Analyze This! Leveraging Google Analytics to Optimize Your Law Firm’s Content Marketing
Written by Steven Thomas Kent
Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool, but sitting down with it for the first time can feel like climbing into the cockpit of a 747. When you open up your Analytics homepage, you’re greeted with graphs, charts, percentages, and figures for a wide range of metrics, and a menu with an overload of options. There’s also not a lot of on-page help to let you know what’s what.
Don’t feel intimidated, though — things aren’t as overwhelming as they seem at first glance, and you don’t need to master every single tool and feature to get lots of value from Google Analytics. In this article, we’ll go over some of the basic tools and metrics you can use to figure out how your law firm’s online content is performing and optimize your content marketing strategy going forward.
First Things First: Why Do I Need Google Analytics?
If you maintain a website for your law firm (which you most likely do if you’re bothering to read this), you must have wondered at some point how your site is performing: How many visitors do I have? Are they actually reading our content? Which pages do they arrive at most often? Where do they come from, and what do they do once they’re on our site?
Google Analytics can give you data-based answers to all of these questions — plus dozens more that you’ve probably never even thought to ask.
Setting Up Google Analytics for Your Law Firm’s Website
Before you can get started with Google Analytics, you’ll need to set it up for your firm’s website. To do this, you’ll need to go to google.com/analytics and select the option to create an account from the sign-in page. From here, Google Analytics will give you instructions on how to add your website to your Analytics account and how to install the bit of tracking code that Analytics uses to gather data from your site. (Google allows you to keep up to 50 website properties under one Analytics account, so if your firm has multiple websites — for example, if you’ve got a specialized mini-site for a particular practice area or type of case — you can feel free to add them all.)
Like many digital marketing tools, Google Analytics offers both free and paid versions of its services, but unlike many of them, the choice here is easy: the paid version of Google Analytics costs $150,000 a year. Unless your law firm is a large multinational corporation, Analytics’ free services will meet all your needs and then some.
Getting Started with a Look at Your Website’s Data
Unfortunately, Google Analytics begins tracking data the moment you install its code on your website; it can’t go back and gather information from before this point. This means that while you can look around Google Analytics and familiarize yourself with it right away, you won’t have any meaningful data to look at until you let it do its work for a while. (You may want to bookmark this page so you can come back to it in a few weeks or so when you really begin to dive into your site’s data.)
On the homepage for your website within Google Analytics (titled “Audience Overview,” which you should see in bold in the top left), you’ll see a graph of activity with seven key metrics listed underneath. The graph that you see is examining one of these metrics over a period of time (it starts on “sessions” by default), and you can adjust which metric it displays with the tab at the top left of the graph, under “Overview.” Meanwhile, you can adjust the date range for the graph and the metrics in the top right of the page, opposite the “Audience Overview” header, and you can adjust how often the graph plots a data point (hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly) with the tabs on the graph’s top right.
- Sessions are visits by an individual user to your website. Google marks a session as beginning when the user arrives at your site and ending when the user doesn’t interact with your site for a period of 30 minutes. A session can cover an individual user visiting multiple pages of the website. The same user can also have multiple sessions on your website. For example, let’s say a user visits your site, checks out a few different pages, then takes a 45-minute break to eat a sandwich. After eating, they pick up where they left off and look at a few more of your site’s pages. Because the 30-minute window of inactivity expired, the post-sandwich browsing marks a new session, even though the user is the same — two sessions, one user.
- Users are individual visitors to your website. Google Analytics tracks these users by installing cookies into their browsers, so whenever the same device reappears using the same browser, Google treats it as the same user. Of course, this tracking isn’t perfect — if the same person visits your site using multiple browsers or devices, Analytics doesn’t have any way to recognize this. Still, the users metric is a good rough estimate of how many unique visitors your site sees in a given period.
- Pageviews is the total number of pages viewed by users over the given time period.
- Pages/session tells you how many pages a user visits on average during a session.
- Avg. session duration is how long a session on your site lasts on average.
- Bounce rate is the percentage of your website visits in which the user leaves without any interaction with the site. Essentially, a bounced user arrives at your site, but leaves without even bothering to read or view anything on the page. (Don’t be alarmed if you see a bounce rate in the 40s, 50s, or even 60s in terms of percentage. Typical bounce rates vary by industry, type of content, and all sorts of factors, but for law firm sites, bounce rates of 60%-plus are very common.)
