I don’t trust marketing. I use ad blockers and I rarely interact with media (like video) that incorporates a lot of marketing. It’s … woolly. One of the biggest trust issues I have with marketing is whether it actually does anything. At some level, I realize it does impact people’s choices. But I’d prefer a verifiable way to see some of that. I want to see if our law library marketing is creating any value.

I was standing on a corner in San Diego the other day, walking home. A baseball fan was walking up and started talking to me. He was headed to a burger joint just down the way. He’d seen their ads on his phone when he’d been at the games – Petco Park is just a few blocks the other direction – and decided he’d grab some of their burgers. Marketing, meet success.

If I had to guess – and remember, I usually walk around with my phone in a Faraday bag and in airplane mode – the app was geolocating and serving ads based on proximity. Perhaps it was Facebook or a San Diego Padres baseball app that provided some additional context about where he was or what he was doing.

If I was a marketer, I’d want the ad to take him directly to the online ordering portal. That way, he could order the discounted burgers and leave a footprint that he arrived from the ad he saw in the app. Actions have consequences.

But there’s always the chance that he just saw the burger ad and didn’t interact with it. Now his choices are disconnected from the marketing. The burger joint may see a spike in burger purchases after baseball games, and may see ad impressions spike during the same time. But an impression isn’t an action. At best, you could guess that exposure mattered.

Rinse. Repeat.

I suppose it’s conventional wisdom that the goal in marketing is effective frequency: repeating the message to create awareness so that the intended audience reacts. That means your awareness campaign needs to be seen multiple times to have any impact. That baseball fan had seen the ads multiple times before he was finally moved to act.

We recently started an ad campaign to raise awareness around the law library. One of the very first things I wanted to figure out was how to ensure we could see the value. I was going to have justify the expense to our governance board but also to myself and our staff, as it was a resource choice.

Like a restaurant, we may not see the connection between someone finding our law library and the method that converted them into a visitor. Did they talk to a friend? Did they talk to a lawyer or court representative? Did they do both AND see our exterior and that was enough to make them come in the door?

This can be complicated because it may be a mixture of sources and we don’t know which mixture resulted in a conversion. One could argue that law library awareness building through advertising is a waste of time because we can’t know the value of the resource expenditure we’re making. Why spend money when you can’t know?

The alternative is to try to close that gap. You may not see the animal move through the forest but you may see signs: tracks in the mud, a broken branch, scent.

We will be repeating our ads to try to meet an effective frequency. But we’re not a burger restaurant. Courthouse law libraries are often once-in-a-lifetime resources. We are investing in the person to become a referrer for when that once-in-a-lifetime event happens.

What about lawyers? What about them? They will use the law library or not regardless of awareness building. Lawyers concerned about overhead will use it to reduce their costs. Lawyers will learn about it from their colleagues and the local bar or judiciary. In any event, lawyers are a substantial minority of the potential audience for a courthouse law library except perhaps in Washington D.C.

There is still a gap between awareness building and service initialization. How do we know someone who walks in the door saw an ad? Or called after doing a search that turned up a web site? We can ask. In some cases they’ll say and in some they won’t. That’s something we’re going to work on.

In the meantime, we’re going to look at interactions at each stage, even if they’re connect. Lots of burger ads in Petco Park? Lots of burgers sold after ball games? Could be something.

Crafting the Ad

I’m sorry if you’ve read a couple of recent posts and think I’m making a bit of a meal of our ad. It’s been something in my head for a long time and it’s been fun to see it come to fruition. Also, law library marketing is evergreen and it’s not simple. One perspective I’ve come around on is that we need to dramatically increase what we spend on awareness or else prohibit anyone from complaining that “people don’t know the law library exist.” Those two things are connected.

I’ve talked a bit about the ideas behind the ad and also how we crafted it. One thing I didn’t touch on is how we crafted it to track interactivity. Like so many organizations, we used a QR code.

That was not the original intention. In fact, I committed the law library to the advertising campaign without any idea or expectation of measurement. It made me very uncomfortable. We do a lot of things without being able to measure the value but they always make me uncomfortable.

But measurement of an ad requires things you can count. I know we have 125 cards up in buses and trolleys across San Diego, primarily in the South Bay and East County areas. That’s not enough to measure.

