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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Google Tag Manager
The Agents of Change

Every dollar counts in today’s world of digital marketing. Our businesses are utilizing so many different platforms and technologies that we have to be able to effectively deploy these in a way that is both cost effective to you, and provides an optimal user experience for those visiting your website and apps. The way to do that is with tag management tools.

Essentially, these tools allow marketers to impactfully manage and marry together various applications and data in the most efficient way by providing more agility, better performance, cost savings, and better data control.



Rich: Charles Farina is Director of Growth and Development at Analytics Pros, the leading Google Analytics 360 reseller. With over 10 years of experience in Digital Analytics, he helps clients including Yelp, Glassdoor, and GoPro. Charles is deeply experienced in attribution, cross-device and cross-platform analytics, as well as marketing data integrations. Charles, welcome to the show.

Charles: Thanks for having me, I’m so excited to be here.

Rich: I should have also mentioned you’re a dog owner, you’ve got dogs in the background.

Charles: I’ve got 2 dogs and a cat.

Rich: So what kind of dogs do you have there?

Charles: I’ve got 2 terriers and they are crazy.

Rich: Alright, well we’ll see if they become part of the show or just background information. So I had reached out to a couple very smart people looking for somebody to talk about Google Tag Manager, and they said you’re the guy. How did you get to be the Google Tag Manager guy?

Charles: So I am not the guy but I’m the guy that maybe knows the guy. That’s my claim to fame. The guy – if you’re looking for the Google Tag Manager guy – he goes by Simo Ahava. So you can just Google his name and he is everywhere. So my claim to fame is that I’ve been to a few conferences with him, shared a beer, so I love Simo.

But I got into this space and became the guy who knows the guy because almost 10 years ago I started using Google Analytics and I fell in love with it. I was doing a variety of internships and I really found that I didn’t enjoy SEO, I didn’t really like paid search, but the Analytics is really my passion. And 10 years ago Google Tag Manager didn’t exist. The challenge that we had as marketers was how could we get the analytics to be accurate to measure what matters. Google released the first Tag Manager to help solve that major challenge, so it quickly became an integral part of our marketing and digital analytics stack, and I’ve been using it since even before it was released. So I have a lot of experience with it.

Rich: Alright so maybe you can explain in the most basic terms possible – because we have people listening who are marketers who are always into Google Analytics, and other people who maybe don’t spend as much time there – what exactly is Google Tag Manager and why do I as a marketer need it?

Charles: I love that question. So Google Tag Manager is called the “Tag Management System”, or “TMS”. A TMS is considered a fundamental component of your marketing stock. So if you’re not using one, you’re already behind. In the simplest terms the way I like to describe it is as a TMS or a Word Press is to your website the ability to easily manage all the content on your website. A TMS – or a Google Tag Manager – is like a CMS for all of your marketing tags and pixels. So it allows marketers to be able to easily deploy pixels and tags, understand what information is being tracked, but more importantly I think the biggest benefit is it breaks silos.

So instead of having a great implementation of Google Analytics, or a great implementation of your conversion and marketing, you have a great tagging infrastructure, where all of your tags and pixels share the same information and can be leveraged across that entire marketing stack. So that’s why you should be using a TMS.

Rich: Ok, I have a few questions. First off is, I’ve heard the term before, I had to look it up, but for everybody listening at home, define “marketing stack”.

Charles: So when I think of a marketing stack, I’m really thinking of all of the tools that you use for your marketing purposes. So as an example, even a small business is likely using Google AdWords, you’re likely using some marketing automation or CRM system like Insightly or Salesforce, you might use some Bing, you’ll likely have an analytics system like Google Analytics, and all of these marketing tools at the end of the day require you usually to add some JavaScript or some code to your website to make them work.

And then to even use them correctly you have to go further and start to customize your tags and start tracking what matters most. So Google Analytics if you want to know how many people downloaded something, we have to add a tag for when someone clicks that download to track that download. So inevitably when you’re working with marketing technology we end up talking about all of the JavaScript and tags that has to be added to make them work.

Rich: Ok. So another thing you said is all this data can be used together, you’re breaking down the silos. What does that mean exactly for the average marketer? Is that the same information that’s going to be used for Facebook as Google? I’m not quite 100% clear.

Charles: Yeah, great question. So the old way of managing all of your tools, like if we use Google Analytics, AdWords, and Facebook – as an example – the first thing you do when you launch a website is you likely go and either install a plugin or you might work with a developer who would add some events to the form submissions or downloads or purchases, and then the next week we’ll be ready to launch the paid advertising. So now you’re asking that same developer to add new tags for AdWords on all those same events.

