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Digital Marketing
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Digital Marketing Primer

Online Marketing Is Much More Than Your Law Firm Website

Today your law firm has to be everywhere potential clients are looking.

By Mark Homer

So far in this digital marketing series, we’ve talked about defining your marketing strategy, building your law firm’s brand “by design” and improving your intake/sales process. Now, it’s time to talk about your web presence.

When law firms come looking for help using digital marketing strategies to build sales, most start by saying they need a new website or that their website isn’t driving enough leads. But there is too much of a singular focus on a law firm’s website. I also think the digital marketing agency world helps perpetuate this by focusing on website audits as a crutch to highlight all the problems with a law firm’s online marketing efforts.

Yes, a website is important, and your law firm needs one to achieve long-term success. However, your site is only a part of your overall web presence.

How “Web Presence” and Search Have Evolved

Twenty or even 15 years ago, you could simply build a basic website and list the URL on your business card or Yellow Pages ad. Of course, marketing online has changed a bit since the year 2000. Merely having a website and checking off the “online marketing” box is not enough of a strategy anymore.

Before I talk about action steps for marketing your firm today, I’d like to make sure you understand why. So, here’s a quick review of how digital marketing has evolved, and what your web presence means now.

Changing Demographics and Expectations

Typically, demographics are one of the main reasons marketing trends change. You’ve probably read about marketing and managing to the baby boomer, Gen X, millennial and Gen Z populations. Marketers focus on these groups because knowing what influences different sections of the overall market allows us to craft the right messaging to reach them.

Let’s assume the population range for your law firm clients is mid-20s to early 60s. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the generations spanning those age ranges would have been baby boomers and Gen X. Baby boomers came of age before personal computers, and gradually adopted technology. Therefore, marketing to boomers using magazines, billboards and radio was effective. A website became just another “brochure” for those with internet access.

Fast-forward 20 years and Gen Xers and millennials make up the majority of your target demographic. These are your current and future clients. They rely on the internet and social signals — including online reviews and social media — to make big decisions. They use search to find solutions to their legal issues.

Just 15 years ago, having an online presence meant simply having a website. Most of the sites people visited were due to a referral or because they saw an actual URL in a print ad, brochure, print directory or a business card. Instead of actively searching for information online, most people simply typed the URL into the browser’s address bar. Even though Google and reviews sites like Yelp existed, much of the target market population didn’t understand how to use them.

Today, however, we have numerous options when looking for information online. Prospective clients use voice search, social media, traditional Google search (including the all-important Google My Business), sites like Yelp, apps like Thumbtack, and of course, some still ask their friends for a referral.

So it no longer makes sense to rely only on your law firm website to market your practice. You don’t know precisely where on the internet potential client will be looking for services. To maximize your visibility and your marketing budget, your firm has to be everywhere potential clients are looking.

Your Firm’s First Impression Is Everything — and Rarely Starts With Your Website

Think about it: On an average day, how many times do you open an app on your phone to perform a task, check-in with colleagues on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, and search Google for answers to questions? How many times do you go to Google to visit a website when you probably know the URL and could type it directly in the browser address bar?

In addition to all the choices available when looking for information, today’s consumer has an attention span under eight seconds, according to a study by Microsoft.

Your potential clients have grown up with Twitter, text messaging and YouTube. They expect information quickly and without effort. And, yes, right on their heels is a new generation fueled by Snapchat and TikTok.

So, a good portion of your target market is not as inclined to visit a website and spend five minutes reading content, deciding if they are going to take the next step, and then calling you. Instead, many will do a Google search, quickly skim reviews and the headlines of your content, and then make their decision.

Enter the Search Engine

For those of us who remember a time before the internet, it is incredible to think people now turn to the web for information on potentially sensitive and often complex legal issues. Little by little, search engines— and companies like Amazon, Apple and Facebook — have trained us to use the internet to find answers to any problem. Need a book on your doorstep tomorrow? Use the internet. Need directions to that new restaurant? Use the internet. Missed the big game and want to know the score? Use the internet.

And, of course, it provides answers to legal questions as well.

In fact, for many people, using the internet to research a legal issue has an advantage over other methods of inquiring about legal services: privacy. Legal matters are different from many other problems. For car or plumbing problems, it’s not a big deal to consult a friend or colleague. However, many legal matters — bankruptcy, criminal charges or divorce — are personal problems people want to keep to themselves. What better way to keep issues private than to use a machine to search for answers?

We also have to consider the internet is proving to be successful in helping people address their questions and issues. Today, over 80% of consumers under 55 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Obviously, consumers feel online research is benefiting them.

