Rob Levin's Blog!

This stuff just fell out of my head and I had to write it down.

The Value of Life-Long Learning

Way back when in 2008 (when Miley Cyrus was a role model for tweens and Barack Obama had no gray hair), I was on the hunt for my next job.  As we all know, job hunting is a stressful chore, but I was determined to break into a marketing role. I was on a career path that I knew was not my calling, especially after I had a career epiphany in an MBA class. It was there at UConn where I took my first marketing class, which changed my life forever.

Until that class, my life plan was to be a U.S. Marine for my entire career. Unfortunately, life and an untimely injury had other plans. I left the Marine Corps in 2006 and was in a finance role where my creativity and hunger for continuous improvement were dying on a vine. I was feeling aimless and unfulfilled at a job where I had little outlet or receptivity to new ideas. Solace came from the MBA program, where I found myself in a marketing course with a visionary professor. It may sound naive, but I wasn’t even aware that marketing was a job until this amazing experience (just for the record I am a lot smarter now).

A bolt of lightning hit me on the first night of this course, and I immediately knew what I wanted to do with my life – marketing. It immediately became clear that I had already been a marketer in my role as a Marine Corps recruiter – I just hadn’t thought of it that way. In that role I designed print marketing materials, set up promotional events, and was the first Marine recruiter to use email as a marketing tool.

As soon as I got home from that first class, I started looking for a marketing position.  Luckily I soon found a low-level marketing role at The only problem with that is I had just about zero digital marketing experience. I actually had to go back to the job description to pull out the funny acronyms, and then look up what SEO and SEM stood for. How the hell did I get hired?



Luckily I had an incredible boss that was very patient with me, but I also developed a plan. I knew I had to learn how to be a digital marketer as soon as humanly possible. And what is the best and fastest way to learn something? Complete immersion. Don’t take it from me, take it from science. Further, how else could one be extremely motivated to learn something quickly? Put money on the line.

I combined complete immersion and a financial driver by launching an e-commerce website. I literally went to the local library and took out HTML, CSS, and Javascript for Dummies, and built a website that sold hockey equipment. With zero coding experience, it took me a good long time to get it set up. There were many painful nights where I learned the importance of tiny details like properly placed closing tags, using the correct type of bracket, and the beauty of infinite loops. Have you ever played a video game for several hours, just trying to accomplish one specific thing (getting all the coins on one of the moving levels in Super Mario Bros. 3 perhaps?). Yeah, that’s what it was like.


In addition to buckets of pain and late nights, I learned. I studied every blog and book I could on SEO to help my site rank better. I tested and learned everything I could in AdWords. I became an expert in Google Analytics (so much so that I was later invited to speak at Google on the topic). I became proficient in using Photoshop and was creating my own ad banners.

Learning these topics and more have been the most important factor in my career success, and still helps me to this day. In a field like digital marketing, knowing how to code and how websites work can save you so much time, and also help you think of creative ways to solve problems. Coding knowledge helps you get things done and earns the respect of your developers and other colleagues. Just last week I was in a group discussing a problem that didn’t seem to have a good answer. I offered the idea of using the dataLayer to store data on a web page so we could use it to help in a conversion optimization exercise. Yeah, I get nerdy like that.


On another team, I had the lead a/b testing role – only because I knew how to code. I wrote the HTML/CSS/Javascript for over one hundred tests just in that position and helped bring in a huge amount of incremental revenue – all because I took the time to learn how to code.

In another role, I used the a/b testing knowledge I gained from courses and personal website experience to redesign a lead generation form. Overnight the form conversion spiked and resulted in an incremental 140K per month in revenue.


What’s the lesson in all this? You can be like most digital marketers and be good enough at paid search, a/b testing, social, etc., or you can take your career to the next level and set yourself apart by putting in the time and effort to learn. The dividends it pays throughout your career can be enormous. Executives will turn to you for a sanity check when a developer or product team member makes a statement about what can and cannot be done in a reasonable time frame. Colleagues will come to you looking for solutions to tough problems, and you’ll become a trusted advisor.


I know it’s hard to find time for just about anything. In addition to a very full-time job, I have three children that I’m trying to be a great dad to. My wife works and does so much to keep our home running, so I try to help out as much as I can. I am also out at least 2 nights per week with various obligations. All that said, I still take the little pockets of free time that I have to read and learn. Sure, it takes me a month to read a 200-page book, but I will get it done eventually. (If you’re curious, I just finished the Harvard Business Review’s guide to Better Business Writing and next up is Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown). I have found that the benefits of finding time to learn are very much worthwhile.


