Making Web Analytics Part of Business Development Planning
Fall is now fully upon us, which means two things – it is football season and it is time for law firms to prepare their budgets for 2013. A big part of the budget discussions will focus on offline and online business development (BD) initiatives for the coming year. It is never easy determining where these resources should go, but by understanding what was effective in the previous year, firms at least have a fighting chance to make good decisions going forward.
Measuring offline BD efforts tends to be pretty straigh
orward. If a firm sponsors an event, it is fairly easy to calculate the amount of attorney time involved and compare that to the amount of business generated, which gives you a preliminary return on investment for that event. Online success can be a bit more difficult to calculate, but it is not impossible. By using web analytics effectively, law firms can better understand what is working and what is failing, ultimately allowing them to make better decisions about where online BD resources (time and money) should go.
Let’s start with a definition for web analytics. According to the Digital Analytics Association (DAA) web analytics is "the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing Web usage." Most people hear web analytics and only think about the collection and reporting aspects, but the measurement and analysis tasks are equally important. If the data collected and reported is not used to solve a business problem, then it is worthless. With that in mind, we need to answer this question before any real analysis can be done: What is an optimal law firm website?
An optimal law firm website has the following qualities:
- It is easy to find (via search engines, social media, etc.) and easy to navigate.
- It contains relevant and up to date information that is useful for its visitors: prospective clients, current clients, potential recruits, industry thought leaders, media outlets and firm employees.
- It leads people to contact the firm or the individual attorneys, ultimately generating revenue. At the very least, it leads website visitors to convert in other ways, such as signing up for a newsletter so they can contact the firm when they are ready to hire an attorney.
By understanding the ultimate goal for the firm’s website, legal marketers can ask better questions when reviewing the success or failure of online BD efforts. By combining better questions with web analytics data and a little context, legal marketers will ultimately be able to better understand where resources need to go to improve their online BD efforts. This solves a business problem.
Here are some great questions legal marketers should ask about their online presence, and how they can be answered through web analytics. Since this article is focusing on planning for the 2013 budget, it is a good idea to look at the data from all of 2012 up to this point.
In the past year, how much traffic did the firm’s website receive and how are people finding the firm online?
Step one of any successful law firm website is getting people there, so it makes perfect sense to start by understanding how many visits the website gets and how they are getting there. Again using the DAA for a definition, a visit is “an interaction, by an individual, with a website consisting of one or more requests for an analyst-definable unit of content (i.e. “page view”). If an individual has not taken another action (typically additional page views) on the site within a specified time period, the visit session will terminate.” In other words, visits are how many people come to your website. If improvements are made to the website, this number should increase in 2013. This leads to the second part of the question; how are people finding the firm online?
Any good web analytics tool will be able to provide a breakdown of where traffic is coming from. Legal Marketers can look at the past year’s traffic statistics and other initiatives and determine what to build on, what needs to be added and what to drop.
- How much traffic is the firm’s website getting via organic search? If the number is less than 50 percent of the overall website traffic, it is time to invest in some search engine optimization (SEO). (More definitions: “organic” searches are those that generate results that are not paid advertisements. SEO, at its most basic level, is changing the content of your web pages to rank higher in organic search results.)
- Was there a firm initiative to be more active on LinkedIn and Twitter? How much traffic was generated from those avenues?
- Was the firm paying to be listed in online directories (i.e., Martindale-Hubbell)? Does the amount of traffic justify the cost of being listed, or is further analysis needed to answer this question?
- Is the firm’s blog (or blogs) getting traffic, and is that traffic converting over to the firm’s website?
- What other online marketing initiatives (newsletters, client alerts, etc.) are generating traffic?
- What offline efforts (events, seminars, etc.) generated traffic to the website?
Bonus tip – Looking at the entire year is useful. Take the next step by looking at different time periods, for example quarters, to understand if the firm is getting more traffic from certain initiatives throughout the year.
Having data to answer these questions is a great start to figuring out what is working and what is not, but it is only a start. In most cases, the answers to the above questions will only be a piece of the puzzle.
