How I became a data geek

Yesterday I told you about my SEO-related guilty pleasure.

And no one has shamed me for it, yet. So that’s cool.

But you know what’s cooler than that?

Using Google Tag Manager (GTM) to track everything.

It’s another thing I do a lot of these days, now that I’ve become a data geek.

It’s something I only got started with it when I joined Gulf News as the resident “SEO Analytics Audience Development” person.

I mean, I still dug into analytics before this but had never had the opportunity to get stuck into GTM as a means of collecting and tracking data.

Up until I joined, Gulf News, there wasn’t a lot being done to track user behaviour in a meaningful way on (or any of its sister publication websites).

One of the first things I implemented was video tracking (back before a proper YouTube tag trigger came built in).

I had to use some hacks from around the web and the end result was amazing. (Shout out to Simo Ahava!).

Right before my eyes, I could see exactly how our videos performed, where previously, there was absolutely no insight whatsoever.


See, I had encouraged editors to use more video in their content.

With the tracking via GTM, we could see what worked well based on how people interacted with the video.

It was so interesting to see how many times a video was played and for how long.

It helped guide the creative direction with videos.

We realised quite quickly that videos needed to be short, have captions (our own, not YouTube) and needed to have clear and consistent branding in order to stand out.

This saves you time when you’re investing in a video strategy because you’ll be able to push out videos that actually get results instead of just being filler content.

It’s super easy to track video via GTM and you should be doing it if you aren’t already.

Another dope feature in GTM is scroll depth tracking.

For a news site, this is essential. If you’re publishing a lot of long form content, it’s important to know where people are dropping off because let’s face it – not everyone is reading everything all the way to the bottom.

Now because the editors were having a field day hacking the site and throwing words, links, images and video all over the shop, scroll depth was absolutely critical in putting a stop to the madness.

It’s a tricky business though because you have to find a balance between augmenting your content on one hand vs distracting them and sending them elsewhere.

I already had a tough time getting the editors to stop throwing in links at the bottom of the article and without context so getting them to add more meaningful, keyword rick links within content, higher up the page was the next challenge.

Again, it’s about balance and giving readers the important bits up front, then providing options: carry on reading for more details or skip onto other pages for related reading.

Back to scroll depth tracking: critical stuff for content and how people consume it, but equally important for ads and our partner/sponsored content.

I know the sales team didn’t make such a fuss about these sorts of metrics but I tracked it anyway.

I wasn’t content with simply relying on site-wide pageviews in order to justify placement in one corner of the site.

So I made sure I tracked all the metrics that I knew would matter one day, when that question would be asked.

Which leads me to another thing that wasn’t tracked on – external links.

General editorial policy meant that no links were given out to 3rd parties, with the exception of select UAE Government entities and initiatives.

But we did have an arrangement with a gold and jewellery seller for their gold price feed in exchange for a big logo on the gold rate page which linked back to their homepage (they didn’t ask for any UTM parameters either!).

Although the seller would be able to see referral traffic from GN (despite no UTM params), no other tracking was in place to truly give an indication on how well this was performing (for either GN or the client).

So I set up click tracking via GTM.

I was able to see how many times that seller’s logo was clicked (doesn’t matter if it converted or not).

This way, I had enough data to empower the sales team to go and sell to other businesses, eg. a forex company for their forex rates and so on.

This is what you call: forward thinking.

And you can only do this if you have the right information at hand.

The point is, knowledge is power and data is everything.

Google Tag Manager lets you track so much. And it applies to most sites too.

You can track just about anything which is what makes it so appealing.

I was never a data geek but once I got stuck into collecting data and tracking everything, it became an obsession.

I encourage you to look at GTM for your data collection and tracking.

You will be surprised what you’ll discover.

And remember, be proactive.

Track everything, as early as possible.

You can never have too much data, trust me.


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