- % new sessions is the percentage of sessions on your site that are first-time visits to the site. (This number should match up with the figures displayed in the pie chart to the right, which shows the proportion of new versus returning visitors to your site.)
Finally, underneath this list of metrics, you’ll see a series of demographic options in the lower left, which adjust the ranked report to the right. You can use these tabs to see what languages your users have set in their browsers, what country and city they’re browsing in, what browser and operating system they’re using, and more.
Using the Audience Overview
You can learn plenty about your website and its users right from the Audience Overview page. Right off the bat, by adjusting the date range to a relatively long window — say, six months to a year — you can see long-term trends in your site’s traffic. You can gauge whether your traffic is increasing, decreasing, or staying relatively stable, and you can also see whether your site receives more traffic at certain times of the year than others. Conversely, by setting the date range to a smaller period, you can see how your site performs over a given month, week, or day. (You can even separate your site’s audience into different segments using the “add segment” tool above the graph, but that’s probably a little advanced for right now.)
While this site-wide overview is a good start, it is somewhat limited in what it can tell you about the performance of your content. For example, if you published some great blog content in June that you felt extra proud of and you see a bit of a spike in your site’s traffic in June, you might be inclined to think that your top-notch blogging was responsible — but how do you know for sure? In the next section, we’ll show you how to dive in and get a clearer picture of how individual pages on your site are performing and which pages are driving the most site traffic.
(If you want to navigate back to the Audience Overview page at any time, you can do so using the menu bar at the left; simply click on the “Audience” option, and the first option under the dropdown menu, “Overview,” will bring you right back.)
Digging Deeper: Examining Individual Page Performance
To learn more about how individual site pages (including blog posts) are performing, you’ll want to navigate to the “Behavior” tab in the menu on the left, then choose the “Overview” option from the drop-down.
- Pageviews is the total number of pages viewed by users over the specified time period. Repeat views of the same page by the same user are counted.
- Unique pageviews is similar to pageviews, except that repeat views of the same page by the same user aren’t counted.
- % Exit is the number of exits from your site divided by the number of pageviews. (This is a useful metric for individual pages, since it can tell you what percentage of users that reach the page exit the site without navigating to any other pages, but it doesn’t tell you much here in the Overview section.)
Underneath these metrics, you’ll see a ranked list section, much like in the Audience Overview page. Here, however, the list shows a ranking of your individual site pages by total number of pageviews over the specified window of time. By default, it shows the top 10 pages from your site in terms of pageviews. On the left, you can click on “Page” to view these results by their URL or on “Page Title” to see the titles of the pages instead. (Don’t worry about the “Search Term” and “Event Category” tabs for now.)
To see more than the top 10 pages, you can click on the link that says “view full report” in the bottom right of this section. (This is also the same as navigating to “Site Content” > “All Pages” under the Behavior tab in the sidebar menu on the left.)
Here’s where you can really dig in to figure out whether your content marketing plan is working the way you think. In front of you, you’ve got a full ranked report of all your site’s pages, and you can click the individual columns to organize the results by total pageviews, unique pageviews, average time on page, entrances (the number of times visitors entered your site through a given page), bounce rate, and % exit. (Don’t worry about the “Page Value” column for now.) Meanwhile, you can use the date range drop-down at the top right, across from the “Pages” header, to adjust the window of time for which you’re viewing data.
Not only can you view the rankings of your site’s pages, but you can click on any individual page — such as a blog post, for example — to pull up an individual result for that page, including the adjustable graph of its pageviews (or any other metric you want to look at). In addition, within the page’s individual report, you can click on the “Navigation” tab (next to “Explorer”) to see which pages users viewed immediately before and after the page in question. This can help you better understand your site users’ behavior and also get an idea of which pages are driving conversions (for example, by checking the Navigation info for your firm’s contact page and seeing which other pages lead users there most often).
What to Do with All This Data?
Okay, so now you know how to look at the Audience Overview for a big-picture snapshot of your site’s performance, and how to use the Behavior tab to pull up a report that lets you see your analytics data for individual pages. But what do you do with all this newfound data at your disposal?
