10 Tips for Marketing Your Law Practice Online

10 Tips for Marketing Your Law Practice Online

Introduction

There are many ways for law firms to market themselves online. The trick is finding the right approach. I prescribe only methods that I’ve tried so I know that they work.

Developments

There are many ways for law firms to market themselves online. The trick is finding the right approach. I prescribe only methods that I’ve tried so I know that they work. Here are an even 10 tips for marketing yourself online.
1. Let visitors sign up to get an e-newsletter on your Web site. If you only follow one tip in this article, let it be this one. It’s the most effective tip of them all. Some sophisticated sites, like that of Hale and Dorr at www.haledorr.com, allow readers to pick from more than 35 newsletters with the ease of checking a box in the sign-up form. The approach has been met with great success by firms like Baker & McKenzie, which distributes its Global E-Law Alert to more than 30,000 readers.

I started my own e-letter, the LawMarketing Newsletter, a few years ago and have built up the recipient list to 6,500 names. It grows by about 25 names per week and just keeps getting bigger. On Tuesdays, I e-mail out my newsletter to readers all over the world and use it to promote new articles on the LawMarketing Portal web site, Webinars that I present, my consulting practice, and advertising messages. It’s a one-to-one, personal communication with each reader.

E-mail newsletters are a tactic that many law firms have adopted. For starters, many law firms have print newsletters, and it’s easy to re-purpose them for electronic distribution. The beauty of e-mail newsletters is that they do not entail any printing or postage costs; e-mail newsletters are cheap to create and distribute. Be sure to note in the newsletter that readers may “freely redistribute it in whole,” which will widen your audience.

They also allow you to collect information about who is visiting your Web site. I recommend that law firm Web sites put a link to their newsletter sign-up page right on the home page. The link should lead to a sign-up form, which requests the reader’s name, title, company, address, e-mail and phone number. Ideally, this information will be saved into a database, which can be used to distribute the newsletter.

2. Send the e-newsletter in HTML format. HTML newsletters are like sending a reader a Web site – all the firm’s graphics, color, and branding are preserved in the newsletter. Sophisticated firms like Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff in Cleveland make sure the newsletter looks exactly like the firm’s Web site and includes links back to the site.

The hidden beauty of the HTML newsletters is that they are trackable. Whenever a reader opens the e-mail or clicks on one of the links in the newsletter, it leaves an electronic marker which can be counted. This way you know exactly how many people actually ready the newsletter and which items they preferred.

HTML newsletters are for small as well as large law firms. Lorne MacLean, one of western Canada’s most experienced family law attorneys, wanted to upgrade clientele. As part of an overall marketing campaign, he put a newsletter sign-up page on his Web site, www.bcfamilylaw.ca. The HTML newsletter was created by eLawMarketing.com at www.elawmarketing.com, which has created HTML newsletters for firms like Benesch Friedlander; Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson in Atlanta; and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York. MacLean touched a nerve, because it turned out that that a lot of people were interested in family law issues. Readers get a newsletter with links to article like “Family Trusts – How to Attack or Defend Them in Divorce Proceedings,” which are displayed on his Web site. The campaign increased his profitability by 200%, won a Your Honor Award from LMA, and gave him enough new business to hire two associates.

3. Become a content provider for AvantGo. AvantGo is a medium that allows users of PDAs or Web-enabled telephones to see your Web content. For readers, AvantGo is a free service that allows them to read the New York Times, Yahoo! and Web sites like the LawMarketing Portal on their handheld devices.

I’ve been an AvantGo channel provider for several years and use it as a fast-growing way to reach high-tech readers. For example, in January 2001, I had only 348 AvantGo subscribers, which grew to 882 in January 2002 and is now at 1,445 subscribers.

The content is a stripped-down version of what a company currently presents on a Web site, deleting the graphics, links, and a lot of the formatting. This makes viewing easier on the small-screen and low-bandwidth connection speeds of handheld devices. Subscribers sign up by visiting www.avantgo.com and downloading software to make the channel viewable.

AvantGo has the largest mobile audience, with eight million registered users worldwide. Companies like GM, American Airlines, and Microsoft provide content channels. Among the law firms is Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan, a 100-lawyer firm in Santa Monica, CA, which created its AvantGo channel in 2000. “We want our content to be available to anyone, in any way they want to find us,” said Andrea Hodges, the firm’s Director of Marketing. “We do a lot of litigation and transactions that are Internet-related,” she said.

