I was talking to someone recently about information access. Their organization had created an information resource that had grown out of control. As every law librarian knows, to create a resource – a pathfinder, libguide, whatever – you need inputs. Those inputs eat up resources: time to create and manage alerts, to read and cull outputs, and then to merge the results into the final resource. This person wanted to know about how to deliver the information better. I asked whether they knew if anyone even needed the information?

One of the recurring fascinations I have with information is people creating things without measuring their use. We spend people-weeks on pathfinders and other online tools. Law libraries that create aggregated, topical emails to their lawyers are probably into people-months. Just because the end result is free to use doesn’t mean it was free to make.

If we put a book on the shelf that cost $1000 and no-one read or used it, we would stop buying updates. After awhile, we’d toss the book if shelf space or other needs demanded it. Collection management is resource management; it’s decision-making about how we’re going to use our money and our people’s time. But when it comes to online content, it seems more common to just create and leave things in place.

Use Analytics

Obviously you should be using website analytics. I prefer Matomo’s analytics (f/k/a Piwik) because it’s open source and doesn’t report visitor web usage back to an advertising company like Google. But Google’s analytics are powerful for small and non-profit organizations who can’t run their own analytics applications.

Hosting platforms like WordPress and SquareSpace have their own built-in analytics. WordPress.com uses Automattic’s JetPack on the free level and you can pay for Google Analytics access. JetPack is better than nothing and you might try it before paying for more detailed analytics.

So the baseline is this: before you make a decision to continue or improve an information resource, understand if it is being used. Your analytics will tell you. An upward trend is worth continuing your investment in. A flat or downward trend should cause you to ask questions.

Market Wisely or Not at All

At this point, there is usually a call for the law library to engage in more marketing. If only more people were aware. If only we could communicate how valuable the resource or service is.

If only. Low use doesn’t mean that a resource – or a law library – needs more marketing. Sometimes people just don’t want to buy what you’re selling.

My advice, to the person who was looking for options, was to measure. Then, if there was an interest in keeping it, shifting it from a flat resource to an context focused on updating. Something like a blog, that is followed, or an email newsletter. Both share qualities that are advantageous:

  • People can get updates by opting-in
  • Updates can be delivered to their device (email inbox, news reader) without returning to the website

It also allows for some customization that a single flat resource can’t provide. A page of links will often be too general a resource for any given audience. A blog post or an email can be tailored more closely to the why of a visitor, so that they will want to see updates.

Measure Your URLs

Even better, though, is that you can use campaign marketing. You do not need a marketing campaign to do it, but it allows you to understand whether your marketing creates conversions. If you decide to keep a resource and that you will market it, you should measure whether your marketing makes an impact.

You will have seen campaign tags in URLs that you’ve clicked in emails and social media. All of those links with an urchin tracking monitor (UTM) element in it. Urchin was Google Analytics’ predecessor, so UTM works with Google Analytics. It is also supported in Matomo, depending on what you want to track.

Most law libraries I know don’t do extensive marketing, so there’s no need for extra software to create UTM links. Google has a helpful page on how to build them and the elements you should include. They also offer a simple URL builder, so that you can type in your elements and get a result without inserting all the elements by hand.

Most of this is self-explanatory. Law libraries tend not to have complicated online personas. The website URL might be your organization, or your corporate intranet, or your Libguides or other online resource.

The campaign source – or referrer or referer if you’ve read my recent posts – is where people are coming from. Your monthly newsletter, for example. The web page version of your newsletter would have a different campaign medium from the email version. Those differences are where you start to figure out how people reach your site.

Email marketing companies like Mailchimp or ConstantContact will do the UTM work for you. Social media sites may obfuscate your URL, so that a link on Twitter becomes https://t.co/…. but the UTM will register when it hits your site.

If you use other URL shorteners, like Bit.ly, you can still use your UTM-filled URL in the shortener. Just paste it in instead of the base URL.

If you’ve ever wondered how people reached your law library’s resources, now’s your chance. You can see how often your tweets are clicked on or interacted with. But campaign analytics will give you more information to understand whether the interaction was useful.

If, for example, your law library serves a geographic region, you would now be able to see those who interacted with a link in the context of their visit. If my Canadian law library’s tweet was clicked 20 times but 19 of those were by people in California, that’s not valuable to my library. Different Ontario.

A closer eye to your marketing can help you determine whether you should use and stay on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. It can help you understand whether visitors are finding your resources on their own or whether your marketing helps them find them. The resulting analytics will help you to measure whether your current resource deployment is worth it.