Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yelp, Google and Consumer Reviews of Lawyers

Late last week, Google and Yelp looked like they were ready to join forces - to the tune of $500MM+ for the Yelp team. Now, the deal appears to be off. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn't, but it did surprise me what a non-story this was for lawyers looking to advertise their business online. Why did that suprise me? Because it was a huge story for other local advertisers.

ExpertHub operates in the Bay Area, and Yelp is incredibly strong here. It's amazing how many small businesses have tapped into Yelp to build their businesses. I recently found an auto mechanic through Yelp. In general, my expectation for the techno-savviness of local small businesses is pretty low. However, I was impressed with this shop. Great service and you could tell they were using a lot of low cost technology (i.e. automated email follow up, email coupons, etc). When I showed up for the first time, the guy at the front desk asked me how I found them - I said Yelp. He smiled and clicked on the Yelp field on my customer record . . . seemed as if he hadn't clicked on anything other than Yelp for some time. I also recall a conversation at a cocktail party with a pediatrician in San Francisco (she is the wife of one of my classmates from school). As a relatively young doctor, she had built a flourishing practice is no time in San Francisco - almost completely through Yelp. Interestingly, neither one of these success stories pays Yelp anything, but apparently enough local businesses do to keep 200 staff at Yelp busy and to interest Google in spending a pretty penny for the company.

However, in the last 18 months, I've only come across a handful of lawyers that generated a material amount of business from any consumer review sites, including Yelp, Google, and even Avvo. As a consumer and market researcher, I look for good review sites for lawyers and have not come up with anything particularly interesting. I think there are two reasons for this:
  1. Consumer review sites are pretty easy to game. The only way you overcome this is to have a lot of reviews. The way you get a lot of reviews is to have a lot of interactions with consumers. This generally isn't the case with legal services. If you hire a divorce attorney, DUI lawyer, or want to file a personal injury lawsuit, it's pretty unlikely (hopefully) that you are back in the market in 6-9 months for the same type of attorney. I saw the Yelp COO speak at the last Kelsey Group conference and he mentioned that it took 18-24 months in a market before they had enough reviews for the product to be valuable for consumers. He also mentioned that they did and continue to invest a ton in technology to screen out fake reviews. Its hard to find any examples where you have 4-5 lawyers that all have 20+ reviews so that you can make an educated decision (that is, one that is not easily gamed).
  2. Chances are, a consumer's opinion of the quality of a lawyer they just worked with is not a signal for the true quality. Several obvious reasons for this: a) you may not know the quality of the work for years to come (as in, my prenuptial agreement is terrible but it was written 10 years ago), b) you only get one shot at a case, so its hard to say whether another lawyer could have done better or worse and c) you probably need to be another lawyer, or know quite a bit about the law, to know whether or not any individual work product is high or low quality.
Clearly, consumers of legal services need a better way to evaluate prospective attorneys. However, it does not appear as if Yelp is the answer - at least not yet.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Using Public Relations to Build Web Traffic

One of the most tried and true methods for building awareness for lawyers or a law firm is to be involved with a newsworthy case. The same is true for online marketing - but it has a more important benefit - links. Given the incredible number of news sites and blogs that re-purpose news and add their comments to it, your SEO efforts can be a lot more effective by getting some PR.

Lawyers that took on these high profile criminal cases have definitely tapped into the PR stream.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Google Local Business Center and Local Search

If you have been using Google regularly over the past few years, you've probably noticed how Google has started including Google Maps results for various search phrases. Depending on the phrase and the individual user's search history, Google determines if and where to include results from its local business center in the search results.

In general, if the search phrase is obviously local in nature such as "divorce lawyer san francisco, ca" Google will show the results from Google maps prominently. If the search phrase is more general, such as "divorce lawyer" or "divorce," the local results are pushed down or non-existent.

If your firm is not taking advantage of the free listings offered by Google, you should. Here are a couple of handy links to check out:
  • Google's Local Business Center User Guide
  • Getlisted.org. Enter in your firm name and your zip code and you'll see how your listings look at major search engines. The site also includes lots of tips and advice on how to get the most out of your listings.

With estimate that 40% of web searches are "local," local SEO is becoming more important and more complicated. While it's unlikely that submitting your firm to Google's local business center is going to be sufficient for your online marketing goals, it's a great way to get some additional free exposure for your firm.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ethics Rules v. Hot Startup: What Makes Sense for Consumers and Lawyers?

I've been following a couple of developments in the local/legal Internet advertising market that seem to highlight the disconnect between product innovation and lawyers looking to leverage these innovations to build their practice.
  • The first involves an ethics complaint filed by a Connecticut attorney who seems annoyed by the pay-per-lead advertising model used by Total Attorneys. This attorney is categorizing this advertising model as an illegal referral agency.
  • The second involves the winner of the TechCrunch 50 contest, a new company called Red Beacon. Red Beacon, started by two former Google product guys, sets consumers up to "Compare prices and book an appointment for any local service." Red Beacon takes performance-based advertising to the extreme - they only get paid (10%) if the local professional gets paid.

As we sell online advertising to lawyers every day, I'm acutely aware of the general disdain that many lawyers have for referral services. Their disdain is understandable - traditional referral agencies take anywhere from 25-33% of the total fees collected as compensation for qualifying a potential client and making an introduction. That's a healthy chunk of change.

However, the aversion to referral agencies is not just economic. I remember speaking to a friend of mine about legal marketing. My friend is a lawyer (and a successful internet advertising exec) and he told me that he was trained that lawyers should not "sell." Rather, they were members of a "learned profession" doing a "public service" by performing legal services for clients (at $500/hr).

Put those two traits together and you can understand the scorn towards the lawyers operating referral agencies. Typically, they are perceived as the "hustlers" and "ambulance chasers" that cause their profession to lose its prestige. But, is that really what is going on at Total Attorneys when they charge you $65 for a bankruptcy lead? What about Red Beacon when they charge you 10% of what you collect and ask you to compete for the consumer? Seems more like they are looking to make the advertising more performance driven . . .

Not sure where the ethics committees will weigh in on the Total Attorneys case . . . but one thing is clear: the Red Beacon product is a non-starter in the legal field (for now). Last week, an attorney told me that she was "not going to run to the phone and compete for the client like she was a house painter or general contractor." So, I'm spending $5,000-10,000 getting my house painted and those guys should be price shopped. But, not an attorney charging anywhere from $2,500 - $10,000? Does that make sense to you?

The funny thing is that consumers want businesses to compete for their business. That's why Red Beacon was so intriguing to the Tech Crunch guys and the venture capitalists.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Overview of Online Marketing for Lawyers

Last weekend, the CA Bar held its annual meeting in San Diego. I was fortunate enough to present an hour long session on online marketing for lawyers. Earlier this year, I attended the solo and small firm summit in Oakland, CA and I was utterly shocked at the misinformation that was being presented to lawyers (by those claiming to be "Internet Marketing Experts") looking to use the Internet to generate new business for their firm.

The one statement that caused me to fall out of my chair was when one "law firm marketing expert" claimed that he could show lawyers to how effectively market online for free. His evidence that his approach worked was that when you searched for his name (which we will not mention to avoid mudslinging), there were over 400,000 webpages that had his name on it. So, if you paid his consulting fees, he would show you how to do this (btw, doesn't that make it not free?).

To illustrate how silly that is, go ahead and search for your name. When I search for mine, Google comes back with 303,000 webpages. It doesn't take long to realize that most of these sites have nothing to do with me. Turns out that there are many people named "Steve Lombardi" including a professional wrestler, a bodybuilder, a lawyer and some web designers. While I would have enjoyed wrestling in the WWF in the 80's, I didn't. If you go deeper into Google's search results, you'll realize that the vast majority of these web pages don't even have my name on it - they might have my first and last name on different parts of the page and so Google brings back the results. Point is, this is not a relevant metric for evaluating the efficacy of your online marketing.

My response to this nonsense was to start this blog so that lawyers would have a resource to turn to for basic information (and sometimes advanced) about online marketing. Back to the presentation . . .

I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout for the session - about 70 attorneys or so. There were non-stop questions throughout the session and about 10 attendees approached me after the session with incredibly positive feedback.

