Anatomy of Google Tag Manager

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Anatomy of Google Tag Manager

“… coding and technical chops are now an essential part of being a great marketer. Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder…” – Ryan Holiday

So there’s major confusion about where the traffic is coming from. We’re analyzing reports and it says twitter. The IT people say it’s coming from Facebook. I go over all the reports and realize it’s the classic case of incorrectly applied tags on google tag manager. The traffic is actually from Facebook. Trust the IT guys, always trust the IT guys. The fact that I majored in Computer Science comes in handy sometimes. As a marketer, I’m finding out little by little how inextricably marketing and computer science are linked together. I thought I was destined to be a coder until I fell in love with SEO. It actually began with this particular video.

Although the shift to digital marketing meant that I had to learn everything from scratch, I’ve never regretted what I studied in college. All those years of learning and mastering different computing languages have always served me in some way. You know, Rand Fishkin himself says that he regrets never having studied computer science.  Every time, google comes out with a new update, the computer engineer in me gets really excited. Google Tag manager was launched in 2012. Tools such as these are what I would call a perfect marriage between marketing and coding. Sure the tag manager has evolved a great deal since its inception but there still seems to be some confusion amongst marketers over how it works. Don’t you worry, here’s the lowdown on the Google Tag Manager.

Let us look at all the different elements of the Google Tag Manager.

First things first. What is a tag?

Tags are the mediators between your website and the tools you use to advertise, track, and customize your site. They bring data from your site to the technologies you use that require this data, such as marketing vendors and analytics solutions. The purpose of tags is to enhance your ability to engage, convert and track the visitors on your site. Tags also help make websites more responsive to visitor behavior. Tags are snippets of website code, usually JavaScript, that a third party such as Google Analytics provides. Almost all of today’s digital marketing solutions – including analytics, site personalization, and affiliate marketing- require tags.

Too many tags can make websites slow and clunky. Incorrectly applied tags can distort your measurement. It can be time-consuming for the IT department or webmaster team to add new tags—leading to lost time, lost data, and lost conversions.

This is where the Tag Manager comes in.

Google Tag manager is the closet organizer.  Christopher Penn, the VP of Marketing Technology at Shift Communications simply calls it a bucket. It is a free tool that consolidates your website tags with a single snippet of code and lets you manage everything from a web interface. You can add tags to the bucket, update the tags at any time without constantly having to call the IT guys for help. As a marketer, it gives you great flexibility and it lets the engineers concentrate on other important tasks.

The anatomy of Google Tag manager: So this is how it works

Find the complete infographic on installing Google Tag Manager here.

If you treat Google Tag Manager tool as a car, then its engine is the container tag and its skin (look and feel) and controls are the user interface. The user interface makes it easy for you, as an end user, to control the container tag. Just like, when you drive a car, the car steering, makes it easy for you to control the car engine, make it, turn the car left or right.

When coders refer to GTM, they usually refer to the container tag. When non-coders refer to GTM,  they usually refer to the user interface. Thus depending upon the context, GTM can either mean the ‘container tag’ or the ‘user interface’.


A container is what holds your tags. A GTM container is a universal tag, that fires your tags to the rules you set in the interface. If your tags are t-shirts then your container is the closet with hangers in them. Please note that the number of your t-shirts don’t go down, a container merely helps in efficient management of them.

The container tag provides all the functionality needed for GTM tool, to run and deploy tags on your website.

Data Layer

With data layer, you may never have to change your container tag. A data layer is a JavaScript object on a page that holds custom data that will pass from your site to GTM. GTM can then relay that data to your Google Analytics account(or a number of other analytics platforms) for analysis. The data layer allows GTM to quickly reference information within it instead of searching for cues all over a page.


These are any action of interest that take place on your site or in your app. You define events according to your marketing goals, and event tagging lets you monitor and measure these actions


As the name suggests, these tell GTM when you want it to fire a tag. For example, “Anytime someone visits a page.”


A variable is used to store data that is used in defining a trigger and/or to pass information (like product price, google analytics account id etc) to tag(s) at runtime. A variable tells GTM where  to fire a tag.

For a better understanding of how all these elements work together, please watch this video below.

How to install Google Tag Manager?

aThere’s an app called google tag assistant available on chrome’s webstore. This will help you track your tags on different pages on your website. Google Tag Assistant along with Google Analytics can be used to verify the tags in your bucket are working correctly and remove all your old tags.

Tag Manager is used for infrastructure and you can use a lot of its features to pass special data to Google Analytics.

