Google Tag Manager – Graduation Day

Google Analytics - Built-in VariablesNot too long ago the only tag based service you needed/wanted to have on your website was Google Analytics, Ad/Display Network trackers, and possibly AdSense.  Fast forward ~10 years and you see many websites littered with tags which are both active and expired from all walks of SaaS.

Up until recently the only decent way to add tags without creating a mess of your code was to create a container in a standardized folder and include it in your page markup. This was an effective method for deploying the basic tags, but got very complicated very quickly if you wanted to add custom events, filtering or firing rules, etc.

Now I love my services like Google Analytics, AdWords and CrazyEgg to name a few, but if your goal is to compete and out-perform your competition in today’s digital marketing environment, you’ll need a whole lot more than a self-created container to host Google Analytics, your AdWords and whatever plethora of other snippets you have manually added to your site.

Google Tag ManagerTo begin, you’ll need a solid foundation to build your digital marketing empire and you first step other than a good website is to use a tag manager. Starting with tag management first will set the stage for super fast future enhancements and you’ll be glad you did.

The (simplest, easiest and) free(ist) tag manager to use is Google’s own called Google Tag Manager (GTM).  GTM is your gateway to speeding up your company’s ability to be agile and fast… I mean super fast – No more development cycles fast! (now that’s fast :)).

The New Google Tag Manager

GTM is a great product and comes packed with a few of the most widely used tags you would want to include out of the box, besides Google’s own services, and it’s free! Recently (very recently, like a month ago) Google Tag Manager released a brand new UI that looks great, kicks butt and has a slightly Windows 8.1 feel to it.
Google Tag Manager - Adding Tags

Even with this revamping of the product which takes away much of the ‘coding’ work you’d have to figure out, I find there are still some drawbacks to the product like not having a development and staging environment setup for pre-deployment testing and troubleshooting, easy custom data mapping capabilities, data transformations, easy jQuery event handling, dynamic data rules based in JavaScript and jQuery with logic and rules applied, the use of lookup tables to translate data before it goes into your tag vendors repositories (data holes) and a whole lot more.

Tag Manger MatrixTo fill the gap between GTM and the near deity type abilities we all wish we had, there are some powerful simplified solutions in the tag management realm I’d like to introduce you to – Tealium,Ensighten, and UberTags.

I don’t represent any of these companies but I did create a comparison between GTM, Tealium and Ensighten back at the beginning of 2014 that helped me in choosing a tag management vendor; I did some pre-research before digging in deep and creating the actual tag management comparison.  Truth be told, after the matrix and vendor meetings it was still a toss-up between Tealium and Ensighten. Good news is that over the past year all three vendors have enhanced their offering with GTM catching up slightly to its paid counterparts.  I’ve included it for reference only later on in this post.

Advanced Tag Management

Difficult to easyAre you really ready for advanced tag management and what it can do for you digitally?  It’s is not for the faint of heart but is a necessary requisite to any real digital strategy.

Advanced Tag Management means that you are ready and committed to making an investment in your digital performance… That’s a huge statement and one I’m willing to back because there are some things that GTM is just not built well for. If however you have been using GTM for any length of time you may not (probably won’t) agree with me… I didn’t either until I needed more versatility and tried it.

I’ve used GTM in the past with great success and it really can do almost everything.  With GTM however, I found myself calling development resources and creating workarounds more often than I would have liked to which reduced my ability to be agile, but a (real professional) paid tag manager is a dream once you get behind the wheels and eliminates the need for most workarounds (like tweaking for snippets or https pages) and it does a whole lot more.  It’s like an upgrade from economy to business class where the seats are wider, you have more leg room and it’s easier to accomplish every task; Don’t get me wrong it’s not first class, you still need to put some work into it, but all of a sudden you’re accomplishing things much faster.

So who did I/we go with?

With a comparable and nearly indistinguishable products between Ensighten and Tealium, as a buyer, it came down to the absolute professional sales service shown, and the complete willingness to go above and beyond, for a non-profit like the one I work for, on all strata.  Even after we purchased, the tag management company went to bat for us during the entire pre-deployment phase, their assistance was amazing even though at times we were not (big shout-out to Steve and Shushan).  So who is that tag management company? Well.. we went with Tealium.

Life after Tealium


As we ramp up our usage of tealium, I’ve quickly added more than 15 tags with over 160 data layer objects and more than 100+ firing rules/data transformations and counting – not exactly child’s play.  Truth be told, we’re only on the precipice of using advanced tag management and as we clean up all our legacy (manual) tagging I’m having more requests coming in from the business units and can easily see much of this tripling or more within the next year or so.

As it turns out, Tealium has been one of the best decisions we’ve invested in.  Having a professional tag manager has lightened the load and made new technology deployments a cinch.

