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Every time I think “I know a LOT about Google Tag Manager”, a totally new horizon opens up, which leaves me thinking “Nope. I am still just a youngling and there’s so much left to learn”.

My another GTM breakthrough happened when I took a deeper dive into Google Tag Manager variables. I was successfully utilizing Data Layer variables, Constant variable, etc. But some of them were still a mistery for me.

In this blog post, I’ll show you my top 7 must-have Google Tag Manager custom variables that I use in majority of my GTM containers.

#1. Page Title

To be honest, I still can’t understand why this variable isn’t available in Google Tag Manager by default. Although Google Analytics tracks Page Title by default, there are plenty of tools and use cases where page title (as a variable) would be very useful in Google Tag Manager.

Fortunately, it’s really easy to create one.

In your Google Tag Manager container, go to Variables > Javascript Variable and enter document.title

Page title - document.title variable

Now, enable GTM preview and debug mode and refresh the web page you’re currently working on. When Preview and Debug pane appears, click any GTM event (on the left side) and navigate to Variables tab.

You should see your newly created Javascript variable – Page Title.

Page title variable in Google Tag Manager preview and debug mode

 

#2. ALT Text

If your website contains a lot of clickable images, you might want to track which ones are clicked the most.

But there’s one catch. It’s very possible that each image does not contain a unique ID or class, so how can you tell them apart with GTM?

Click Inspect element on one of those images.

inspect element

A pane with a lot of code will appear. Your image’s code snippet will be highlighted. Check whether that image contains alt attribute (like in the example below).

alt attribute

Although several images might have the same value of alt attribute, this still might be a good indicator of which image was clicked. For your information, alt attribute is not required, thus not all images will have it.

Anyway, if the website you’re working on has multiple alt attributes placed in the right way, feel free to use it as a Google Tag Manager custom variable.

How? It’s super easy, follow me.

In your Google Tag Manager container, go to Variables > Auto-event Variable and choose the following settings:

auto event variable - alt

Auto-event variable fetches a particular value of element that a visitor interacts with. In this case, when a visitor clicks any website element, our newly created variable with look for alt attribute that belongs to that element.

If the element (i.e. image or link) does not have any alt attribute, the variable will return undefined value. If there is one, then it will fetch attribute’s value.

Let’s test. After you create this variable, refresh the Preview and Debug mode, and website you’re working on.

Click the image you’re willing to track. If it contains a link, do the click with CTRL or CMD key pressed. This way you’ll prevent the page from refreshing and losing all debug data in GTM Preview and Debug console.

Now, choose gtm.click GTM event and head over to Variables tab. You should see something like this:

gtm.click - alt

Pro tip: if you see no gtm.click event in GTM preview and debug mode, create a new trigger with settings Click > All Elements (within your Google Tag Manager container).

#3. Name of Downloaded File

If you’re already tracking file downloads with GTM, you’re probably sending the entire URL to Google Analytics as Event Action (or Event Label).

For example, a user clicks a link to PDF file. You send https://www.example.com/files/guides/ultimate-guide.pdf as Event Action to Google Analytics. Although this works perfectly fine, the readability of data isn’t very convenient.

It would be much better if you could see only ultimate-guide.pdf in your GA reports, right? Fortunately, this is pretty easy. Just create a Custom Javascript variable with the following code:

Important: before you test it, enable Click Element variable among built-in variables in your Google Tag Manager container.

Now, save the variable, refresh P&D mode and refresh the page you’re working on. Find a link to PDF or DOCX (or any other file) and click it. After gtm.linkClick event appear in the Preview and Debug pane, click it and head over to Variables tab.

downloaded file name variable in google tag manager

This variable returned the file name as a value. If the downloaded link is not an asset with a file extension, the script returns the ambiguous “n/a” string, which can be used in blocking rules, for example.

Pro tip: if gtm.linkClick event did not appear in Preview and Debug mode, enable a new trigger Clicks > Just Links.

 

#4. Mobile USer

This custom variable let’s you distinguish mobile users from desktop and tablets. It returns true if visitor/user is browsing with mobile device (tablets are not included).

In your Google Tag Manager container, go to Variables > Custom Javascript and enter the following code.

Custom Javascript - Mobile user

This script uses comprehensive regular expression (borrowed from detectmobilebrowsers.com) which returns a true or false value depending on whether or not the user is browsing with a mobile device.

Use case: you can display a notification with special offer/discount only for mobile visitors. In this example you’ll need:

  1. a custom HTML tag which displays the notification or a popup (ask developer to create one).
  2. and a page view trigger (see the example below). This means that a trigger will activate on every page load when user is browsing with a mobile device.

Pageview - Mobile user

 

#5. Lookup Table for Multi-Domain Websites

I love lookup tables. Especially when it comes to managing multiple Google Analytics tracking codes. I could write a separate blog post about this type of variable, but I’ll try to be as swift as possible.

Use case: You own 3 identical online stores, but under different domains (example.com, example.de and example.co.uk). They all have the same GTM container snippet installed, but you want to push their data to separate Google Analytics properties. How will you manage tracking IDs in your Google Tag Manager container?

The easiest way is to utilize lookup table variable, which is a variable that has the value of another variable as input. It works like this: When [input variable] equals to _______, set [this output variable] to_______.

Google tag manager lookup table

Here’s a practical example to make things clearer. I chose Page Hostname as an Input variable and set the following rules:

  1. If Page Hostname equals to example.com, then show Google Analytics Tracking ID UA-XXXXXXX-11
  2. If Page Hostname equals to example.de, then show Google Analytics Tracking ID UA-XXXXXXX-22, etc.

Lookup table Google Tag Manager

I can then use this Lookup table variable in Google Analytics Tags as Tracking ID.

Pro tip: All conditions in Lookup table work under equals to. So if your website’s hostname can fully function with and without www, add both hostnames as list items in the Lookup table variable:

  • www.example.com –> UA-XXXXXXX-11
  • example.com –> UA-XXXXXXX-11

 

#6. UTM parameters

If you are actively using UTM parameters, you might want to fire particular tags based on particular values of utm_campaign, utm_source, utm_medium, etc.

Since I like keeping my variables, tags and trigger in order, I usually create separate variables for each UTM parameter and then use them in trigger conditions.

Of course, you can simply create a rule where {{Page URL}} contains X or Y, having UTM parameters as variables helps me keep my container tidy.

You can easily turn UTM parameters into GTM variables by utilizing URL variable. Just go to Variables > URL variable and create 3 variables with the following settings:

url variables in google tag manager

Another use case is to save values of UTM parameters in 1st party cookies.

URL variable is extremely versatile and can be used in variety of situations. I have published a guide how you can make use of it.

 

#7. Screen Width

Similarly to Mobile User variable (No. 4 in this list), this variable gives us the ability to fire certain tags based on user’s screen width.

Just create a Custom Javascript variable and paste the following code:

Refresh you Preview and Debug made, and the website you’re currently working on. Choose any GTM event in the P&D pane and you’ll see value of screen width in Variables tab.

 

Google TAg Manager Custom Variables: Conclusion

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The more you learn about Google Tag Manager, the deeper the rabbit-hole gets. In this blog post, I have shared my thoughts/knowledge on 7 Google Tag Manager custom variables that are my favorites.

I use them in almost every project/website I am working with. They empower me to create more complex triggers and be less dependent on developers.

What are your favorite Google Tag Manager custom variables? Let me know and maybe I’ll update this blog post with one of them.

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Julius Fed

Product manager at Soundest. I am highly interested in Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Adwords, Email marketing, Email Deliverability, Digital Marketing in general. You can follow me on Twitter.