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[Guide] Increase Content Engagement Using This Google Tag Manager Hack

| Sarit Anavim

[Guide] Increase Content Engagement Using This Google Tag Manager Hack

Why is my average time on page so low?

If you’ve been questioning whether Google Analytics might be pulling the wool over your eyes, we’re here to let you know you’re not crazy.

Here’s why.

Google Analytics’ default tracking is focused on measuring eCommerce acquisition. That is, it’s not built to accurately measure content engagement.

This has been hurting your KPIs.


As sung by Third Eye Blind, “I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend.”

I would understand.

Thankfully, you can put the past away and correct how your Google Analytics tracks content moving forward.

First, it’s important to understand that Google Analytics defines time on page as follows:

“How long a user spent on a particular page in seconds. Calculated by subtracting the initial view time for a particular page from the initial view time for a subsequent page. Thus, this metric does not apply to exit pages for your property.”

The last page, or exit page in a user’s session, is not included in the Google Analytics time on page calculation. Calculations are made by looking at the time gaps between one page to the next, so if there is no second page, the time the visitor spent on the page is irrelevant.

Second, if it’s a single-page visit, that also counts as a bounce in Google Analytics. Not great for measuring content engagement, is it?

If you’re still not sure why this matters so much to your content KPIs, here are a few more in-depth breakdowns to help get you up to speed:

Tracking Content Engagement With Google Tag Manager

Now that it’s clear how Google Analytics’ basic implementation doesn’t properly track how interesting or engaging your content is, the question becomes how to go about fixing the problem.

Thankfully, Google Tag Manager can help with this. Even better? You can save developer time by quickly deploying the features listed below, yourself.

The code management platform lets you create data triggers for certain events that take place as a reader interacts with your content. All of which you can access in your Google Analytics.

One of which triggers can be used for capturing time-based events. Measure how long a reader stays on a content page by time intervals, allowing you to gauge reader interest in a piece of content.

There are some additional factors you’ll have to keep in mind before implementing time-based events with Google Tag Manager:

  1. The goal of the piece of content (e.g. read the entire thing)

  2. The time a reader needs to spend on a piece of content (i.e. what qualifies as engaged)

  3. Content pages relevant for tracking (e.g. homepage vs. blog post)

What this means for your content KPIs:

  • Bounce rate – If a user reads the whole article and then leaves, consider the visit as one that didn’t bounce, because the visitor did what you wanted them to do.
  • Time on page – If a user doesn’t make it to a second page, measure their level of interest in the content based on length of interaction.

Setting Up Time-Based Events for More Meaningful Content KPIs

There are 3 features needed to send time-based events with Google Analytics:

  1. Triggers – Govern when a tag is fired or not fired

  2. Tags – A snippet of JavaScript that sends information

  3. Events – A pageview, CTA click, form submission or any custom event you define

If you’ve used Google Tag Manager before, you’ll notice that Auto-Event Listener Tags have disappeared and their functionality has been folded into Events as a part of v2 migration.

If this is your first time using Google Tag Manager, follow these steps to add tracking to your Google Analytics.

Start by setting up your account name, and then click to create a container for your site or app.

A container holds all the tags for a specific website or mobile app. Google suggests naming the container after the site or app itself.


Within your container, click to make sure you have the variables needed for tracking. The first variable you’ll want to track is the Page URL.


Additionally, if you click to add a new user-defined variable, you can include your Google Analytics Tracking ID as a constant. While it’s not mandatory, it will save you time from copying and pasting the ID later on.

If you aren’t sure where to find your tracking ID and property number, click here.


Your next step is to create a trigger. This will send an event to the tag manager at whatever time interval you decide will be a good gauge of interest in your piece of content.


Choose an event, which in this case, is going to be a Timer. Set the interval in milliseconds for how much time you want to go by between triggers, and a limit (or threshold) for how many will fire.

If you’re worried about not setting a long enough interval to capture the right amount of data, consider how much of a difference 5 minutes or 6 minutes is in terms of engagement. Even 10 or 15 minutes.

The important thing is that you set a limit on the maximum time sent to GA for determining what an interested reader looks like. If you don’t, a user could potentially leave their browser open for an extended period of time, destroying your average time on page/site.

