Happy 5th Birthday Google Tag Manager!
5 years ago, on 1st October 2012, this lovely video popped up in Google’s Analytics Blog:
It was accompanied by a blog post, which contained a brief look into many of Google Tag Manager’s key features, some of which are still relevant today.
Google Tag Manager is a free tool that consolidates your website tags with a single snippet of code and lets you manage everything from a web interface. You can add and update your own tags, with just a few clicks, whenever you want, without bugging the IT folks or rewriting site code. It gives marketers greater flexibility, and lets webmasters focus on other important tasks.
At this time, those of us who started using the tool immediately, or who had been beta-testing it, saw quickly what the key selling point of GTM was. It was a way to impact change on the website as quickly as possible, without having to wait for a release to be verified and pushed live.
The ability to consolidate tags in a single container was great, though the initial inventory of tags was a far cry from what we have access to today. A typical source of friction with digital marketing has been to deploy these tags and code snippets on the site, and then manage and keep them up-to-date when the site itself changes. With Google Tag Manager, this task became almost trivial, because now the library itself made sure that the code used in the tags was always up-to-date.
I wrote my first article about Google Tag Manager almost a year later, when Google Tag Manager looked like this:
By the way, my blog looked like this back then:
As time passed, more and more features were integrated into the tool. The pace of the development team was impressive, and there was an openness in the community that I had never witnessed before. It seemed like GTM’s developers were invested in us, the users, and always listened to our feedback with genuine interest.
Some key features (in my opinion) that were introduced were:
February 2013, Google Tag Assistant was released, with capabilities to analyze GTM implementations, too.
August 2013, GTM SDKs for Android and iOS saw daylight.
October 2013, Auto-Event Tracking was introduced (and everything changed for the better).
April 2014, Universal Analytics was released out of beta.
May 2014, 2-step verification was introduced as an additional security layer.
July 2014, the Preview & Debug feature was released.
October 2014, New version of the UI and the GTM API were released.
February 2015, Matches CSS Selector operator was introduced.
August 2015, Tag Sequencing was launched.
May 2016, the Firebase Google Tag Manager container for mobile was launched.
August 2016, Workspaces introduced.
<head>of the page.
October 2016, the AMP container was published.
March 2017, version 2 of the Google Tag Manager API was released.
September 2017, the YouTube Video trigger was released.
That’s definitely not an exhaustive list - just a timeline of events that I remember being of special importance.
In mid-October 2014, we even had the first “Google Tag Manager Summit”, when a bunch of dedicated GTM nerds congregated in Copenhagen, Denmark. Many active GTM users were present (people like Julien Coquet, Phil Pierce, Tahir Fayyaz, Doug Hall, Christian Pluzek, and Kristoffer Ewald to name a few), and the session was run by Brian Kuhn, the lead developer of Google Tag Manager, and Lukas Bergstrom, the then Product Manager for Google Tag Manager.
Another “GTM Summit” never took place, though time was always reserved in the Google Analytics Partner Summits for sessions dedicated to Google Tag Manager. I hope we can still get our own little Google Tag Manager conference or summit - there’s still lots to discuss!
Now and going forward
Today, Google Tag Manager is in an interesting place. It has an impressive adoption rate, with almost 30% of the sites in the Quantcast top 10K websites (per traffic) embedding the GTM snippet on their pages.
In the organization, GTM is also interestingly placed. It’s not just a tool for the marketing department, nor is it just a tool for business analysts, nor is it just a tool for developers. It’s a tool that has the possibility to unite all these stakeholders in a modern organization, thanks to how it offers something for everyone.
Take a look at the slideshow above, especially from slide 24 onwards. I share some of my thoughts for how Google Tag Manager is so perfectly situated in a modern, digital organization.
Absolution doesn’t come for free, though. Making the most of Google Tag Manager is an investment, and it requires you to step out of your comfort zone. If you treat it as a way to circumvent your IT process, you’ll be sorely missing out on what the tool can do at its best.
But what’s next? What can Google Tag Manager do to keep the ball rolling?
It’s difficult to imagine Google Tag Manager NOT jumping on the bandwagon of intelligent apps. There are so many things in GTM that could benefit from rule-based automation.
Just imagine dynamically launched tags, based on a user’s or a user cohort’s behavior rather than a fixed set of triggers you need to define a priori.
Or tags that are created, deployed, and published at just the right time for just the people.
Or benchmarking your container content, with something like “45% of companies in your market segment use HotJar for extra insight about visitors and their sessions. Get started?“.
Because Google Tag Manager is a tool designed to alleviate friction and reduce trivial, manual labor in tag management, it would make sense that it took this step towards actually being an insight engine in addition to a tag container.
One of the criticisms against Google Tag Manager has been that it’s not enterprise-worthy. There’s a lack of multi-user support (access control levels), of delimiting access per tag / folder / workspace to specific groups, of selective publishing, and so forth. These are all things I’m certain we’ll see in the future, in some shape or form. I would be surprised if the GTM team did not think about the enterprise’s needs first in today’s competitive market, especially since the release of Google Tag Manager 360.
With Workspaces, we took a big leap towards collaborative tag management, and with the approval workflow, it was easier to get thins done together without compromising quality of work. Still, I expect we’ll see more features like these in the future. Being able to handle projects with multiple organizations working on the same container is something that GTM simply must have solid support for.
With Google Tag Manager for Mobile Apps, we’ve already seen GTM in use on the application level. And if you’ve used GTM for mobile, you might have been disappointed at its reach, especially if you’re familiar with GTM for the web.
But I’m also thinking about server-side stuff, like being able to use a dataLayer queue server-side, too, which then has the capability of executing HTTP requests and communicating with the full technology stack. This way we could run things like monitoring services, which collect data on what tags have fired and raise alerts when anomalies are detected. We could introduce state into Google Tag Manager, by having the web server persist information stored in dataLayer from page to page.
Hey, a guy can dream!
It’s a scary thought, but in five years’ time it’s possible that GTM will be so tightly bound to the Google ecosystem that its usability for anything else diminishes. I’m certain that Google has an incentive (and pressure) to improve the DoubleClick integration in Google Tag Manager, and to make Firebase work more fluently through the Google Tag Manager container. Perhaps AMP will still be a thing in five years, and the AMP / web containers have merged so that it’s impossible to distinguish one from the other.
And perhaps Google Tag Manager will finally introduce something akin to state, where audience data is pulled from Google Analytics, so that we can use audience rules to fire our tags. It’s already implemented in Optimize, so I’m thinking: why not!
It’s been an amazing five years. For some like me, these five years have been life-changing. For the entire web analytics industry, I fail to see anything but positive things come out of Google Tag Manager’s popularity. It’s brought developers back into the mix! We finally have a tool which encourages developer involvement, and really shines when imported into an agile organization, ready to tackle digital challenges with a talented, hybrid team.
If there’s one thing I wish, it’s that Google Tag Manager would remain accessible. With that, I don’t mean that I want the UI to be any more coddling than it already it is. No, I mean that the developers, engineers, product managers, evangelists, and other Google folk invested in the tool would stay active in the community, bringing the tool development closer to its most dedicated users. I don’t want GTM to become another license tool, where only those who have the money for GTM 360 are privy to the cool stuff.
So once again, happy birthday Google Tag Manager! Congratulations to the whole GTM team at Google for taking such good care of a tool loved by so many.
Here’s to another 5, extremely successful years for GTM!