Anyway, here is the presentation. If you are a lawyer and have any questions about online marketing, please don't hesistate to contact me. There are too many short term scam artists out there over-promising and underdelivering and it dampens the potential for the entire industry.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Use Competition for Legal Services as an Opportunity

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from lawyers on a daily basis is dealing with consumer inquiries that do not turn into paying clients. The top complaints I hear about leads generated from the Internet are:

  1. The consumer is just looking for free advice.
  2. The consumer is price shopping.
  3. I don’t want to compete with other lawyers for a client.
While these observations from attorneys are accurate, Internet usage is growing every year and there should be little doubt that the way consumers evaluate and purchase legal services will increasingly involve the Internet. Further, the quality of the information available online to consumers will continue to improve (if you doubt that statement, think about what has already happened to realtors and car dealerships).

Although I do not practice law, I have worked in the Internet advertising industry for the last 10 years. Even more so than legal services, Internet advertising is intensely competitive and prospective clients are very demanding. However, I’ve learned that the best approach to building a business is not to wish that the market were different, but to figure out how to operate most effectively.

Below is my 3 step prescription for operating in an increasingly online world.

Embrace price shopping and competition
In a free market economy, there is no possible way to avoid competition and price shopping. In fact, market research shows that consumers are more likely to purchase a product and service when they have choice (more specifically, the highest purchase rate occurs when consumers are able to evaluate 3-4 alternatives. (If you think about it, it’s intuitively obvious. . . you are less likely to buy a car or house if you only look at one. And if you evaluate 50, you get information overload and do nothing).

Just because you have competitors that are cheaper doesn’t mean that the cheapest guy will always win. I’ve never operated a business that was the absolute cheapest alternative. However, you do need to make sure that the value that you provide is the highest (for you marketing geeks out there, “value” is defined as the perceived benefit divided by the perceived cost). If the value that you deliver to your clients is low, there is little that any advertising can do to overcome that.

Offer free advice (within reason)
Almost all service businesses offer some free advice, as it’s a great way to differentiate your service from the competition. The key to doing this profitably is knowing how much to provide. As a general rule, the greater the revenue potential, the more free advice you are going to have to give. Investment banks and Madison Avenue advertising agencies will give away months of “free” services for the opportunity to land a multi-million dollar account. Shoe salesman will measure your foot and check the stockroom to see if they have your size (if you go to Nordstrom they might throw you a free compliment or two).

When it comes to legal services, consumers expect some time from you to review their case and for you to explain how you would handle it. Sure, there are a handful of do-it-yourself’ers out there, but many people start off on their own only to realize that they really need a professional (why else would Home Depot make so much money off of professional installations?).

Publish as much information as you can about your practice online
More than anything else, consumers use the Internet to do research. The more you publish about your practice, the more information a consumer can gather about you and your practice. Sure, it takes time to write something intelligent, but the more you publish, the easier it will be to differentiate and build value for your firm AND the less time you will need to spend on giving out the same free advice to each and every consumer that contacts your firm.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Common Lawyer SEO Mistake: Keyword Envy

I was speaking with a lawyer the other day that told me, “if you want to generate case leads via search, there are only a few keywords that matter and even then, it only matters if you are in the top 3 positions.” While it is true that having a top search position for a highly searched phrase can generate traffic, it's a bad SEO strategy. Here's why:

  • Personalized search results.A few years ago, Google started personalizing the search results based on your search and click history.So, what you see is not necessarily what the average consumer sees or what any individual looking for a lawyer sees.
  • Changing consumer search patterns. Earlier I posted a entry on ReachLocal and a ReachLocal salesperson commented that a significant part of their strategy was to target longer search queries.Their observation was as follows: “The average length of a search query has gone from 2 words 10 years ago (like 'dui attorney') to now more than 4 words (Aggressive DUI Attorney Alpharetta).”I absolutely agree with this change in consumer behavior because we’ve seen it in our analytics data as well.As search queries expand by 1 or 2 words, the combination of search queries grows exponentially, making the “few keywords that matter” strategy less effective.

    So, if you fixate on a short list of keywords and the top 3 search positions, you’re missing the boat on search. To share some data:
    • On a site rich with content that helps consumers find a lawyer, like lawfirms.com, our top keyword only accounted for 1.1% of our search traffic. The top 50 keywords only accounted for 9.7% of traffic.
    • Our immigration lawyer site, usimmigrationlawyers.com, has the top position on Google for “immigration lawyer.”While this keyword has high search volume and we have the top position, it still only accounts for 12% of our traffic.And the top 50 only account for 38% of traffic.
    Capitalizing on organic search demands that you publish more information about your practice and that you broaden the keywords that matter to you.In the end, what matters most to lawyers is connecting with the consumer that is looking to hire an attorney. To do this, you have to cast as wide a net as possible.

    Monday, July 6, 2009

    Why SEM is Not Necessarily Faster Than SEO

    I was recently discussing with a well known mass tort lawyer various myths and tactics for generating consumer inquiries via the Internet. While the folks at this firm were not search marketing experts, they were far from novices. This firm was particularly interested in getting inquiries from consumers that had lost their sense of smell by using Zicam. Because there was time sensitivity to the campaign, the firm had believed that SEM was the best approach. Their approach was as follows:

    • Register a domain with the words “zicam” and “lawyer” in it.
    • Build a 1-2 page site with a lead collection form
    • Buy related keywords on Google and watch the leads come in.

    While there is nothing wrong with this approach, through the conversation it became clear that the firm had placed too much (IMO) value on a domain name that had relevant keywords in it and had felt SEO was going to take too long to be effective. The execution of the above strategy, while relatively timely, took about 5-8 business days for the law firm to pull off (most of the work was in the construction of the site and the Google Adwords campaign setup).

    To prove my point that SEO was not necessarily slower, I offered the following approach:

    The Result

    Two days later we were on page 1 for about 20 highly targeted keywords and had quickly generated a good number of case leads for our clients. Not only was our approach faster, it was also significantly cheaper – both in terms of initial set up costs and ongoing traffic acquisition costs. And while it’s true that we did not get on page 1 for every relevant keywords, that’s something that can be addressed from additional content development and link building.

    How to Use This Approach for Your Firm

    Although social media, blogs and twitter seem to dominate the legal technology blogs, the reality is that SEO is still the biggest and most effective marketing approach for generating case leads for your practice. However, most lawyers give up on the approach because of two reasons

    1. They become enamored with highly competitive keywords like “personal injury lawyer” and give up when they realize that they are unlikely to end up on page 1 anytime soon.
    2. They forget that the point of search is to provide high quality, consumer friendly information and instead rely on generic, keyword-stuffed articles produced in India or some other outsourced provider.

    One of the most interesting things we’ve done at ExpertHub has been our ExpertSyndication Platform. It’s the only SEO platform I’ve come across that allows an individual lawyer to execute the same exact strategy as the one we executed above. So, while you may not be launching a time sensitive campaign like Zicam, don’t put off your SEO efforts simply because you think it will take too long to show results.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    An Overview of Q&A Sites

    Since the web took off in the mid-1990’s, one of the most frequently mentioned benefits of it was the ability to go online and find answers to virtually any question that existed. And while Yahoo Answers, Askville (Amazon’s answer site) and others have dominated the market, there have emerged quite a number of sites focused on the legal market. LawGuru has been around for a while and when Avvo launched, their initial product focused on lawyers answering questions from consumers. Which brings up the question – if you are a lawyer looking to drum up business, are legal Q&A sites effective?

    How They Work
    The legal Q&A sites all work similarly. Consumers visit the site, type in a legal question and wait for a response. As a lawyer, you register (for free) and get questions that are relevant to the types of law you practice are emailed to you. Lawyers that use it typically respond to the question and finish their answer with a “contact me for more help.” Presumably, if you give a good answer, the consumer may contact you and those contacts may turn into paying clients that you have you generated for free. Free, that is, if you don’t count the time it takes to answer the questions.

    Q&A Sites at Their Best
    Q&A sites have functioned as Message Boards 2.0 (you remember message boards?), and when compared to message boards and online forums, they are a lot more user friendly and feature rich.

