Why Does Scorpion Think Your Data is Theirs?

I received a disappointing email today from a law firm who I’ve been helping assess the efficacy of their current marketing efforts with Scorpion.  Our discovery process centers around performance through Google Analytics and I find again and again agencies who have failed to a) add GA to their clients’ sites (FindLaw is notorious for this) b) refuse to provide any access to the account or c) fallaciously believe that the law firm’s data actually belongs to the agency.  The latter is the case we are dealing with for this Scorpion client.

But let’s stop first and make these points very clear.

  • Your site’s data is your data. Not your agency’s.
  • You should control how it is configured (even if they do it for you).
  • You should control who has access to it.
  • You should be able to take it with you if you leave your agency.
  • You should be able to kick your agency (or ex-agency, or ex-employee) out of the data if you want.

And if anyone is hesitating in any way to provide you with access to your site’s performance you must ask yourself:

What are they trying to hide from me?

Imagine investing in a 401(k) plan without knowing what your annual rate of return was?  Well that’s what you are doing if you don’t have access to your GA account.  And don’t rely on your agency to tell you how well your agency is doing with your agency’s proprietary reporting platform.  Everything you need to know can (and should) be housed in GA – putting you in full control of both the data and the analysis.

Now back to my client’s email:

You told me that I needed to get control of the Google Analytics account. I made the request to Scorpion and they provide “view access” for my gmail user account.  They said that they cannot transfer G.A. because it is a mixed account.  Ignoring the technical feasibility of the transfer, it doesn’t appear that they are willing to transfer the account.
My question- is view access to G.A. account sufficient to obtain valuable information for future effort?  Unfortunately, I don’t have permissions to delegate views to others.
<sigh>
And to the law firm’s last question…. is view access to GA sufficient?  The answer is usually no….  because depending on the configuration of the account, you can’t even view all of the data.  But would Scorpion really hide critical information from you through their configuration of Google Analytics?  You bet they would.  In the graphics below (taken from another Scorpion client), note how the limited Client Access doesn’t show data on things like….. conversions.
scorpion-hiding-data
Kind of important if you are dropping $75,000 monthly on Google Adwords don’t you think? Wouldn’t you want to be able to see if people are actually calling? filling out forms? chatting?  Without that conversion data, you just have to rely on what your agency tells you.
As far as Scorpion’s explanation that “they cannot transfer G.A. because it is a mixed account” goes… remember, we put a man on the moon in the 70s, we should be able to provide appropriate access to a simple website tool. And Google Analytics has had this functionality for years.  Mockingbird does this for all of our clients, as have most of our reputable agency cohorts.  And Scorpion, if you are stuck…. here’s Google’s guide to their User Permissions.

Are Your Partners Sending Fake Traffic?

At the risk of stating the mind-numbingly obvious: accurate reporting infrastructure is of primary importance in evaluating the efficacy of marketing channels.  We’ve recently uncovered two vendors deep in the conversion cycle, whose reporting infrastructure is double and even triple counting website traffic. (This artificially made our own reporting to the client  look much better than it actually was.)

The Issue

The issue at hand is the way conversions are reporting back to Google Analytics data. A good reporting infrastructure is built not only on traffic – but also the frequency of that traffic doing what we want – in the law firm sense, this means (for the most part) filling out an online form or calling the firm.  We’ve looked at two different cases in which both online and offline conversions are being counted as a second or even third session, which means over reporting traffic.

Apex Chat (Online Conversions)

In the case of Apex Chat, we found that when sending chat completion data (as a conversion event) back into Google Analytics, Apex actually sends a new session to GA when chat is engaged and another new session if the chat moderator marks the chat as a prospect.  These are marked as events in Google Analytics as:

  • ApexChat Chat
  • ApexChat Lead

This means, a session generating a lead is erroneously reported as three different website visits. If you dig deeper into those sessions – you see (in the graphic below) them applied to Direct traffic and that they see zero pages and zero time on site.   You’ll also notice – in this case they inflate direct traffic volume by 6%.  Not huge numbers, but not insignificant if you are watching things as closely you should.