And then if you’re doing Facebook and you’re running some marketing campaign and you want to remarket to people that didn’t buy, we have to add a Facebook tag throughout the entire website. So when I mention that we’re kind of removing the silos, what Google Tag Manager allows you to do is to add a single front end. We can add one tag across the entire website, and then within Google Tag Manager I can easily say now I want to save the same information to Facebook, AdWords and Google Analytics off of a single tag, instead of 3 different tags that a developer would add 3 separate times. So it reduces the time it takes you to basically spin up marketing campaigns and marketing technology, and ensures that everything is tracked consistently. So it ends up being a huge benefit.

Rich: Ok, I want to make sure that I’m understanding you correctly using your language. So when you say a “Facebook tag”, is that the same thing as installing the code for Facebook pixel?

Charles: Yes. Pixels and tags are kind of the JavaScript interchanger.

Rich: Ok. I wanted to make sure about that. So one of the concerns I had with this episode was that it was going to get too geeky, too fat, or it was going to require visuals so people could see what we’re talking about. And obviously this is an audio podcast so that wouldn’t happen.

So if I buy into the fact that this is somehow going to make my life easier, how complicated is it to set GTM and what do I need to tell my developers? What exactly has to happen, can you walk me through that?

Charles: Yeah, so to be fair, this tool – a Tag Management System – does have a technical aspect. So at some point you’re going to either need to know the technical aspects yourself or have a developer who will be able to know and do it for you long term.

Rich: But the goal is that you’re only going to have to ask this favor once if you are working with a developer.

Charles: It’s once but it’s also ongoing. So as you make changes to your website or if you redesign, you are going to need to make modifications. It’s not kind of you set it up and you forget it forever. As your business evolves so does your tag management as well as all the tags on your website to reflect that.

So in this example, if we’re starting and we’re starting from scratch, the first thing you can do is you can Google and watch a small video, and there’s tutorials and quick start guides to how to get all of this on your website, how to get it installed, how to create your first tabs. What I love about Google Tag Manager is they’ve made the process very simple. It’s basically you add the same Java script you would have added anyways, it’s just in a different format to your website. And then you can go in and through this guided interface, you simply say “now I want to install a Google Analytics tag, and I want that available on every page on my website”. So in 3 clicks you can have that tag actually on your website live and deployed all through adding one simple tag.

Now your example about Facebook, now if we want to do the Facebook tag, it’s pretty much the same exact work flow. So all your developer has to do is to follow the instructions and all the information is readily available by simply following some quick start guides. So the beauty of this is I’m not asking anyone to do any more work than you would have already. You still have to do the same process to add the tags if you were to put it directly on your website. But by using a tag management system you’re basically allowing yourself to scale and increase your ability and agility as you continue to grow and move forward. You’re not locking yourself into those silos.

Rich: Now we’ve been talking about Google Tag Manager, are there other tag managers out there and should we be considering those?

Charles: Yes, there are other tag managers that actually existed before Google Tag Manager. Some of the first ones were a product called Ensighten, there’s also Tealium, there’s Adobe Tag Manager, there’s Signal, all of those products generally have a cost or a subscription fee associated with the product or within itself.

The reason Google Tag Manager is my recommendation as the place to start is it’s completely no strings attached, it’s free, there’s no cost associated with it. And in addition, it is an enterprise level tool, so companies like GoPro and Visa and large enterprises are using them as well as small businesses. All of them are able to use and scale and leverage the same great and easy to use product. So it’s definitely the place I would start. And before you consider investing in a paid tag management solution, see how far you can get with the free version. For 99% of the companies, Google Tag Manager meets all of their needs.

Rich: And I would think with the audience we have here, probably close to 100%. Alright, so definitely Google Tag Manager over the others. And maybe this is a question I should have asked earlier on, but can you kind of share with us what’s the difference between Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics? Because they seem to be so intertwined and often confused.

Charles: Yes, so what Google Analytics is a digital analytics platform that helps us measure the performance of our website and our mobile apps, and any of the experiences we’re creating about our users. So it ultimately helps us answer questions about how people are getting to our website, what are they doing on our website, and are they performing the actions that matter most (buying, subscribing, downloading, coming back).

What Google Tag Manager is it’s what you use to implement Google Analytics and it’s what you use to implement all of the tags and pixels. So instead of installing all of the Google Analytics tags on your site, we simply use Google Tag Manager to deploy all of those tags for ourselves. So Google Tag Manager doesn’t have reports, it doesn’t tell us how many times someone clicked a button. All it does is simply listen for meaningful actions that happen on your website, and based off of the rules and configuration that you set, it says “when I received this message that a user performs this action, I want this action to be sent to Facebook, AdWords, and Google Analytics to indicate that it was a successful visit for that user”.

