Understanding the Google Marketing Stack


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Google has been a major player in digital advertising since the industry's inception, and along with Facebook, it is one of the sector's two giants, combining to account for 85% of the market in Q1 2016. The company has made a big push lately to improve its suite of digital marketing tools: Google Analytics (GA), Google AdWords, Google Search Console (previously Webmaster Tools), and Google Tag Manager (GTM). Often referred to as the Google marketing stack, these mostly free applications provide marketing organizations with most of the functionality and intelligence necessary to manage sophisticated digital marketing operations.

The digital marketing ecosystem, at its highest level, can be divided into two categories: advertising (media) and technology. The largest online ad channels are owned by Google and Facebook. On the technology side of the ledger, Adobe, IBM, and Oracle occupy the top of the enterprise-class segment, vying for supremacy among the world's biggest brands that spend in excess of about $100 million annually on advertising. Salesforce is another major player, used by companies both big and small.

The most important aspect of Google's value proposition here is that it is a major player in advertising and technology, allowing advertisers to buy and manage online ads without leaving Google. Although the company's primary motivation in offering free technology is to promote advertising products, it is constantly making changes to its search algorithm. These have both direct and indirect effects on the product stack, which is constantly evolving to make it easier for customers to spend money on ads and in new ways, such as email and video marketing. Let's look at the stack components.

GA allows companies to track all activity (visits, demographics, time on site, conversions, sources of traffic, and behavior) in nearly real time when configured on a website or online application for specific organizational needs.

Google AdWords allows marketers to purchase advertising from Google and its partners. Most of the activity comes in the form of search engine advertising and display advertising.

Google Search Console is the most technical component of the suite, allowing administrators to understand a site's specific properties, such as the efficacy of the underlying code, inbound links, error pages, site speed, indexing status, and security issues.

GTM is the newest addition to the suite, and it isn't so much a standalone tool as it is an add-on to analytics, as it lets non-technical marketers add tags to a site without having to access the property itself. This allows marketers to be more independent from IT.

With so much functionality available, there are several considerations to keep in mind. To begin, ensure the applications are linked. Configuring the stack so that all of its components are linked isn't terribly difficult, but it is critical to getting the most out of the installations and improves usability.

Be sure to anticipate complexities. With each passing day, these tools are looking more similar to enterprise class applications and are therefore becoming more challenging to use. Since December 2014, AdWords has made at least 20 significant changes to the application, as well as hundreds of minor adjustments along the way. Keeping up is a full-time job.

Finally, manage expectations. While Google's marketing tools offer an abundance of features and functionality, and early stage digital marketing operations can often run exclusively on the Google marketing stack, larger operations or ones with unique needs will have to spend some time and money integrating third-party apps or run them in parallel.

Given that the overwhelming majority of its profits come from advertising sales, there's no reason to believe Google will do anything but continue to invest in the evolution of these tools to protect its market-leading position. As such, getting on the Google marketing bandwagon may soon transition from optional to mandatory for marketers of every stripe.