Apex

This is simply a very sloppy integration with Google’s API – Apex told us they are aware of the issue and have a resolution; although they didn’t roll it out to us when we requested.

CallRail (Offline Conversions)

The CallRail issue is more difficult, because frankly tracking an offline conversion back into an online reporting system is tactically much more difficult.  Essentially, the phone number identifies the channel that generated the session; however, tying the call back to the specific session is much more difficult. (The work around is to utilize CallRail’s per session based phone tracking, a significantly more expensive alternative.)  But you can see, given the sheer volume of calls generated by a website, that there’s a large inflation of sessions – in this case, they are accurately allocated to the appropriate marketing channel – so traffic for all channels gets artificially inflated.  In our example, this was a sitewide artificial increase of 9%.  In the graphic below, look at the dramatic difference in patterns between the inaccurate (first column of graphs) and accurate (with the duplicated traffic removed) second column of graphs.

CallRail

For now, I’ll reject my internal cynic and reject the hypothesis that some especially crappy agencies are deliberately implementing tools to artificially boost their numbers….. or, hmmmm, maybe I’ve just enabled them with the information to do so.

A Lesson on Understanding Your Website Data

Switching from one marketing agency to another probably feels a lot like trying to cancel your Comcast contract. However, it’s not only hard on the business looking for a new agency, it’s hard on us too. Taking over a client means taking over all of their baggage (good and bad). Don’t be mistaken; we love bringing on new clients regardless of the situation or agency they are leaving, but some situations are certainly more challenging than others.

Some of the common “joys” we experience during this transition include: tracking down login information, cleaning up dirty links, and struggling to get tracking and cost data. The latest joy I experienced was completely out of the ordinary…

The Odd Situation

Let’s take a step back. A couple months ago we took on a new client for a website redesign project moving in to a SEO/advertising monthly retainer (a typical type of engagement for us). We completed the redesign and launched the new site. We did very minimal “SEO” work prior to launching the new site; but we were careful to migrate all the existing content exactly as it was on the old site. Essentially the new website was the old site with a really, really nice facelift. However, something a little strange happened…

In the first period after launching the new site (Mockingbird reports on 28 day periods) we took a 37% drop in organic traffic. Hmmm. I expected traffic to be relatively flat since we hadn’t made any real improvements to the site, aside from adding a few plugins. I certainly didn’t expect a colossal drop in traffic.

Digging Into The Data Like Any SEO Nerd Would

Before conferring with the client, I took an initial dive into the Google Analytics data. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), I found no glaring issues or reasons as to why the site was seeing such a drastic drop. As always, I then called my client and proactively delivered the bad news over a screen-share. I delivered the bad news about their drop in natural search traffic and was ready for questions. Some theories we discussed:

  1. We did site-wide redirects to remove the “.aspx” from the end of every URL. This may have confused Google and the search giant just needed time to adjust.
  2. It was a holiday weekend and we’re dealing with small(ish) traffic numbers so that could have a large impact.
  3. Lastly, we’re dealing with small numbers so a 37% drop seems more drastic then it really is.

After informing my client of the possible reasons for the drop, I had to tell them honestly, “I’m not sure.” That’s not a good feeling. I’m the expert and should know the answer.

On a side note, I will say that all the other data points looked to be going in a positive direction. Local traffic and number of leads generated was up, and the cost per lead was down. Other site metrics looked good too: the site speed had drastically increased, the number of indexed pages took a huge positive spike, our number of impressions grew since the last period, and the average rankings moved up by 5 spots.

Picture proof…

(Increase in website speed)

Time Spent Downloading Page

(Increase in # of indexed pages)

Total Indexed Pages

Feeling unsatisfied with our lack of answers, I dredged through the data again with the goal of finding exactly which pages lost organic traffic. If I could identify a trend in those pages, I could do my best to reverse that trend. This time I found something I missed before.