    • When you have a very active community of users that actively answer the questions, a consumer benefits by getting their question answered (hopefully correctly) much more efficiently than spending hours surfing various websites looking for the right answer.
    • Active users that answer a lot of questions can develop an online reputation within the community that affords them a great deal of credibility. Often times, this reputation can be translated into the generation of new business or status.
    • In addition to developing a reputation, there is a lot of traffic on many Q&A sites. Many Q&A sites allow you to link to your website (worst case you can type in your domain name into the answer). Since the question database can be searched by new consumers, you can get traffic to your website without having to pay a cost per click. Often times, the traffic that you generate can exceed the traffic that you might get from an SEO effort.

    Shortcomings of Q&A Sites
    The biggest shortcoming of Q&A sites comes when the community is not active enough to self-regulate the quality of the answers.

    • Since the volume of questions can be quite high and the answers sometimes sparse, there is no way for the site to ensure that the answers that are given are actually correct. All lawyers understand what happens when someone receives bad legal advice.
    • The requirements to register as a lawyer and answer questions are not high. As a result, the consumers can receive answers from people that either are not real people, or not practicing attorneys. This can devalue the community and make the overall product ineffective.
    • Most Q&A sites put “no-follow” tags on links that are inserted in the answer. If a “no-follow” tag is placed on the link, you will not get any SEO benefit from posting an answer to the question.

    Should You Do It? Will You Get Business?
    In my opinion, getting value out of Q&A sites takes dedication and time. The expression, “you get out of it what you put into it” governs the ROI. It is fairly unlikely that you will get more than a 1-2% conversion rate of paying client to question answered. If it takes you 30 minutes to read the question and type a well written answer, then you are looking at anywhere from 25-50 hours of time for every paying client you receive. Sure, you can answer more quickly, but short “contact me” answers will only convert at a lower rate. So, the short answer to the question is, “yes, you will get business, but only if you put the necessary time into it.”

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    Best Practices for Converting Legal Leads from the Internet

    The single biggest success factor of your online marketing effort is the number of paying clients that you convert from the online leads you generate. This conversion rate will be the difference between success and failure of all of the marketing efforts your firm undertakes. Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to lawyers that view $175 for a personal injury lead to be an incredibly reasonable price (often Google AdWords Buyers) while others have complained that the same leads are not worth more than $10.

    Ironically, there is no material difference between the leads with a perceived valued at $175 or $10. In fact, here are the similarities:

    • They are generated from the same websites, with the same lead form that collects the same information.
    • The visitors to the sites come from the same source (organic search from the same set of keywords).
    • The number of lawyers that receive the leads is the same (as in, exclusivity is not the biggest factor in lead conversion).
    So, what accounts for the difference in perceived value? While every situation is unique, I’ve been able to isolate three consistent best practices that lead to a high conversion rate.

    #1: Follow up with every lead and learn more about the client’s need
    When reviewing leads that have become valuable cases, one of the most common observations is that some the best cases came from a lead that initially looked less than promising. The consumer often leaves out the most important facts and/or emphasizes the wrong ones. Through a dialogue with the consumer (which may happen through email or over the phone), an attorney may come to realize that the case lead is more valuable than it initially appeared.

    #2: Make it someone at the firm’s job.
    Perhaps the biggest factor that determines success is focus on conversion from a dedicated resource. Regardless of the firm’s size, the firms with the highest lead conversion rate do not have lawyers following up with consumers initially. Whether it’s a business manager, office manager or personal assistant, it makes sense to hire someone to fill the new client pipeline as much as possible. Even if you are a solo practitioner, you can probably find someone to do this on a part-time basis. If you invest in training them in asking the right questions and being diligent about following up with prospects, they will pay for themselves many times over through incremental business. If you absolutely cannot afford to hire someone part-time, find a way to make some time to follow up diligently with all leads.

    #3: Have a clear, consistent message about how you can help the consumer.
    One of the biggest complaints that I hear from lawyers is that too many leads “just want their legal questions answered for free.” While it is absolutely true that not every inquiry will result in a paying client, that is the nature of every business: whether you are test driving a car, buying a house or choosing a lawyer, there is a decision making process that all consumers go through, and that decision making process usually involves more than contacting someone with a question and immediately handing them a check.

    Building on points #1 and #2, not only should a dedicated resource follow up with every lead, they have a standard approach to qualifying the lead and communicating your value proposition. After establishing contact with the consumer, the best firm’s communicate their qualifications (“here’s why you should choose us,”) and walk the consumer through the process (i.e. steps in the process, fee structures, timing, etc). The goal is not to solve the legal issue, the goal is to establish the value of your firm. This is incredibly important. Between the time the consumer sends in the lead form and actually chooses and pays a lawyer, they will receive additional information and input . . . either from their friends/spouse/co-workers, from additional internet searches or by contacting another lawyer. Therefore, the goal of the initial follow up is to establish your firm’s credibility and value. I have noticed that a lot of lawyers that have a hard time converting leads insist on an in-person meeting quickly because they feel like they can close someone if they get them in their office. The problem with this approach is that, unless that meeting is going to happen in the next hour, someone else could intervene.

    See also: Evaluating Your Online Legal Advertising Effectiveness

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    Evaluating Advertising Effectiveness: How to Avoid False Positives (and Negatives)

    One of the great things about Internet advertising is how fast you can get feedback on the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns, make changes and adapt. I'm a huge advocate of this approach. I believe that locking yourself into 1 or 2 year agreements that cannot be modified (if they need adjustment) or cancelled (if modification cannot make them work) is not in your best interests. It's also not in the best interests of the advertising partner as they need healthy advertisers for their consumers to be served and for their business to be successful long term.

    However, in a case of "be careful what you ask for," I've noticed that some lawyers that I've been working with are pulling the cancellation trigger a little too fast, not having put enough thought into whether or not the advertising source can be effective. Or, in some cases, they are not giving a trial period enough time to be yield results.

    When I first started buying a lot of internet media, I became addicted to the instant feedback. I would launch a campaign and check the stats (impressions, clicks, leads, etc) every hour at first, and then every day. If something looked good, I would immediately try to do more of it. I'd develop theories for what the successful ingredient was and then integrate that into my other campaigns. And if it didn't look good, I would immediately start tinkering with it, trying to find the answer. After a few months of driving everybody that worked for me crazy, I began to notice a trend: the things that were good didn't stay as good as they looked initially and the things that were bad rarely stayed as bad. In my haste to move faster than the competition, I had forgotten some core virtues of good business: time and patience (and oh yeah, a statistical phenomenon known as regression to the mean).

    So, I developed a few rules for evaluating all of the new online campaigns I was launching. These rules apply to all internet advertising, and are especially true for lawyers that are looking to generate new clients online.

    Rule #1: Evaluate the source of the traffic

    The first thing I've learned is to find the source and replicate the consumer experience. Visit the websites that are generating your leads. Go through the consumer experience. Look at the emails, messages or leads that come from that source. If over 90% of the inquiries are real people, you've got a good source. You cannot stop the spammers and automated submissions from sending in messages, but if the overwhelming majority are real people with real legal issues, then it doesn't matter that the first 10 aren't great cases because the next 10 might be.

    Rule #2: Keep statistics in mind

    If the conversion rate from lead to case is 15% and the standard deviation is 10%, then there is a 1 in 4 chance that none of your first 10 leads will result in a case (even though you would expect 1.5). There is also a 1 in 8 chance that none of your first 20 leads will result in a case. The numbers work the other way too. You have a 1 in 8 chance that you'll get 5 clients in the next 20 leads. If you are so lucky, don't freak out when the next 20 don't have the same yield. (Remember the regression to the mean rule).

    Rule #3: Give conversion enough time to happen

    Not every client will make a purchase decision within the first week after intial contact. A high quality divorce lead might take 2-3 months to choose a lawyer as the prospect weighs his or her options. If you pull the plug too fast, you won't give this dynamic time to work. I've spoken to a few attorneys recently who have said, "The leads look good, but I was not able to land any clients." To this I reply, "Yet. Give it some time."

    Rule #4: Don't ignore the lifetime value of a satisfied customer

    Almost every attorney believes that the best source of clients is through referrals. Makes sense . . . if a client is happy, they may need your services again the future, or may recommend you to a friend. So, even if your profitability from an advertising source is not as high as you would like, you may find that it is much better when you factor in the legal fees generated from repeat business or referrals.