What do people do on the firm’s website?
The next step in determining the success of a law firm website is understanding what content is being viewed by the website visitors and how they get to that content. At most firms, the attorney biographies (bios) receive the most traffic. This is great because people hire attorneys, not firms, so before calling the firm for business, a potential client will review the attorney(s) online. If the bios are not receiving the majority of the web traffic, it is time to answer some hard questions about the website:
- Are the bios engaging?
- Are the bios easy to find via search engines and from the homepage of the firm’s website?
- Are the bios up to date?
- Does the firm need a whole new website?
If the bios are receiving the majority of the traffic, then more specific questions can be asked leading to more value:
- Which bios are the most popular? Why? What can the other attorneys learn from their colleagues to increase traffic to their bios?
- What alerts, publications, blog posts and articles received the most traffic? Are these items being shared via social networks? How can the firm create more content about the popular topics, and do these items link back to the bios?
- Are practice area and industry pages leading visitors to visit the bios? If not, how can this be improved?
- What areas of the website received little traffic? Can these areas be improved, archived or removed completely?
- Where do visitors drop off – meaning they close their browser or exit the website?
These questions all focus on the website as a BD tool. Separate questions must be answered when reviewing the website as a recruiting tool, a branding tool, or for any other purpose.
Bonus tip – Try segmenting your data for better insights. For example, if you can answer the above questions but focus only on visitors who come to the website from LinkedIn, then you can provide those people with more targeted and engaging content in the future because you understand what they want
Again, the majority of web analytics tools should be able to provide you with information that can help answer these questions. By understanding how people got to the website and what they are doing once on the site, a firm can better make decisions about where to focus next year’s online BD efforts, but the puzzle is not complete without the final question.
Are website visitors converting?
This is the most important question. What is a conversion? According to the DAA, a website conversion is simply “A visitor completing a target action.” For a law firm website, the ultimate target action is for the website visitor to contact and hire the firm. When measuring conversions, web analytics cannot be the only tracking method to understand if a conversion is taking place. If the firm website has an online contact form, then legal marketers can use web analytics to track how often the form is used and where people drop off. Even if that is the case, other tracking methods must be in place to fully understand the website’s conversion rate (conversions divided by total visits).
- Firm receptionists must ask those who call in “Why did you call our firm today?” or some variation of that question.
- Client surveys should be conducted to determine if the website was used in the decision-making process.
It would be great if it were as simple as ‘prospective client comes to firm’s website, fills out contact form, and becomes client’ but that is not the real world. It is more likely that the prospect meets an attorney at an event, researches the firm online, asks their friends and colleagues what they think of the attorney/firm they are researching, and then makes a decision to call the firm.
So when tracking this type of conversion, be sure to cover all bases to get an accurate understanding of the website’s performance.
Unfortunately, most visitors reviewing a law firm website are not ready to choose that firm right then and there. With that in mind, it is critical to track micro-conversions as well. These are targeted actions that either shows that a website visitor is interested in the firm, or help move the sales cycle along. Common micro-conversions on a law firm website include:
- Subscribing to the firm’s newsletter or to particular client alerts
- Downloading an attorney’s v-card
- Creating an information packet using “print page” functionality or a custom application
- Subscribing to the firm’s blog
- Following the firm on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook
- Registering for an event, seminar or webinar
It is critical to track and analyze these actions to understand what is working and what can be improved.
Bonus tip – Most web analytics tools allow you to exclude traffic originating from firm employees. By doing so, legal marketers can better understand the actions of prospective clients.
Trying to determine what resources to allocate to a firm’s online business development efforts is not an easy task. By first understanding what makes a law firm website successful and asking the right questions, legal marketers can use web analytics as part of the overall toolset to make more informed decisions when planning for 2013 and beyond.
Steve Hennigs is a senior account executive at Siteimprove, a company providing software that assists with the maintenance, measurement and governance of large websites. He can be reached at (612)-545-5662 x805.
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