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With all of the tools available to digital marketers today, it can be easy to become confused about the various roles, functions, and solutions these platforms provide for brands, especially when developed and offered by the same company. Google’s advertising tools are considered industry standard because of their low (and often free) costs, ease of use, and relatively intuitive setup. The two that are arguably mixed up most often are Google Tag Manager (GTM) and Google Analytics

At the surface, it might seem like this pair of digital marketing tools serve relatively similar functionality; however, the truth is that they’re designed to complete different tasks and accomplish different goals. Marketers shouldn’t try to choose between one or the other. Instead, GTM and Google Analytics are highly complementary and are most effective when used in tandem.

So to help clear up some of the confusion, let’s review the basic functions and benefits of both Google solutions. We’ll illustrate the differences and explain how each can be used to power up your marketing strategy and get the most from your data.

What Is Google Tag Manager?

To understand Google Tag Manager, let’s start by explaining marketing tags (or simply tags).

Tags are snippets of code that are embedded in the source code of pages on a website to collect and save data. The type of code specifies the type of data that is saved. There is a wide range of data types that can be tracked with Google tags, including:

  • Events
    • Page visits
    • Link clicks
    • Form submissions
    • File downloads and more
  • Behavior
    • Browsing time on page
    • Scrolling behavior
    • Heat maps
    • Media plays and more

Tags are very useful for digital marketers, as they provide a wealth of information that can be analyzed to improve campaigns and refine various tactics. The trouble is that these tags require coding that can quickly become too complex to create and implement for marketing professionals who don’t have a background or knowledge in HTML and Javascript coding. That means that before GTM existed, marketers usually had to outsource tagging implementation to developers, which can create bottlenecks and slow down your marketing strategy.

Google Tag Manager was created to offer marketers a one-stop location for all their tagging needs, making it much easier and simpler to create new tags, adjust existing ones, and implement them across a brand’s digital ecosystem. Its primary features include:

  • Tag templates to accomplish pre-determined tasks or track known actions
  • Custom tag creation for when you need total flexibility with your tags
  • Simple tag adjustment and control; easy to switch tags on and off
  • Easy tag testing
  • One-stop editing of tags without accessing source code
  • Compatible with third-party tracking tags from Facebook, Google Ads, Google Analytics, and more

Google Tag Manager: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Free for most users (larger and more complex organizations can opt for a paid version with even more features). It takes the legwork out of creating and implementing tags.
  • Centralizes all tagging and data collection and transmits to your other platforms for use in improving campaigns

Cons:

  • It might require some technical knowledge for the initial setup.

What Is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a Web analytics platform that tracks visitor behavior on a website. Out of the box, Google Analytics can monitor certain basic metrics, such as traffic volume and pageviews. To expand its functionalities, Google Analytics can also track events generated by scripts on the Web page, which are often managed through GTM. Here is a list of common metrics tracked by Google Analytics:

  • Website traffic sources (digital and geographical)
  • Web page visits and bounce rates
  • Transaction and conversion tracking 
  • Visitor demographics (age, gender, etc.)
  • Device type used
  • User navigation patterns
  • Purchases or other conversion events
  • Social media performance metrics 

As part of the Google Marketing Platform, Google Analytics can easily integrate with other Google products, such as Google Ads and Google Optimize. Other Google products often use the data collected in Google Analytics as the key performance indicator of the responding campaigns.

Google Analytics: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Allows you to track customer acquisition efforts independently
  • Rich analytics for behavioral and demographic data
  • Intuitive graphical dashboards and reports make it easy to visualize the customer journey
  • Set your own goals and KPIs and track their progress
  • Multi-channel tracking capabilities make it a handy summary of all your marketing efforts
  • Free to use

Cons:

  • No keyword tracking
  • It may not provide enough detail for analyzing specific visits
  • The mobile interface needs work
  • It might include a learning curve at first

Google Tag Manager vs. Google Analytics: What’s the Difference?

So here’s the core question for most marketers: how are these two Google marketing tools different?

Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics serve entirely different functions. A simple way to think about them is that Google Tag Manager deploys and manages scripts, i.e., tags, on a website, which often generate event tracking data. Google Analytics collects and reports data from a website. 

Marketers often use both GTM and Google Analytics to improve and refine the customer experience. Using both tools, marketers can monitor traffic to their websites from different sources and the customer journey, including the navigation paths, interactions with various elements of the Website, to conversions of any kind. 

How Does AdRoll Work With Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics?

For AdRoll users, Google Tag Manager provides a convenient way to deploy the AdRoll pixel to your website with just a few clicks. With GTM, AdRoll users can also customize their tracking variables. A common use case is tracking detailed order information, such as purchased products and order value, along with visitor activities, allowing marketers to conduct more granular campaign performance and behavioral analysis on the AdRoll platform. 

On the analytics front, AdRoll provides a cross-channel performance dashboard that gives marketers a holistic view of all online marketing activities and their effects on conversion and revenue metrics. AdRoll’s cross-channel performance dashboard helps marketers understand and optimize their campaign performance and has a few benefits over Google Analytics, a more general analytics tool. To help marketers easily apply the UTM tracking best practices, AdRoll also offers an easy-to-use UTM link builder at your fingertips. Similar to Google Analytics, AdRoll’s cross-channel performance dashboard is available to marketers at no cost.

Author

Wilson is the Sr. SEO Marketing Manager at AdRoll.