    As you are experimenting with using the Internet to generate new business, keep these rules in mind. Testing and tweaking are huge benefits of online marketing. But, in the case of legal advertising, where one client can be the difference between losing money on advertising and getting a 5x return, you are best served to give your advertising campaigns the benefit of the doubt.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Online Legal Directories: A Fantastic Source for Distribution

    Since I entered the legal directory space over a year ago, I've come across a handful of "online legal marketing consultants" (many claiming to be experts at turning attorneys into "rainmakers" - I can't believe that term is still used . . ) that love to disparage online legal directories as a source for attorneys to get cases online. Always interested in understanding what the market is saying, I pay careful attention to their arguments against directories. After all, if there truly are issues with the product, then we should get to work on innovating the product to address those issues.

    In general, the argument I hear against the legal directory goes something like this. "You don't want to limit yourself to being found through the online directories because, if you do, then they will control your internet presence. You should focus on building your own website and optimizing it to be found in Google. That's the best way to ensure that your will control your own destiny. And oh yeah, your existing clients are a better source for referrals anyway, so come to my seminar so I can teach you how to be a rainmaker."

    Here are two problems with that assertion:
    1. Traditional media doesn't work that way.
    2. Online media is different, but it still doesn't work that way.
    Out of all of the TV and movie entertainment you consumed last year, what % do you think was created by independent studios and distributed direct to consumers (that is without a major distribution company)? My guess is that it is less than 1%. Distribution rules. Always has, always will. Media business basics are: 1) create something (TV show, magazine, etc) that aggregates an audience. Then 2) monetize the audience by selling advertising against it. Here's a better question: how many informercials did you watch last year and what % of your total purchases came from the products sold via infomercial?

    Now to online media . . . the primary reason why the Internet created such a stir in the 90's was because it seemed to change the dynamic. No longer would every artist, publisher or individual that wanted to get their message out be limited by their ability to "pitch the suits" to fund their idea (and watch the suits take 95% of the net profit). All they needed was knowledge of html and a url and then they could take their message direct to the public. And while, relatively speaking, this is true, distribution is still the #1 problem to solve for any website. The difference lies in the options the publisher has for distribution. The publisher has many more tools available to them . . . we've evolved from the portal deals of the late 90's to SEO, social media, viral distribution, etc. etc.

    Back to lawyers and legal directories . . . the problem with the argument that the rainmaker consultants espouse is that it discounts distribution when it should be putting a premium on it. Any law firm that wants to connect with clients should be looking for as many sources for quality online distribution as possible. You want people to find you. In the legal space, the #1 source for distribution is through legal directories, not facebook, linkedin or digg. Instead of picking one or two, you should follow the golden rules of online media and try as many as possible. I'm not suggesting that you should buy a placement on every directory blindly . . . rather you should test, tweak and measure ROI.

    Like all media, the best way for a law firm to connect with potential clients is to go where the audience is. And increasingly, they happen to be on online directories rich with informative content.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    The 3 Golden Rules of Internet Media

    Pop Quiz: Of all of the different formats of online media, which one is best?

    I'm asked this question quite frequently, followed by a stream of anxiety-ridden follow up questions . . . is display advertising dead? Does paid search work? Should I send out email blasts? Do directories work? Social media? Blogging?

    Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to experiment with practically every type of internet advertising. Yes, its true, I've bought pop-ups from spyware companies, sent out 300 million emails a weeek, owned domains some might call typosquatting (and the list goes on and on).

    And so the quick answer to the pop quiz is "All of them" . . . followed by a "but it depends who you are and what you are trying to accomplish." Clearly typosquatting and buying spyware pop-ups is a terrible way to build a sustainable brand. But, if you are smart college student running a 1 person affiliate company, why not arbitrage some media? It's very legal and you can make good money. But, leaving that aside for a minute, there are 3 Golden Rules I've developed for buying Internet Media. I believe they are especially relevant for lawyers because, well, I haven't come across many that follow them.

    Rule #1: Never Lock Yourself Into a Long Term Deal (as in 1 year)
    Testing and tweaking is key all direct response advertising and the Internet has made that easier to do than ever. I ran a series of direct response ads in monthly magazines earlier in my career . . . the testing cycle for an offer and the ad creative was 6 months. That test would have taken 6 days online and I would have received in an initial indication of how I was doing in 6 hours. So, it rarely makes sense to lock yourself into a long term deal. Things change too fast online for that to be effective.

    Rule #2: Monitor Performance and Refine Your Approach
    Testing and optimization is the heart of online advertising. Just because something doesn't work for you the first time you try it doesn't mean that it doesn't work. I've often had to ask myself, "why can [insert company name] buy this media profitably and not me?" Unless you think your competition likes to lose money, they have found an approach that works. You haven't. More often that not, studying the competition and tweaking your campaign can have dramatic impacts on performance.

    Rule #3: Set Your Expectations Appropriately
    Too often I see inexperienced online marketers fail because they set their expectations too high. If you spend $1000 on advertising and one client earns you revenue of $2000, then you should expect to get 2 or 3 clients (or 4 - 6X), on average. If you do a lot better than that, good for you. Realize that it probably won't last because the market will eventually become more efficient.

    So, before you begin your search for the Internet marketing holy grail, keep these 3 rules handy . . . no matter what you do (blog, directory, SEM, SEO) these rules will always ring true.

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009

    SEO: Free Traffic That Isn't Really Free

    Most of the online legal marketing consultants that I read in the blogosphere seem to believe that Twitter, Social Media, Blogs and SEO are worthwhile endeavors and that SEM and online directories are a waste of money. The argument makes sense: invest in "free" marketing, like PR (who wouldn't want a puff piece in the NY Times?) rather than investing in paid advertising where they'll bleed you out at every opportunity.

    Yes, the $400/hr's marketing consultants advice makes complete sense - save one tiny inconvenience: it's not true. PR isn't free (can't count how many times I've seen someone pay a PR firm's $10-20K/month retainer and receive practically nothing). And neither is Twitter, social media or SEO. Most people hire consultants or specialists to do these things. Even if you are a do-it-yourself'er, your time is valuable (as in, you could be billing someone $350/hr instead of downloading the latest twitter plug-in, right?).

    I was trying to explain this concept to a law firm that we had done a lot of work for in the past. No matter what I said, they held a firm belief that 1) they had to maintain their first page organic search rankings no matter what and 2) if you weren't in the top spot on Google's paid listings, then it didn't make sense to do SEM at all. And oh yeah, he also thought I should give him a discount on the directory listing he had. So I produced the following chart for him:


    1. SEO is pretty expensive on a cost/lead basis. Also, it doesn't generate very many leads. Sure, the leads are pretty high quality, but since most firms get most of their organic search traffic from consumers searching for them by name, its hard to get a large volume of leads

    2. The only thing more expensive than SEO is Paid Search. While its possible that this law firm could do better through better bidding strategies and landing page optimization, they also need to add in the costs of paying someone to do this (which is not included in the astronomical $462 cost/lead.

    3. Directories can be an incredible deal (and when done right, will make your SEO much more effective). For this client, they received almost 80% of their leads from a directory purchase that accounted for 34% of their marketing budget.

    Before you draw any conclusions about what work and what doesn't work, I highly recommend that you test various platforms and do the analysis for yourself. I've found that, in most cases, reality is far from perception - and those that follow the data do very well with online media.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009

    Search Engine Optimization: How Realistic Are Your Goals?

    For most lawyers, getting "found on Google" (through the organic results) is their ultimate online marketing goal. There is no question that obtaining free traffic from a user searching Google is incredibly valuable to any business. However, before you rush out and spend ANY money on a flashy SEO consultant, think about the following:
    • Google's has made billions because it returns the webpages that match the user's keyword search the best. Their entire business depends on continuing to be the best at this. Forgetting about SEO jargon, tactics and black magic, if you want a page on your website to be listed in the search results, it needs to be one of the "best webpages" in the eyes of Google.
    • "Best webpages" is completely relative to a) the other pages that are out there and b) what the search term (or "keyword") is.

    SEO projects start with determining what keywords you want your site to rank for. Although it seems simple enough, this is where most SEO projects don't deliver on the lawyer's expectations. I did a little analysis of the legal sites in the ExpertHub network and I compared that to a few sites of the lawyers that I had access to analytics data on.

