Google Tag Manager vs Google Analytics 4: Four Key Differences

Writer:
Catherine Lovering
Editor:
Published: Jun 04, 2024
Last Updated:
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A fundamental component of digital marketing data is user behavior: when and how users interact with your website. 

For anyone who’s spent any time looking at website analytics tools, the translation of behavior into metrics seems pretty simple: who visited a page, how long did they linger on that page, where did they go, and where did they come from to start with.

But beyond those basic events we know well from Google Analytics tracking, there’s so much more to learn about visitor interaction with web pages. 

That’s the upshot of the difference between Google Tag Manager vs Google Analytics: getting that much more information about interactions with the user interface – without having to revamp your source code. 

Google Analytics 4 Explained: Purpose and Recent Changes

For many people with a history of diving deep into content marketing metrics, Universal Analytics was the mainstay of reporting. Universal Analytics (UA) was the alternate name for Google Analytics, which recently evolved into Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

The shift from UA to GA4 means changes in how Google’s free analytic platform models data. For those relying on Google’s platform insights, this means getting used to a new way of understanding organic search traffic and other website metrics. 

Perhaps most fundamentally, GA4 no longer has a notion of specific “hit” types, like “social,” or “page view.” In GA4, these fall under one category: “event.” These might be fine points only understood by developers — but for marketers, can represent a shift in how metrics appear on their dashboards.

The changes that came with the transition from UA to GA4 include better privacy controls, stronger integration with Google ads, and better unification of data across platforms, notably the web and mobile applications.

Google Tag Manager (GTM) Overview: Features and Uses

So if GA4 tracks “events,” and provides a newer way to track user interactions, what does Google Tag Manager (GTM) do? 

GTM is another way to track events on your website — think not only a page view, but when a visitor chooses to click a specific button in the middle of the page — without having to alter the source code on your website.

GTM is also a free tool provided by Google, and it integrates seamlessly with GA4. That means you can use both tools to best assess things like organic SEO and ad campaign optimization. Each of these resources give you data that supplements the other. 

4 Key Differences Between GTM and GA4

There are important differences between GTM and GA4, which can be narrowed down to four important aspects. 

1. Website Traffic Reports and Container Tags

While GA4 tracks website hits as events, GTM uses container tags. These are baskets of code that you create to represent a unique aspect of your digital property. A container might be a page’s “buy now” button, or even a click-through to “learn more.”

GA4 offers website traffic information under its “acquisition” section. This allows you to identify all sources of traffic for a user or group of users. This specifies whether your website traffic came from organic search, email, social media, or another source. 

GA4 gives you a good sense of the multitude of ways in which people get to your site. GTM, however, gives you added functionality that allows for more precise reporting. 

Let’s say you want to know how a user found you the first time. With GTM, you can add code to your website that allows for this type of reporting, offering you a valuable piece of additional data.

2. Data Sources and Storage

GTM also sits on your website’s data layer. When a triggering event occurs, it sends that data to the management tool to track it as an event. In GA4, data sources are uploaded to the platform.

In GA4 data sources are also called containers. They hold the data that is transferred into the analytics platform. GA4 source code looks for matches between existing Analytics event data and the data you upload. When it finds a match, it changes your metric values. That’s when your numbers go up on your GA4 reports.  

In GTM information is transferred from the data layer by a certain type of code called JavaScript. The JavaScript object sends information to the GTM container when events happen. These are then tracked in GTM and can be integrated into GA4.

3. Data Querying and APIs

In simple terms, GTM data comes from a data layer that sends information to tags. Data queries in GA4 allow you to focus on key metrics like data range and type of data.

APIs allow developers to build on top of the existing features of either GTM or GA4. The APIs for GTM let you customize most aspects of the GTM data flow, including destinations, triggers, and variables. 

Since GA4 is a more comprehensive tool than GTM, it’s no surprise that you can do more with APIs for GA4. There’s a full scope configuration strategy that allows you to create highly specific data events, like the number of active users in your iOS app, country-by-country, in the past 30 minutes. The GA4 APIs also allow for custom dashboards and automated report creation.

While both GA4 and GTM allow you to change the data metrics you receive, you’ll have more options for customization with GA4 just because GA4 does more than GTM to begin with.

4. Ease of Use and Features

Both Google Analytics 4 and Google Tag Manager are considered relatively easy to use. However, GA4 is largely already set with its features, and can be used by anyone, while GTM requires a website developer to either use existing tags or to create new ones. Although no coding is necessary in GTM, having to take this extra step might be daunting to some users.

The APIs on either platform might be in the domain of developers, but they can work with in-house marketing teams to configure the data your company needs for SEO reporting and even a content audit, since the latter activity involves taking a deep dive into what types of content are performing on your site. 

How Do You Configure Conversion Tracking With GTM?

Conversion tracking offers visibility to how often visitors took a specific action. Conversions might happen not only on your website, but in your Google Ads campaigns, or your social media feeds. To use GTM to track conversions, you have to create an event code at the site of the conversion and copy it into your GTM account. 

The step-by-step process varies a bit depending on the conversion source, but here are the general steps to take:

  1. Create a tag in your GTM account. For example, the tag might be “Google Conversion Link.”
  2. Go to the source of the conversion and also create a tag. For example, in Google Ads you get a conversion ID and label when you set up a tag.
  3. Go back to GTM and enter the information from the source site, such as the conversion ID and label from Google ads.
  4. Identify a trigger in GTM.

Some external sites, like some social media platforms, might require you to take additional steps. An example is the Facebook pixel you have to integrate into GTM before you set up your new conversion tracking.

How Can You Track Conversions With GA4?

GA4 automatically tracks some conversion events like “form submit,” but you can add tracking for more events using the GA4 administrator platform. Here are the basics on how to add new conversion events in GA4:

  1. On the Admin dashboard, choose “Events” under the relevant “Property.”
  2. Click “Create Event” and then “Create.”
  3. Give your event a name that's a meaningful descriptor, like “Purchase Confirmation.”
  4. Configure the triggering conditions for the event by setting its parameters.
  5. Navigate back to “Events” and find the event that you created.
  6. Set the new event as a conversion event by toggling on the “Mark as Conversion” button.

GA4 lets you have up to 30 conversion events.

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FAQ's

Is Google Tag Manager still relevant?

Although GTM developed in the time of universal analytics, some web developers believe that it is still valuable to use both GTM and GA4. Although GA4 now largely tracks traffic on an events basis, which is similar to GTM, it might not hold the same levels of customization you are looking for. GTM also integrates seamlessly into GA4.

Does GA4 affect GTM?

GA4 has no direct impact on GTM. However, some developers might take some time to determine which analytics system is most appropriate for their marketing needs.

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