For marketers, one of the beauties of the World Wide Web is the ability to evaluate success at a level higher than almost any other type of initiative. Yet, I am continually amazed by how few people take full advantage of this. How often do you look at your law firm's website traffic report, and how big a role does it play in your ongoing development and strategy?
This month's edition of SEO strays from search engine optimization, and concentrates on optimizing the information you get, to better serve your end-user, and evaluate your on-line budget (money, time and resources) better.
The Nielson ratings give an estimate of viewership for television advertising and programming. The yellow pages can tell you how many people received the book, but not how many ever looked at your ad, and if they did look, was it a glance or a detailed examination. A mailing? Good luck. You have no idea if I put it right into the "circular file" or gave it a good read.
Ah, but the web! You can find out all those answers. Plus, you can learn so much more. The same thing goes for any type of on-line advertising, where you can be told how many people saw a banner ad impression and how many clicked through. Or how many saw a sponsored article, or clicked through from a directory listing. The one so-called web tool that I find worthless and hokey is the "counter." They always remind me of McDonald's. Over xx billions served. I do not need a reminder of how many of those burgers I've downloaded in my lifetime. Who is this counter for? Am I supposed to be impressed? Just remember that anyone can click "refresh" a few thousand times, and make any count look respectable.
Any website program worth its salt provides you with traffic reports. If you are not receiving them now, be sure to ask. They can be as simple as a monthly record of hits, visitors and pages viewed. They can be as complex and detailed as "real time" reports, showing the type of browser someone is using, the actual time spent, what domain referred them and what paths they took through your site.
If time is limited, and your site is relatively simple, a monthly review of total page views, visitors, number of visits, a domain log and source sites is adequate. Take a look at the sections of your site getting the most traffic. It is quite telling, finding out that people are more interested in a certain practice area, or an article, or finding out how to get to your office from a directions page. If nobody is reading your on-line newsletter, maybe you should put a little less effort in, or promote it better on the home page. Be strategic, and pay attention.
If you are not familiar with all the components and terminology, here is a brief, subjective glossary:
- Page Views - The number of pages of a site accessed
- Visitor - A visit from an end-user
- Visits - Total number of visits. Remember, one visitor might visit repeatedly
- Domains - the server that the visitor is surfing from Referring
- Domain/Source Site- the web site that sent the visitor
Many reports do not include filtering from your own desktop, firm and developer. If, for example, every web browser opens up to your home page every day from every desk top, that can be a lot of "traffic." Also, keep in mind that many servers only give you an unreadable number (IP address), as opposed to knowing exactly what organization they are. Finally, every visitor from AOL, will be identified as an AOL user, without knowing anything more specific. However, that can be a telling statistic too, as AOL suggests more of a consumer-based orientation than a corporate one.
Some other useful reporting features and their potential value:
- Countries - For an international law practice, a key statistic.
- Pages Viewed/Time Spent - Not only does it let you know how interested a visitor was, but short visits can suggest a lack of appropriate content, interest or misguided searches.
- Exit pages - where are they losing interest, and why.
- Entry pages - perhaps someone has bookmarked a newsletter, or you have a variety of URLs for marketing. For example, perhaps you are promoting an upcoming event at www.lawfirm.com/taxseminar, it is helpful to see how many people are going straight there from an e-mail or promotional mailing.
First time visitor vs. returning visitor - are they coming back?
Referring search engines/phrases - not only that they came from Google, but that the search was for a "really cool lawyer".
There are other components of reports that can be beneficial to some. Is the format of the report itself easy to read, through color, graphs, and charts? Many reports are accessible directly on the web, and can be downloaded in formats such as HTML, Microsoft Word, Excel or a PDF file.
When are the top browsing hours? In other words, are people finding you in during the workday (M-F, 9-5) or at home (evening and weekends)? What type of computer, browser and browser plug-ins does the visitor have? This can be important for using site elements like flash or real video. Screen resolutions, colors and widths can be important for your web site developer, so that they create pages that people can actually see!
Taking the time to review and evaluate site successes can provide the firm with outstanding demographical data. A few thoughts/tips for the next time you read your report:
- Recruiting - Look to see if you get visits from a law school that you are about to visit for interviews.
- Job Search - If you are interviewing, see if your prospective employer might have checked you out at your website.
- Publicity - Look for spikes in traffic when you are quoted in the newspaper, or speak at a CLE or related seminar. And, if you fail to refer people to your website in these encounters, you are doing yourself a marketing disservice.
- Mailings - When you send out a firm mailing, either see if it is followed by a surge in traffic (from good web address placement), or send people to a specific web address for further information, a newsletter, a registration form, etc.
- Advertising - Combine traditional advertising for the firm, an office or a practice group with a web-based strategy, and evaluate the success or failure.
One final thought about traffic report evaluation. There is no "average" number of visits, visitors or page views for a website. I've seen sole practitioners with monthly page views in the thousands and 300-attorney firms with views in the hundreds. Factors such as extent of content and pages, traditional marketing efforts, type of practice area, location, age of site, and search engine optimization can play a role. You should get out of it what you put in, and maybe a little more.