When researching online, the first place most people visit is a search engine — Google, Yahoo, Bing and others. For our law firm clients, traffic from Google accounts for over 87% of all search engine traffic, so while you shouldn’t ignore Bing and Yahoo, I will focus mostly on Google.

Search engines are unique in that they serve to help a user solve any problem or answer any question. This is in contrast to other websites that have a specific purpose: ESPN offers a recap of the game, Amazon sells a product, Facebook facilitates interactions with your friends and family, and so on.

When people need help solving a legal problem, they often begin by doing a general search about their issue or question. They may not even know they need a lawyer at the beginning of their search. However, once they spend time researching a complex legal problem, we hope they will come to the obvious conclusion they need an attorney’s help.

Search Marketing vs. Interrupt Marketing

Marketing to increase your visibility in search engine results is different from other forms of marketing, such as “interrupt marketing.” For instance, when your TV program is cut off for a “commercial break,” the magazine article you are trying to read is interspersed with print ads, or your Facebook feed is filled with display ads vying for your attention, this is interrupt marketing. You frequently experience it and may not even realize it.

With search marketing, the user is declaring they have a specific problem at that moment and are seeking a solution. Being the firm that appears in search engine results with the answer to someone’s question is extremely powerful. To the searcher, Google is essentially putting its stamp of approval on your firm’s content if you are on the coveted first page of results.

Organic Search Results vs. Paid Search Results

The average user, searching for a criminal defense attorney or a car accident lawyer, is seeing search returns on Google within milliseconds. What they don’t see is a simple list of law firm websites in that town. Instead, the user sees ads, maps, directory websites like Expertise.com, Avvo and even Thumbtack. When you look at returns on mobile devices, it may take four or five full swipes before you even see an actual law firm website.

Therefore the average user is likely to click an ad, one of the listings in the local “map pack,” or one of the directory websites with catchy titles saying “best rated criminal attorneys.” This entire process might take five seconds, maximum. If the user does not like the website or reviews seen on their first click to a site, they hit the back button and click the next search return. In total, they may spend less than 25 seconds per search.

This is why people talk about the importance of being ranked in the “map pack” or the top of the organic listings. Whether on mobile or desktop, the average user rarely clicks on the search returns at the bottom of the organic listings.

Did you know that about 95% of Google’s yearly $45 billion revenue comes from advertising? When people search on Google, a small text ad appears, seeming relevant for their search, and sometimes they click on it. The advertiser pays Google when that ad is clicked. This is the pay-per-click, or PPC you often hear about. If people stop coming to Google to search, the company loses its biggest revenue source. Because of this, Google is highly motivated to provide the best search result it thinks users want.

Google knows people come to its search engine for answers to their questions. If they don’t find the answer quickly, they will stop checking Google and go elsewhere. Unfortunately, your law firm’s best answer to a legal question and what consumer behavior is telling Google’s algorithm are often very different.

But It’s More Than Just Search Now

Having a website is still essential, but after users search for answers to their legal problem, you can’t control whether they click over to Expertise.com, Yelp, Facebook, a YouTube video — or a law firm’s GMB profile without ever leaving Google.

That means you need to be everywhere a potential client can find information about your firm:

  • Social media. You should have a Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn presence.
  • GMB. You should make sure your Google My Business profile is the best in your area.
  • Legal directories. You need a presence on review and directory websites, specifically legal directories. Sites such as Expertise.com, Thumbtack, FindLaw, Avvo and Lawyers.com often show up in search engines first, above actual law firm websites. Unfortunately, most consumers don’t know that these sites make little effort to vet the law firms showing up in their results. Since you likely have profiles on these sites (even if you’ve never registered), at minimum, claim and update those profiles. Make sure your information is correct and up to date wherever your firm appears.
  • Reviews. Reviews are one of the most critical pieces of your online presence. According to the BrightLocal study cited above, 82% of users read reviews to determine whether a local business is good or bad. These users expect reviews about your law firm as well.

Now that you understand why it is so important to have a strong web presence, and not just a strong website, stay tuned for my next articles where I will go into more detail on the places you need to be and the tactics you can use.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Mark Homer Mark Homer

Mark Homer is CEO of GNGF, a leading law firm marketing agency. At GNGF, Mark leads the team to help empower and educate law firms to grow their practice. He is co-author of “Online Law Practice Strategies” and often speaks around the U.S. on marketing and social media ethics for law firms. Download GNGF’s latest guide, “Know Your Legal Marketing ROI,” here. Follow Mark @mark_homer.

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