preventing the site from making as significant a contribution as it should. Content management systems such as WordPress have gone a long ways to empowering the organization by moving simple content changes away from the web developer. Now, Google Tag Manager is starting the same process for analytics, separating advanced analytics from the developer and putting it in the hands of the website owner, where it belongs.

So, what’s the catch?  For one thing, it’s adding a whole new interface and system that website owners have to get to know.  The interface that Google provides for Tag Manager is not particularly intuitive or easy to navigate at times.  Making proper use of this tool requires a bit of knowledge of what is happening and why.  Although I expect this will change and get easier over time as the engineers at Google come up with better ways to present the tool, at least for the time being, it does require a bit of learning up front on just what is happening.

But, if a website owner is willing to learn the basics, there can be a significant payoff.  By bringing analytics implementation into the business and away from the developer, there is potential for much faster responses and lower costs for organizations that want to do serious analytics on their websites.

Keep an eye out for follow-up posts on this topic.  Part 2 will cover how to use Google Tag Manger to get started.  Part 3 will discuss using Tag Manager for events and custom variables.