7 things to consider before blindly choosing Google Tag Manager

More and more companies are switching to a Tag Management System (TMS) these days. And many of those simply go with the easiest option – the free and readily available Google Tag Manager. But sometimes it is better to look a bit further. Consider these 7 thoughts before deciding. 

Tag-Management-System-AnbieterGoogle is so incredibly dominant. It has long replaced “to do an internet search” with “to google”. Nowadays, many people seem to equate “Web Analytics” with “Google Analytics”. If that was not enough, I more and more often get the impression that “Tag Management System” has become synonymous with “Google Tag Manager” – as if Google’s TMS was the only one out there.

Far from it! Google Tag Manager is neither the most powerful, nor is it even the only free tool on the market! QuBit’s “OpenTag” (free up to one million pageviews per month and very cheap after that) and DC Storm are the other popular free ones out there, and they are pretty good themselves. A sort-of-free tool is “Adobe Dynamic Tag Management” (formerly “Satellite”) which you get for free when you use a product of Adobe’s Marketing Cloud.

Strengths of Google Tag Manager

That being said, I am a big fan of Google Tag Manager and use the tool almost every day (see my latest article here on Custom JavaScript Macros for example). It opened up the world of tag management for me. The major benefits of Google’s TMS in my opinion are:

  • free (simply pay by giving yet more information to Google)
  • available in seconds (just log in)
  • fast and very user-friendly
  • probably the best turn-key integrations with Google Analytics and AdWords
  • When you want to use a none-turn-key tag, you can usually just copy and paste the JavaScript code that your vendor gives you. No need to re-scope JavaScript variables or alter the code like you have to do in some enterprise tools.
  • probably the slickest testing functionality – I just love the ultra-fast in-browser testing on the live system
  • many other users, so the internet is full of tips and tricks 

Drawbacks of Google Tag Manager

But Google Tag Manager has also some drawbacks in comparison to enterprise tools like BrightTagEnsighten, Tealium, TagMan or Adobe Dynamic Tag Management if you are an Adobe client. Not all these tools offer all the functionalities I am going to describe below. But, as a general rule, the larger your enterprise and the more people involved, the more severe Google’s weaknesses become:

1. Very few turn-key tags

“Turn-key tag” are the tags you just create by filling out little forms instead of pasting and altering JavaScript code. Apart from the Google tools, turn-key support for other tags is sparse in Google Tag Manager. This has two consequences:

a) If your main Web Analytics tool is not Google Analytics, but, say, Adobe Analytics (“SiteCatalyst”) or Webtrends, you may have a hard time implementing those via GTM. 

b) All those other tags require you to paste JavaScript code into a “Custom HTML” tag in GTM. That, in turn, usually requires some IT folks to review the tags before they can go live – which in turn means that you may lose one of the main benefits of a TMS: speed. 

2. No workflow management / only basic rights settings

This is crucial for many large enterprises. Some companies want to be able to give the marketing team the right to publish on the test platform, but not on the live website. This is impossible in Google Tag Manager. Another frequent request is that Marketing can only publish a tag to the live system after IT has reviewed it – a simple case of a 4-eye check that is so common, but not possible in Google Tag Manager (nor in some enterprise tools).

data-protection-913770-m3. Security

With a TMS, you can easily bypass all the usual restrictions developers go through when wanting to publish code to the website. So if someone hacks into your Google Tag Manager’s admin account, your website will be gone in seconds, serve trojans to your visitors, or push your tracking data to a competitor’s system. In a time when we hear of new hacking scandals every month (see the recent one at Adobe for example), this is a huge security issue for some companies.

So look for a tool that offers two-factor authentication. That can be an SMS pin code or an email that contains a link that has to be clicked before you are able to publish to the live system. Some tools also offer IP restrictions so only users inside your company are able to log into the TMS.

4. No functions that go beyond a content management system for tags

A content management system for tags – that is a TMS ‘s most obvious benefit. Nevertheless, enterprise tag management systems are more and more leaping into what I call “data integration upon collection”, others call it “digital data distribution” (see “BrightTag’s Fuse” or this whitepaper by Tealium and Web Analytics Demystified for example). Since all the visitor data you collect on your webite goes through your TMS, there is no need to plug into multiple third-party tools’ APIs anymore to get the data into your data warehouse or dashboard. Instead, you let your TMS push the data directly to wherever you want to integrate it (the data warehouse, for example). Sounds easier than it is, but I believe that this is the future.

Other handy features common to Enterprise Tools and currently not available in Google Tag Manager are:

  • Off-site tagging (Ensighten offers this for example)
  • Privacy law compliance: Some tools offer automatic compliance with “Do-not-Track” (some offer this to be respected on a per-tag basis) or the privacy laws of the country the visitor is coming from. This can be important especially when looking at how differently every EU member state has interpreted the “cookie directive” (see Ensighten’s “Privacy” platform or a related functionality by Tealium). 
  • Tag Performance Reports (how long does each tag load? Which tags are not working, and on which pages is that the case?)
  • Server-side tag execution (possible with some of BrightTag’s tags)
  • “Visual Tagging” tools that allow you to create tags and data layers by just clicking on elements on your website or even in your mobile app (see Ensighten Mobile)

5. Support

There are indeed a lot of tips and tricks on the internet for Google Tag Manager. But sometimes, that is not enough. With an enterprise tool, you can turn to people who know their tool like noone else.

6. No way to change the order in which turn-key tags are fired.

Have a Google Analytics Event Tracking tag that should be fired upon pageload, but after the Google Analytics pageview tag (because if the event fires before the pageview, your page may not count as an “entry” page)? Currently, there is no way to do that other than through a workaround with custom JavaScript that means saying good-bye to your handsome turn-key tags (see CardinalPath’s Blog for an example).

7. No support for Google Content Experiments (A/B testing)

If A/B testing is something you love, Google Tag Manager will not make it easier for you. It still does not support Content Experiments. That being said, even some Enterprise Tag Management Systems have this problem (luckily, not all of them!). The main reason for this is probably that the Content Experiments tag is supposed to load synchronously instead of asynchronously and it has to go into the start of the head section whereas GTM’s tag container goes after the opening body tag.

The points I think are especially important are 2, 3, and 4. So before just going with the seemingly easiest choice at hand, do invest in a tool evaluation or test-drive Google Tag Manager against an Enterprise tool on a smaller pilot website. Make sure to compare the page load time as well, since it can differ quite strongly from tool to tool – even though all TMS providers claim their tool is the fastest, some actually slow down your site instead of making it faster.

Which features do you miss in Google Tag Manager?

Now it is your turn: Which features would you like to see in Google Tag Manager? What does an Enterprise TMS  bring to the table that GTM just can’t? I am curious to read your comments.


  1. says

    Hi Rick, thanks a lot for the link, that’s a nice workaround. As I interpret it, it works “only” for Optimizely though and not for Google’s own Content Experiments? And it still is a “workaround”, so you have to go out of your way to do something that you’d expect the tool to cover anyway.


  2. says

    Thanks for the thorough and even-handed look at GTM. I can’t announce any new features, but I can say that we agree with the points you made and are working hard in those areas – more to come.

    Lukas Bergstrom
    Product Manager
    Google Tag Manager

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