Some of the most world-renowned

business leaders dedicate themselves

to deliberate learning on a regular basis.


I was talking about these benefits recently to a colleague who is early in his career and looking to set himself apart. I told him that taking the time to learn topics that were perhaps outside of my specific career role has made all the difference. While taking the time to learn has had a substantial positive impact on my career, don’t just take it from me. Some of the most world-renowned business leaders dedicate themselves to deliberate learning on a regular basis. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey all run multi-billion dollar empires, yet make it a point to practice deliberate learning for at least 5 hours per week. If they can find the time, I bet you can too!


It may be a daunting to find that time, but it’s never been easier to learn new skills. There is a treasure-trove of information in blogs and specialized websites on so many topics. For me personally I love to learn and sharpen my marketing skills by following thought leaders like Sean Ellis (follow Sean on Twitter), Morgan Brown (follow Morgan on Twitter), Luke Wroblewski (follow Luke on Twitter) and Rand Fishkin (follow Rand on Twitter). When I read their content I swear I can feel my brain swelling with new interneuronal connections. I’ll often find ideas from them that I then explore further to create new understanding and broaden my scope.


Other sources of learning come from online courses and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC). With sites like and, you can explore topics from Machine Learning to coding with Bootstrap to Mathematical Thinking. I like a resource like Udemy where you can move at your own pace, while the offerings from Coursera will be on a schedule and you’ll need to keep up. From my point of view, content at Udemy is great for learning the basics on many topics, while the content you’ll see at Coursera is going to be more comprehensive, as these courses are built by university professors.


Whatever route you choose, taking the time to discover new topics and broaden your intellectual scope is a worthy activity. Whether your goal is to set yourself apart from your peers on your career path, or simply learning for its own sake, you will absolutely be rewarded with new career opportunities or a more intelligent view of the world. While I’ve given some of my personal examples of the benefits of learning, you can follow the path taken by some of the world’s best and smartest leaders as well. Finally, it’s never been easier to reap the benefits of personal growth by following thought leaders and taking online courses to help you on your journey of enlightenment. Now it’s your turn – what will you choose to learn?


Be cool - share this!
Share on RedditDigg thisEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterBuffer this page

Happy 240th Birthday Marines

On this date 240 years ago, the United States Marine Corps was born by an act of the 2nd Continental Congress.  They saw the need for “soldiers of the sea” who were as comfortable fighting in the rigging of ships as they were on land.  The Congress  (as legend has it) met at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia (perhaps it is fitting that we were born in a bar) and “Resolved, that two Battalions of marines be raised” in order to engage in naval military operations against the British.

We fought valiantly in the Revolutionary war, and from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.  We engaged in the most difficult and bloodiest battles of World War I and II in places called Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Belleau Wood where Germans called us Teufel Hunden (Devil Dogs).  We spilled our blood in the streets of Hue City, Baghdad, and Fallujah.

In these places and more we showed the world that there is “No better friend, no worse enemy” than a United States Marine.  This is a special day for those of us who have worn the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. If you see a Marine today, it is customary to wish them happy birthday.  We celebrate the Corps’ birthday as we would our own, for in many ways we became who we are when we earned the title.

Happy birthday devil dogs, and Semper Fidelis.

Be cool - share this!
Share on RedditDigg thisEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterBuffer this page

Step up your Google Analytics Game!

When talking about digital marketing, it bothers me when I hear people say “it looks/works just fine for me”.  We digital marketers live in the most amazing times ever. We actually have so much data, we can’t physically get to all of it for intelligent and meaningful analysis. It’s insanely easy to look at your Google Analytics data to answer many questions. But what if you’ve looked and the answers simply aren’t there? Enter Auto Event Tracking with Google Tag Manager (GTM). If you’re not familiar with Auto Event Tracking, stop now and read Justin Cutroni’s excellent post: Bye Bye Javascript! Also be sure to check out Simo Ahava’s blog  on Auto Event Tracking (he’s a freaking genius BTW). Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Here’s the TL;DR: You can set up Google Analytics events easily even if you don’t know how to code.

Why is that important?

Setting up events in GA is easy when you use GTM, and it can answer many of the questions that you have about how users are behaving on your website. For example, I’ve talked with colleagues in the past who assume most users are logging in on our mobile site because it makes check out easier. Being a long time student of user experience I was pretty confident that was not the case. But assumptions and feelings aren’t conclusive, so to the data I went. I set up an event using GTM, and immediately started getting data. By the end of that day it was very apparent that users were absolutely not logging in on mobile to check out. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

gtm 1

FYI – all of the numbers you see in screenshots have been changed for confidentiality

Mobile keyboards aren’t easy to use, especially on iPhones that don’t have a swift keyboard. It took me perhaps 5 minutes to set up the event, and a few hours later we had conclusive evidence to prove the hypothesis incorrect. That’s powerful! Next, let’s talk about what you’ll need to set up events in GA and how to do it.


