29-30 September 2022: SMX Advanced, Berlin
Server-side Google Tag Manager has an excellent Preview mode, which lets you inspect incoming requests, monitor the event data object, view console messages, and identify outgoing requests, among other things. To enable this Preview mode on the web, you simply need to click the Preview button in the container, after which any requests sent from the same browser instance will be automatically shown in the Preview mode window. However, what about if you want to send requests from another browser?

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Seven years ago, I wrote on my former employer’s (the amazing Reaktor) blog a tongue-in-the-cheek article titled 10 Truths About Data. Looking back on it today, I’m still proud of the handiwork, but I can’t help but think that some of the truths were wasted just to reach the magic number 10. So, today, I want to revisit these truths and provide a rehashed version for you, my dear reader.

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If you want to manually install server-side Google Tag Manager on App Engine in the Google Cloud Platform, you are of course welcome to do so. The main benefits of doing this are that you get to choose the region where App Engine is deployed and that you can use existing project resources instead of having a new project automatically created for you. However, to run the script without errors, there are a number of things you need to enable first.

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With asynchronous variables recently released in server-side Google Tag Manager, it’s time to dig into data enrichment flows using another release from the Google team. * drum roll * We have a new Google Cloud Platform API! It’s fast. It’s sleek. It’s beautiful. It’s Firestore! Firestore is a NoSQL, transactional, and scalable database that offers near-real-time write/read and sync operations for data. In practice, it’s a great way to enrich and widen the data that you pass through your Server container.

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OK, that’s one unappealing title for a blog post, but rest assured that the content more than makes up for this obscurity. Recently, my favorite toy in the world, Google Tag Manager’s server container, introduced the capability to handle asynchronous operations in variables. This is done through a JavaScript interface known as Promise. A Promise is a way to run code in JavaScript without knowing what its eventual value will be.

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While Google App Engine, the default implementation pattern of server-side Google Tag Manager, is straightforward to setup with the automatic provisioning steps, it’s certainly not the only way to deploy the server. You can set it up in Amazon AWS (this blog) You can set it up in Microsoft Azure (this blog) You can set it up with Cloud Run (Mark Edmondson’s blog) In fact, the manual setup guide gives you the details on how to deploy a Google Tag Manager Server in any environment that runs Docker.

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One of the key skills for anyone working with web analytics and tag management is understanding how to identify where things went wrong, why they went wrong, and ideally how to fix them. There are plenty of excellent browser extensions for helping you debug, and we’ll discuss these in the guide, too. But most of all we’re going to use browsers’ own developer tools, as they are always the best source of truth for anything that happens within the browser window.

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Simo Ahava

Husband | Father | Analytics developer
simo (at) simoahava.com

Senior Data Advocate at Reaktor

Finland