To find which pages were losing traffic, I looked at organic landing page sessions. If you want to look at your own organic landing page data follow these steps: navigate to acquisition > channels > organic search > change your primary dimension from keywords to landing page. (Full disclosure – there are many ways to parse this same data out of analytics. I outlined my steps.) Upon looking at the landing page URL’s I noticed something really wonky. There were a lot, and I mean A LOT, of URL’s ending in parameters that I had never before seen. Here is an example (very edited to keep anonymity for both my client and the past agency):

sampledomain.com/Criminal-Law.aspx?PPC=Google&PPCADID=3686PPCADEXID=KeywordID=9302&keyword=criminallawyerchicago&matchtype=e&adposition=1t1&random=2569&targetid=kwd-2451538036&network=search&device=m&deviceModel=&networkType=g&physicalloc=90746&interestloc=1022

Allow me to explain why this is so disconcerting (hopefully without losing you in technical jargon). We typically see organic sessions to normal website pages that look similar to this: sampledomain.com/criminal-law/ but instead we were seeing these crazy long and complicated URL endings. In the example URL you’ll see a bolded section “PPC=Google” which tells me this particular URL is used to track advertising (PPC=Google means pay-per-click advertising with Google). Now, it’s not weird to see a tracking parameter like this, but it is weird to see it in the Organic traffic bucket of Google Analytics. The website sessions to this URL should be counted in the paid channel and not an organic channel. Now I knew the data I had reported to my client was inaccurate.

The Results:

Organic Traffic increased by 28% and did not decrease  37%

We actually increased the number of organic sessions in the first period but initially failed to see it because of these “PPC” parameters messing with the data.

The Important Lesson

Dig deeper into the data and always investigate traffic drops and other anomalies to find causation. It’s imperative to report data accurately, don’t give up and settle for a theoretical answer (SEO lends itself to this) when you have an immense amount of data at your fingertips. This point becomes especially important when taking over a client from a different agency. Although Google Analytics is already completely free and built by some of the smartest people in the world, there are companies out there that elect to use their own data tracking software. Be mindful of this when delving into your own data.

Why YOU Must Control Access to Google Analytics

Got this email today from a law firm who has asked us for help because they think their marketing investment might not be worth the spend:

Conrad,
Thank you for taking time to speak with me yesterday.  I requested Google Analytics access from our marketing company and received this response.  Any thoughts?
“The analytic platforms we use are through our private accounts and house all our marketing/seo clients on it. Thus, we are unable to provide individual access for clients to view.”  

AHHHHHHHHH!  This makes me so mad.

Yesterday in reviewing her site we looked into the code and yes, GA was installed (albeit poorly – it was missing on some pages). The only possible conclusions are:

  1. The agency in question is stupid – has inherited the site, doesn’t know GA was already installed, never considered installing it and has genuinely chosen a proprietary reporting system that lumps access across multiple sites into a single log in.
  2. The agency in question is smart – is doing 4/5 of nothing to work on the site and is deliberately hiding data so they can keep cashing their checks.  Oh – and they’d be lying about not being able to grant access to Google Analytics.

Unfortunately, lawyers asking for access (especially admin access) to Google Analytics is often the first step tipping off an incumbent agency that they may be on the chopping block.  Sadly, some immediately turtle up – withdrawing as much as possible and trying to control their own clients information, passwords and access.  That’s what we have here.

Remember attorneys, this is your site, it is your data, it is your performance, it is your prerogative to hold your agency’s feet to the fire.  Google Analytics data (and access to it) is yours to control.  Biggest red flag for any agency is the refusal to share data, let alone putting clients in control of it.

 

Atticus Clients Doubling Traffic

This is the first marketing post I’ve written – granted it is in the guise of an analytical review – but let’s be honest, I’m showing off results here.

Every four weeks I report traffic growth numbers to my clients and I use those numbers to extrapolate an annualized growth rate.  (I use a straight line forecasting – in simple math terms, if you averaged 5% growth during a quarter, your annualized growth rate is 4×5% = 20%.)  Depending on the client, Atticus’ job is to exceed a 25-33% growth over pre-engagement traffic.

