Knowledgeable attorneys know that tracking the performance of their websites is important. It goes almost without saying that unless you can analyze and understand what is happening on your site, making necessary and timely improvements will be next to impossible.

Unfortunately, many lawyers seem to focus on a single type of reporting, one that may not be best suited for analyzing actual website performance: the ranking report. I don’t mean to imply that this type of report is obsolete; rankings still have a place in online marketing, and to abandon this metric altogether makes little sense. However, there are various reasons why putting all of your eggs into the ranking basket may be a misstep.

Localization Segments Your Target Audience

In 2012, Google altered its algorithm by implementing what is commonly referred to as the “Venice” update. This change in search function narrowed broad search terms by a user’s geographic location. For example, type “injury lawyer” into Google and the system will return results near to your location. That’s Venice at work.

Obviously, this update to Google’s core search code had immense consequences for attorney marketing (more competition on a local level, shifting emphasis for website optimization, etc.). It also dealt a significant blow to the relevance of ranking reports. In most cases, search results now vary depending on a user’s location, so what one user sees when searching for a term like “injury law firm” might be completely different from a user searching for the same phrase even across city or county lines.

Personalization Is Unpredictable

To complicate the localization issue, Google can also personalize results based on browsing history, not to mention information shared by friends and family. Predicting what search results people see when they have personalization and web history turned on is basically impossible, thus limiting the effectiveness of any generalized ranking report. The report may only be reporting what basic Google users see, those who are not signed in and aren’t engaging with social signals on their browsers. It is possible for users to turn off personalization, but it’s not a guaranteed outcome, and you can’t rely on supposition if you want hard data about your site’s performance.

What Should Attorneys Focus On Instead?

Due to the fact that rankings are not the same for each user, attorneys should primarily be concerned with increases in organic web traffic and web conversions. A steady increase in your site’s traffic month to month indicates a healthy optimization campaign. For a while you might not be on page one of your favorite keyword phrase, but you could be getting traffic from valuable long-tail phrases that are harder to optimize for. Many of these long-tail phrases statistically convert better than generalized searches. If your site has been constructed well and your traffic keeps improving, more inquiries from the site should reach your office, which is the ultimate goal…not rankings.

So, Why Do Legal Marketing Firms Provide Rankings Reports At All?

All of this information should not be construed to mean that rankings are useless indicators, because they aren’t. Sometimes a site’s performance will be directly tied to its rankings for one or two particular phases, and tracking rankings can also help legal marketing firms predict traffic patterns. At the very least, rankings can be utilized as a baseline for performance, but should only be analyzed in conjunction with tools that track web traffic and conversions, like Google Analytics.

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