Magic 8-Ball: Should I Use gtag.js or Google Tag Manager?

Magic 8-Ball: Should I Use gtag.js or Google Tag Manager?

A new, exciting and more intelligent Google Analytics experience is HERE. The next generation of data will deliver the insights you need. Introducing the new gtag.js. 

Those of us in the online data space receive tantalizing emails like these from The Google Analytics Team regularly. And, as one can imagine, our excitement when they pop up in our inbox is palpable (no, seriously, we live for this data improvement stuff). 

But emails regarding Google Tag Manager and other Google platform updates do have a certain regularity, which sends us into a mad scramble as we figure out how to upgrade to the latest and greatest tracking. And as much as we love a good fire drill, what gives? Why are we always updating our tags? Do we even need to update our tags? What tags are best for our company? Is this just a ploy by bored Google developers to make us dance? Fear not, we did the research, learned the things, asked the awkward questions, and we got you covered.

Global Site Tag vs. Google Tag Manager

Both the Global Site Tag (gtag.js) and Google Tag Manager (GTM) are tag management systems that help you track events taking place on your website by pushing information into the data layer where your analytics implementation can collect that information for better reporting. Both Google tag management systems are free and connect with other Google properties like Google Ads and Google Remarketing. Where the platforms differ is how each system deploys tags and tracked events. The Global Site Tag is a javascript framework that requires you to add config commands that add tags directly to your webpages to track new events. The Google Tag Manager container is added to your website once, and then all updates are made from a web interface. 

Is Google Tag Manager (GTM) for you?

That’s a great question that provokes even more questions, all of which we pose here:

  1. Will you continuously update your site with new features or have new client goals often? 
  2. Are you planning to use 3rd party tags like the LinkedIn Tag or Facebook Pixel?
  3. How good at Javascript are you?

If your answers to these questions are: 1. often; 2. yes; and 3. “What’s Javascript?”, then Google Tag Manager is probably the tag management system for you. Google Tag Manager is helpful if you know you want to track new conversion points frequently. Google Tag Manager also allows you to manage not only Google Ads and Google Analytics, but other tracking tags like LinkedIn Tag or Facebook Pixel. You can also modify tags for both web and mobile apps. It gives you more freedom and flexibility, especially if you have a smaller team. Another perk is having the ability to test your tags out. Google Tag Manager gives you a preview of how your tag will fire and if it is tracking correctly. While working on a tag, you can work with others on your team to develop the tag or revert to previous versions of the tag. There is room for error and improvement when using GTM. 

Did you just find your tag management soulmate in Google Tag Manager? Then follow these steps to get the romance started.

Is Global Site Tag (gtag.js) for you?

If your answer to question number three above was, “I’m a full stack developer who can deploy Javascript in my sleep – while dreaming in Python,” consider implementing gtag.js. The Global Site Tag gives you complete control over what tags are tracked on your website without any limitations, and allows you to work directly in JavaScript for custom implementations. The Global Site Tag also has little to no ramp up time, since you’re not setting up a tag management system. Once the tags are created, you or your dev team will add the gtag.js container directly to the tag on every page of your site. 

If your heart just skipped a beat thinking about Global Site Tag (gtag.js), follow your passion and this hyperlink to get started.  

Our recommendation

At Estipona Group, we’re enthusiastic supporters of continuously iterating and updating our tracking to align with new client goals and changing ecosystems. Google Tag Manager is a better fit with that goal in mind. This system gives us more freedom and doesn’t require a working knowledge of coding. We’re constantly adding new features to client websites and reevaluating client goals, so GTM gives us the flexibility to quickly test and track new events. Although we do enjoy using GTM, understanding the platform interface may be tricky at first. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you get started using GTM. 

**Note: If you aren’t currently using a tag management system, we would highly recommend using either GTM or gtag.js, but probably not both. When you have both on your website, you can run into an instance where you are deploying duplicate tags and collecting duplicate data like pageviews and other metrics. Which will definitely ruin your reporting team’s day when they go in to pull their quarterly reports.

Does your head hurt now?

We understand that digital data tracking is not everyone’s bailiwick. Heck, you won’t catch us doing our own root canals — again. If you are less twitterpated and more discombobulated by the prospect of updating your website’s tracking capabilities, or simply do not understand any of the above 849 words, speak with a digital specialist about your website needs. If you do not already have one on speed dial, there are some smart and geeky Estiponies who really dig this stuff and would be happy to help. SOS signals can be directed here.

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