How to Conduct a Google Tag Manager Audit

October 9, 2019 Chris O'Neill

Managing an entire tagging implementation can be a complex task, even if you’re using Google Tag Manager (GTM). 

This complexity often comes as a result of website updates over time, which involves continually adding and modifying tags (the third party technologies installed on your site) to accomplish various tasks around analytics, marketing automation, advertising, and more. 

As your website changes and you continually add this functionality to your website, your tags will build up, and you will need to regularly audit your implementation to validate which tags are deployed and whether they are working properly. This practice of auditing your tagging implementation will need to be done either manually or through automation.

Manually Auditing Your Google Tag Manager Implementation

A manual audit of your tagging implementation requires human effort to comb through layers of code in both GTM and your website as a means of verifying and spot checking each tag deployed on your website or app. 

Some of the auditing activities you will have to carry out include:

  • Validating and checking container tags
  • Inspecting your data layer
  • Verifying that rules are firing as expected

Let’s take a closer look at each of these tasks individually.

Validating and checking container tags

Container tags are pieces of code installed on each page of your site that serve as digital middlemen between the Google Tag Manager interface and your website. These container tags communicate with the GTM interface to deploy and fire each page’s applicable tags. 

When using Google Tag Manager, your analytics tags reside in the cloud-based GTM database and then are called onto your website pages by the container tag when applicable rules are met. 

Container tags free you from having to manually deploy each individual tag directly onto each page of your site, and instead allow you to manage all your tags through the Google Tag Manager interface. 

When manually auditing your site, you need to ensure these container tags are present on each page of your site and are effectively firing the desired tags. Manually ensuring the proper functionality of these container tags requires you to find each container tag in your site’s code, and then check on your website source code and within the GTM interface to ensure your assorted analytics tags are appropriately aligned and firing within each container tag.

In addition to auditing your container tags, you will also want to inspect your data layer.

Inspecting your data layer

In his blog post titled "Unlocking the Data Layer", Jason Call defines the data layer as “a piece of code that is a repository for structured data. It is a JavaScript object or variable that gathers and redistributes your most essential data to all the vendors in your MarTech stack.” 

The data layer sits as an intermediate data repository that connects your website’s data to your your tag manager and your other marketing solutions. When a customer interacts with your website, the data layer gathers that data into a centralized, organized manner for easy data sharing.

In order to accurately send information, your data layer must be set up with clearly defined variables that match specific conventions. As a result, you will need to validate your data layer to ensure accurate data formatting and capture. 

When inspecting and validating your data layer manually, you need to inspect the data layer JavaScript object page by page to ensure the values match your specifications, which can be a daunting task.

Another aspect of managing GTM is making sure the rules associated with your analytics tags are firing correctly. 

Verifying your GTM rules

When using Google Tag Manager, you must assign rules to your analytics tags, as these rules serve as instructions that tell the analytics tags when to fire and record data. These rules will likely expire with time as your site changes. Consequently, you need to continually verify and update your rules to ensure proper tag functionality.

Managing and verifying all the rules associated with your implemented tags can be challenging, due to the sheer volume of tags that need rules, as well as the fact that each rule needs to be verified one-by-one, vendor-by-vendor. As a result, manually verifying these rules is not an ideal method. 

Whether you’re validating container tags, inspecting your data layer, or verifying your rules, approaching these processes manually is time-intensive and prone to human error, especially if your site and accompanying analytics implementation is large. Additionally, websites change regularly, which only adds to the complexity of an already challenging situation, and often leaves tag management professionals struggling to keep up. 

The cumbersome nature of attempting to accomplish the aforementioned tasks manually ultimately leads to mistakes and poor data output. As a result, using automation is an appealing alternative. 

Auditing Google Tag Manager with Automation

Using automation to audit your Google Tag Manager implementation will allow you to quickly and accurately ensure your implementation is deploying tags where needed. With automation solutions like ObservePoint, you can efficiently schedule and run automated scans of your GTM implementation, saving you time and resources. 

Audit tags with automation

Auditing tags with ObservePoint is straightforward and efficient, as you can simply schedule automated Web Audits that will render each page of your website and automatically detect all the tags present. These audits allow you to see the container tags present on each page, as well as each of the tags your container tags deploy.

These audits will quickly give you a clear and accurate view of your entire tagging implementation. 

Automatically inspect the data layer

In order to relay consistent information from your website to your tag manager, the data layer must be congruent and accurate across all pages of your site. As a result, auditing your data layer with automation will save you from wasting time and resources on combing through each page of your site in an effort to ensure the values in the data layer are correct. 

Running automated scans with ObservePoint will allow you to quickly evaluate the consistency of your data layer across your entire site, and will also alert you when inconsistencies and errors are present in your data layer.  

Use automation to verify rules

Rules can get messy as your tagging implementation changes over time, especially since each of the many tags in your implementation needs an individual rule in order to fire correctly. The vast number of rules makes automation an ideal solution for managing all the rules in your implementation.

You can verify that all the rules in your Google Tag Manager implementation are firing correctly using features called Web Audits and Web Journeys with ObservePoint. The Web Audits feature enables you to check rules at a page level and ensure your tags are properly functioning, while the Web Journeys feature allows you to check the rules associated with user flows and sequences on your site.  


Google Tag Manager Validation Check

Your audit should be thorough enough that you can do everything all at once. You don’t want to spend hours on it only to realize you missed a couple of steps along the way. So to ensure all your tags and related web pages are working properly, follow this Google Tag Manager audit checklist.

