Cross domain tracking in Google Tag Manager

This article is the 4th in the series of cross domain tracking.

The first article was: Google & Universal Analytics Cookies  where I explained cookies in great detail. Knowledge of cookies help a lot in understanding and troubleshooting cross domain tracking issues.

The second article was: Cross domain tracking in Google Analytics where I explained implementing cross domain tracking when the websites (source domain and destination domains) are using ga.js JavaScript library (aka the old Google Analytics).

The third article was: Cross domain tracking in Universal Analytics where I explained implementing cross domain tracking when the websites are using the analytics.js JavaScript library (aka Universal Analytics).

In the present article I am going to explain implementing cross domain tracking via GTM.

I won’t be able to explain the very basics of cross domain tracking here and assume that you understand linker parameter,  allowLinker, ‘auto’ and other cross domain tracking jargon (explained in great detail in the articles above).

Like any other GTM implementation, basic understanding of corresponding standard GA implementation is expected and that is why I never introduce any concept/topic via GTM.

There are two methods you can use to implement cross domain tracking in GTM:

1) Decorate Link and Decorate Form tags (esp. used in case of ga.js)

2) Auto Link Domains (analytics.js only).

I am going to explain implementing cross domain tracking in GTM via ‘Auto Link Domains’.

I won’t cover cross domain tracking via ‘decorate link’ and ‘decorate form’ tags as they are required only when you are using old Google Analytics and if you are still using old Google Analytics then I would strongly urge you to upgrade to Universal Analytics instead of trying to implement cross domain tracking for the old GA.

For the purpose of explaining the cross domain tracking concept in GTM, let us suppose we want to implement cross domain tracking between two primary domains: abc.com (the source domain) and xyz.com (the destination domain) via ‘Auto Link Domains’.

Both of these domains contain different Universal Analytics Tracking code and are treated as completely different websites.

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Google Analytics configuration for abc.com

Step-1: Create a copy of the main GA view of abc.com by going to Admin > View > View Settings > Copy View:

copy view

We are creating a copy here in order to maintain one unfiltered view.

Step-2: Name the new view ‘ABC Cross Domain Tracking View’

Step-3: Apply following custom advanced filter to the new view:

add hostname to request URI

This view adds host name (domain name) to the request URI.

Step-4: Go to Admin > Property > Tracking Info > Referral exclusion list in ‘ABC Cross Domain Tracking View’ and add ‘abc.com’ in the ‘referral exclusion’ list:

abc referral exclusion list

Google Tag Manager Configuration for abc.com

Step-1: Login to the GTM account of abc.com website and edit the tag you used to deploy Universal Analytics tracking code on your website:

universal anaytics tag

Step-2: Find the field ‘More Settings’ > ‘Fields to Set’ and set ‘allowLinker’ to ‘true’ and ‘cookieDomain’ to ‘auto’

configuring UA tag in gtm

Note: I am using Google Tag Manager V2 (the latest version of GTM).

Step-3: Scroll down further to find Cross Domain Tracking > Auto Link Domains (under ‘More Settings) and enter ‘xyz.com:

configuring UA tag in gtm2

If you want to implement cross domain tracking across multiple domains then enter comma separated list of domains in the ‘AutoLink Domains’ text box:

auto link domains

If your source domain link to destination domain via form and you want to share cookie information on form submission then set ‘Decorate Forms’ setting to ‘True’ as shown below:

decorate forms

Step-4: Your Universal Analytics tag configuration should look like the one below:

Universal Analytics tag configuration 

Step-5: Click on the ‘Save Tag’ button.

Step-6: Create a new version of the container, test it and then publish it.

Google Analytics configuration for xyz.com

GA configuration for xyz.com is similar to abc.com configuration:

Step-1: Create a copy of the main GA view of xyz.com

Step-2: Name the new view ‘XYZ Cross Domain Tracking View’

Step-3: Apply the custom advanced filter to the new view which append domain name to the request URI.

Step-4: Add ‘xyz.com’ in the ‘referral exclusion’ list:

xyz referral exclusion list

 

Google Tag Manager Configuration for xyz.com

GTM configuration for xyz.com is similar to the GTM configuration for abc.com. Make sure that your Universal Analytics tag configuration look like the one below:

Universal Analytics tag configuration2

Implementing tracking across Primary domain and its sub-domain(s)

By default Universal Analytics can track traffic across all sub-domains of your website. However you still need to configure your GA and GTM to make sure that you can distinguish the traffic from different domains in analytics reports.

