Google Tag Manager = The Death of a Plugin

With a degree in computer information systems from Mohawk Valley Community College, John worked for small businesses and performed freelance work before joining Site-Seeker in 2007.

Back in July I did a post about a Google Analytics plugin for WordPress (WP) that I built and that we use here at Site-Seeker. Do to some recent things I thought I’d revisit it.

History of the Plugin

The Blunt GA plugin did not start off as a WP plugin. The script that eventually became the central part of the plugin was started in 2007. Back then Google Analytics (GA) used urchin.js. At this time event tracking did not yet exist. We didn’t get that until the next version, ga.js. Over the last five years the script slowly evolved to keep up with new changes in GA and eventually to become a WP plugin.

I started building this script because we needed to track a lot more than GA could do out of the box at the time. We needed to track more than just page views; things like when someone clicked on an email link, downloaded a PDF, or submitted a form. To do this you needed to manually add onclick events to record virtual page views directly to the HTML of your web page. It was a slow process, every link needed to be coded individually. This was, to be quite blunt, a pain in the ass. I seriously had better things to do with my time than to add yet another onclick event to another link because the person working on the content of the site was unable to do so.

That is the reason I built the script in the first place, so that I could just install the script and forget about it. All the links on the page would be automatically tagged with a generic event, or in the days of urchin, a virtual page view.

Look, I’m basically a lazy developer, all good developers are. We don’t want to do the same monotonous task over and over again. If I can put that task in the hands of someone else and get back to building something new that’s even better. I love development because I love to solve big problems, I like to build sites, I enjoy doing the heavy lifting. Being interrupted constantly to see to minor tasks is one of those things that sucks the joy out of my life.

Keeping Up

Keeping up with the changes in GA is yet another of those things that can suck the joy from my life. Every few months there would be another change that broke my script and require me to figure out what I needed to do to make it work again. Then they introduced a new script (ga.js) and my script had to be completely rebuilt. The changes continued and with every change another update to my script.

Fast Forward to 2013

Along about March (I think) of this year Google released Universal Analytics into public beta. This new version of GA is completely incompatible with the old GA script. I was once again looking at a complete rebuild of the script. Not only this, but since there are many people still using the older version the script it still needs to maintain compatibility with that version. When they changed from urchin.js to ga.js this did not happen. All the functions and calls I was using for urchin.js worked in ga.js, so the changes were rather less significant. This is not the case with the new script. All the functions used for doing the same things have changed. This means that I have to do everything twice, keeping the old and adding the new and it has to do one or the other depending on what script the site is using.

Really? Do I have to do this again? I seriously wanted to quit. The problem is that people have become dependent on being able to have the information that the script is collecting and I have been quite happy not needing to add individual events to every link, form and page.

As I said, I hate maintenance work, I’m a builder, not a maintainer. What was I going to do?

Then in October Google published this blog. The first heading of the page is:

Google Tag Manager: Auto-event tracking – no more custom-code needed.

This is exactly what I’m looking for. It’s only one paragraph, but it got my attention so I dug deeper. I went and signed up for it, I tried it, quite honestly I loved it.

Google Tag Manager

I’m usually skeptical about new tools of this nature and I was just as skeptical about Tag Manager when I started trying it and reading about what it could do, but as I investigate I realize it was the answer I was looking for. Not only will Tag Manager allow you to install GA on your site, without the aid of a developer, not only will Tag Manager allow you to set up events on links and forms, again without the aid of a developer, but it will also allow you to do thing like:

  • Add Adwords conversion code to pages that require it
  • Add remarketing code to the site
  • Add other code snippets from other services, not just Google

And a host of other things, and all without the need to call a developer to get it done.

The Future of Blunt GA

Frankly, there is no future for this plugin or the script it is based on. The entire reason that I started developing it in the first place was to reduce the amount of small development tasks I needed to deal with; to put this in the control of others. Tag Manager can now fill this role. When I build a new site I include the Tag Manager code where it needs to go and then someone else can deal with the tasks and I no longer need to be involved. No more interruptions to add conversion tracking to page X. No more panicked calls because something is not tracking just right because Google changed something again. I no longer need to worry about keeping up with changes in GA; Google can worry about keeping up with Google and let me worry about more important stuff.Death Tag Manager

Not only that, but I can toss out several other scripts an plugins that are used to do all the other tasks that Tag Manager can accomplish.

My life has gotten easier and I can do the part of development that I love doing.

Conclusion

Stop calling your developer every time you need simple coding changes on your site. Stop worrying if things are being tracked and events are being recorded. Stop using multiple scripts and plugins to do the various jobs.

Get Google Tag Manager installed on your site.