First, here’s a primer on Google Analytics Events.

Events in GA allow you to track user interactions on the pages of your website. You can use them to determine, for example, if users are clicking on a particular link or button, if they are playing a video on your site, if users are clicking on the last item in your slider, and more. This can be valuable information, but GA really takes it to another level by applying reports to these events. You can see, for example, how much revenue is coming in for people who do or do not fall into each event bucket. Using the example above, we could determine the conversion rate for customers who signed in on mobile vs. those who did not, and you can even add segments!

All numbers have been changed to protect confidentiality

All numbers have been changed to protect confidentiality

Now let’s talk about Google Tag Manager. GTM is a Tag Management System that allows you to insert code on your website without a developer, or directly editing code on your site. If you want to install Google Analytics code, for example, you could use GTM to do it without the help of your developer (although if you’re unsure if you’re doing it right you should have a developer look over your work). To install GTM, go to and create your account. You’ll get a snippet of code to insert that looks something like this:

<!– Google Tag Manager –>

<noscript><iframe src=”//”

height=”0″ width=”0″ style=”display:none;visibility:hidden”></iframe></noscript>


new Date().getTime(),event:’gtm.js’});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],




<!– End Google Tag Manager –>


Ask your developer to install this on every page immediately before the opening <body> tag. Now you’re ready to go! You can add GA events code, Google AdWords conversion code, or many other pixels/tags. Now let’s talk about how to set up your event code.


The first step in setting up your event is strategic – deciding what to measure. This is totally up to you and can be generated many ways. Perhaps you see an issue with checkout conversion that you’d like to investigate. Perhaps you’re curious about the value of a particular element on your page. In any case, I recommend you start with a problem and work out a hypothesis or two. Then you can get to work on testing it. I believe in a careful, methodical approach because I find that it provides guidance that can save you time and keep you focused on the main crux of the problem.


Now that you have your problem, I also recommend you and your team decide beforehand on what’s important and how you’ll measure it. Is it overall revenue? Will you compare one full week’s revenue vs. another or will you try to measure individual days that are most similar to each other? For example, for some businesses you may be running different promotions from week to week, so comparing one week to another isn’t very smart. But if you compare a Tuesday vs. another Tuesday where you had the same promotion running, it’s not 100% ideal but it’s still a better solution than a simple average of one time period vs. another.


GTM Sonar Great – we’re doing well here. There’s one more step that I recommend because it will make it exponentially easier to set up our events. Simo Ahava is a Google Tag Manager genius, and he has created a Google Chrome extension that will allow you to investigate the items on your web pages and determine the best parameter to use in setting up your events. We’ll get into details in a bit. For now just go here and add the extension to Google Chrome: Simo Ahava GTM Sonar

Ok – I think we’re finally ready to set up an event. Let’s use the example I gave before – signed in customers vs. guests. Normally you’ll be offered the option to sign in once you click “Checkout” at most ecommerce websites. Some of the questions we’d like to answer here are:

  1. How valuable are our signed in customers?
  2. What percentage of customers sign in vs. don’t?

The answers to these questions will of course lead to other questions, but can also lead to other projects. If these customers are more valuable, how can we more clearly show the benefit of creating an account and perhaps increasing the number of customers who do so?


Our next step is to finally get to some code. I’m using as an example here (I am not in any way connected to BR other than I love their non-iron slim fit shirts). Once you click on their Checkout Button:

gtm 3

You are then taken to a page where you can either Sign In as a registered user, or checkout as a guest:

gtm 4

Now it’s time to activate GTM Sonar, which you’ll see as a red boxy looking thing in your Tool area in Google Chrome:

gtm 5


Click it and you’ll see this:

gtm 6

Here’s each option explained. In Google Tag Manager you can trigger events in several different ways – When a click occurs, when a link click occurs, or when a form is submitted. GTM Sonar activates a listener for clicks, link clicks, or form submits, and gives you the details you can use to set up the auto event. Let’s continue with the example so it becomes crystal clear.