To help you understand what the numbers you’re seeing mean, we’re going to divide the metrics you’ve looked at so far into two broad categories: consumption metrics and engagement metrics.
- Consumption metrics tell you how many people have viewed or accessed your content. This category includes metrics like sessions, users, and pageviews.
- Engagement metrics give you information about how your audience is interacting with your content. This category includes metrics like bounce rate, average time on page, and average number of pages per session.
When using Google Analytics to gauge the success of individual pages for content marketing purposes, it’s important to consider both types of metrics. If a given page has tons of pageviews, for example, but also has a very high bounce rate or exit rate, all those pageviews aren’t generating much value — you’re succeeding at getting users to navigate to the page, but some aspect of that page is driving almost all of them away before any meaningful interaction occurs.
Wrapping Up: Key Questions to Ask
Now that you understand how to generate reporting for both your site-wide content and individual pages over any period of time you’d like to specify, you can use the resulting data to make some critical evaluations about your content marketing strategy and the results it’s yielding. For instance, you’ll want to ask yourself questions like:
- Do the site pages and types of content that I think create the most value for my audience actually show strong traffic and engagement numbers in Google Analytics?
- What do the pages on my site with the highest and lowest traffic and engagement numbers have in common? What about the pages with high traffic but low engagement, and vice versa?
- Which pages on my website are sending users away? Do I need to optimize or redesign these pages or restructure my site to address this?
- Do my top-performing pages represent aspects of my law firm’s brand that I most want to emphasize? If not, how can I better emphasize and optimize the pages that I really want users to see?
As an example, if your firm handles both personal injury and family law cases and you want to get more personal injury clients, but your family law-oriented content is roundly outperforming your personal injury material, then it may be time to rethink your content strategy. Perhaps you need to redouble your efforts in terms of personal injury blogging, posting more frequently on PI topics and using Google Analytics along the way to refine your choice of topics so you can focus on the areas that generate the most engagement and traffic.
On the other hand, you may want to consider the opposite strategy — perhaps personal injury-related web traffic is hotly contested in your area, but family law traffic is much easier to come by. It could be that you’ve just identified an opportunity in family law that your firm can capitalize on with even more content. There are no hard and fast answers to these questions, but the important thing is that you’re asking them and using analytics data to inform your conclusions.
Of course, this is just a beginning point in terms of using Google Analytics to shape your law firm’s content marketing strategy. As you can probably guess by the number of options in that lengthy left-hand menu bar that we didn’t even touch on here, Google Analytics is a very deep and robust platform with a huge range of options for tracking and reporting.
Just for a few examples, setting your site up with Google Analytics will allow you to:
- Use the “Customization” tab in the menu bar to create a personalized dashboard that can show you your most important analytics data at a glance, without having to navigate among the various menus and manually customize the reporting each time.
- Set analytics goals that specify which pages you’d like users to navigate to, how long you’d like them to spend on those pages, and more.
- Use the “Events” tool to track form fills, including how many your site is receiving and which pages are driving them.
- Use the “Acquisition” tab to figure out which websites are referring users to yours and vice versa.
- Evaluate your traffic from both organic and paid search, including which keywords are bringing users to your site.
We’ll delve into some of these features in future blog articles, but for now, you should at least have a solid grasp on how to look at basic metrics in Google Analytics and use these metrics to inform your decisions about creating future content and optimizing what you’ve got already. Or, to put it another way: you may not be ready for a solo flight in that 747, but you at least know how to start the engines and taxi around a bit — and that’s exactly how every great pilot starts off.
LaFleur Legal Marketing: Your Analytics Experts
While we want to help every law firm understand more about the incredible power of analytics and data-based decision making, it can also take months or even years to master the art of gathering analytics data and applying it to marketing strategy. We realize that not every law firm has time to dive into this long journey on top of legal casework, day-to-day office administration, professional networking, and continuing education. That’s why we work with our clients to track analytics and provide comprehensive, easy-to-understand monthly and annual reporting that lets them understand what’s going on behind the scenes of their websites without distracting them from the legal work that matters most to them.
Whether you’re looking to implement analytics tracking for the first time or take your use of data to a deeper level, LaFleur Legal Marketing is here to help. Call us today at 888-222-1512 or fill out our convenient contact form and we’ll get in touch with you promptly. We look forward to hearing from you soon!
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