An AvantGo channel can be used for direct marketing, client relationship management, or e-commerce. Firms pay $1,000 and up to have a Marketing Channel, according to Daniel Pesikoff of AvantGo. For more information, see http://avantgo.com/products/businesses/marketing_commerce/.

4. Start writing a blog. America became familiar with blogs, which is short for “Weblogs,” during the Gulf war, when readers would go online to follow the experiences recorded in blogs of participants at the front. A blog is an online diary, which displays the writer’s entries in chronological order.

Blogs are the perfect platform for lawyers who always wanted to be newspaper columnists, or who would like to publish short capsules of thought without needing to write a full-blown article. You simply jot down your thoughts or observations and publish them instantly to the Web. The beauty of blogging software is that it requires no knowledge of HTML — you just type text in an online box and click “publish.” What’s more, blogging is free. Just go to http://www.blogger.com/ and register to set up an account; you can be blogging within minutes. I created a blog and you can find it at http://www.lawmarketing.com/blog.html.

Your readers can find your blog by searching for you in Google. Web search engines are always looking for new material, and thus blogs come to the top of many online searches. One of the better-known legal blogs is written by Howard Bashman, head of Buchanan Ingersoll’s appellate practice. He writes a blog on appellate law that gets 50,000 page views a month, including from appellate court judges. Bashman once spotted an error in an opinion and the judge read his blog and corrected the opinion the same day. Another well-known blogger is Ernie Svenson, the tech partner at Gordon Arata in New Orleans. His blog got more than 100,000 page views in first year, and is quoted in MSNBC, ABA Journal, and numerous other publications.

Among the blogs I like to follow are those of Rick Klau, V.P. of Vertical Markets for InterFace Software at http://www.rklau.com/tins/ and Jerry Lawson, President of NetLawTools at http://www.netlawblog.com/.

5. Optimize your Web site for Search Engines. It’s no good having a Web site if no one can find it. You need to tune up your site with elements that Google, Yahoo! and other search vehicles look for.

Nothing beats hot, fresh content. Frequently-updated information is the primary thing that search engines look for. Web sites are supposed to be showcases for new information (not archives of past newsletters and old events), so you should update your site often. Take a look at your Web traffic statistics to see how many referrals you’re getting from search engines now; if Google and Yahoo are not the top two referral sources, you need to put some new content online.

Also take note in your traffic logs of the terms that people are using to find your site. Take the most frequently used terms and make sure they appear in the material you put online. You should also add this information in your invisible code on the home page, and importantly, in the title tags. The information in these tags are not displayed to visitors, but they are directly sought out by search engines.

Several things can deflect search engines and send their roving “spiders” away, so you’ll want to eliminate these offensive items from your Web site. Topping the list are Flash animation, JavaScript and frames; they provide nothing for search engines to index, and they’ll lower your search engine rankings. Instead, put lots of text on your Web site — this is fodder that the hungry spiders want.

“Link popularity” helps raise you in the rankings too. This refers to the number of other sites that have links back to your site; search engines consider them as votes for your site’s popularity. You can tell how many sites link to your site by going to www.alltheweb.com, typing in your URL in the search box, and checking the results. The more links, the better. The way to boost your link popularity is by putting your content on other people’s Web sites. Do this by writing articles for other Web sites, freely granting reprints, and getting involved with newspaper Web sites.

6. Make sure your site has the Three Things business clients look for. General counsel, business executives, and people who retain law firms do indeed go on the Web and will check out your Web site. It’s especially important to set forth what they’re looking for.

Most law firms make the mistake of setting up boring web sites that only talk about themselves The sites are built around the firm’s internal structure, namely their practice areas. This is called “marketing your organization,” and is not effective, because it focuses on what the law firm has to sell. Instead, law firms should “organize around the market,” and build their Web sites around the interests of their visitors. This is effective marketing, but it focuses on what the visitors want to buy. It seems obvious, but most legal Web sites fail to do this.

Executives do not consider themselves to be customers of a practice group. Instead they see themselves as a member of an industry. Accordingly, law firm Web sites should display the following three things:

  1. Experience with industries served.
  2. List of businesses represented.
  3. Examples of client success stories.

If your Web site features these three things, it will be an effective marketing vehicle.

7. Follow directional norms on the Web. This means that your Web site should use a layout that visitors expect to see. Many law firms experiment with cluttered, busy, or unconventional layouts. They succeed in looking different, but make the Web site difficult to use.

