GA4 & GTM Support in 3rd Party Martech
Martech vendors: you’ve let your clients down, but most of all you’ve let yourselves down. I’m not angry, just disappointed. I know you can do better than this!
I’m talking about support for Google Tag Manager (GTM) and Google Analytics (GA4), of course.
Martech vendors could, and should, do a better job of supporting GTM and GA4 integration in their products. And there’s less excuse than ever, because the vendors have all had to rework their integrations in the last year or so to support the migration from Universal Analytics to GA4.
I work with a lot of different marketing technology products and I’m often helping clients integrate them with their analytics and tracking systems. I’m increasingly frustrated at how few of these products offer proper support for GA4 and GTM. Or rather – at how often they almost do the right thing, but let themselves down in some way.
If the martech vendors got their act together, it would be easier and cheaper to integrate the analytics stack with their tools, and clients and agencies could spend more time extracting value from their martech stack and less time building and maintaining integrations. And honestly, it’s not that hard to do it right! Let me explain.
I’m talking about the sort of martech that provides a component of digital user experience that we might reasonably want to track with digital analytics. So for instance an e-commerce shopping platform like Shopify or Magento; an online booking engine like Bookeo or Arlo; a specialist content management system like Unbounce; or a live chat system like Zoho. In all these cases the martech platform looks after some interesting user interactions, and we want to record these user interactions in a suitable way in the analytics platform.
Because the martech platform is usually a bit of a black box, we need it to provide some way to communicate its internal view of user actions to the analytics system. For example in a live chat system, the chat technology should send events like “user requested a chat” and “user contact details were captured”. In my view there are two different use cases here:
1. Suppose I’m a small organization with a limited budget and no in-house capacity for integration work. I want a simple, push-button integration with GA4 that “just works” and that allows me to sensibly report on and analyse the use of the martech component. It should look like this:
There might be one or two choices to make about some of the detail, but basically the tool just needs to know my GA4 tracking ID. Then behind the scenes it can send appropriate events to GA4 using the API.
2. Alternatively, suppose I have the resources and expertise to take a more sophisticated approach to tracking and analytics. In that case I want to use Google Tag Manager, so I can control things for myself. (This might be for some very important reasons – for example perhaps I am handling consent management via GTM.) So then I want this sort of option in my martech tools:
And behind the scenes the tool should send appropriate events to GTM using the API. I then add my own triggers and tags in GTM to pass those events on to GA4 and to any other tracking tools.
Now you might think these two use cases look quite similar. And indeed, they are! They require almost identical implementation work within the martech tool.
So: MARTECH VENDORS SHOULD BE ABLE TO SUPPORT BOTH OF THESE USE CASES. That is: they should provide an option to send events directly to GA4, and a separate option to send events to GTM. (Some people may even want to use both, though that’s a bit of a weird combo.)
With both options, all users are happy. The small resource-strapped team can get a decent GA4 setup in place with just a few button pushes. The team that can handle more complexity can use GTM to get things exactly the way they want them – including for example GTM-based consent management, data integration via the data layer, or even server-side tagging. And all the complexity about the martech tool itself sits within the vendor’s black box, with no need for complex reverse engineering or “screen scraping”.
Unfortunately this isn’t happening yet. Martech vendors are picking and choosing their approach to GA4 and GTM. Here are a couple of examples I’ve worked with recently:
Arlo: Arlo is a specialist booking platform. They used to have a built-in Universal Analytics implementation with no GTM support. With the move to GA4 they have released an excellent GTM integration. But they now have no built-in GA4 integration at all! So to use Arlo with GA4 requires use of GTM – great if you already have it, but bad news if you just want a simple GA4 setup.
Shopify: this one is particularly disappointing. Shopify support both GA4 and GTM. But here’s what they say in their GTM documentation:
To use Google Tag Manager with your Shopify Plus online store, you need to do the following:
So you can use GTM with Shopify, but if you do, you must not deploy your GA4 tag via GTM. That’s against the whole philosophy of GTM! And makes it impossible, for example, to use GTM to manage consent.
Unbounce: we work with Unbounce a lot for standalone landing pages, and it’s a great tool. But again it fumbles GA4/GTM support. There’s good built-in GA4 support that sends sensible conversion events. But if you want to use GTM, you have to reverse engineer the triggers to figure out all the user actions.
I’m sure that there are vendors who’ve done the right thing and provide both GA4 and GTM options. But I’m yet to find one! If you know of any, please chip in on the comments and I’ll gladly give credit where it’s due.
Let’s put some pressure on our vendors to get this right. If you’re working with martech tools that don’t have proper GA4 and GTM support, get in touch with the vendor and send them a feature request. (You’re welcome to include a link to this blog!)