We decided on firing an event every 30 seconds for up to 5 minutes, believing that was plenty of time to determine reader engagement.

You’ll want to enable the trigger on the Page URL level, making sure to select that it matches RegEx. RegEx refers to the structure of the page you wish to track, and is the logic used to create the distinction between tracking a content page versus a homepage.

Here’s some additional information on what Regular Expressions/RegEx is.


After that, you’ll want to create some tags, which are the events being sent to Google Analytics. If you already have GA implemented on page, there is no need to add this.

The first on our list is the Page View tag.

Choose product, tag type, include the GA Tracking ID variable you created earlier and go ahead with the fire on all pages option.


The second tag you want to create is the timing event, marking that the user is still on page. Label accordingly and include all information, the same as above, except this time, select Event under Track Type.

The event tracking parameters will be up to you, just make sure you properly name each value for the purpose of being able to identify the pages later on.

Pay close attention to the non-interaction hit drop down because it’s important. Basically, it notifies Google Analytics with info on whether or not you want the event to affect the bounce rate or not.

If you decided that a user who is on a content page for over 30 seconds is not a bounce visit, select False. If you want to follow the basic Google Analytics implementation (a.k.a. you don’t want it to effect the current bounce visit setting), select True.

Knowing what we do about the current method for calculating time on page and bounce rate, we selected False.


You’ll want to fire this tag on the time event trigger you set up earlier, so make sure to click on More for a list of existing triggers.


After having created the last tag, use the preview option to do some testing. Once you’ve finished, be sure to hit Publish at the top right corner of the page. Otherwise, all that you’ve set up won’t go live, and there goes your ability to better track content engagement.

Making the Most of Your Google Tag Manager Data

Once your average time on page takes a jump in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to more clearly see how readers are interacting and engaging with your content.

No more last page / exit page data missing, and no more counting users who may be clicking and reading entire articles as bounces.

It’s time now to focus on making content count. That means optimizing old and new articles with valuable updates, elevating readability, and giving your audience the targeted information they’re looking for.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can do that, check out our article on “ Using Heat Maps to Increase Content Performance.”

Here’s to creating more meaningful content KPIs, and raising the bar of marketers who are able to successfully track the ROI of their content initiatives.

What other techniques have you used to track content engagement? Have you had any success with Google Tag Manager? Share your experience in the comments section below.


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Sarit Anavim

Sarit Anavim

Sarit Anavim is Senior Marketing Technologies Manager at Outbrain. She is responsible for identifying technological needs for the Marketing team... Read more

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  • Shuki Mann| September 17, 2015 at 11:11AM

    Interesting post Sarit.

    From my experience this trick can be dangerous from some reasons:
    1. You are trying to measure “engagement”, but real engagement happens when the user actually scrolls down the page and not only keep it open for XX seconds.
    2. The bounce metric will be misleading, because even if you define “non-interaction : true” (so that event won’t affect the bounce) – it’s not 100% true because after 2,3 or more intervals (depends on the time that should take to read the article) the bounce SHOULD be zero.
    3. You can have long and short articles, and you can’t measure both with the same “engagement time”.

    Much simpler solution is measure the scrolling relative to content total length, and this solves these 3 problems.

    • Sarit Anavim
      Sarit Anavim| September 17, 2015 at 3:15PM


      I think all of your points are valid, and I’m glad you brought them up. This is definitely a more basic approach to measuring engagement.

      A more advanced marketer might want to customize this experience by defining metrics based on length of content, as well as the goal for the specific piece of content.

      If their goal is to get a reader to consume the entire article, scroll map tracking would be a great tool for measuring that.

      Albeit, I don’t think scroll depth is the be-all-end-all engagement factor. If someone came to this article and read above the fold, gained a bit of insight or knowledge and clicked away, I would still consider that a success, and I believe that each marketer might have his own goal.

      Definitely a lot of elements that come into play when thinking about the KPIs that are important per piece of content. And the approach presented here was simplifying it by one KPI that we measure the same for all content.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. We really appreciate your insights!

  • Hari| February 6, 2016 at 5:05AM

    My Concern about How to track the last page time via google tag manager in GA. is there any article or suggestion have on web, I tried but stuck in creating tag( an appropriate method to calculate time on page when use exit the page). Plz. suggest .


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