According to Web site usability principles, the Web site should mimic the layouts of popular corporate sites that viewers visit frequently. This way they will be accustomed to the layout of your site from the moment they arrive.

The optimal layout for a Web site is to:

  1. Put your logo or firm name in the top left corner. This is where people start reading a book or newspaper, and where they start reading on your Web site.
  2. Offer a set of navigation choices down the left site and across the top of the page. These choices should be “persistent,” that is, they should also appear in the same place on all succeeding pages of the site.
  3. The rest of the page — the lower-right part — should be full of content. This is where you should put news items, newsletter stories, and client successes.

8. Avoid Content Mistakes. There are certain things that appear on many law firm Web sites, mainly because the firm wants to put them there, but not because visitors want to read them. Again, turn to your Web traffic reports and see what people are reading.

Among the things that executives don’t care about and don’t want to read will include:

  • The Welcome From the Managing Partner. This is regarded as “happy talk” that adds nothing to a visit to the site. It’ll contain the firm’s mission, the high principles the firm adheres to, and a lot of other material no one cares about. It’s a holdover from the early days of the Web (way back in 1996) when people thought it was necessary to explain what they were looking at.
  • The Firm History. Typically this is illustrated with sepia-toned photos of Model T cars and views of Main Street before it was paved. The firm history will start with Lawyer A, a white male who was probably the commander of the local fort. One day he met Lawyer B, who represented the general store, and they founded the law firm. Lo, these many years later, the firm is still here. All law firm histories are the same and few visitors want to read them.
  • A Links Page. Another holdover from the early days of the Web are the pages that link to other sites. This is a mistake, because all it does it take traffic away from your site. Further it assumes that visitors will use the law firm site to conduct research. This is usually not the case, because visitors will use travel and chamber of commerce sites to find out about the locale and will go to Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis for legal research.

9. Watch what you say about yourself. As a rule, clients hire lawyers — not law firms. Therefore, the human face of the law firm makes a difference in attracting new business. Your Web bio is your initial introduction to visitors, and unlike random social contacts, you have total control over what you present in your online bio. Exercise this control so that your bio contains:

  • A color photo. It should be recent, so that when people meet you they don’t note to themselves about how you’ve aged or put on weight. It should be high resolution so that publications can use it when they publish an article you wrote.
  • The industries you represent. Your list doesn’t need to be exhaustive — just four or five primary industries that you can talk intelligently about.
  • Representative clients. Potential clients want to know what other companies you’ve worked for, primarily to substantiate your industry expertise. Also, in-house counsel tend to know each other and like to be able to check you out with their counterparts at other companies. Many law firms list representative clients on their Web sites.
  • Business memberships. It is important to list your board memberships and trade association memberships.
  • Articles available on the Web site. If you list an article you wrote, be sure there is a link to it on the firm Web site. Visitors expect your Web site to be interactive, and if the article isn’t available on the Web site, it’s much less impressive.

10. See yourself as others see you, and Google yourself. You are being Googled by your colleagues, employees and your competitors. More importantly, your clients and prospective clients are Googling you to confirm their decision to retain you. They will certainly Google you before they call or ask for your brochure.

Type your own name in the search box at www.Google.com. The worst thing that can happen is that you turn up nothing. This means you are invisible on the Web. Nowadays, many people use the Web to look up phone numbers and addresses instead of the phone book, so to be missing on the Web is a truly notable absence.

Now, Google your firm. Let’s act as if we were a client or curious executive, and Google your firm. Let’s make the test more realistic, and not use the name of your firm. Why don’t we type in “lawyer” and an industry, like “manufacturing” and a city like “Chicago.” Does you firm appear in the first 10 links? If not, you’re going to be pretty hard to find.

Now let’s conduct some competitive intelligence: Google a competing law firm. Search for it the same way as we did before — type in the exact name and see what happens. Do they come to the top of the list? Then type in a few terms that the firm is known for — such as the names of their well-known lawyers or the clients they represent. Does this make their Web site pop to the top?

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Resources

Notes

  1. Larry Bodine, a strategic Web and marketing consultant based in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Larry has helped firms draft marketing plans and coached lawyers in developing individual marketing plans.

See Also

  • Marketing Law Firms
  • Marketing Lawyers
  • Online Marketing Strategies
  • Digital Marketing Course
  • Digital Marketing Trends
  • Internet Marketer
  • Digital Marketing Magazine