Rich: Ok, If I’m a marketer…I guess the part that I’m confused on is there is an element that is going to save me from having to go back to our developer on a regular basis, but it also sounds like there’s things that my developer needs to be involved with over time. Let’s say that we’ve never done any Facebook advertising and suddenly we decide we’re going to do it. And I’ve got Google Tag Manager already implemented on my website, I’ve got WordPress, can I then manage the Facebook pixel myself as a marketer with minimal technical chops, or do I still need to go back to my developer each time I want to add something like a Facebook pixel, or if there’s a Pinterest, pixel or a Houzz pixel, or any other pixels or tags that may be out there?

Charles: Great question. So we can even peel that back farther. If you don’t even have a developer and you have access to WordPress, there’s already great plugins for Google Tag Manager in WordPress.

Rich: Oh, ok.

Charles: So you can go in there, click a button, and it will actually implement Google Tag Manager on your website. In fact, there’s a few of the plugins that actually start to pick up data and make it available in Google Tag Manager. So some of those plugins will say “here’s the author of a page, here’s the publish date of a page”. There’s one plugin that even sends the weather, what is the weather where the user is visiting from, and makes that available as an attribute inside Google Tag Manager.

So to answer your questions, if you want to deploy a Facebook pixel with no developer involvement, all you have to do is log into Google Tag Manager and simply follow the implementation guide for how to implement Facebook Google Tag Manager, which you can simply Google for any marketing pixel you have. You follow the guide and in 5 minutes the tag will be ready and live on the website. 

Rich: Ok, so it’s almost like Google Tag Manager is some kind of hub a developer sets up and basically we can almost put anything into that hub once it exists in our code. And if it’s a CMS like WordPress, it’s going to automatically appear on every single page.

Charles: That’s correct. To be frank, it is injecting code into your website. So also something that before you ever hit the ‘publish’ button you need to make sure you actually hit the ‘test’ button first and actually go to your website and see what your website looks like with that code, and hopefully it looks like nothing changed. But to be clear, you are injecting code on your website so it does have a very small risk by actually making things break. And that actually only happens if you’re kind of going out on your own and not following one of the guides. But yes, it’s exactly right, It’s a hook that adding code directly to your website that you’re controlling.

Rich: We’ve talked about Facebook, we’ve talked about some other ones as well, what are some of the other conversion tools that are available in Google Tag Manager?

Charles: So Google Tag Manager has two core components for tags. There’s some prebuilt tags, they call them ‘vendor tags’. And these vendor tags are ones that other vendors have worked with Google to actually put into the product, so there’s an easy guide to use them. Examples of those are in their Amp container there’s an Adobe Analytics Tag, which is a separate product. There’s Crazy Egg, there’s Double Click, there’s AdWords, there’s Spire based Analytics, there’s Optimize, A/B Testing, Microsoft Bing Ads, we could go on and on. There’s a ton of prebuilt tags.

The other part is, if there’s a tag that Google doesn’t have a partnership with a vendor for this native tag, there’s something called a ‘custom HTML tag’, which is simply where you copy and paste Java script into and then it will allow you to add any pixel or any piece of Java script tag. So when a vendor comes to you and says, “I need you to add this tag to your website on every page”, you can simply take that and instead of giving it to your developer you could go in and paste it yourself and then have it live and ready to go on your website.

Rich: Alright, so there are some ready bake recipes out there, and there’s also some freestyle copy and paste sort of stuff as well.

Charles: Exactly. And speaking of recipes, one of my favorite parts is Google Tag Manager actually has an ability to do imports. So you can import other people’s containers and configurations as quick start guides.  So one of my favorite blogs that I follow is form Luna Metrics, and as an example let’s say you want to track video, you wanted to track YouTube video analytics and get information when people hit play, pause, how far they get in the video. Instead of having to go and set that all up yourself, you can go to Luna Metrics blog and download a container and actually import all of the configuration you need to track YouTube by simply clicking 3 buttons and deploying it on your website. So there are tons of quick start recipes to help you get things done very efficiently.

Rich: Interesting. So a container holds multiple tags or basically it’s just self-contained tag that does a very specific task?

Charles: Yeah. There’s basically three concepts. So there’s the container, which holds all of the tags and configurations. Within a container there is basically 3 steps. First you say, “What tags do we want on our website?” Next we say, “Where do we want those tags to fire or to exist? Do we want them to fire on all page , do we want them to only fire when action happens?” And lastly, within that tag, what are the additional information we want that tag to contain?