The initial idea of the ad, though, was to make it accessible to everyone. That means you do not assume that everyone has data and can scan a QR code. Also, the idea was that people would not interact with it right there: check out these databases! find free case law! chat with our law librarians! We do not know if people, seeing this ad, even have a legal issue right now. We wanted them to save us for later.

First ad iteration, without a QR code, of San Diego Law Library “Legal Issue” ad for September 2022 public transit campaign

However, upon completing the ad, we received feedback that the library’s official logo – a square with lines and squares in it – looks like a QR code. Even the ad manager tried to scan it and warned us it wasn’t working. Another impact of the pandemic and the rapid rise of the QR code for all things self-service.

We modified the ad using a custom QR code that incorporates our logo, using a free service called QRCode Monkey. But we left the rest of the information there because we still hope that some people will just take a photo with a flip phone and find us when they, or their friends or relatives, need us.

Second ad iteration, with a QR code, of San Diego Law Library “Legal Issue” ad for September 2022 public transit campaign

If you scan that QR code, above, you’ll get to this address:


Unless you spend any time looking at URLs, you won’t probably notice that end bit. You are arriving at our law library’s web site just like you would if you’d typed in the URL. However, the utm_source code allows us to know you came from the MTS 2022 transit ad. How did we do that? We use an urchin traffic monitor code (RIP urchin) to track clicks.

Measure the Interactions

It’s pretty easy. You just type a question mark at the end of the URL you want to add it to. You type the name of the code you want to use (here’s a short list and they will continue to work with Google Analytics 4) and then the campaign identifier. We used the utm_source code and called the campaign mts2022.

You don’t need special software to make these links. Just type them. You might use them in your online catalog, to show people who clicked from the catalog to one of your cataloged resources on your web site. Or you might use them on an event announcement or a social media post.

You can do some of this without UTM codes. Here’s an example of following a tweet to a story about a law library in Ohio and how you can see interactions. But you do not always have control over referral and tracking tools unless, like Twitter, they expose the data to you.

If nothing else, using a QR code and a UTM code has meant that we can take the leap of faith with some hope of seeing a measurement. Something that could help justify the resource usage. Now we just had to wait and watch and see if we saw any activity.

How would you know? Since it’s a click on QR code, it will probably appear as a direct entry in your web analytics. They are not searching for you or coming from another web site server.

You can create a custom report to find out if there’s any activity. In Google Analytics, click on your web site’s Customization menu (left) and choose Custom Reports. Since we are using the UTM_Source code, create a new report (any title) that has one dimension: Source/Medium (green). Everything else is optional. Click save after you’ve named it and you’re ready to see what’s going on.

That report will return all sources. As you can see below, we’ve had 25 interactions in the first week of the ad running. Is that good? Too early to know. This was bushwhacking for us and I did not have any expectations or targets. I was surprised it was already in the top 4 sources.

San Diego Law Library ad campaign MTS2022 submerged within report on all sources to San Diego Law Library web site for the first week of September.

You can then filter out everything else. This filtering can happen when you create the report too. In this case, I want to be able to see how the MTS2022 is doing on a daily basis. Do we see the same pattern in interactions that we do on the main web site? Are weekends higher or lower?

Same report as above, just with an advanced filter on for “mts2022” to show just those interactions.

More importantly, as the campaign goes along, we can see what people are doing who do interact. In a way, this is like icing on the cake. We have already had our interaction. In fact, we know that people have taken the time to not only look at the ad but have followed the call to action.

Now we can see what people think is important. The user flow report in Google Analytics can also be customized to filter by Source / Medium. So, if I switch to Source/Medium and select just the MTS2022 user interactions, I can see that we’ve had already both English and Spanish speaking visitors (see that one user had a language browser flip at the bottom). This reinforces the decision to include bilingual content (and is not the only Spanish item used in the flow by someone who started with an English page)

Google Analytics user flow report showing source interactions for the San Diego Law Library public transit ad campaign

We can also see the drop off (75%) from the home page, which is not surprising. As I perhaps am overstating, we did not expect a person with an immediate need to interact with the ad. But we can see what they find valuable if they navigate further into the site and how far they get before they stop.

This campaign is in its very earliest stage. First week, totally untrodden ground. But we are running these ads for 2 months. And I am hoping to get a second set running at calendar year end, slightly modified. In the end, I’m glad we used the QR code because I think, as one of our staff said, it’s the best of both worlds. People can save us for later. Or they can scratch their curiosity right away. In the latter case, we can start to gain some insights that we can use for future awareness building.