    • The average lawyer's website had about 40 web pages in the Google index. Some had as few as 10.
    • The average lawyer's website (and all of these spent more than $5,000 on SEO consulting) received traffic from 75 keywords in the last month. About 75% of these keywords, and over 90% of the search traffic came from keywords that included the name of the firm or a name of an attorney in the firm.
    • The sites in the ExpertHub network (such as LawFirms.com and USImmigrationLawyers.com) have about 40,000 pages in the Google index.
    • These sites in the ExpertHub network received traffic from over 225,000 keywords. About 98% of these keywords and almost all of the traffic came from keywords that were informational in nature (such as "medical malpractice" or "reasons for deportation")

    Conclusion: Whatever you spend on SEO, the majority of the traffic you get is going to be from users that type in a keyword that indicates the user is looking for you by name. You are also unlikely to get a lot of traffic from keywords that do not include your firm's name. (unless you have a website that has article depth that rivals sites like ExpertHub). In that sense, Google works!

    Unfortunately, this also means that there are lots of consumers that will never find your website when they are looking for a keyword that is legally related. About 4% of the visitors that come through Google to the ExpertHub network end up contacting a lawyer. These are clients that your SEO efforts are likely to miss.

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    Offline Advertising for Lawyers: Does It Make Sense?

    The Kelsey Group released a report in 2008 on directory advertising that sized the market at $16.3 billion each year. 2.8 billion, or 6%, was spent online. In 2012, they projected the market would grow to $18.8 billion, but that 38% of it would be spent online. This means that offline Yellow Pages would shrink by $2 billion each year.

    On the surface, this appears to be massive growth in online advertising, much of it at the expense of offline. Living in the trenches everyday, it makes me wonder . . . why isn't the shift isn't more dramatic?

    While there are a ton of psychological factors that slow adoption to a new technology, if the invisible hand of the market really worked, the split between offline and online should essentially flip. However, the biggest strength of online advertising - namely, the ability to track and measure the ROI of the advertising - is also its biggest weakness.

    To illustrate my point: Ever go to amazon.com at 3 AM, find the site down and get angry? Remember when eBay went down for 12 hours back in 2001 and merchants were protesting?

    Surely you would not be mad if you went to an bricks and mortar store at 3 AM and found them closed. Prior to 1997, eBay merchants had limited options for selling their goods, and all of them required spending substantially more money than eBay.

    The simple fact is that Internet media is held to a different standard than offline companies. Because we can calculate what it costs to acquire a client, we do. And if we don't like the cost, we don't spend. However, I have not found a local lawyer that can tell me, with any precision whatsoever, what their cost per client was through the Yellow Pages or the local newspaper. If they did, the market would shift a lot faster than the Kelsey Group suggests.

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    Domain Names As Part of Your Online Marketing Strategy

    A few years ago, I ran a company that had a rather large domain portfolio (about 700,000 or so). At the time, domain companies were hot...most were incredibly profitable and professional investors were throwing a lot of money at the space (Demand Media raised about $250MM, Name Media raised more than $50MM, as did Oversee). During that time, a lot of small businesses went out and registered more than one domain name because, well, it seemed like the thing to do. Which brings me to the point of my post: Is it a good idea to have multiple domain names? Should a law firm acquire domain names part of their Internet marketing strategy?

    Here is what I've learned:
    • Owning a domain portfolio (defined as more than 50 domain names) as a traffic acquisition strategy (that is redirecting type in traffic to your main site) is generally unlikely to be worth it. I could rattle off a bunch of domain names that our company owns that sound great, but left undeveloped, generally don't contribute a noticeable amount of traffic. So , while owning a 50, 75, 100 domains is not going to put you in the poor house (heck, they only cost $8 a year), its almost always not worth the hassle of keeping track of what you own and what you don't. There is one caveat: I know plenty of people that speculated on a good generic domain name and sold it for a handsome profit. It does happen, but that's a different post.
    • Owning a handful of domain names that you intend to develop can be an excellent way of presenting multiple perspectives on your practice or your expertise. I can't think of a reason why you shouldn't blog about your expertise. And if you do, it makes a lot of sense to put it on its own domain so that it can have its own identity.
    • Besides blogging, owning a handful of domain names that you develop into different informational destinations, as a way to improve your organic search rankings is a pretty good SEO tactic. The caveat here is that you have to develop and maintain them. Although SEO theory suggests that a domain name that matches your target keywords is not necessary, typing in a handful of legal searches (like "divorce lawyer" or "immigration lawyer) would seem to suggest that it plays a meaningful factor.

    Most people (including, and especially those in the domain name industry) underestimate the amount of investment that is required to develop a domain name into a site that Google recognizes as being authoritative about a set of keywords. But, if you are willing to put the time and money into it, it can be a valuable asset to help market your firm and your expertise.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Review Sites: Friend or Foe?

    One of the biggest differences between the first generation of Internet companies and the second generation (often referred to as Web 2.0) companies is the way that content was created, organized and retrieved.

    In Web 2.0 companies:
    • The content is created by the users instead of by a paid author or editor.

    • The content is organized organically through tagging and association with a particular topic.

    • The content is retrieved through searching (as opposed to browsing) and ranked through ratings and community feedback.

    As a result of some pretty cool work done by a lot of companies, and aided through the simple passage of time, community-created content has become quite good and highly accurate. I remember the beginning of Amazon.com's customer ratings . . . they were generally ok, occassionally insightful and sometimes misleading. Now, with the passage of time and the application of some good technology, they are pretty much spot on. The reviews that are posted at the top are generally the best ones and are incredibly informative.

    Its pretty much a foregone conclusion that the best place to get information about consumer products, autos, restaurants and travel destinations is at consumer review sites. Its changed the way that consumers shop and the way that major brands think about marketing their products and services online. Probably the biggest lesson that they've learned is that they can't run and hide.

    So, what about legal services? At first blush, most attorneys shudder at the idea that a less-than-knowledgeable consumer might review them negatively. As evidenced by this post, many immediately consider suing for defamation if the review is negative and/or less than completely true.

    Legal issues aside, one thing is clear to me: the single most powerful aspect of the Internet has always been the ability for one to write about anything and publish that information so that everyone could see it. Its not going away . . . its only going to increase. Any economics professor will tell you that capitalism works best when "perfect" information exists - it allows everyone to make better decisions.

    So, if your business is based on your reputation (and most are), the only logical response is to participate in the discussion. No consumer expects everything to be perfect. Everyone understands that auto companies can't produce 100% flawless cars and hotels can't be expected to have perfect service 100% of the time. So, the key is to participate in the discussion. The more you publish, the more control you have over your online reputation.

    I can't say when legal services will have ratings and reviews like autos or travel. I'm not even sure that the same ratings and review approach will work in legal. But, I am sure that those that are active in the online community and share information about their expertise and their practice will benefit.

    So, start today. Start a blog, put more effort into your website, or join one of the Q&A sites. Or, check out the content syndication platform we've built at ExpertHub. Its a great way to share your expertise and build your online exposure in a way that you control.

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    Avvo: Let's take a step back

    First, let me start off by fully disclosing: Avvo is a competitor to ExpertHub and our legal directory LawFirms.com. We both have a website (in our case we have about 50 of them) that help connect consumers with lawyers. Ours has been a traditional approach (historically, although that is changing) . . . Avvo has tried something bold and new.

    Quick Background

    Avvo has a proprietary algorithm that rates lawyers. They grab publicly available data, compile a rating and then allow lawyers to come in and contribute up-to-date more accurate information that updates their rating. Its a very pro-consumer approach. As one of my friends said to me the other day, "you only know you've got a bad lawyer when its too late." With the massive amounts of damage that can be done IF you have bad lawyer, it seems like a service that helped separate the good from the bad would be pretty valuable to consumers AND lawyers.