It hasn’t been all fun and games because we had to create a concise and manageable data layer for our all of our site pages which was a highly complex process with many MANY people involved. Thankfully the great team I work with Tealium and especially our paid-for analytics vendor (who will remain nameless for this article) have provided invaluable help in developing a data layer that takes into account the way our business functions.

What does Tealium look like?

While I won’t show you any PII, I want to give you a glimpse into how robust the solution can be based on some of the advantages Tealium provides over GTM.

Testing Environments

Tealium DashboardIf anything, one of the most advantageous feature of Tealium is the ability to test things in development or staging environments before pushing it to your live site (yes I said that correctly – ‘pushing staging to live’).  Don’t get me wrong, the preview and debug feature of GTM is nice, but the ability test everything on staging before promoting to the live site can save your data integrity and personal reputation.

One of the coolest features I find is I can load up all my staging settings over top of my live site to make sure my master plan is functioning as expected using an applet called Tealium Web Companion… Tealium Web Companion Appletbut this companion is so SO much more :)

What also makes the Tealium Web Companion so awesome is that it has a point and click interface that lets to see the attributes of that element in a snap and then setup a jQuery action for your deployment all while never leaving your web site, and, and, AND…. if your trigger element is hidden, it will also display an exhaustive list of all objects on your page so you can use to create a firing rule off of it… then then THEN… you can upload your additions directly to Tealium for use all without ever leaving your website 😀

Data Mapping Capabilities

This is another area where Tealium really shines and provides outstanding out of the box functionality.  Once you’ve defined your data layer in a similar yet very different way from GTM, you can easily map those variables and transform the data any way you want through two main devices, tag mapping and extension mapping.

Tag Mapping

With tag mapping for, say… conversion pages, if I were mapping my data layer to Google Universal Analytics, in GTM I would have to make sure that I have prepared that data for Google Analytics and would not be able to recycle (without coding changes) the values for another data provider.  This is actually one of the more challenging things I’ve had to work around when using GTM – multiple analytic data vendors. What makes doing this in Tealium much easier is you get to define the names of the data layer variables as they pertain to your business (not as the vendor wants to see them) and then map and/or transform those values to the correct locations for ALL your data vendors, not just Google Analytics.

Tealium Tag InterfaceExtension Mapping

As I alluded to immediately above, Tealium will act as the intermediary for your customized data layer so all your data vendors that rely on a data layer will receive the data they expect in the format they expect it by implementing a Universal Data Layer (UDO).  Once your UDO is defined there are many options for what types of extensions you want to use from lower-casing, transformations, persisting data in a custom cookie, joining data values, lookup tables, crypto, domain based deployment, custom JavaScript, built in split testing, content modification and the list goes on.  

Tealium Extension Interface

Version Control

So version control is another powerful feature of Tealium which allows you to deploy and roll back in seconds (if necessary)… but hopefully you would have been able to test the QA version on your live site to avoid that pitfall.  The version control applied within Tealium is a highly visceral and can be filtered by version, user, version labels, environments, and time frame.  This makes finding a prior version simple… take a look:Tealium Version Control

Tag Management Strategy

So if you’ve made it this far, you’re either very interested in advanced tag management, or convinced that I have a secret about tag management strategy to share… and you’d be right.  That secret is that tag management is the single most important implementation you will do with your website, it will set the playing field for everything else that will help expand your site; from a heat-mapping solutions like CrazyEgg to an alternative analytics solution like Zoom Analytics, or even a full-blown marketing automation system that tracks your user base, sends them emails and provides real-time offers as they visit your site. To be quite honest, if you have a website with more than 3-4 tags, it’s probably worth the time to invest in deploying a tag management solution since you’ll probably be adding more tags sooner than you think.

Benefits Realized

It’s not all technical here at Simplified Intelligence 😉 Rather, there are reasons I’m giving you the tech and business end of tag management (although the business end is usually much shorter).  Still, I want to leave you with some final thoughts on what I’ve seen tag management do for websites:

  • Reduced site load times – almost universal
  • Rapid deployment cycles – minutes; not weeks or months
  • Giving back marketing control over marketing initiatives
  • Reduction in costs all across the board (translates into better bottom line)
  • Frictionless workflow for testing new SaaS solutions
  • Absolute Agility 


If you use GTM, it’s ok… for other sites I still do too!… but where the costs of keeping GTM going outweigh the costs of upgrading to a paid tag manager you’ll be happy you did.  That said, I’m also interested in hearing about some of the more complex set-ups you’ve had to do with GTM and how you have hacked your way around them and come out smelling like a rose.

Again, I’m just getting things going with this blog.  If you like it please share it with your colleagues and post me a message 🙂

Also, if you are reading this post somewhere other than Simplified Intelligence, please feel free to visit.

Oh yeah, here is the excel matrix I promised earlier – Tag Management Matrix