  • Google Analytics Admin Setup Check

A lot of the Google Tag Manager functions work in tandem with Google Analytics, so setting up your Google Analytics Admin account is a top priority. This is particularly helpful if you weren’t involved with the account’s initial setup. 

This check is to ensure all property settings, tracking codes, and view settings are inputted correctly and that your marketing campaigns are tagged properly. Start by:

  • Checking your default website URL
  • Making sure your timezone and country is set properly
  • Checking which currency you’re tracking
  • Confirming that Google Ads is integrated
  • Enabling demographics and interest reports
  • Enabling enhanced link attribution
  • Excluding internal traffic source, or traffic from your corporate network
  • Google Tag Manager Check

Most companies will set up their Google Analytics accounts using Google Tag Manager. This is why Google Analytics published a list of common data reporting issues in your Google Tag Manager implementation that you should check on, including:

  • Unpublished changes
  • Wrong trigger configurations
  • Triggers that are too specific
  • Unexpected site or app changes
  • Too many HTTP requests
  • Container snippet problems
  • Users leaving the page before the tag fires
  • Webpage Error Crawl Test

Make sure all your webpages are loading properly by running a crawl test. Most SEO tools, like Moz and SEMrush, come with a crawl test feature. All you need to do is run the program to find out which pages are showing error messages.

You can also use ObservePoint to crawl your web pages and ensure that your pages are loading correctly. ObservePoint also gives you the ability to audit your pages on an ongoing basis automatically so you are notified of errors as soon as they occur.

Checking for errors allows you to know whether Google’s web crawlers and your online visitors will actually be able to visit all of your pages. If they run into an error message on your website, it can seriously hurt your brand credibility.

Some common web page errors to watch out for include:

  • 400 Bad Request
  • 401 Unauthorized
  • 403 Forbidden
  • 404 Not Found
  • 500 Internal Server Error
  • 502 Bad Gateway
  • 503 Service Unavailable
  • 504 Gateway Timeout
  • Google Analytics Tracking Check

Your web pages need to have the right tags in the right place for Google Analytics to properly track their data. Make sure your tracking code isn’t in multiple places or in the wrong place. 

If you use multiple Google Analytics accounts, make sure you’re using the right tracking code on the right domains. If your customer journey uses multiple domains, make sure to enable cross-domain tracking.

By implementing ObservePoint you can set up recurring scans to check that your tags and tracking codes are firing correctly across all your domains, saving you hours of work and avoiding human error.

  • Google Ads Check

Linking your Google Ads account to your Google Analytics makes it easy to track impressions, clicks, and track ROI for ads you run. For a total Google Ads check, make sure to verify the following:

  • Auto-tagging
  • Time zones of Google Analytics and Google Ads match
  • PPC Keyword ID isn’t visible on the landing pages

You can also integrate Google Ads with ObservePoint’s platform to ensure your ads are working correctly and collecting the right data. ObservePoint also allows you to gather all your ad data from other vendors like LinkedIn and Facebook, in the same place for easy access and analysis.

Google Tag Manager Validation Check

Even after GTM is audited, there’s a chance things still aren’t working well. That’s where Google Tag Manager validation checks come into play, helping you verify that every tag you’ve installed was done correctly. 

However, Google Tag Manager validation can only check pages where GTM is installed. If for any reason GTM breaks and falls off those pages, GTM’s validation tool will not be able to notify you. In addition, if a vendor has added unauthorized piggybacking tags or there is any sort of unauthorized code on your page, GTM validation doesn’t check for that. 

Using an automated testing solution, like ObservePoint, helps cover those blind spots left by Google Tag Manager validation.

Tag Assistant by Google is a Chrome extension that troubleshoots the installations of various Google tags, allowing you to quickly spot errors and find solutions to those problems. Simply navigate to any of your pages and Tag Assistant will tell you which tags are present and what errors may occur.


Keep GTM Running Efficiently with ObservePoint

When using tag management software like GTM, you need to recognize that maintaining the integrity of that solution is not a one time thing. You can’t simply set and forget your GTM solution and hope for a dependable implementation now and into the future. Maintaining your implementation requires ongoing management, either through manual efforts or automation, though using automation is a much more effective solution. 

If you decide to utilize automation, ObservePoint’s validation software will allow you to ensure that your GTM solution is currently functioning as desired, and that your solution will continue to do so as you move forward. With this knowledge and peace of mind, you can confidently ensure your website is providing your customers with great experiences. 

To see how ObservePoint can help you ensure accurate data with GTM, schedule a demo today.

There are a lot of pieces that go into a successful GTM implementation, and if one of them falls out of line, it can have a domino effect that threatens the integrity of your tagging implementation. 

You could check for these errors manually, but do you have the time? And would you recognize an error even if you saw it?

This blog post, How to Conduct a Google Tag Manager Audit, details three tasks you should carry out when auditing your GTM implementation, enabling you to:

  • Verify your container tag is present on every page of your site
  • Ensure GTM is firing the right tags at the right time
  • Verify the integrity of your data layer

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About the Author

Chris O'Neill

Chris O’Neill is a full-stack web developer who has been in the analytics space for the past 5 years. As Solutions Architect at ObservePoint, Chris helps large enterprises set up automated testing of their analytics scripts with ObservePoint so they can verify custom website tracking is always up and running.

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