Oct, 23rd, 2014

Google Tag Manager updates

Google recently announced some major improvements to Google Tag Manager (GTM):

  1. New APIs to answer custom needs

APIs are a time saver when you need to manage GTM containers at a large scale. Thanks to the new API you can, for instance, manage users in bulk or create a container template to be used and sync for hundreds of different sites.

  1. New templates for third-party tags

Over the next weeks, you will find new tag templates for Neustar, quantcast, Criteo and more to be added to the already supported third-party solutions (AdRoll, Marin, Comscore, Bizo, Clicktale, Distillery, Turn, Mediaplex, VisualDNA). Third-party tag templates make tagging easier and reduce the risk of errors when using custom HTML tags.

  1. New User Interface

More intuitive and colourful! The new interface has a more visual workflow, which should make things easier to understand. There are also some useful features such as instant search, autocomplete and new keyboard shortcuts.

A new more friendly interface for non-technical users

A new more friendly interface for non-technical users

These improvements will be rolled out so be patient if you don’t see your new user interface in your existing GTM account. Don’t have a GTM account yet? Create one and have a play with the new UI!

So here you go: even more reasons to use Google Tag Manager!

Read the announcement on Google Analytics blog.


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Sep, 19th, 2014

Tracking fragment URLs in Universal Analytics with Google Tag Manager

Ah, fragment URLs – you know these URLs with a hashtag (such as www.example.com/categoryA.html#filter1=abc&page=2), that can’t be tracked with Google Analytics

Indeed, Google Analytics strips out everything after the hashtag. Yet seeing what’s after the hashtag can be useful to know what are the most popular filtering options, for example, or to check if your visitors go beyond the first page of your product listing.

With Google Tag Manager, tracking these URLs as virtual pageviews becomes relatively easy. No need to be a developer or adding any code on your web pages.

Here is how to do it :

1. Create a Universal Analytics tag for Virtual Pageviews with a hashtag

This tag is different from your existing Universal Analytics Page View tag.

In the field for Document Path, click on the brick to insert the new {{hashtag URL}} macro that you create in step 2.


UA virtual pageview tag for hashtag URLs

UA virtual pageview tag for hashtag URLs
(Click image to enlarge)

2. Create the {{hashtag URL}} Custom JavaSscript macro with the function below:

function() {
var newURL = window.location.pathname + window.location.search + window.location.hash;
return newURL;

3. Create the firing rules for the UA Virtual Pageview tag

You want to fire the virtual pageview tag when:

  • The URL changes in the browser without the page loading again (history change event rule)
  • Or when the user lands directly on a hashtag URL (fragment URL is present on the page load).

The first “History change event” firing rule is as follows:


Firing rule for the UA Virtual Pageviews tag

Firing rule for the UA Virtual Pageviews tag
(Click image to enlarge)


The rule calls the History Listener tag: {{event}} equals gtm.historyChange (see https://support.google.com/tagmanager/answer/3415369?hl=en#HistoryListener).

The second “Fragment URL loaded” firing rule is like below:


Fragment URL loaded firing rule

“Fragment URL loaded” firing rule
(Click image to enlarge)


For this rule, you’ll need to create the {{fragment url}} macro as below:


Fragment URL macro

Fragment URL macro
(Click image to enlarge)


4. Save your UA Virtual Pageview tag

5. Create the History Listener tag


History listener tag to fire on all pages

History listener tag to fire on all pages
(Click image to enlarge)

6. Add the “Fragment URL loaded” rule as a blocking rule in your “standard” UA pageview tag

Because you don’t want to double track the hashtag URL on the page load.

7. Preview and debug your container version

Check that your Virtual Pageview tag for hashtag URLs fires when a fragment URL is loaded (tag fired on GTM Page Load event) AND also when you navigate to another hashtag URL (tag fired on gtm.hisotryChange event)

8. Visit your site and check your Real-Time Content report in Google Analytics


Google Analytics Real-Time Content report

Google Analytics Real-Time Content report
(Click image to enlarge)

Hooray, it works!

9. Create your new Google Tag Manager container version, name it, publish it, and get yourself a well-deserved cup of coffee, tea or whatever beverage you most prefer :-)


 Story based on:

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Sep, 11th, 2014

New Google Analytics benchmarking reports gives insights and competitive intelligence

Google has announced new Benchmarking reports available in Analytics.

These reports allow you to compare your website performance against the averages of similar sites. For example:

You can filter by the following dimensions:

  • Channel Grouping (Direct, Organic, Paid, Referral, Email, Social, Display and Other)
  • Location (Country)
  • Device (Desktop, Mobile and Tablet)

You can compare the following metrics:

  • Sessions
  • % New Sessions
  • New Sessions
  • Pages / Session
  • Average Session Duration
  • Bounce Rate

On the Google Analytics Blog they show an example of Twiddy‘s results compared to peers in their industry (see image below).

Analytics report for Twiddy

The reports even use colour to show at a glance whether your business is above or below the industry average.

You will find these reports under Audiences -> Benchmarking in your left-hand menu.

If you cannot see these reports, you will need to follow these instructions.  Only if you choose to share your data anonymously with others will you be able to see the reports.

It does provide interesting data benchmarks, for example: in New Zealand, for Shopping sites averaging 1,000 to 5,000 sessions per day, Google is currently collecting data from 125 properties – the below is from these sites in August:

  • Average sessions per month: 62,000
  • % new sessions: 45%
  • Average pages per session: 6.14
  • Average session duration: 4:08
  • Bounce rate: 35%

And here is how the various traffic sources contribute to total sessions:

An observation from this limited set of data – organic search, email and direct referral sources are the biggest drivers of website visitors for NZ shopping sites.  Display and social activity on average do not drive a significant number of website visitor sessions.

Note: we have found a few discrepancies in the data that we will observe further:

1) Not all data correlates exactly with these benchmarking reports.  For example, we have a client for which they were showing 10% the average number of sessions being driven by paid search, where we know in fact they are higher than the average.

2) The sum of the channels does not equate to the sessions noted in the top line.  Just something to be aware of.

3) For smaller regions (such as NZ) data will not show for many subcategories unless there are enough contributing properties to protect the privacy of those websites.

Perhaps not perfect, but this new Google Analytics benchmarking feature provides reasonable benchmarking data that may be difficult (or expensive) to get in other ways. Take some time and benchmark your business – if you are way ahead of the average, evaluate success and ROI and if you’re getting good results, keep doing more of it.  If you are lagging behind average it gives a good indication of where you need to be investing.

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Aug, 25th, 2014

International SEO with rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”


Don’t miss out on search traffic

Does your business have identical or very similar websites targeting different countries and/or languages? In Australasia, it is a very common situation for businesses to have one site for New Zealand, and another basically identical website (with perhaps just currency and pricing changes) for Australia.

While this is great, it can cause some SEO issues. Effectively, you have duplicate content. For example, the two following pages:

  • example-biz.co.nz/catagory-a/product-x
  • example-biz.com.au/catagory-a/product-x

most likely contain almost identical information about this product, except that one has the price in NZD and one has the price in AUD, and they may have different shipping costs. While it is very unlikely that Google will ever punish you for this “duplicate content”, you may very well miss out on some search traffic unless you take some extra steps to optimise things a bit.

By default, each of the two example pages is considered completely separate by search engines. They will both need to earn some links to help with their search rankings. While Google is pretty good at showing the .co.nz version of the page to people searching from New Zealand, they aren’t perfect at it. I have seen situations like this where a search for a specific product name returned the Canadian version of the page, even though there was a valid NZ version of the same product page available (perhaps the Canadian page had more links and was outranking the NZ page even though I was in New Zealand).


Adding code to tell Google what you want

It is possible to tell Google (and other search engines) that you have these types of alternate pages, just by adding a little bit of code to the <head> section of each page. For our example pages above, the code to add would be:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-nz” href=”www.example-biz.co.nz/category-a/product-x” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-au” href=”www.example-biz.com.au/category-a/product-x” />

NOTE: the same two lines of code would be added to both pages.  The two lines together tell Google that these are two alternate versions of this page, and I want you to show the first version to English language searchers from New Zealand, and the second version to English language searchers from Australia.

Searches from other countries

But what about people who search from another country (perhaps the United States) and what about searchers from New Zealand who don’t speak English (perhaps a tourist from Japan)? If you have the resources to create translated versions of your pages in different languages, then you can add them to the list of alternates:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”www.example-biz.com/de/category-a/product-x” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”ja” href=”www.example-biz.com/ja/category-a/product-x” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es” href=”www.example-biz.com/es/category-a/product-x” />

Where the first version is to be shown to German language searchers, the second version is to be shown to Japanese language searchers, and the third version to Spanish language searchers regardless of where in the world they may be searching from.

“Catch them all” syntax

The syntax also allows for a catch all, so if none of the above language and location groups work for a specific searcher, send them to the default catch all version of the page.

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x-default” href=”www.example-biz.com” />

So is it really worth the hassle to implement this change on your website? One of our clients has seen a 60% increase in their organic search traffic since they implemented this change a few months ago. Your results may vary, but yes, I believe it is worth the hassle.

Want to learn more about how to implement this hreflang syntax for your website? Google provides a great resource here or contact us here at FIRST for assistance. Also take a look at our post regarding 5 things to consider for your international SEO strategy.

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Aug, 12th, 2014

Is your security affecting your search rankings?

Google with SSL encryption

Google recently announced it is going to start using HTTPS as a ranking algorithm. It’s only a slight factor, “affecting fewer than 1% of global queries” and carries less weight than, for example, high-quality content.

On Twitter, @RyanJones, an SEO expert in UK, summarised things nicely: “for the record, there’s about 100 things you could do right now that would have a bigger SEO impact than switching to SSL”.

Regardless, much of SEO is a game of hundreds of small wins, so it would be foolish to ignore a small win.

So, our advice is: don’t panic, but do move to HTTPS.

Google states: “over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”

We’ve had a number of clients move to HTTPS this year (with our encouragement) and seen no disruption to their traffic.

What is HTTPS?

First off, let’s explain Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). HTTP is the primary technology protocol that transfers data between the client and server in plain text, which allows users to link and browse on the web.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is another protocol, but uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Unlike HTTP, HTTPS encrypts the data flow between the client and server to create a secure and safe web for users. Basically, this makes it much harder for people to spy on your traffic. With the growing concerns around web security, this has been rapidly becoming a hot subject online.

HTTPS migration guidelines

Here are some of our tips on how to migrate to HTTPS with minimal downtime to your website.

Content Loading

Since the HTTPS version of the site will typically use more resources to serve the site as it is encrypting the connection, it is important to note that Google takes into account page speed in its algorithm, so it is important the infrastructure can deal with SSL. Also, care needs to be taken to ensure all content is moved to HTTPS to avoid mixed content warnings. All internal links should start to use HTTPS, not just to pages but also for images.

301 Redirects

Since the secure (HTTPS) version of the site may be considered a new domain in the eyes of Google, it will be important to ensure that every URL on the current site is 301 redirected to the corresponding URL on the new site to let search engines know the site has permanently moved. This is also necessary to avoid the possibility of having duplicate content, which can create issues.

Another advantage of having 301s, is there are many sites already linking to the HTTP version – therefore these 301 redirects will ensure that the value of these links will be passed on to the new HTTPS pages.

Robots.txt file

Add a robots.txt file on the new HTTPS domain and exclude any folders that should not be crawled and/or indexed by search engines. FIRST can provide recommendations on the URLs that should be excluded. Assuming no changes to site structure, this file will be the same as the robots.txt on the HTTP site.

Webmaster Tools

There are a few things to consider with regards to the migration to a secure server when it comes to Google Webmaster Tools.

Since HTTP and HTTPS are considered different sites, the HTTPS version will have to be listed separately in Webmaster Tools.

You can contact FIRST if you require any assistance with switching your website from HTTP to HTTPS.

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