    What Went (Or Is) Going Wrong

    Anytime you do something disruptive to the status quo, there is going to be push back. When you are disrupting a profession like legal advice, you would have to expect the push back to fairly signficant. And it has been. IMO, some of the push back is justified. For example:
    • If you stake your claim on a rating system, the rating system needs to be reliable, auditable and needs to stand up against relatively normal "what if"examples. Avvo has been criticized for rating lawyers that seem to have a good reputation in legal community worse than those that are known to be pretty average. Clearly for avvo's ratings to be taken seriously, they need to be reliable. The question is whether or not the false positives they have now are algorithmic and systematic flaws or just incomplete data. I think its too early to tell.
    • The "answers" feature may result in too many "spammy" answers from lawyers looking to exploit the system to get free case leads. Spam is a reality in online marketing . . . whether it is email, search spam or just low-value user generated content. The gut wrenching thing about avvo's answer's spam is that it comes with the cloak of authority (I mean, these are lawyers for god's sake, they can't be giving you bad or incomplete advice just so you'll call them, can they?). Again, I think this one is too early to tell.

    On the Other Hand

    A lot of the criticism thrown at avvo by lawyers and legal marketing consultants isn't well grounded in the reality of how consumers make a decisions about purchases. And, as much as we want to put legal services on a pedestal, it is a service that is purchased.
    • One of the biggest complaints about rating lawyers is that it somehow seems silly to make a decision about legal services the way you make a decision about a plumber. These arguments put legal services in the "relationship" category akin to the "relationship you have with your doctor". Not sure about that one. I had open heart surgery at the age of 32. Sure, I did my research and met the surgeons and made an excellent choice from an excellent surgeon. He did a bang up job and I'm 100% healthy . . . and both he and I hope that we never talk to each other again. Think about for a second, if I've been arrested for a DUI, need to file for a divorce, or need to resolve a probate issue , I want to make sure I receive the best legal advice possible from someone who is very good at what they do. So good, in fact, that I don't need to contact them again. And while heart surgery truly justified hours and hours of research, I would have greatly appreciated a more comprehensive information source to make the job easier.
    • Another complaint is that review sites skew negative and that they can ruin your business with one half-truth from a unhappy customer. There definitely are legitimate concerns about consumers posting negative information without recourse. However, eBay revolutionzed peer-to-peer selling with a review system that puts a premium on buyer feedback. Is the issue mitigated by having a fair dispute resolution process?

    In the end, I have to admire what Avvo is doing. They are trying to do something bold and its too early to tell. It may work, it may not. But, it's worth watching it unfold. If I've learned one thing in life online, it's that things don't always evolve the way you think. I remember meeting eBay at a start up gathering when I was at the Stanford GSB in 1997 and thinking, "an online garage sale, how silly is that? Why would the mass market want to buy other people's junk."

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Reach Local, Yodle and Dex: Better Way to Buy Search?

    As I have been looking for lawyers that are interested in ExpertHub's legal advertising network, I have stumbled upon a handful of attorneys that are using Reach Local, Yodle and Dex's search advertising service. I've been following them for a while . . . as all of them have invested heavily into the local search space with a relatively similiar product offering.

    How and Why They Work

    As we've discussed in previous posts, SEM, while much more effective for the average local business owner than say spot TV purchases, is incredibly complicated. You must set up campaigns, generate keywords, manage your bids, write and optmize ad copy and optimize landing pages. The dynamic nature of the marketplace requires constant attention - or you can easily overspend or be bounced off of page 1 and not get any traffic.

    These 3 companies all entered the market with the goal of automating the entire process so that the local attorney can just focus on how many leads they are getting and what they are spending. They will set up and manage your campaigns, build a custom landing page and then their technology go to work on optimizing the entire thing. The story is good enough to justify the capital investment from some well known VC's.

    The Risk

    The biggest risk for these companies and their customers is that aren't solving the #1 problem in Internet marketing: controlling distribution. All 3 companies and their customers are still relying on Google and other search engines for traffic. And every time another local lawyer comes online and bids, prices go up. In fact, one could argue that the primary beneficiary of the investment in these 3 companies is Google itself.

    IMO, the #1 thing that keeps lawyers from spending more money online to generate clients is the lack of certainty with respect to their advertising investment. While better tools can help you manage it better, they don't protect you from the ultra competitive paid search market.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    Twitter Bashing: Skepticism Justified or Are They Just Haters?

    As I said in my original overview of social media tools, I'm still trying to figure out twitter. From the conversations I've had, most twitter-lovers all started with a healthy degree of skepticism and then, suddenly became converts.

    I'm still in the evaluation stage, not ready to pass judgement or not. Really haven't invested enough time to get it to "work for me . . . " although I wonder if that is really a statement about the ability for the mass market to get it to work for them.

    Twitter mania has reached full fledged bubble proportions. It's seeping into the majority of the conversations that I'm having with lawyers about online marketing (most confessing they have no idea what the hell it is and wondering if I have an opinion).

    But, I have to enjoy some of the skeptical media's snarky attacks at the service. They are quite amusing. This clip from Jon Stewart's show is quite funny:

    This NY Times piece is more thoughtful, but essentially makes the same point, that is: If Twitter really becomes the next big thing, we are all screwed.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    SEM Trickiness: Buy Broad Match and Get The Wrong Client

    I encountered this situation yesterday when I was searching for a lawyer:
    • I typed in "immigraton lawyer los angeles" because I was looking for an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles. Google's sandbox tells me that this is a very expensive term, going for about $6.39-8.39 per click in the top spots.
    • I clicked on ad for an attorney in Los Angeles. I visited his web site. His website had a section on immigration law and what he could do for me.
    • I called him and asked him if he could help me, because I was looking for an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles and all indicators (his advertising purchase and his website)suggested he was interested in servicing clients of that type in that area.
    • When I spoke to him, he told me that he doesn't really practice immigration law anymore . . . that his website is out of date.

    Hmm. Well, let's ignore the website out of date thing. I guess I can understand that a bit . . . I mean if he built his website a few years ago, he probably has some "web guy" (or worse yet a "web firm") that is charging him an arm and leg to update his site. Yes, it is wrong and silly to allow an out of date website to continue to represent your firm. But, we can all understand how those "tech guys" can hold you and your pocketbook hostage.

    But, paying $5-6 for a visitor to your out-of-date website . . . a highly qualified visitor . . . and you spent money for something that you don't even practice???? How can that happen? Was this attorney so filthy rich that he liked burning money (pretty sure that's a no since he didn't want to pay for the 60 or so case leads/month that I had fo him)?

    The answer: broad match. What is broad match? Here is Google's answer. Basically what happened is that this attorney purchased "lawyer los angeles" with broad match on. Which meant that his bid was considered for all keywords that include that phrase - such as "immigration lawyer los angeles" (which he clearly didn't want).

    The result? This attorney is wasting his money. A lot of it. The attorney was managing the campaign on his own and he clearly did not have the time to understnad all of the ins and outs (and broad match is pretty elementary as far as search buying goes).

    What's the lesson? Paid search is not as easy as you think.

    See also:

    SEM: Why Google Works for Lawyers

    Effective SEM Requires Landing Page Optimization

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    SEM: Why Google Works for Lawyers

    Ever wonder why Google has created the world's most efficient and valuable advertising platform? The reasons are many, but it really comes down to one thing: User Intent

    When a user comes to Google and searches, they are in shopping mode. Depending on what they are searching for, they want the advertiser's content (or link). Compare that to Yahoo mail or display ads in general, which are fueled by interruption marketing and the effectiveness of Google becomes much clearer. Just for fun, here are a couple of analogies:
    • Shopping at the mall (Google ) vs. Door to Door Sales (Display Ads). You know those kiosks at the mall? You can put virtually anything in those things (like cheap hairbrushes or $2 sunglasses) and they will sell. Neither the product or the salesperson need to be very good because consumers show up at the mall looking for ways to spend money. On the other hand, door to door sales takes some serious talent. And a good product. Like Kirby vacuums. Its impossible to not be impressed and tempted to buy when those guys show up. But, that's a tough racket. What's my point? You need to seriously know what you are doing to make display advertising work because you have to convince the user to look at your ad and notice you. Like the Kirby vacuum salesman that needs you to stop watching TV or playing with the kids or fixing the leaky faucet so that you will listen to him. In search, they are looking for you. Put anything in the kiosk and staff it with a moderately attractive teenager and it will sell.
    • Bridal magazines and the Sunday paper (Google) vs. US Weekly and the sports page (Display). Do bridal magazines actually have any stories in them? And isn't it ironic that the Sunday paper is usually 4x the price of a weekday paper, when it is almost 80% ads? Shouldn't they both be free? You know you have a good thing - from an advertising perspective - when the consumer is paying money to look at your ads. My wife loves reading the Sunday paper so that she can take a look at the circular. Compare that to the back cover in the sports page . . . can you name the ads that you just looked at when you were checking the box score? US Weekly has to attract "brand-driven" advertisers because few direct marketers can make the back cover generate enough sales to cover the cost of the ad.

