Google Tag Manager – What is it?

Google has recently rolled out a free tool called “Google Tag Manager” for Webmasters and IT professionals as well as digital marketers and SEOs alike. Its purpose is to allow for easy management of website tags in one location, known as a container tag. Learn more about the basics of container tags here. Container tags are designed to make our job easier by combining all website tags into one location, known as a container. This one container file is then the end-all for updating, adding, and deleting tags. In other words, it eliminates the need to go through Analytics, AdWords, etc., to update website tags. Instead, any changes can be implemented through this one container tag, just by updating changes directly to a Google Tag Manager account and then clicking “publish” (an important step). For SEOs and digital marketing agencies, this means a few important things.

  1. Allows users who do not have direct access to the backend of the site to add tags and event tracking, simply through access to the Google Tag Manager account. This means that, for example, if the SEO on the client account wants to add event tracking to the site, they do not have to directly access the HTML to add this to the analytics tracking code. They can simply create an event tag in Google Tag Manager and it will almost immediately begin tracking.
  2. Can be a big time-saver for agencies with multiple clients, each with multiple accounts used for tracking.
  3. Is a way for webmasters and marketers to work together to track important business goals on the site from one user-friendly platform.


How Does It Work?

Google Tag Manager uses an asynchronous tracking code. Once you have created your account and container, a JavaScript tracking code will be generated for each container (see example below). Add this code in the header section immediately following the first <body> tag on every page. Container snippet

Then you can add tags to the account and hit “publish” to update the tracking. To add tags, you can select a template (discussed later) or create a custom JavaScript tag. These should include all of the current tags on the site that are compatible with Google Tag Manager. After creating tags, delete the current corresponding tags on your site.


  • Tags: Tags are strings that can be added to the JavaScript container code in order to track specific events. Tags can follow a template or can be custom-made. Tag templates will be discussed in more depth in the “Noteworthy Features” section below. In addition to these templates, there are two built-in custom tag types: “custom image tags” and “custom HTML tags.”
  • Rules: Rules dictate on which pages tags will be fired. There is a pre-defined rule in Tag Manager with a regular expression of “/.*” for “All Pages.” This means that any tag with this rule will be applied to all pages on the site. Using regular expressions, you can tell Tag Manager which page(s) to apply each tag.
  • Macros: Macros pass values to tags during runtime. For example, there are three pre-defined macros: “URL,” “referrer,” and “event.” These tell Tag Manager the dynamic value of the tag. So, the “URL” macro tells Tag Manager that the value of the tag is the current page URL. Macros can be built and then referenced by multiple tags and rules.

Noteworthy Features

Multiple Accounts and Containers: This is great for SEOs and digital agencies because it allows for easy management of multiple accounts for different clients. Google recommends that each account should correspond with a company (client) and each container should correspond with a website. Each container can also have multiple users, and each user can be allowed different permissions, from just viewing permission to managing permission.

screenshot of tag manager

Tag Templates: Tag Manager has built-in templates for:

  • AdWords Conversion Tracking
  • GDN Remarketing
  • Google Analytics
  • Doubleclick Floodlight Counter
  • Doubleclick Floodlight Sales

These templates minimize the possibility for error and simplify the process of integration from these external platforms.

Data Layer: This is an optional addition of data that allows communication between the site and the Tag Manager container code. The purpose is to provide additional data about the page that will not change with a site re-design or any other site changes. To create a data layer, add a JavaScript object named “dataLayer” and add it to the page before the Tag Manager script. This data layer should include information about page attributes as well as conversion data.

Previewing/Debugging: This feature allows you to test a tag before publishing it to the site. This is another way that Tag Manager reduces the chance of user error. By selecting the “Preview & Debug” option seen below, you can be sure that the tags execute properly and do not break the site before publishing.

screenshot of google tag manager preview feature

Review: The Bad

Timely Set Up: Initial set up is timely. It involves finding all of the current tags on the site, adding them to Tag Manager, and then deleting the originals. Especially for an agency that manages multiple sites each with multiple tags and platforms, this can become a time-consuming process. In my opinion, it would be optimal if there were a way for Tag Manager to automatically pull all existing tags on the site and add it to the container, but this is currently not the case. Limited Discussion: There are surprisingly few blog posts/discussions out there about this tool. I’m curious as to why. Are people finding it simple to use or are they simply not using it? Either way, it makes it difficult to gauge how much success other agencies are having with this tool and what common problems might be occurring.

Review: The Good

Quicker Site Loading: Combining all tags into one container will allow a faster site load time. One of the downsides of so much tagging is the possibility of slowing down a site. This virtually eliminates the problem by allowing all tags to be fired through one asynchronous tracking code snippet. Long Run Time Save: With the ability to add, delete, and manage all tags in one location, this will save time in the long run, especially for larger agencies handling multiple accounts. Other Articles: Here are some additional articles out there about Tag Manager that we found interesting: