Hacking SEO Onto Enterprise Sites with GTM and Unlocking Performance Beyond AMP

by Artiom Enkov on Friday 26 May 2017

Last week I went to Search Elite 2017, a one-day digital marketing conference that brought together some of the best minds in the industry. Hosted just up the road from Forward3D at The Trampery in Shoreditch the event boasted a day of eight forty minute presentations, ranging in focus from optimising site speed to getting audience insights from paid media. Unlike the bigger conferences, which tend to stay top level and lose attendees to local pubs, Search Elite focused on providing the attendees with gritty actionable insights and tips to step up their marketing game in 2017.


Using and abusing GTM, WordPress and other tools to ‘hack’ SEO onto enterprise sites


Gerry White, an analytics and SEO consultant leading global technical SEO at JustEat, shared his experience on 'hacking' SEO optimisations into client sites using Google Tag Manager (GTM).


In his presentation, Gerry outlined a common problem faced by SEOs of getting product owners and developers to implement their recommendations on the site within a reasonable timeframe. Gerry's solution? ‘Hack' the changes onto the site yourself using GTM. Indeed, with access to GTM, you can implement URL, JavaScript and dataLayer variables, triggers such as page loads, clicks and interactions and tags to fire on the site.


So what are some of the best use cases?


1 - Improving 404 pages

If your client developer is reluctant to improve the user experience of 404 pages you can add in navigation, user-friendly text, a search box and common links yourself with GTM. This is an invaluable trick in cutting bounce rates of 404 pages.


2 - Edit metadata

You can do everything from bulk fixing title tags to changing the window title of the page when a user switches tabs (quite a nifty yet possibly also spammy trick to encourage the user back to your site).


3 - Run A/B tests

You can run title tag split tests by splitting your products into two groups and modifying the title tags in group A. After tracking the performance of these two page groups in GA you could then come to the client with data saying that implementing title tags from group A across the site would bring an extra £XXX per month to the business.


4 - Inserting canonical tags to fix issues

Have multiple near duplicate product variants splitting the potential page equity thin? By including the ’standard’ canonical in every URL with GTM you can make it easy for Google to identify the desired page. Gerry recommended a great article from Moz on how to do this. 


5 - Speed up sites by prerendering subsequent pages

Tell the browser which assets the user might need in the future (before they even need them) and prefetch the resources in the background to enhance the user’s second click experience.


In addition to the examples above Gerry noted that you could even upload XML sitemaps, Hreflang, app indexation and videos through GTM - making it an invaluable resource for SEOs.




Unlocking performance – beyond AMP


Jono Alderson, digital strategist and principal consultant at Distilled outlined a range of the latest site speed optimisation techniques and opportunities, from HTTP2 to PWAs.


Firstly, Jono noted that there is a much-needed focus on mobile performance. Google has tackled this with the release of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). However, with AMP Google doesn’t offer new technology to speed up your site. Instead, Google saves AMP-tagged pages and serves them from the cache when visitors access them. There is a hidden danger of allowing Google to cache parts of your site. Unless you are actively managing your AMP cache you become dependent on Google to serve the content you want. Even when you remove a page from the Google AMP Cache Google Search may still link to the AMP version of the pages as the index might still indicate that AMP versions are available and may take some time to become aware of the removal. Jono suggested that instead of relying on Google’s AMP you could achieve the same speed by creating a cache of your own using CloudFlare and maintain full control over your site.


Jono then moved onto discussing what the broader performance toolkit looks like, paying particular focus to infrastructure protocols. He noted the advantages of HSTS protocol which allows web servers to declare that web browsers should only interact with it using HTTPS connections (essentially forcing to skip the HTTP>HTTPs redirect when people go onto your site). Jono also pushed HTTP/2, a protocol designed for low-latency transport of content over the web. Ilya Grigorik, a web performance engineer at Google, has a great presentation on HTTP/2 which can be found here.


Whilst Jono also discussed a multitude of other optimisation opportunities, from writing CSS for mobile first to reduce file sizes to using the WebP format for images, it was particularly interesting to listen to him discuss the measurement of site speed


Jono noted that user satisfaction metrics trump any technical speed metrics. It is for this reason that numbers from Google Pagespeed Insights, Pingdom, WebPageTest, GA, GTMetrix are all ‘nonsense’ since they only give an indication of how fast the page assets loaded. Instead, Jono advised using the resource download waterfall within the Network tab of Chrome DevTools to get the best impression of what is actually going on.




Overall there was a lot to absorb at Search Elite. Whilst only two of the eight presentations have been covered in this article the other speakers have kindly shared their presentations – the links for which can be found below:


Bas van den Beld: “How to make Digital Marketing work in your organisation. A case study revealing a unique approach to marketing!” 



David Iwanow: “Automate or Die”



Russell McAthy: “Which channels are more likely to convert your browsers into buyers?”



Sam Noble: “Using Paid Media Insights to Uncover Who Your Audience Really Are”



Jim Banks: “Don’t waste money buying traffic”




Artiom Enkov - Senior Organic Performance Executive