Click on the “Click Listener” radio button, and then click Switch On:

gtm 7

Once you click “Switch On”, the page will then start listening for clicks, and will disable links on the page so you can do your investigation. After clicking “Switch On”, the GTM Sonar box will turn green and the window will look like this:

gtm 8


Now let’s bring up Google Chrome Web Developer Tools and click Console so we can see what interactions are registered on the page:

gtm 9

Now click on the Sign In button. Go to the blue caret under the Console tab and type in: debugDL. That will bring up this:

gtm 10

Click on the arrow before Object, and you’ll see the information relayed to the page due to you clicking on the Sign In button:

gtm 11

Clicking on the arrow before gtm.element gives you all this information:

gtm 12

So what does all this mean? Right after Object you’ll see event: “”.

gtm 13

The example above is a click listener. Every time there is a click on the page – on a link, on a navigation item, wherever, GTM creates a click event as seen above. It will also register information about what was clicked. In this case, you can see that the alt tag for the item clicked has a value of “Sign In”, and the base URI for the link that was clicked starts with “”:

gtm 14

This is very useful information! We will be able to use this information to create events. Now let’s talk about setting up your events.


Setting up your Google Analytics Event The first step is to set up a click listener that will listen for clicks made on your pages. Open Google Tag Manager and get to your main page, which should look something like this:

gtm 15

Clicking Triggers on the right will get you to this page, where you can click “New”:

gtm 16

Name your trigger “Click Listener”, and choose the “Click” tile below.

gtm 17

In step 2, choose “Click”. This will track all clicks on the page vs. just tracking link clicks.

gtm 18

Next in Step 3, you can choose to have the listener everywhere or you can set filters to determine when to activate. For our experiment we want to only track Sign In clicks here, so how can we do that? We’ll need to take a few more steps, but luckily this is easy.


If we look at the source on the Banana Republic website, we can see that the HTML class of the Sign In button contains “sign-in-button_for-lg”. We can use this to tell Google Tag Manager that we only want the trigger to work when class contains:sign-in-button_for-lg:

gtm 19


In the “Fire On” section of the Trigger set up page, select the “Some Clicks” tile:

gtm 20

Select “Click Classes” from the drop down.

gtm 21

If Click Classes doesn’t show up here, go to Variables in the left column, and be sure that it’s selected in the “Clicks” section:

gtm 22


Don’t forget to save your Trigger!

So what did this do? Once published, when there is a Sign In click on your website, the data layer registers a “gtmClick” event. You can see it by going to Chrome Developer Tools and entering “dataLayer” in the Console, like this:

gtm 23

Now that we have a mechanism for tracking clicks on the page, let’s set up our Google Event Tag.


Click “Tag” on the left column, and then “New”

gtm 24

Name your Tag whatever you like. In this example we’re tracking people who sign in to check out vs. those who click “Guest Checkout”, so we’ll name this “Log In Click”. For Product we’ll choose Google Analytics, then click the tile that says “Universal Analytics”. If you are using Classic Google Analytics, select that tile. In step 3, enter your Tracking ID. You can find that in the Admin section of your Google Analytics set up, or just view the source of your website and search for “UA”, as each tracking ID begins with that. For Track Type, choose “Event”.

gtm 25

For this event, we’ll be tracking the clicks where people are signing in to check out. For the event tracking parameters, you can use something similar to this:

gtm 26

In Step 4, you want to fire on the trigger you just created. Select the “Click” tile, then check the box next to the trigger we just created:

gtm 27

That’s it! You’re almost ready to publish your work! Go to the top right and click the drop down next to the “Publish button”

gtm 28

Select “Preview and Debug” and go to your site. This option activates the work you just did just for your session. Use the site and make sure nothing is broken. You also want to click the Sign In button and be sure the listener activates and the event is created like you expected.

In the debug panel you should see something that looks like this:

gtm 29

This will tell you all the tags that have fired via GTM. It will also tell you the tags that have not fired on the page:

gtm 30

Use this to check for errors. Provided your QA turns out ok, you are ready to publish!

See the magic you created!

Now that you’ve done the hard work, time for the fun stuff! Go to Google Analytics and go to Real Time > Events:

You’ll start to see the events being created as people use the site! Note the numbers and other data have been changed to protect confidentiality.



How cool is that? Let’s take it a step further though and create a custom report that shows us revenue and other data broken out by Signed In vs. Guest customers. Now you can clearly see how much revenue you’re getting, conversion rate, etc. for both guest and signed in customers!

gtm 32

Use your imagination here and you can create reports that tell you more about the behavior of signed in vs. guest users.


Where to go from here

That’s just one example of how to use Google Tag Manager Auto Events for your business. Using this method, you can track all sorts of clicks and behavior on your site. I hope this primer was helpful, and I’m happy to answer any questions. If you think this was awesome, be sure to share it using the social links below!

Be cool - share this!
Share on RedditDigg thisEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterBuffer this page