Are you watching your website visitors?

The current state of website analytics in professional services firms

Survey data from professional services firms in North America, Australia and Asia

In the more virtual year of 2020 we polled over 214 staff in professional services firms in North American, Asian and Australian webinars about how they were approaching their firm’s website analytics.

Over the year we ran webinars on Using Google Analytics in professional services firms for ALPMA the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association, ICON the association for marketers in professional services firms, and for Mondaq the legal article syndicator. See the links at the end of this paper to view the respective webinars for members/subscribers.

The majority of respondents were law firms, followed by accountancy firms and engineering / consultancies.

In addition we worked on a record number of analytics projects for professional services firms.

1. Why are professional services firms getting increasingly interested in their website analytics?

Firms’ largest source of objective market information is their website analytics

Although stakeholders in professional services firms aren’t always aware of this (see poll results below) even small firms are seeing tens of thousands of visitors a year, with large global firms seeing millions of visitors. After 20 years of a web presence and writing articles most firms’ websites’ analytics are simply their largest source of data about what their market is interested in.

Annual visitor numbers Individuals visiting annually Articles written annually
Smaller firms 20,000+ 10+
Medium firms 60,000+ 40+
Bigger national firms 200,000+ 100+
Global firms 1m+ 300+
Annual visitor numbers and articles being written for law firms [Magnifirm Australian and North American data]

While every fee-earner has differing opinions about what is happening in the market (even more so in the broad tent of general practice firms) website data is also more objective than opinions and hence helpful in aligning stakeholders in firms.  ‘Trust me I’m your marketing manager’ is not always the most effective argument.

Business development can be done using website analytics

It’s possible to push information from proposals into Google Analytics for business development purposes: for example tenders or other proposals with links to your website that can identify that prospect by company so you can monitor the level of interest and approach prospects at the right time.

You can even de-anonymise companies visiting your website so you can see named organisations looking at your individual fee earners, practice groups and publications.

Understanding individual fee earners better using website analytics

You can track each call or email to each individual fee earner and trace that back through your website, as well as differentiate each fee-earner’s appeal for existing prospects or clients versus new prospects. You can even identify the fee-earners that most need help or conversely who are good models for younger fee-earners.

Measure market strategy better

Break down individual practice group interest by region or individual city; do the same for fee-earners or publications and view trends to understand growing and shrinking markets (manage better by measuring better).

Digital presence will continue be more important than it was pre-Covid

Even in a post-Covid world of 2023 new remote working habits will persist for cost, employee satisfaction and efficiency reasons.

Tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams won’t go away and organisations will need to continue to compare the return on exhibitions, conferences and other business travel options versus digital activities.

2. How are professional services firms broadly approaching website analytics?

More than half of firms polled in the 2020 webinars across North America, Asia and Australia are actively building or buying a website analytics solution with the rest still undecided about their approach (we discuss some of the buy vs build considerations below).

Professional services firms global average approach to website analytics

Even for those that are Undecided on the firm’s approach it’s worth noting that they are clearly interested enough to turn up to a seminar on Google Analytics.

3. What groups in professional services firms should directly use website analytics data?

Logically, different groups in professional services firms bring varying insights to market data, and organisations benefit more from the data being shared rather than sitting in a silo.

However the answer to this poll question differs widely depending on what analytics examples you show poll respondents first.

For example if you show people an analytics example like the one below, a ‘data belch’ that is neither easy to understand, nor structured for professional services firms, most people see less utility in analytics for your average practice group head, authors or even your professional services firm’s marketing department.

The data belch

So before asking the question “Who should get website analytics access at your firm” we showed these webinar attendees the following example of website analytics for a law firm:- 

After being shown this example the majority of respondents thought analytics access should be provided well beyond the marketing team: to practice group heads and with about a third of respondents wanting authors to have direct access to analytics as well as the practice group heads:

What stakeholder groups should have access to website analytics in professional services firms?
Firms’ views on appropriate stakeholders to get direct access to analytics in professional services firms

North American firms are keenest to see analytics data most widely available across the firm, with 53% wanting it available to marketing and practice group heads and authors.

