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Google Tag Manager – and what it means for you

When I give my elevator pitch to family and friends as to what we do, I’ve quickly come to the realisation that talking about digital analytics in terms of actionable insights, KPIs and measurement is the quickest way to emptying a room.

What I find generates at least a flicker of interest is when I say I help businesses improve their websites and learn from their mistakes. For an industry that helps businesses learn from their mistakes it is ironic that we seem not to learn from our own when it comes to data quality and web analytics implementations.

You’re beginning to ask what has this got to do with Google Tag Manager. Bear with me I’m getting there. Whether you are a business owner, E-commerce director or Marketing Manager the following scenario will be quite common:

  • You have toiled for months on end to get your brand new, shiny website designed and built.
  • If you are fortunate you may have a significant budget to launch the site through a plethora of marketing channels.
  • When it comes to understanding how the online part of your business is performing you will naturally turn to your chosen web analytics solution.
  • At this point there is a deep in-take of breathe when the analytics solution you hoped would deliver miraculous insights (this was never going to happen anyway, but that’s a discussion for another day I think!) is actually churning out poor quality data.
  • This is invariably because the web analytics solution has been poorly implemented or setup without a clear understanding of the objectives of the site that is being tagged.
  • And when you try to start to fix some of the tracking problems it feels like you are walking through treacle.

If this sounds as familiar as England losing in a penalty shoot out you’re not alone. A recent survey conducted by DBD Media found that 80% of Google Analytics accounts are used incorrectly often due to poor implementation and setup.

Anecdotal evidence suggests this is not much better with paid for solutions. So why is this important? Well if your boss doesn’t trust the data they’re certainly not going to trust your analysis and insights derived from that data. Poor analytics implementations have dogged the digital industry for years and there is little sign of it improving.

To counter this problem site owners (especially those responsible for business critical websites) need to accept that analytics implementation is a specialist skill that requires dedicated resource and not something to be automatically expected from a site development team.

Additionally businesses may want to consider using a Tag Management system to give more control to the marketing/analytics departments over the tags on their site. Up until recently this meant investing in a paid solution such as TagMan, Ensighten and BrightTag to name a few.

However similar to how Google disrupted the web analytics market with the launch of Google Analytics in 2006, I believe it may have disrupted the tag management market with the launch of Google Tag Manager (launched 1st October 2012). Although GTM (Google Tag Manager) has fewer features than many of it’s paid for competitors I believe it has a core offering that will appeal to a lot of businesses.

First of all what is GTM:

I could bang on about it being a tag management system however I quite like the benefit driven description on Google Tag Manager’s home page:

“Google Tag Manager lets you add and update your website tags, easily and for free, whenever you want, without bugging the IT folks.”

If you want to get to more specific details about what GTM is and how it works, Justin Cutroni – Analytics Advocate at Google, has written 3 great articles on GTM.

So why should you consider GTM:

  • GTM is relatively simple to implement so there is less chance of an incorrect implementation i.e. BETTER QUALITY DATA
  • GTM passes more of the setup of analytics solutions from development teams to web analysts and analytically focussed marketing managers who should know what and how they want tracking i.e. BETTER QUALITY DATA
  • GTM allows analytics implementations to be much more independent from development lifecycles allowing more quality time for tagging implementation and testing i.e. BETTER QUALITY DATA
  • As part of the GTM solution there is a preview mode which allows you to test your tags before you put them live to ensure your tags are firing correctly i.e. BETTER QUALITY DATA
  • GTM has a rules based system which ensures your analytics tags are only fired when you want them to fire i.e. BETTER QUALITY DATA

Additional benefits are:

  • Ongoing maintenance of your tags will almost exclusively lie with your analytics/marketing team with little-to-no reliance on your busy development teams potentially saving time and money
  • If you want to implement an additional tag, such as a campaign tracking tag, this can be done within minutes/hours rather than days/weeks giving you much more flexibility in your marketing activity i.e. if you want to track a last minute campaign you can.
  • Any analytics tags within your GTM container tag are loaded asynchronously meaning that your page loads are not affected when your tags load. As page download speed is critically important to some sites this is a particularly useful feature.

What GTM can’t do:

  • Although GTM can handle most types of tags, Google has made it clear that tags with ‘document.write’ functionality built into the snippet and A/B testing tags should not be used.
  • Some paid-for tag management solutions have a much richer feature set than GTM and if you have identified tag management as a critical element to your digital analytics setup then you should shop around. (However Google have made it very clear that the current GTM is version 1 and that there will be future developments to the product. With the recent launch of Google’s Universal Analytics approach (29.10.12) I strongly suspect GTM will become more and more an essential weapon in the digital analyst’s armoury.)

Sounding a bit like a BBC presenter trying to be as impartial as possible I’d like to point that there are many other tag management systems available (however GTM is the only one I am aware of that has enterprise tag management features which is free). Equally I’d like to offer one big caveat: GTM and other tag management systems are not a panacea for bad data. There are many reasons and factors that will cause bad or inappropriate data to creep into your analytics solutions. However GTM and other tag management systems as part of a properly planned digital analytics strategy can help reduce the repeat offenders that are poor analytics implementations and poor data quality.

If you have already tried Google Tag Manager or have thoughts about the post it would be great if you could leave a comment below.

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