Through the end of September, Atticus clients are on track to more than double their traffic with a 103% annualized growth rate. Individual site performance ranged from -7% to 241%.

Q3 Growth Rate

How?

There are a few factors that contribute to this.  First and foremost, I carefully select clients that I’m confident I can make a solid impact for.  Ideal clients have either ignored their website or have worked with large legal focused SEO vendors who have been hammered by Google SPAM penalties.  I flat out refuse to work with clients who have previously worked with one of the few good SEO vendors in the legal industry – as frankly, my improvements on a site that is already well maintained will be small.  Secondly, I work first on those tactics that will deliver the biggest bang for the investment – ideally, this is a technical tweak that has an immediate, large and persistent impact on traffic.   (See an technical fix example here.)

If you are still reading my marketing puff piece, thank you – as David Lobdell  said:

“He who tooteth not his own horn, same shall remain in a state of untootethness.”

Google Adwords Launches Offline Conversion Tracking

 (But it doesn’t really matter for lawyers . . . yet)

In an attempt to provide increased analytical information about an Adwords spend, today Google launched AdWords Conversion Import – which tracks offline conversion (like phone calls) back to the original PPC spend.  (Thus presumably increasing the perceived ROI on Google Adwords and therefore encouraging advertisers to continue to adjust their budgets towards PPC spend. . . but I digress.)

Offline Conversion Tracking from Google

As you can see from the cute Google graphic above, the process is pretty simple but it is really designed much more for an online retail experience than a law firm.  Note that this requires a)the user to fill out a form to store the original click information (known as the GCLID) and b)the advertiser to have a customer tracking database that they record the GCLID in and then reupload that GCLID back to Google once the user converts.  Booo.

Why This Doesn’t Work For Lawyers

  1. Online intake form completion for legal websites anecdotally represents roughly 2-3% of inbound leads.  What lawyers really want is the phone to ring (and Google is clear that this doesn’t work for those inbound phone calls.)
  2. This also requires a back end tracking database.  While there are a few solutions (including, ahem, Avvo’s Ignite Suite) that do provide sophisticated CRM for lawyers, very few law firms have actually adopted them.

But Wait . . .

One of my favorite pastimes is reading the Google tealeaves and prognosticating changes in direction and new product features.  Between tracking phone numbers in Adwords and the huge push into the small business realm (think restaurants, plumbers, auto repair, lawyers etc.) things are changing.  Better conversion tracking for small businesses that rely on phone calls for the vast majority of their conversions is coming soon.

 

 

How to Check your Access Level in the New Google Analytics Interface

I’ve recently been on a series of rants about the importance of controlling exclusive access to key high level log in credentials to control you web presence.  This post started as a step by step email instructions to a law firm whose agency either couldn’t figure out the new Google Analytics Interface or was too lazy to bother.  I decided to post it as a blog instead so anyone could read it.

Working with the new Analytics interface to add users or change their permissions is different, but mindnumbingly simple if you know where to look.  (In fact there are now 4 tiers of permissions instead of 3.)  Below I’ll show you a)how to check to see if you have “add user” level access – which as a site owner you MUST have and b)add/modify user permissions once you’ve cleared the previous hurdle.

NOTE:  If you don’t have “add user” level access to your own Google Analytics account – immediately go and scream at your agency/consultant/self-professed search expert until they make that change.  Then remove that level of access to everyone except yourself.  (And hide that password away very securely and carefully.)

Step 1:  Log in to Google Analytics.

Step 2:  Click “Admin” in the top left hand corner.

admin

Step 3:  If “User Management” is grayed out and you can’t click on it you don’t have the high level access to your own Analytics account that you should.  Talk to your agency.

Step 4:  Once you can click on “User Management”, you’ll find a very easy interface to add accounts (or change permissions to existing accounts).

Simple.  All done.