Apart from the fact that all these groups get value from different elements of the market data, timely access is important, particularly for business development purposes.

As one general manager put it “in the old days when a partner wanted billing information they would request it from the accounts department: now they can instantly call it up.”

4. What are the obstacles to effective website analytics in professional services firms from stakeholders?

Perceptions of the role of the website

If you ask partners in law firms or accountancy firms what they consider to be the main functions of their website, many will still refer to it being an online brochure with the afterthought that there is some phonebook functionality so prospects and clients can find fee-earners’ contact details.

There is less recognition that every time a client or prospect interacts with your website that your analytics is looking over the shoulder of each individual client or prospect (in nearly all professional services firms via Google Analytics). And even if there is recognition of the two-way nature of information exchange when someone visits, analytics is often more seen as ‘a way of optimising our website’.

Although stakeholders do understand the business models for Facebook or Google work by monetizing information about audiences, professional services firms’ stakeholders may not realize that their own website’s analytics can tell them far more about the market in which they operate than about the website itself.

Nor do they necessarily realize that the website’s analytics (with appropriate configuration) is capable of granular tracking of high value activities like when each individual fee-earner is contacted, or that it can fulfil lead generation functions like revealing named companies anonymously visiting your service pages or fee-earner profiles.

Lack of awareness of the sheer size of the website analytics data set

If you told a partner in your firm that there’s no need to check-in with your largest client over the course of the year she or he would likely disagree.

Yet many firms neglect their largest source of market data, their website’s analytics.

One reason for this neglect is confusion about website metrics. Pageviews and session counts while they produce the largest gross numbers are not particularly meaningful or helpful as a top level metric. Even more helpful metrics like Unique Visitors (aka ‘Users’ in Google Analytics) should probably come with an explanation like ‘Users are individuals who visit one or more times over the course of the year only counted once.’

Typically stakeholders just don’t know this key Unique Visitor number, a key indicator of a firm’s footprint in the market. In our polling the majority of webinar attendees didn’t know their website’s rough visitor numbers.

Remember, these were people who had actively chosen to attend a webinar on Google Analytics – if they didn’t know how many visitors their website saw what does that imply about other stakeholders in professional services firms?

Awareness of visitor numbers to professional services firms’ websites

The highest awareness of visitor numbers was for professional services firms in North America (53% knew), followed by Australia (39%), followed by Asia (28%).

Skillset availability

Google Analytics, which has to work for ecommerce websites selling baby food along with professional services firms’ websites, is lowest common denominator. It’s more a tracking and reporting framework – a bit like Excel becomes useful when you build a model corresponding to your firm’s financial metrics and commercial imperatives.

To build friendly and useful website analytics reporting, professional services firms need to:

  • add additional data to default GA metrics such as high value activities or push in names of companies visiting your firm and ideally make small website tweaks
  • build reporting that is structured specifically for professional services firms (which have very different requirements from ecommerce companies) and learn a visual reporting platform development environment
  • be knowledgeable about the pros and cons of individual Google Analytics metrics in different situations (of which there are dozens), and implement appropriate data hygiene measures (garbage in=garbage out)

Both the platform and tracking need to be updated and staff succession issues managed as your website and Google Analytics itself change over time – a rule of thumb in software projects being that 80% of costs are maintenance related. And coding is required – with javascript and regex near the top the list of skills and a data analyst’s salary sitting at around $78k USD pa.

Where there’s lower awareness of the opportunities or skillset requirements for website analytics projects, buy versus build business case analysis isn’t done, with the outcome perhaps being like the early 90s when many law firms were building their own wordprocessing integrations for Microsoft Word or WordPerfect (now replaced by vendor supplied document management systems).

5. Learn more

Watch one of the seminars

  • ALPMA members can go to the continuing education section of their website here for the webinar
  • If you are an ICON member the ‘Using Google Analytics in professional services firms’ webinar is here
  • If you are a Mondaq subscriber you can find the webinar on using Google Analytics in law firms here

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Photo by Señor Codo