You need an easier way to add and manage tags across your web properties. So you look to the internet to find solutions. Through your search, you found the top two “contenders,” GTM vs. Segment.
But are these two really rivals? Or is it possible they can create a synergy within your MarTech stack?
That’s what we’re going to discuss today.
As early adopters of Segment, we’ve performed dozens of Segment implementations. Segment’s first employee used to work for us, we collaborate on content with Segment, and Segment is an agency client of ours. So we have the insight into Segment and how it compares with Google Tag Manager. We’ve even published a book about building stacks using both Segment and GTM.
That much for our background. Now let’s dive in.
What Is Google Tag Manager for?
Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a tool that simplifies adding and managing website tags without writing a line of code. It even comes with a library with 100s of pre-made tags.
In your GTM account, you can manage all your tracking tags, their triggers, and ensure they work together harmoniously. This is a big deal, given these tasks used to require the assistance of a developer. Thanks to tag managers, like Tealium and GTM, you can sidestep the development cycle during the setup and each time you update how your website gathers data.
With your tags in place, you can track visitors’ interactions (or events) with your site. These events are what triggers various “actions” in your marketing campaigns. For example, when a website visitor reads a certain number of blog posts (the event), a popup appears asking them to sign up to your newsletter to learn more about the topic (the trigger).
But isn’t this what Google Analytics does? Yes. So is it the same thing? No.
Google Analytics is an analytics tool that processes and reports on your data. GTM doesn’t focus on reporting. It’s specifically a tag manager, to ensure you’re gathering all the data needed to enhance your marketing campaigns. Data in GA often comes from the tags that are fired by GTM.
There are big differences between GTM and Segment, but the two also complement one another. More on that later.
So When Should You Use Google Tag Manager?
Wondering if adding Google Tag Manager to your toolkit is a good idea? Here are several use cases to see if it’s right for you:
- Your team has limited tech skills: This is common in smaller companies without an IT team.
- You want to use your team’s time better: Techy marketers or developers who work with marketing code. GTM is loved by many.
- You don’t want to manage dozens of different scripts manually: You own or manage several websites and your team wastes time manually adding and managing scripts, when they should be focused on revenue-generating tasks.
- You’re looking to automate tasks across multiple websites: If you have multiple websites, then having them play well together is key. With GTM, you can collect data across your internet properties and improve marketing initiatives.
There are many more valuable use cases for GTM. Please take the above as a non-exhaustive list, for inspiration.
What Is Segment for?
Segment is a customer data platform (CDP). And while it’s not a tag manager solely, it does have things in common with one — both CDPs and tag managers pipe event data to other tools. But CDPs do a lot more than managing your tracking tags. Segment is the backbone, the glue, the Rosetta Stone of your tech stack and its APIs.
We call Segment the Rosetta Stone because it translates data from various tools, consolidates the taxonomy, and allows your tools to talk to each other. So once you’ve collected the data in your website, app, or even CRM, you gain the ability to pipe data around. Your MarTech stack becomes a powerful, integrated system.
This is great news if you want to integrate tools such as:
- CRM (e.g. Salesforce)
- Marketing automation tools (e.g. Marketo, HubSpot, or Autopilot)
- Email marketing platforms (e.g. HubSpot, MailChimp)
- Analytics tools (e.g. Amplitude, Mixpanel, or Google Analytics)
- Messaging platforms (e.g. Drift or Customer.io)
- Visualization tools (e.g. Chartio)
- Data warehousing tools (e.g. BigQuery, Snowflake)
A CDP can turn ill-informed marketing efforts into an intelligent and personalized marketing campaign. If you want to know more, read our deep dive into what a CDP is.
So When Should You Use Segment?
Now that we’ve given a description of the tool, here’s our take on the typical use cases of Segment.
You should consider using Segment if:
- Your company uses several marketing and sales tools
- You have a complex structure of data, and a company website is a part of it
- You want these tools to communicate with one another
- You need a single hub with all your customer data
CDPs are valuable when you gather data about customers from multiple touchpoints, support tickets, sales calls, emails, chat communications, and web analytics. Using one, such as Segment, you can use Segment to get a holistic view of your customers.
Segment vs. GTM: What Do They Have in Common?
Segment and GTM are different types of tools with different respective use cases. But they have a lot in common, too, and we find that to be important to understand. For instance, they both:
- Help you do advanced marketing tagging and data piping without talking to a developer every time. So both save you time and work, and potential back-and-forth inside the team.
- Provide an API to make it easier when you do have to talk to a developer
- Generate and use tracking and analytics events
- Work with tags from a large variety of marketing tools
- Have a tagging, tracking, and piping focus, and don’t generally provide marketing execution or analysis interfaces. They are not your interface for marketing automation flows or data visualization.
- Affect page load speed
- Avoid poorly-written scripts that slow down page load for website visitors
Segment vs. GTM: What’s the Difference?
Segment and GTM serve two unique purposes. Here’s a look at our breakdown of the key differences and when to use one over the other:
- GTM is the organizer of events and triggers, Segment is the hub and dispatcher of data across platforms.
- Segment translates data into a unified taxonomy to help marketing tools integrate. As a CDP, Segment’s focus lies heavily in letting various tools talk to each other. Plus, it allows you to get data out of silos.
- GTM focuses on implementing tags separately and sending data to individual tools, with less focus on piping data between the tools.