For basic Google Analytics tracking, add a single Google Analytics tag and select “Page View” as the track type. Add a trigger to fire the tag on all pages. If basic tracking is all you need, you’ll just add this single Google Analytics tag. However, if you track events or e-commerce transactions, you’ll need to add additional Google Analytics tags.

By google analytics events we mean clicks on links, any kind of clicks on a page, timed intervals or whenever a form is filled. You can also track across different domains. You can use Tag Manager to tell you when someone is hovering over a video on your website, even if they don’t click on it. Google Analytics counts this event as a conversion if you set up a goal or an audience for that. You can then use that to remarket to those who watched the video and offer them a special discount.

The more useful and relevant your site becomes, the worse it may actually perform. This happens because websites are continuously adding tags to enhance their tracking, optimization or other functionality; this ends up crowding pages with third party tags and may slower the website.

For this reason, the Google Tag Manager comes in handy. With GTM , you can

  • Increase  Speed: Significantly decrease load times. Imagine replacing all individual tags on your site with one line of code. GTM loads code asynchronously, which means it deploys the applications relevant to the visitor and the page. This results in faster loading. Slow-loading pages drive visitors away. One lethargic page could cost you a crucial first impression or force visitors to competitors’ sites. Frustrated visitors don’t become customers. This is one of the many ways that time is money in the world of digital marketing. Slow-loading pages are not just an IT problem, they’re a conversion killer.
  • Minimize coding errors: Incorrectly applied tags can sabotage your measurements, resulting in additional costs and lost data. Manual tagging is tedious, monotonous process that invites these kinds of errors. GTM condenses tags into manageable form, helping you avoid these issues. When problems fo occur, GTM lets you quickly find and deactivate the offending tags.
  • Be Flexible: Tag Manager is also important for social media marketers who don’t have control over website updates. If you’re with a big company and constantly have to go through the IT department to add new tags or if you have a small website and use an outside consultant for website maintenance, it becomes difficult to update tags in a timely manner. GTM allows you put certain tags on certain pages. Every page has a custom html. It allows you specify that you want some tags on some pages, other tags on all pages and certain conditions to be met for still others.
  • Be Reliable: By putting everything in one bucket, you’re making sure that stuff doesn’t get missed. If you have a lot of different webpages, websites or use marketing automation services that have their own landing pages, forgetting to put tags on all those pages will ruin your analytics. As long as you use GTM on every page, you won’t have to worry.

Okay, now we can safely say that Google Tag Manager can help your site run faster, make it more reliable and flexible. But then it looks like GTM is only serving the tech guys. What’s in it for you as a marketer? Well, just go through the following statistics published by the Search Engine Journal:

  • has reported that a delay of 0.1 seconds in a page’s load time can cause a one-percent decline in customer activity.
  • AOL reported a 30-percent variance in page visits based solely on load time.
  • 51 percent of U.S. shoppers claim they will abandon a purchase if a site takes too long.
  • A site that takes six seconds to load experiences a 50-percent conversion decline.
  • 47 percent of Internet users expect a site to load in less than two seconds.
  • 75 percent of consumers would visit a competing site rather than deal with a slow page in peak traffic periods.

Let’s look at Airbnb’s success story with the Google Tag Manager:


If you ever need a rental for a steal, Airbnb is the place to go. Airbnb is an online marketplace where people can list and book alternative travel accommodations. The company uses a large number of tags on its site, including tags for several vendors tracking various kinds of conversions and a unique tag for each of its AdWords accounts. Airbnb had to replicate certain tags multiple times to meet different vendors’ needs, and the site quickly became unwieldy. Before GTM, the company had 88 different audience lists and 100 separate tags!

In desperate need of tag management, Airbnb first tried a paid system that still required IT expertise to implement tags. The solution was also pricy and required add-on tools for reporting and quality assurance (QA). The company then turned to the free Google Tag Manager. The result was unprecedented synchronicity between IT and marketing.

Here’s what Airbnb’s software engineer on the project, Mona Gandhi, had to say about GTM: “With Google Tag Manager, it’s a matter of an hour or so from receiving a tag to testing to QA to deployment. It’s exponentially better.” Specifically, Airbnb reported the following results:

  • Reduced tag deployment from days to hours;
  • Improved launch times of new vendors, tools, and programs;
  • Increased page load times by eight percent; and
  • Improved data accuracy, SEO, and ROI.

So go ahead and make the best use of Google Tag Manager. If you want to study this feature in more detail then google’s analytics academy is a great option.

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