May 11, 2015 / by Jim Dougherty

“When you talk about tracking user behavior on the web…at the base level everyone put a Google Analytics tag on each page of their site and they could see what page got the most traffic and where people were coming from. We’re a long way from that now. We’re now in a world where people want to know who interacted with this image carousel and who added something to their shopping cart more than $500 in value. We want to know really detailed stuff about user behavior and all of that requires little bits of javascript that ping servers with data.” – Lukas Bergstrom, Product Manager, Google Tag Manager

If you’re serious about capturing the digital data that ties your PR activity to your business objectives, at some point you will probably need more than Google Analytics. This may seem like a heretical statement, but it’s not meant to be. Google Analytics has more capability than most people realize, but there’s a lot of granular digital data that it won’t give you.

Fortunately, Google has a free tool called Google Tag Manager that can give you more granular data from your web properties (note that Tag Manager also has a mobile SDK, although I focus on the web application). While the setup and maintenance is more involved than the initial set-up of Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager has the power and versatility to measure your PR activity with a lot more detail.

Google Tag Manager is pretty sophisticated and I won’t do it justice in one article, but I want to give a high-level understanding of what Tag Manager is and what it can do to make your PR measurement better.

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What is tag management?

Before we dig into Tag Manager, let’s talk tags. Tag management is a digital marketing function where specific “tags” or javascript snippets of code in the head of a webpage are “fired” when something happens on a website. If you have Google Analytics on your site, you have a container that fires tags when visitors browse your site. Those tags populate the data you see in Google Analytics reports.



A good example of more advanced tag management is seen in remarketing: you visit a site, go to another one and there’s an ad for the previous site. Or, maybe you’ve abandoned a digital shopping cart and all of a sudden you start seeing ads during your web browsing. This exemplifies the power of taking more control of granular functions: rather than simply seeing page views and the data surrounding them, suddenly you can track click conversions, phone calls and a whole host of other very specific actions.

This isn’t new, but the “free” aspect of it is fairly recent. Businesses like Adobe, Impact Radius, SuperTag, Tag Commander, TagMan and Tealium are able to create sophisticated marketing tags for their clients and they make a lot of money doing it. And this is the same technology that you can use with Tag Manager to help measure your PR and marketing initiatives.

Google Tag Manager explained

Google Tag Manager has a three-part hierarchy, not entirely dissimilar to Google Analytics:

  • Tags are the html snippets that fire on a website
  • Triggers govern when the tags are fired and what information is sent in the tags. These are a true / false proposition and replace “rules” in version 1 of GTM.
  • Variables are “name-value” pairs that can be used in triggers and tags (these are often referred to as the “data layer” and replace “macros” from version 1 of GTM). In triggers, they define filters that define when a trigger should execute (Google uses the example of a pageview trigger that executes when the url variable is “”). For tags, variables are used to define dynamic values (Google uses the example of price or items).

In the initial set-up of Tag Manager, you’ll remove the Google Analytics container from the header of your site and replace it with the Tag Manager container onto your site (if both are present they’ll inflate your data). Of course, this means that you’ll have to set up your Google Analytics data through Tag Manager, which is fairly straightforward.




I’m going to get into some of the cool things you can do with Tag Manager in the next section, but I want to point out why Tag Manager is special and some of the cool test features that make Tag Manager implementation relatively safe.

Before Tag Manager, tag implementation was done by somebody with programming skills. It would be incumbent for that person to write the javascript tag for the tag and to test it. This made tag creation a pretty resource-intensive proposition and led to some quality control issues. Depending upon the level of sophistication (writing a tag that remarkets a product to a customer who abandons their shopping cart, for example), the time between planning and implementation could be long.

Tag Manager came along (in 2012) as a solution for fast implementations. A lot of the tags that people fire could now be done quickly and with less technical skill. (Both Google and most people familiar with GTM describe that technical expertise is still necessary, especially when it comes to incorporating variables.) And the product itself serves Google’s interests quite nicely: GTM is deeply integrated with AdWords, DoubleClick Ad Manager and Dynamic Remarketing, allowing marketers to spend money with Google faster.

Google also built a couple of really nice fail-safes into Google Tag Manager. Google built a “preview” feature and a “debug” feature that allow you to see the tag before you implement it and troubleshoot in GTM. There is also a “Tag Assistant” Chrome extension that helps troubleshoot installation as well.

How Google Tag Manager helps PR pros

“You should always start with a measurement plan that details the data you want to collect. This will help you report the performance of your business objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) to your stakeholders.” – Google Tag Manager implementation guidelines

If all of this talk about remarketing and ecommerce seems a bit out of your wheelhouse, let’s bring the discussion back to why PR professionals need more granular measurement of their web properties. If you read the quote above, you can imagine it coming from Shonali Burke or Johna Burke or any of many thought leaders in PR measurement.

Let’s take a look at some measurements that would be very difficult (if not impossible) to do with Google Analytics but can all be accomplished with Google Tag Manager.

  • If you’re responsible for content management how do you know that you are optimizing your social distribution? You may want to measure the number of social shares directly from your website (as opposed to off-site or sponsored shares) so that you can place social sharing buttons where people are most likely to share.
  • You may have conversion buttons on your website and want to determine specific details about the referral page and details about users that click each button. This is very basic implementation in GTM.
  • If you share a phone number on your website, you may want to track mobile conversions and could tag the phone number to find out how many phone referrals happen from your site.
  • If you use forms on your website, you can track information by field using GTM.

These are some basic examples, and the story of GTM (and PR analytics in general) is that you don’t need what other people have or data that is easy to acquire – you need metrics that tie your activities to business outcomes. I hope it’s clear how GTM can be a resource to do this.

Conclusion / Additional Resources

When we discuss serious digital measurement, it’s hard to make a case that Google Analytics is giving you the specific metrics that you need to tie your PR activities to business outcomes. The versatility of GTM makes this a much better option for digital management, but it requires a lot more work.

What I wanted to do in this post was to share some of the broad features of Google Tag Manager. Hopefully I made a case that GTM is something for you to consider (or if your marketing department has it implemented, something you should tap into). Because this is such a complex subject, I am going to list some resources that are far more specific for further reading and action.

One administrative note: Google Tag manager is currently on version 2. This adds a little bit of complication to some of the information that is out there in terms of the lexicon and how things work. In all cases except where I annotate, these resources are exclusive to version 2:

Simo Ahava’s comprehensive post on GTM – This was written for version 1 but has some great tools and tips, including tracking phone calls and YouTube videos using Tag Manager.

Simo Ahava’s guide to variables in GTM version 2 – This post not only provides a lot of detail on what you can do with variables but also gives some perspective about the differences between version 1 and 2.

Code Editor for GTM Chrome Extension – This shows you how to edit GTM directly from Chrome.

Official Google Tag Manager knowledge base – This can give a really thorough idea of what GTM can help you accomplish with measurement.

Tags : measurement

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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.