Follow the steps below to track across primary domain (say abc.com) and its sub-domain (say music.abc.com):

Google Tag Manager Configuration for abc.com and music.abc.com

Step-1: Use the GTM container code of abc.com on all of the pages of music.abc.com. So you will have one GTM account for managing tags on both primary domain and its sub-domain(s).

Step-2: Edit the tag you used to deploy Universal Analytics tracking code on the websites abc.com and music.abc.com:

universal anaytics tag

Step-3: Find the field ‘More Settings’ > ‘Fields to Set’ and set ‘cookieDomain’ to ‘auto’:

cookie domain

Here we are using ‘auto’ configuration parameter while creating a tracking object so that Google Analytics automatically set its cookie to the highest level domain possible.

Note: Without using the ‘auto’ configuration parameter, you cross domain tracking will not work whether you implement cross domain tracking between primary domain and its sub-domains or between two or more different primary domains.

Google Analytics Configuration for abc.com

Step-1: Create a copy of the main GA view of abc.com

Step-2: Name the new view ‘ABC Cross Domain Tracking View’

Step-3: Apply the custom advanced filter to the new view which append domain name to the request URI.

Step-4: Add ‘www.abc.com’ in the ‘referral exclusion’ list.

 

Google Analytics Configuration for music.abc.com

Step-1: Create a copy of the main GA view of music.abc.com

Step-2: Name the new view ‘ABC Music Cross Domain Tracking View’

Step-3: Apply the custom advanced filter to the new view which append domain name to the request URI.

Step-4: Add ‘music.abc.com’ in the ‘referral exclusion’ list.

 

Do you know the difference between Digital Analytics and Google Analytics?


99.99% of course creators themselves don’t know the difference between Digital analytics, Google Analytics (GA) and Google Tag Manager (GTM).

So they are teaching GA and GTM in the name of teaching Digital analytics.

They just copy each other. Monkey see, monkey do.

But Digital analytics is not about GA, GTM.

It is about analyzing and interpreting data, setting up goals, strategies and KPIs.

It’s about creating strategic roadmap for your business.


Digital Analytics is the core skill. Google Analytics is just a tool used to implement ‘Digital Analytics’.

You can also implement ‘Digital analytics’ via other tools like ‘adobe analytics’, ‘kissmetrics’ etc.

Using Google Analytics without the good understanding of ‘Digital analytics’ is like driving around in a car, in a big city without understanding the traffic rules and road signs.

You are either likely to end up somewhere other than your destination or you get involved in an accident.


You learn data analysis and interpretation from Digital analytics and not from Google Analytics.

The direction in which your analysis will move, will determine the direction in which your marketing campaigns and eventually your company will move to get the highest possible return on investment.

You get that direction from ‘Digital analytics’ and not from ‘Google Analytics’.


You learn to set up KPIs, strategies and measurement framework for your business from ‘Digital analytics’ and not from ‘Google Analytics’.

So if you are taking a course only on 'Google Analytics’, you are learning to use one of the tools of ‘Digital analytics’. You are not learning the ‘Digital analytics’ itself.

Since any person can learn to use Google Analytics in couple of weeks, you do no get any competitive advantage in the marketplace just by knowing GA.

You need to know lot more than GA in order to work in digital analytics and marketing field.


So what I have done, if you are interested, is I have put together a completely free training that will teach you exactly how I have been able to leverage digital analytics to generate floods of news sales and customers and how you can literally copy what I have done to get similar results.

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1) The number 1 reason why most marketers and business owners are not able to scale their advertising and maximise sales.

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Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization
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Master the Essentials of Email Marketing Analytics
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Himanshu Sharma

Digital Marketing Consultant and Founder of Optimizesmart.com

Himanshu helps business owners and marketing professionals in generating more sales and ROI by fixing their website tracking issues, helping them understand their true customers purchase journey and helping them determine the most effective marketing channels for investment.

He has over 12 years experience in digital analytics and digital marketing.

He was nominated for the Digital Analytics Association's Awards for Excellence.

The Digital Analytics Association is a world renowned not-for-profit association which helps organisations overcome the challenges of data acquisition and application.

He is the author of four best-selling books on analytics and conversion optimization:

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