Your Website – Three Things You Absolutely Must Control

I continue to run into attorneys who don’t really have control over their website – due to vendors who have set up certain systems, but retained high-level log in credentials (and failed to supply their clients with similar credentials.)  In common English please – Lawyers should have exclusive control and access at the highest administrative level to log ins for their Domain, their Host and this Analytics account.  In priority (and technical complexity) order:

Domain

As I’ve written before, if you don’t own your domain, you are essentially leasing someone else’s website.  As a most insidious practice, some legally focused online marketers are getting their clients to pay for search consulting services and eventually upping the price or reselling the domain to the competitor across the street.  This is the real estate equivalent of a landlord forcing a tenant to paying for upgrades to an apartment and then turning around and charging extra for the upgraded space.  Not sure if you “own” your domain?  Find out at Who Is.

Hosting

You need high level access to your websites hosting provider in order to do a variety of back end things – like changing an email provider, moving hosting solutions and exporting your site’s content database.  While you may want technical assistance in performing these tasks, you must have access in order to do so.  Calling up your old SEO begging for passwords can be a drawn out, frustrating process.

Analytics Log In

For the most part, when I say “Analytics” I mean Google Analytics. Your Google password can then be used across the entire Google ecosystem –Analtyics, Adwords, Email, Webmaster Tools etc.  Having admin level access here enables you to invite others to view (or work on) any of these accounts. Thoughtlessly gifting this level of access to a vendor enables them to read your mail or create new accounts to access your performance after you fire them (recent occurrence with a client and vendor both of whom will remain unnamed).  You should have exclusive high level access.  Note that Google Analytics has recently changed their interface (confusing every non-regular user).  Carefully select access for your vendors among the following options (and never include “add users”):

 

Control

Entrust your vendors with the performance of your website, but never abdicate control of it to them.

 

UPDATE:  Check out Steve’s comment below for an approach your agency should be using.

Stop Sending Me Your Google Account Log In Credentials

I frequently speak with attorneys who are only too eager to hand over their log-in credentials for the Google Analytics account.

Stop doing it.

You are not just opening the kimono – you are taking it off and throwing it away.  Here’s why:

  1. Once you’ve finished sharing this data with me, you’ll have to change your password; otherwise I’ll have ongoing access. This is easy to do, but few ever consider it.
  2. Most law firms don’t run their email through google and  because you must use a Google Account to access Google Analytics, many of the log-ins are personal google email accounts.  (While you can associate a non Google email address with your Google Account, very few do.)  Sending me over your personal account to log in to your company’s Google Analytics account means I can now read your personal gmail . . .
  3. If this is the primary business account (either a solo lawyer or the marketing department), the log-in also opens up access to Google Webmaster Tools, Google Adwords etc.
  4. By default your account probably has administrator access – which means you can add and delete users as you see fit.  Now that you’ve sent me your credentials, so can I.  

Note that if you rely on your agency to set up Google Analytics for you THEY will have your administrator level access.  This is something you should check and change immediately if it is the case.  (I’ll show you below how you can tell if this is the case.)  Demand your agency make you the sole administrator and then grant them “user” level access.

What does this look like in the real world?  Recently, I transitioned a client (who will remain nameless) from their existing agency (who will also remain nameless) to Atticus.  When reviewing the client’s Google Analtyics account, we discovered that a new, innocuous sounding administrator-level account (marketing@example.com) was created just prior  to the switch.  My client swears that she not only didn’t create it but wouldn’t know how to.

Setting Up User Level Access in Google Analytics

You can avoid all of these problems by simply granting user-level access to Google Analytics.  Here’s a step by step:

Log in to Google Analytics and Select the Appropriate Website

analytics login

Click Admin

analytics 2

 Select the Users Tab

analytics 3

Click the “+New User” Button

analytics 4

Add a User with “User” Permissions.

Note that you can get more complex with what people can and can’t see – if you want to explore, here’s the Google Documentation.

analytics 5

 

Done.