Google Tag Manager — Simplified

A simplified overview of Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager (GTM) is one the most powerful assets in a digital marketer’s toolbox. The agility and convenience of GTM connects marketers to more sophisticated measurement and traffic segmentation with marketing tags, which leads to better audiences and better results.

The downside of GTM is the daunting look of its interface, particularly for marketers just getting started with it.

Unfortunately, articles from industry experts often make things worse for beginners, as they fail to cover the basics on what GTM is and how it works in layman’s terms. Therefore, we have written a simplified summary of GTM, including how it works and recommendations for use, to reduce the learning curve and prevent new users from dismissing the tool altogether.

What is Google Tag Manager?

GTM Overview

Perhaps the easiest way to understand GTM is to consider it a translator, or the ‘middle-man’ for making changes to your website tags. The interface may look complicated, but it ultimately exists to increase your tag management efficiency.

You know what you would like to update on your website, but unfortunately your website does not speak English, and you may not speak website code. Consequently, you must hire a web developer to interpret, which can be timely and expensive. That is where GTM comes into play.

How GTM Makes the Translation

GTM utilizes a data layer to decipher and execute on your instructions. Beginners do not need to worry much about this, but the data layer ultimately enables GTM to understand both languages: English (practical statements of what you want to do) and website code. This means, you can manage your tags without modifying the code, allowing you to focus your attention on the “fun elements” of digital marketing.

How to Use Google Tag Manager

Telling GTM What You Want

In life and in business, some of the most complicated technologies can often be simplified if you understand the basic dynamics. The same is true for GTM: much of the technical jargon can be removed if you recognize that the tool is built upon a series of “if-then” statements.

  • If a website visitor clicks on a specific link, then put them into our Google Ads audience.
  • If a website visitor logs into the site, then add them to our exclusion audience on Facebook.
  • If someone copies our business phone number to their clipboard, then count that as a conversion and send Google Analytics information about the text they copied.
  • If a website visitor comes in from our Google paid search campaign, views three or more web pages, and spends 60 seconds actively browsing our website without abandoning the tab, then show that user a popup and try to capture them as a lead.

The list goes on and on, and it is your responsibility as a digital marketer to come up with “if-then” statements that will have a true impact on your business outcomes. Warning: if you are a savvy marketer, this product may become addictive, so use with caution.

Triggers, Tags and Variables

Typically, this is where things get complicated, but they do not need to be. Triggers, tags, and variables are the “Big 3” of GTM, and if you can understand each of them, you will be able to successfully navigate this tool and tell GTM exactly what you need.

The key to unlocking these “if-then” statements is knowing how to enter them into GTM by using the Big 3.

In our examples above, the “if” statement is your GTM trigger and the “then” statement is your tag. Your variables are actually part of the “if” statement as well. In order for GTM to fully understand your “if” statement, it needs to know what kinds of criteria you are trying to use. Think about it practically: if GTM does not know what a “link” is, how will it know when someone has clicked on a link?

Or, in the third example, if you do not give GTM a variable to understand what qualifies as a “copy text to clipboard”, then GTM will not be able to interpret when someone has taken that action. It is like trying to teach someone how to do simple math, without telling them what a number is.

Carrying on with that analogy … once GTM understands what a number is, it can do addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, algebra, geometry, or even calculus. In fact, that is why understanding GTM variables is so critical to becoming a power user. If you can navigate all the different variables available, you can open a world of possibilities with triggers that reference them.

Give it a Try

Like most digital tools, Google Tag Manager is designed so you can get by with a basic level of ability. Of course, you can get more advanced and do all sorts of awesome tricks. But to start, consider leveraging some of these rudimentary tips, and try not to let the user interface intimidate you. GTM is a powerful digital marketing resource that can be learned with minimal difficulty with a bit of patience, persistence, and practice.


For more information on how to reach your best customers online, or to learn how to maximize your digital marketing budget, contact our experienced team of digital marketers.