In this side-by-side guide, we’ll show you the differences between Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, plus when and how to use each of them to your advantage.
We’re going to cover the differences between these two tools, why they are often confused with each other, and how you can utilize them together or separately as part of your marketing strategy.
Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover in this guide:
- What is Google Analytics?
- What is Google Tag Manager?
- Why do marketers confuse Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager?
- Alternatives to Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager
Let’s dive in!
What Is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a tracking tool that you can install on your website or mobile app. It will gather user data like pageviews and sessions, which you can analyze later in the Google Analytics interface.
You’ll start by installing a little bit of tracking code onto your website or app, which will then measure user data, and transfer it over to the Google Analytics platform.
Once all this data is ready, we as marketers are able to view it through a polished user interface.
We can analyze, segment, filter, and move this data around giving us unique insights into our site and app users. This helps us make strategic business decisions based on these newfound insights.
🚨 Note: Google Analytics has a couple of different versions available right now. Check out our list of the four biggest changes between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4.
What Is Google Tag Manager?
Google Tag Manager, on the other hand, is a Tag management system (TMS).
From there you use Google Tag Manager’s interface to easily add or remove other Google tools or third-party Tags—without messing with the site’s code over and over again.
There are several Tags that you may want to install through the Google Tag Manager (for which we have tutorials that guide you through the process).
Installing Google Analytics, which is a web analytics service, will provide statistics and basic analytical tools for marketing purposes and for the search engine optimization (SEO).
The LinkedIn Insight Tag helps you track your conversions, website demographics, and retargeting for your LinkedIn ad campaigns.
Setting up a remarketing campaign in Google Ads will help you turn your leads into conversions.
And the Twitter Universal Website Tag provides Twitter conversion tracking and Twitter retargeting conveniently through one Tag.
In short, Google Tag Manager allows you to manage all of these tracking tools through one single, convenient, and user-friendly interface.
🚨 Note: If you haven’t installed it already, we have a detailed guide on How to install Google Tag Manager.
Why Do Marketers Confuse Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager?
Google Analytics is the tracking tool, while Google Tag Manager is the mediator between your website and the tracking tool.
In other words, Google Analytics collects, stores, and analyzes data. Google Tag Manager sends the data from your website to Google Analytics (or other tools) in the form of Tags.
So where does the confusion actually come from?
Well, first of all, they’re both Google products, and they’re both free!
But the confusion really lies in the implementation of Google Analytics. While many marketers install Google Analytics through Google Tag Manager, you can also install Google Analytics directly onto your site.
If Google Analytics is your only tracking tool, it makes perfect sense to install the code directly onto your website. You only need to fuss with one interface, and the configuration is very simple.
But if you’re using multiple tracking tools or want to use more complicated tracking events, you can also install Google Tag Manager on your website, then connect your Google Tag Manager account to your Google Analytics account.
The setup is a little more complicated, but it gives you more advanced tracking options and is more flexible with multiple tools.
So theoretically, you could have both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager installed.
This would be really poor implementation and could result in faulty data, but having two separate tools can confuse some marketers into thinking they need both.
In truth, either implementation works fine—it’s all a matter of your personal tracking plan.
The main reason you would go with Tag Manager is if you plan to use other tool Tags like the Facebook Pixel, Google Ads, or the Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads) in the future.
If so, it would be best to use Google Tag Manager from the get-go, as it allows you to add many Tags in an organized fashion to your site.
Going with Google Tag Manager also makes sense if you require more complex tracking like button or scroll tracking. This would be pretty hard to do (but still possible) if you went with the direct implementation of Google Analytics.
Are There Alternatives to Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager?
There are plenty, but they aren’t all free and they aren’t all mainstream. It may be more difficult to get your whole team trained on tools that they may be less familiar with.
If you want to get a qualitative data view, a tool like Hotjar should be combined with Google Analytics. In our comparison of GA vs Hotjar, you can also find a 3-month free Hotjar business account! If you’re not sure whether you want to pay for this type of tracking service, this is a great opportunity to try it out for free.
Mixpanel works great for event-driven analytics, which is perfect for mobile apps, web apps, and SAAS (software as a service) businesses. Check out our guide on how to install Mixpanel with Google Tag Manager to learn more!
Adobe Analytics excels in applying real-time analytics and detailed segmentation.
And finally, Kissmetrics provides a clear picture of users’ activities on your website—and it collects detailed data of every visitor, which is useful for some businesses.
I hope we cleared up any confusion surrounding Google Analytics vs. Google Tag Manager and how they should be used!
You could install your Google Analytics tracking code onto your page directly without using Google Tag Manager.
Or, you could install Google Analytics through Google Tag Manager if you plan on using other Tags, like the Facebook Pixel or Adobe Analytics Tag.
(But as a reminder, use one implementation or the other—not both!)
Essentially, Google Tag Manager is just the middleman between the implementation on your website and the tracking tool (Google Analytics), where the data gets sent.
I would recommend using both tools because they’re both free and they can help your business in different ways.
Are you using other tool Tags with the help of Google Tag Manager? Do you prefer to use Google Analytics with or without Google Tag Manager? Let us know in the comments below!