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Google’s popular gtag.js library makes collecting data for Google Analytics 4 and Google Ads straightforward.

However, it also ties you into Google’s ecosystem. You lose control and flexibility when tracking data.

Enter walkerOS. This new open-source tracking library from ElbWalker aims to give you customizable control back. It lets you send data wherever you want, not just to Google. It also claims better performance through a lightweight codebase.

This article explores if walkerOS lives up to its promises. We’ll also:

  • Compare its features, flexibility and ease of use vs. the Google tag. 
  • Learn the cases where switching makes sense, along with the potential downsides.

What is gtag.js?

The Google tag, or gtag.js, is a JavaScript library by Google that tracks and collects data, serving as an all-encompassing link between your site and various Google services, including Google Ads and Google Analytics 4. 

As opposed to ga.js and analytics.js, which were only limited to analytics, gtag.js provides a single solution. 

It achieves efficiency by using other libraries instead of handling analytics and conversion data capture directly, essentially acting as a framework for those libraries.

This makes it easier during the setup and integration processes while reducing the need for extensive code changes. 

Gtag.js combines multiple tracking tags into one, unlike Google Tag Manager. This simplifies user experience, allowing for easier event detection and cross-domain tracking. 

Overall, it provides detailed insights into visitor behavior and traffic sources more easily, improving its usefulness.

Dig deeper: Google releases simple, centralized tag solution

Why should you look for a gtag.js alternative?

While gtag.js is the industry standard for Google Analytics and Ads tracking, there are situations where alternatives are preferred. Reasons include privacy, lightweight libraries, server-side data collection and data ownership to avoid vendor lock-in.

Alternatives may provide better control over user data, aiding compliance with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. They may offer features like data anonymization and selective data collection. This ensures data is managed in line with organizational privacy policies, reducing the risk of data sharing with third parties.

Page speed is vital, so optimizing for JavaScript library performance matters. While gtag.js is lightweight, using multiple libraries can slow down a site.

Smaller libraries improve load times, enhancing user experience, especially on mobile. Consider multi-destination libraries for better performance.

From a data security perspective:

  • Sensitive information can be kept more secure and the risk of being intercepted or manipulated on the client side is reduced.
  • Server-side data collection can bypass issues related to ad blockers or browsers that restrict tracking scripts, potentially offering more accurate analytics data.

Exploring alternatives offers flexibility in data management, avoiding vendor lock-in and pricing constraints.

Owning your data enables seamless integration with various systems and custom analytics solutions. For instance, if consent for Google Analytics 4 is denied, your tagging server might not receive all data.

What is walkerOS?

Here’s where the walkerOS library comes into play. 

WalkerOS (a.k.a. walker.js) offers a flexible data management system, allowing users to tailor data collection and processing to their needs. 

It’s designed to be versatile, from simple utilities to complex configurations. Its main objective is to ensure data is sent reliably to any chosen tool. 

Simply put, you can implement walker.js and send data to all places for analytics and advertising purposes you need. No need to have a massive amount of different tags. 

The walkerOS event model offers a unified framework to meet the demands of analytics, marketing, privacy and data science through an entity-action methodology. 

This approach, foundational to walkerOS, systematically categorizes interactions by identifying the “entity” involved and the “action” performed. This structured yet adaptable model ensures a thorough understanding of user behavior.

WalkerOS stands out for its adaptability in event tracking, allowing customization based on specific business needs rather than conforming to preset analytical frameworks. 

The philosophy behind walkerOS is to make tracking intuitive and understandable for all stakeholders, enhancing data quality and utility within an organization.

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Working with walker.js and what to look out for

Getting started requires some tech knowledge and understanding, but it isn’t as hard as it seems. The walker.js web client can be implemented directly via code via the Google Tag Manager (recommended) and via npm.

All events are now sent to the dataLayer from which we can start the tagging via Google Tag Manager.

The tagging process means we want to define the events we want to capture and send, like filter usage, ecommerce purchases, add to carts, item views and more. 

Walker.js supplies a good round of triggers that we can use starting from click, load, submit, hover or custom actions. You can also add destination tags and define where to send the captured data. 

WalkerOS event journey

Walker.js works on prebuild destinations like Google Analytics 4, Google Ads, Google Tag Manager, Meta Pixel, Piwik PRO and Plausible Analytics. It also offers an API to send custom events to any destination that can receive them.

I recommend using their demo page to play around with it.

Switching away from gtag.js: What to consider

Switching from gtag.js to an alternative like walker.js for tracking and data collection comes with considerations and potential drawbacks, depending on your specific needs and setup. Here are some of the main points to consider:

Integrating with Google products

In terms of integration, gtag.js is designed to work seamlessly with Google’s suite of products, including Google Analytics, Google Ads and more.

An alternative like walker.js does not offer the same level of native integration, potentially complicating the setup with these services. You need technical understanding to implement and maintain. 

Feature support and customization

Gtag.js supports a wide range of out-of-the-box features tailored to Google’s platforms. Walker.js may not support all these features directly or might require additional customization to achieve similar functionality.

Ease of implementation for Google users

Gtag.js provides a straightforward implementation process for those already using Google products. Users might find that walker.js requires more technical knowledge to customize and integrate effectively. 

Google’s extensive documentation and community support make troubleshooting and learning easier. Walker.js, being less widespread, may have more limited resources for support and guidance.

Exploring GA4 data collection and tracking options

The decision between using gtag.js or switching to an alternative like walker.js depends on your specific use case and needs. If you heavily rely on the Google ecosystem and want seamless integration, then gtag.js is likely the best choice.

However, for those needing greater control and flexibility with their data collection and usage across systems, walkerOS offers a lightweight, customizable tracking solution. 

While the setup requires more technical knowledge, the ability to own your data and reduce vendor lock-in provides strategic long-term benefits for many businesses.

Dig deeper: How to set up Google Analytics 4 using Google Tag Manager

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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