    Google works for lawyers because it is incredibly obvious that, if you are a divorce lawyer in San Francisco, that a web user that visits Google and types in "divorce lawyer san francisco" is probably someone that you want to tell about your practice. The same user could be all over the web doing all sorts of things - like looking for a new place to live or reading an article on a celebrity divorce or updating his relationship status on facebook. Try to find him at the exact right moment to show him your flashy display ad. Good luck with that.

    Yes, user intent is the single biggest reason why paid search works for lawyers. There's only one problem (which we'll discuss next). It works for all your competitors just as well. And Google has designed an incredibly efficient bidding system that means you will pay top dollar to get your firm in front of that web user searching for you.

    See also:

    Effective SEM Requires Landing Page Optimization

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Social Media Tools: Can They Bring In New Clients?

    In 2008, social media tools hit the mainstream and really replaced online video and youtube as THE story about what was happening online. I'm not going to write a primer on what social media is (a good job is done here). But, I will share my brief thoughts on how I've tried to use this technologies and

    Social Networking Sites

    Facebook and Linkedin are cool products and definitely have different strengths. From an internet technology standpoint, I have to applaud their adoption rates, how quickly they built their user bases and how well their sites have seemed to operate. However, on a personal level, I've never found them to be very useful. And that's not for a lack of trying.
    • On Linkedin, my profile is 95% complete, I've got almost 300 connections, I've endorsed a bunch of people, I've been endoresed. I've even answered questions in the Q&A function and joined groups. I've seen *positive signs* - like a somewhat relevant cold-call/email from a few people in the space and a couple of "thank yous" from people's who's question I answered. But, I still haven't found any employees, partners or customers through linkedin. I'm hopeful, though I'm concerned there are some thorny limitations to the service, which I'll have to come back to.
    • On Facebook, I've uploaded the profile and responded to friend requests, posted some photos, etc. The facebook platform being opened up the 3rd parties is pretty interesting to watch - especially as you see some marketers exploit it rather uniquely. I've found some old classmates that I lost touch with, but that's about it.
    It's pretty well understood that these sites are for connecting/re-connecting with people that you already know or have met and that the applicability to getting introduced to people you don't know is limited.


    I'm still trying to figure out twitter. Lots has been written about it, and the legal community seems to be love with it. Seems as though many twitter converts have all approached the technology with skepticism and then become converted. Here's an interesting Twitter overview for lawyers.
    • The most interesting thing that I've heard about Twitter is that it helps you get introduced to people you don't know (making it more useful compared to linkedin and facebook which are for the people you already know).

    Lawyers Ability to Market with Social Media Tools

    A huge part of the how useful these tools are going to be for you as a lawyer are going to start with the basics of your marketing plan. If you practice corporate law (or at a minimum, if your clients are companies), then I believe these tools will be of more use to you. At a minimum, they facilitate keeping track of your network and what everyone is up to. With a little work, you can easily push out information to people in your network and perhaps help build awareness among your broader network.

    However, if you practice law that serves consumers (i.e. personal injury, divorce, etc), I'm not sure that these tools are going to help you find new clients. A couple of reasons come to mind: 1) if the problem is personal in nature (and legal), then I'm not sure i want to use my business network to find a professional - so linkedin is not the best answer. 2) Even if I was ok with posting my personal problem to my facebook friends and looking for advice, I don't think a few responses would suffice in my search for a qualified professional.

    In the end, most of us are going to turn to a search engine to start our search for a local professional. .

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    More on Online Video for Lawyer Marketing

    In a very recent post, I wondered if online video advertising was really effective to client acquisition. My point had nothing to do with the "cool factor" or the quality of the video or even the stated preference of a focus group subject. To me, most of those assertions are meaningless.

    The releveant question is how people behave and how will they behave in the future. The data tells us that consumers still primarily use the internet while at work. I think that has very real short term implications on the ROI of any online video efforts.

    However, in this blog post, the author suggests that a younger generation will have a different usage pattern and will prefer online video. I completely agree with this . . . but as an attorney turning to the web to attract clients, you should be mindful of the time horizon you have for realizing a return on your marketing investments. If you want an immediate ROI on video, it's not going to happen. Neither is any of the social media tools, like twitter, facebook, etc.

    Take a longer term horizon and put yourself at the bleeding edge . . . then yes, there is a better way to network and market yourself. And experimenting with video makes sense in that regard.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Online Video Effective for Client Acquisition?

    A couple of days ago, I was speaking to a lawyer that was "making the leap" into online advertising. He had spoken to at least half a dozen different outfits that specialize in helping lawyers market their services online and was quite taken with the notion of producing a short video.

    2008 brought substantial buzz and investment into online video advertising for local advertisers. Companies such as TurnHere, Mixpo and a handful of other VC-backed players have attacked the market and are offering some really reasonably priced video production services.

    Not much argument from me that a cool online video ad can help you feel proud about your practice. But, is it just good for vanity? Or, does it actually get you customers?

    I think the jury is still out and here's why.

    • Most consumers search for an attorney while they are at work. It amazes me, but when I look at case lead volume by day of the week and time of the day, it indexes directly to work hours. Not sure if the boss knows that their employees are on facebook, amazon and google during work hours, but they are.
    • Employees know that they shouldn't be taking care of their personal issues while on the clock, but they do. They may quickly search . . . scan . . . come back to or send an email. But, it is unlikely that they are taking 30-45 uninterrupted minutes to evaluate anything.
    • Very few employees that are doing this enjoy the privacy that online video requires. Either they sit in cubes where their screen is visible or they avoid video because their colleagues will instantly know that they aren't working the moment they hear the video rolling.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    Preview Pay Per Lead Programs: Buyer Beware

    I was speaking with an attorney recently about a pay per lead program that he was experimenting with. The program was designed to overcome any reasonable objections and carried very little risk.
    • The lawyer only had to pay $20 for every personal injury lead that they wanted to buy
    • The lawyer was able to see the lead detail before they decided to purchase it. If they did want to purchase it, then the consumer's contact information was forwarded to them.

    While I can't speak to this particular program and whether or not it works, it does bring to mind a relevant point: when something seems too good to be true (which it often does online), it usually is.


    • It costs between $20-25 to buy a click on Google when a consumer searches for "personal injury lawyer" or "car accident attorney" or any other obvious search term.
    • The average value of a personal injury case worth taking is what, $15,000, $20,000, more??

    Because of its massive scale and integrity, we know Google is as close to an efficient market as we will see in advertising. Most people that pay $20-25 per click in Google end up paying $300-400 per lead (lead meaning a completed contact form). That's probably pretty close to the market price for a qualified personal injury lead.

    If something was worth $300, why would you sell it for $20? Furthermore, it costs money to generate a lead. You either to advertise your service to attract the consumer or you have to publish helpful information or . . . In other words, there is no free lead source so the provider of this service has to earn more than an average of $20 per "good" case.

    So, before you jump at the low cost, risk free service stop and think . . . "does this make sense?" If it doesn't, then you probably aren't seeing the entire story.

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    Effective SEM Requires Landing Page Optimization

    SEM is all about generating qualified leads. However, for all of the time and attention that most of us spend on picking keywords and setting bid prices, your biggest lever in driving down your cost per lead is the optimization of the landing page.

    To quantify the impact, let's assume you are buying a keyword, like "divorce lawyer" for $5.00 per click.
    • If 2% of your clicks end up completing a lead form, your effective cost per lead is $250.00
    • However, if 10% of your clicks complete the form, your effective cost per lead drops down to $50.00

    The math is pretty simple, but the impact is huge.

    Before you start any SEM campaign, you should be sure that you are set up to track conversions. Google makes it pretty easy to calculate your cost/lead by providing you with a "conversion pixel." A conversion pixel is a snippet of code that you put on a web page that is shown when the lead form is submitted (usually a "thank you" or "confirmation" page).