- GTM is made primarily for sending data into tools downstream. As a CDP, Segment is better versed in piping data both downstream and upstream. Many tools can be both a data source or a destination in Segment.
- As an API for user behavior tracking, GTM is more powerful than Segment. It lets you track various types of complex events, and is natively supported by many MarTech tools via the dataLayer. Segment also has its graphical tagging tool called Segment Visual Tagger, but it’s rudimentary compared to GTM.
- As tag containers, Segment gives you the ability to graphically manage more destinations than GTM. But, GTM gives you the ability to include any tag, even those without graphical support. This is why you typically need both Segment and GTM to put all your MarTech stuff in place.
- Segment can import historical data into tools, such as Mixpanel or Amplitude, while GTM focuses on sending the data it collects right now.
- GTM also allows you to control tag timing and delay load, which Segment can’t do
Does Segment Replace Google Tag Manager?
The simple answer: No. Segment and GTM are in two separate pools, and neither can splash the other. Heck, they wouldn’t even want to since they’re not competitors. Both have unique strengths and weaknesses, as we showed above.
So if you’re looking for a solution to manage multiple campaigns and the associated tools, Segment may be the better option.
If you’re looking for more control over what happens when visitors interact with your site, GTM is the way to go.
But bear in mind—you can put the two in the same river, and they’ll flow together nicely if you do it right. Keep on reading, we’ll think of this integration as the sweet spot.
Our Tried & True Method for Integrating GTM with Segment: Put Segment inside the GTM Container
You want to build a MarTech stack that functions fluidly. And now that you know GTM is great for tagging, and Segment for a data pipeline, you may be curious about how the two can play together. Excellent choice if you want to build a tight marketing infrastructure.
To do this, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll stitch them together. Or you’ll take our advice. At McGaw.io, we’re advocates of containing Segment inside Google Tag Manager.
- GTM has enhanced user behavior tracking and dataLayer API, so it makes sense to put the tag manager at the head of the train.
- Segment inside GTM provides the desired ease of tag management
Let us elaborate.
1: Segment Tag in GTM Container Is the Best Integration Method for Complex Tracking
Using Segment as a tag container allows you to graphically manage more destinations than GTM. However, GTM enables you to add any tag, even those without graphical support. The tracking API of GTM is just far more powerful than Segment’s, GTM was always built with focus on tracking. Considering that the API works nicely with numerous MarTech tools via the dataLayer, GTM in the lead is your way to go for complex tracking.
To exemplify, below is the tag we use for sending events or identity calls to Segment. It’s built on a template called “Analytics Track and Identify’”.
We also find that tracking implemented via GTM remains functional longer even for teams that don’t have continued development support. If you start off strong, with a clean taxonomy in GTM tags, it’ll work for you for a while.
2: Segment Tag in GTM Provides the Desired Ease of Tag Management
GTM’s CDN loads fast. It keeps loading smooth even when Segment is a container inside the GTM container, and both have their own tags. Plus, the opposite version, of Segment loading GTM, sometimes caused events and traits to not get tracked.
Segment does have a speedy super power that could be huge for someone who really wants to tune performance — cloud destinations. They let you track more without having to add client-side scripts. The benefit is big, but the solution is fiddly, since you have to manually provide all the context the tag would normally get, and you lose out on some native features.
There’s also another option — hardcoding your tags. If you hand-craft how all your tags load on-page, you’re able to load everything the fastest.
Hardcoding can be optimized to win because when you use a container or tag manager, the loading is asynchronous and you can only load at the speed of your slowest tag. And if you, for instance, have the piggish Google Analytics tag in the mix, you’re out of luck.
But if you hardcode your tags, you’ll need developers to track all your events that need to push to analytics. This quickly gets hard to manage and sets you up for tracking errors.
Both Segment and GTM give you the ability to distribute the tagging work through your team, and that alone is the reason to avoid hardcoding for speed. Further, both Segment and GTM optimize your tag loading — badly written tags that aren’t asynchronous won’t block the end-user experience. Think of it as trading some page load speed for the ability to work better.
In this context of back-end functionality vs. development and configuration workflow vs. front end performance, using the tools together gives you the best of both. Especially if you let GTM load Segment.
Who Could Benefit from Putting the GTM Tag inside the Segment Container instead?
Enterprise teams with resources dedicated to manually updating a custom infrastructure will find GTM inside Segment as a viable solution. You’ll find that Segment’s documentation on GTM, with Segment loading GTM, focuses on tech companies with robust product teams that can manage the events flowing to Segment.
So with that in mind, when we work with companies with product engineering teams to maintain solid Segment implementation, we’re more open to the event tracking working like Segment suggests.
Google Tag Manager and Segment Pricing
Google Tag Manager is a 100% free tool. Segment offers a free version, along with two paid plans. Here’s a look at what each includes:
- Free option: Good for a small business or startup with less than 1k visitors per month and only two sources. You can scale up as you grow.
- Team Plan: Starts at $120/mo, good if you have up to 10k visitors monthly and allows unlimited sources. Comes with one data warehouse.
- Business Plan: Customizable plan and payment option, you’ll have to call for a quote. Or talk to us, and we’ll give you an idea. This is great if your data is vast and monthly visitors numerous. Enterprise teams often get this plan. And if you need access to audiences with personas, enforcement of data quality, and data enrichment.