So as an example when someone purchases something on the website, maybe you want to send the amount of the purchase or the revenue in that tag. So you can also set it to actually pick up Meta data about authors, content, transactions, in the tags itself. So that’s the basic component of how Google Tag Manager works.

Rich: Very cool. So as you look into the future in your crystal ball, what do you see coming down the line in terms of maybe some changes or the next steps in Google Tag Manager?

Charles: There’s a lot. And really what Google is going – and I think it’s a benefit to the entire industry – is they’re trying to make it as easy as possible to get rich data about what’s happening and the things that matter most here in business. So in the old days people would think that when I had an analytics implementation that only measured every page view, I had good analytics. But that’s nothing anymore.

Google Tag Manager is helping us take it further. So I think in the last 6 months they actually released as core components the ability to measure scroll tracking. So by simply adding Google Tag Manager on your website, you can easily tell Google Analytics anytime someone scrolled on a page. So you actually know if they engaged or if they didn’t engage with that page at all.

We can also do things like let’s say you wanted to track something on a page within their viewpoint. When do they actually see the footer on your page, or when did they actually see that call to action button? There’s now a pre-built part of the platform where you can view visibility as a trigger that if something shows up, I want to fire a tag or take action. So the future is going to be even more quick start guides and recipes to allow marketers to more easily have rich information about what is actually happening on their website.

Rich: So this sounds very cool, my only concern is all these extra bells and whistles, do you think that this can negatively impact the load time of a given page?

Charles: Great question and the answer is, absolutely not. The way Google Tag Manager works is that it’s all asynchronies, so it’s loading all of your tags asynchronially, it actually is going to improve your page performance.

Rich: For those of us that – let me just say for myself, who is not obviously as smart as you – define “asynchronies” for me please. I mean I think I know what it means, things are not happening at the same time. But just in terms of this specific definition, I’d love to know more.

Charles: So when we talk about tags there’s 2 types; there’s synchronies and asynchronies. If you were to add a synchronies tag, and example of synchronies tags are usually A/B testing platforms like Optimizely. Usually what happens is synchronies tags actually prevents the site from loading until that piece of code is completed. So synchronies tags have a higher risk of slowing down your site.

Google Tag Manger loads everything asynchronously, which means as soon as the page loads it loads Google Tag Manager and then it tries to load on the side all of your marketing apps. So it’s not slowing down the page performance, it’s actually loading everything on the side, which actually improves the site performance because they’re not adding all of this random Java script all over the website. It’s all controlled and actually being reused, so if you set it up correctly within a very simple and easy to use platform.

The piece that I think is easiest to understand is if you were to ask a question of how many tags do I have on my website today, if you don’t have a tag manager there’s no way you can answer that question without physically going to every page on your website and looking in the source code and trying to find where someone added tags. If you have a tag manager they’re all listed right in front of you and you can easily say, “I added this tag a year ago, I don’t want to work with this vendor anymore they weren’t working well”, I can remove it myself. So it’s going to actually have a big improvement on page speed.

Rich: So if we’ve already got a Crazy Egg tag in there, and we’ve got a Facebook tag in there and maybe a few others, and we decide to go the Google Tag Manager route, does it make sense then to pull those off of our website and put them in through Google Tag Manager, because that could actually speed up the load time of the website?

Charles: It is. And I always like to follow that “crawl, walk, run” type approach. So it would be a bad idea if you try to do it all at once, normally you want to do a phased type of approach. So step one, let’s just get Google Tag Manager on the site. Step two, let’s move just the Crazy Egg tag and make sure everything is still working appropriately. And then let’s kind of piece out chunks we can do.

So absolutely, ultimately long term, you want to get everything within your tag manager that you can, but it’s not a good idea to try and do it all at once, because then you might end up with some issues and you’re kind of scratching your head at why things aren’t working right. 

Rich: Alright, makes sense. This has been great, definitely stuff I’ve got to figure out for myself and start playing around with. Where can we find out more information about you, Charles, or anything else you want to share with us today?

Charles: So you can find me, I like to write my own blog, charlesfarina.com. I also work for one of the leading providers of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, Analytics Pros, we’ve got a great blog. I’ll say it again, if you want to know more about the space, Simo Ahava has the most amazing blog to make it extremely easy for marketers to be able to use this tool effectively. So those are my favorite resources to follow.

Rich: Great, and of course we’ll have those all linked in the show notes if people want to head over there. Charles, thank you so much for your time and expertise today.

Charles: You’re welcome, it was a pleasure.


Show Notes:

Charles Farina is an authority on both Google Analytics as well as Good Tag Manager. Definitely check out his personal blog for good stuff on those topics, as well as his work blog.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he just added “author” to his resume with his brand new book!