If you run a website, then Google Tag Manager (GTM) should be one of your best friends. It simplifies the installation and management of website tags (code snippets) used to take your website to the next level. It’s easy to use, even with little or no coding background.

Isn’t Google Tag Manager the same as Google Analytics?

No. They are two completely different tools that just so happen to play very nicely together - as all Google platforms do. They both, however, are FREE to use.

With Google Analytics (GA) alone, you can tell how many users visit your website, how long they visit and how many pages they view. With Google Tag Manager, you can easily see if users downloaded a PDF, submitted a form, clicked to call, watched all or a portion of a video and the list goes on.

Really cool stuff, right?

Want to use GTM but already have Google Analytics?

If you already have Google Analytics on your site, you will likely want to migrate the GA code over to GTM. This means the GA code on each page of your website will be removed, and a Google Analytics Tag will be set up within Google Tag Manager to replace it.

Before Google Tag Manager (The dark ages)

Before GTM, marketers needed to rely on webmasters or programmers to manually place snippets of code – typically JavaScript – on every individual element they wanted to track. This was tedious work. Plus marketers were at the mercy of others to implement the changes.

If you didn’t have a webmaster or programmer at your disposal, you had to gamble breaking your site while placing the code yourself… not a risk many small business owners want to take.

How Google Tag Manager Works

Google Tag Manager works by placing a two-part container code on every page of your website. Once this container code is placed, you no longer need to make manual changes to your site’s code. It’s all handled right inside Google Tag Manager!

When you want to implement a new tag, you make the change to your workspace in GTM, test to make sure it works properly, then publish your changes. This updates the live version instantly (which is what your website container code utilizes). You’re done!

NOTE: You can also revert back to prior versions in the event that an update causes issues.

Here is Google’s Quick Start Guide for Google Tag Manager.

Once you have your account set up and your container code installed, you will manage your Tags, Triggers and Variables within the GTM tool.

Tags are the code snippets that do the talking to third parties like Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook, etc. Triggers are the rules you set up that tell your Tags when to “talk” or fire. The Triggers are built using Variables. When the conditions you set are all true, the Trigger fires your Tag(s).

GTM Hierarchy: Tag > Trigger > Variable(s)

Variables – the building blocks

There’s a reason the Variables icon looks like a little plastic building block made in Denmark. They are the building blocks for everything GTM can do.

You can do plenty of amazing things while sticking with the Built-In Variables, but you can also create User-Defined Variables if needed.

When first starting out, only a handful of variables are configured. Click Variables on the left menu rail and click CONFIGURE under Built-In Variables. Simply check the boxes for any Variables you plan to use.

Not sure which ones to check?

Determine what website interaction you want to track. Then use Preview Mode to determine the Variables you’ll need to create your Trigger.

Using Preview Mode in GTM

One of the most helpful features in GTM is Preview Mode. It enables users to preview their changes prior to publishing to confirm they work properly. It also lets you explore your site’s HTML to discover Variables.

Enable Preview Mode by clicking the PREVIEW button in the upper-right corner next to SUBMIT. This brings up a warning that states “Now Previewing Workspace,” and you’ll notice a Google Tag Manager box at the bottom of your browser when visiting your website.

It will show you a summary on the left side (Page View, DOM Ready, Window Loaded, etc.). With any new action you do, a new Summary event will appear. If you click a link, gtm.linkClick will appear in the Summary section. Select Variables in the upper menu to see a list of all the Variables for that particular link click.


GTM Preview Tool

When you're done using Preview Mode, simply return to GTM and click the Leave Preview Mode text link located under the warning statement in the orange box.


Triggers are exactly what they sound like. They are a set of conditions that, when all true, will fire any Tags associated with it. The conditions you determine will use Variables as their building blocks.

For example, if a Bakery wanted to track how many people clicked the Get Directions button on their website, they could use the Event Type  Just Links, and the conditioning: Click Text equals ‘Get Directions’.


Tags are the snippets of code that had to be manually placed prior to GTM. These are what actually do the "talking" for your website to any third parties you choose (Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).

All Tags need at least one Trigger, and all Triggers use at least one Variable.

If GTM ruled the world...

Let’s imagine GTM ruled the world, and we could control mundane tasks in our life with Tags, Triggers and Variables.

I want my garage to open automatically any time I pull into my driveway, so I would choose the (imaginary) Tag type Garage Opener and name it openGarage. The built-in Variables I would configure would be Location and Vehicle.

My Trigger (dadsHome) would be: Example GTM Trigger

If the Vehicle Variable equals wifesCar, UPStruck or crazyNeighbor, the condition IS NOT true and the Trigger will not fire. If I pull in, the condition IS true and the Trigger fires the Tag openGarage.

Since I’m a nice guy, I would also create a second Trigger (momsHome) to fire when Vehicle equals wifesCar, since a single Tag (openGarage) can be fired by multiple Triggers.



Example GTM Tag


You can’t have a Tag without at least one Trigger. You can’t create a Trigger without using at least one Variable.

Getting started

As with all Google products, there is a plethora of resources at your fingertips. If you need help getting started, check out the Google Tag Manager Help Center.  You can also check out the training course, Google Tag Manager Fundamentals.

Good luck and happy learning!


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