Is there a best way to measure your website's performance?

Which is more important for my firm’s website: Pageviews, Sessions or Users?


Your own website’s performance can be measured with a wide range of metrics: Unique Pageviews, Sessions, Users, Bounce rate, Medium and Page just to name a few (all these examples from Google Analytics, the free analytics tool that is installed for most lawyers and accountants).

And by cross-tabulating these metrics there are literally thousands of different combinations.

So how do you judge how successful your website really is? Are all these metrics equally valid?

There are two answers to this ‘best metrics’ question, the first answer applies when you’re using a standard Google Analytics (GA) installation, and the second applies where you modify GA (and your website) to track business outcomes like someone contacting an individual lawyer (‘GA Enriched’).

But before getting to the ‘best metrics’, any data is better than none. In too many firms the marketing department has no access to Google Analytics (particularly if the head office is in a different country) but relies on periodic reports from the IT department. With even small firm websites pulling in thousands of individuals a month, GA’s tracking is one of the best sources of information about your market and which tactics are working for you – do try and get direct GA access if you’re in marketing for a professional services firm.

So what metrics do we recommend? In our entry level GA reporting formats for professional services firms (‘GA Lite’ as GA has not been enriched) we tend to focus on three metrics: Users, New Users and Pages / Session.

Here’s what they really mean and why.

Users

When you visit a website running GA for the first time you are given a cookie and when you come back GA recognises you are the same person.

So if we tell you in our reports that lawyer Bill Brown’s profile got 500 Users that basically means 500 people visited Bill’s profile one or more times based on the GA cookie.

We prefer the Users metric because if Sue Smith is Bill’s forgetful girlfriend and visited his profile 200 of those 500 times to get his work phone number we still only count her as one of those 500 users.

Or if the default browser home page throughout your firm is your own website there is less overall inflation of your User numbers than there is Sessions or Pageviews. Similarly, Session (‘visit’) or Pageview numbers are inflated if your marketing team are updating Bill’s bio, or even where someone’s browser is set to re-open previously open tabs.

New Users

For some business development type information (for example in our reports what traffic third party channels are sending to your website) we recommend focusing on New Users. These are again based on the GA cookie but this time we’re only looking at people who have not visited your site previously. If you are paying for syndication via a third party channel like Mondaq or using Google Adwords you probably want to know whether you are being sent genuinely new prospects (New Users) as opposed to the same people over and over.

Pages / Session

The Pages/Session metric we use in our base level GA Lite reporting shows how many pages were visited on your website during a single visit (Session), as a way of judging how interested the User or New User was.

Session technically consists of a sequence of web pages seen with a less than 30 minute gap between page requests (if your website’s Users don’t hit any page for more than 30 minutes their visit or session is considered over and a new one starts when they hit another page).

Pages/Session is therefore a rather rudimentary measure of how ‘engaging’ your website is. It’s rudimentary because of course sometimes your page fully ‘answers’ the User‘s need for information e.g. when someone searches for your firmname and the phrase “contact details” they probably only want your phone number or address. So in that case a Pages / Session metric of ‘1’ is probably ok.

However there is a quirk about the Pages/Session metric which you need to know. GA only counts the Pages / Session metric for a particular page (staff bio, article whatever) when that is the first page visited in a Session. So sometimes you will see a Pages/Session metric of zero (people visited the page but for none of them was it the first page in their visit) or a high number like 20 (because for only one person was it the first page in their visit/session and they then visited 19 other pages).

So Pages/Session is of more validity as a metric where the page concerned has higher traffic and where you would normally want the User to do something else afterwards (i.e. not the Contact Us page).

Comparison periods

An important point about ‘good default Google Analytics metrics’ is that if you are reviewing broader numbers, for example ‘the number of Users in aggregate to your law firm’s publications in the last quarter‘ it’s always a good idea to compare the numbers to the previous quarter or even better the previous year for the same quarter.

We see a lot of seasonality in numbers – for instance for many North American lawfirm websites calendar Q4 and Q1 will be impacted by Christmas and New Year and Q3 will be impacted by the summer holidays. So comparing say Q2 to Q3 may be problematic but comparing Q2 to Q2 in the previous year can be more insightful.

GA Lite versus GA Enriched

Now if you’re starting to wonder if some of these default GA numbers might be less meaningful (or more problematic) than you thought we’re totally in agreement with you.

The answer to the ‘what are the best metrics’ question is completely different once you start enhancing GA (we do this for you as part of our GA Enrich upgrade).

GA Enrich comes with hands-on GA training inhouse for your marketing team and instead of reporting on built-in metrics we build custom reports for you on actual business outcomes, like someone contacting a lawyer via your website.

It’s outside the scope of this article to explain GA Enrich and how it can give you a better understanding of your market and tactics – but contact us and we’d be very happy to run you through some examples.

Photo by Risager