    All of that is straight forward enough. However, where most marketers fall down is that they don't anticipate the fact that they are going to need to constantly test different landing pages to find the highest converting one. So, as you build your website and start buying traffic, make sure that your technology platform makes it easy to generate new landing pages.

    The best landing pages in paid search convert at upwards of 50%. Most of the lawyers that I've seen buy paid search convert between 4-6%. Even if you don't get it to 50%, landing page optimization is the key to success.

    See also:

    SEM: Why Google Works for Lawyers

    SEM Trickiness: Buy Broad Match and Get The Wrong Client

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Blogging: Great For Your Reputation, But . . .

    Read an excellent post on how blogging can help you market your firm (especially in this tough economy) . . . I completely agree with the author. Blogging is a fantastic way for any local businessperson to craft their online reputation and their online personality.

    Standard law firm "brochure-ware" websites are rarely updated. When you visit a site that is frequently updated, it portrays a feeling of a vibrant business. And the converse is true . . . if the site has not been updated for a while, it makes you wonder if the firm is still in business. I've seen some of the worst offenders of terrible websites in the legal community, where I frequently stumble upon sites that literally not been updated in a few years.

    I totally understand why it happens . . . some local websites development shop (or a company that focuses on website development for lawyers) charges the lawyer $5-10K to build a 10 page website and then a few hundred bucks to update it.

    A blog is the perfect antidote. Tools such as blogger (like I'm using now) make it easy for anybody to update their site every day or every few days. The more you write, the easier it becomes and the more your personality shines through. And in the world of providing professioal services, personality can be the key to generating referrals and repeat business.

    So, I highly encourage all legal professionals to explore the benefits of blogging. Just one caveat: A blog is great for building your reputation, but its not easy to translate blog posts into client leads or organic rankings for your practice's website.

    Read 5 Ways Blogging Can Make a Difference . . .

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Online Tools and Your Marketing Goals

    Keeping up with technological developments on the Internet is virtually impossible for anyone that has another job to do. I’ve spent the last 10 years online and I can’t keep up . . . how can someone keep up (like an attorney) who has other subjects (like the law) to stay up-to-date on make sure they are approaching the Internet appropriately? Well . . . you can’t. But, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the opportunities that the online world can bring to building your practice.

    Unfortunately, it’s very easy to become distracted by the latest fad. The media – and blogosphere – love fads. They are quite adept at over-hyping every possible development. Fads have no place in your online strategy. Rather, like every good marketing plan, you need to understand your objectives and pursue the tools that can best help you accomplish them.
    Most lawyers and law firms have a very simple marketing objective: to get more revenue. That revenue can be broken down into two simple buckets. The first is getting revenue out of clients that already know you (we’ll call it “Customer Retention & Referral Marketing”). The second is getting revenue out of client that do not already know you (we’ll call it “Lead Generation”).

    Customer Retention & Referral Marketing

    Marketing consultants tell all companies to first focus on customer retention. I can’t remember the statistics, but it’s fairly obvious to most of us that holding on to the clients that you already have is a good idea. The next insight from the marketing consultants is the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Again, real world experience makes that well packaged common sense.
    The best online tools to accomplish that are:

    • Your Website: Your website will be the first place that people that have your business card or email address turn to (or are given it by a referrer). It should communicate what your practice is all about and why it is unique.
    • Social Media: Tools like Linkedin and Facebook are great ways to stay in touch with people that you already know . . .and keep them up to date on any career moves that you have made.
    • Email Newsletters: Depending on the type of law you practice, an email newsletter can be a great way to push updates about the law or your practice to your existing clients. Email newsletters are tricky. If they are done well, they can be incredibly effective. Done poorly, they can come across as SPAM.
    • Blogs: Although blogs do not have hard and fast rules, the general idea of a blog comes from its origin – web log, or a log of activity or news. Again, blogs can be great tools for communicating news or other commentary to your existing clients.

    Lead Generation/ New Client Acquisition

    Some types of law lend themselves better to retention/referral marketing than others (corporate law vs. personal injury for example) and need to bring new clients into the practice. These prospective clients generally don’t know who you are, what you do or why they should call you. Turning to their friends is an option (and one frequently exercised), but there are numerous situations when that option is not the best and consumers turn to the web for an answer. For this type of marketing goal – attracting new consumers who do not know who you are – these types of tools are best.

    • Paid Search: Paid search – largely through Google – is a viable option for targeting prospects that search for keywords related to your business. Paid search is amazingly effective, but it is not cheap. There are plenty of marketing agencies that stand ready to help you spend your money, but this only adds to the expense.
    • Organic Search: Everyone loves organic search. And why not, its free!! The reality of SEO is that organic search is expensive if you want to rank for keywords that do not include your firm name. So, while this can be effective, you must have time and patience.
    • Online Directories or Lead Sources: There are many sites out there – the largest being FindLaw and Lawyers.com – that consumers turn to when they are looking for legal information or to find a lawyer. Compared to Paid and Organic Search, these sites can offer a superior ROI. The difficulty with these sites is separating the legitimate ones from the fly-by-night organizations. However, if you ask the right questions and approach the media buy correctly, this can be a fantastic source for acquiring new clients.

    That’s it for now. We’ll get into more detail on all of these, but as we do, it’s important to always start with what your marketing goal is. It makes understanding where to invest your efforts a lot easier.

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    Top 3 Myths of Search Engine Optimization

    Over the last year, I’ve talked to dozens of lawyers that were enamored with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as a tactic for generating new clients through the Internet. The attraction to SEO is understandable: a web user types a search term into Google and your site shows up in the results. Its undeniable that when that occurs, it is extremely satisfying. However, through all of the conversations that I’ve had, I’ve come to realize how misunderstood SEO is among lawyers looking to use the Internet to market their practice.

    What is Search Engine Optimization?

    Before you hire someone to optimize your site, you need to do some homework and have a basic understanding of the process. Read this Wikipedia entry for an excellent overview of SEO.

    Now that you have a general understanding of what it is, let’s discuss a few of the myths about SEO.

    Myth #1: SEO is free and/or inexpensive

    The expression, “you get what you pay for” applies in spades to SEO. Because there are so many SEO consultants out there (including many overseas), it’s easy to be seduced by low cost consultants that promise to “get you found on Google.” I’ve come across many that offer to perform SEO services for very low fees – as low as a few hundred $$. Just to make sure I was not missing out on anything, I’ve tried this approach many times. Every single time, I’ve come away disappointed. While it’s true that these firms can get your site ranked for a handful of keywords, that usually does not amount to much in terms of visitors to your website. As a general rule of thumb, you should plan to spend $5,000 to $10,000 per month in SEO consulting if you want to generate a meaningful amount of traffic to your site.

    Myth #2: SEO lasts forever (or a very long time)

    One of the big selling points behind SEO is that, once you achieve a “page 1” ranking, your site will stay there forever. The sales pitch is that, while the initial cost might seem high, once you amortize that cost over a lifetime of visitors, the fees seem justified. While there is some truth to this line of thinking, you’re never done with your SEO efforts. Keep in mind, Google’s overall goal is to provide the web searcher with the best websites that match the consumer’s search phrase. There are many, many web sites that are constantly competing for those spots. Once Google determines there is a better site out there, your ranking will fall. So, you must continue to invest in improving your website to maintain any rankings you have achieved.

    Myth #3: SEO is the best strategy for attracting new clients

    Because lawyers buy into the sales pitch in Myths #1 and #2, they deduce that SEO must be the best strategy for using the Internet to attract new clients. However, even those Myths were reality, it would still not be the case. In order to attract new clients, you must understand how consumers search and how they come to find a lawyer. Before I wrote this post, I looked at the keywords that resulted in web searches finding a lawyers website (I happened to have access to this data for about 25 clients). About 95% of the keywords that resulted in a web searcher visiting a lawyer’s website contained the lawyer’s name. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does bring attention to one major shortcoming. How many consumers that are looking for an attorney know your name and know what types of law you practice. Not many. If you want to attract new clients – ones that don’t know your name – you need to focus on keywords that are general and don’t include your name. This is where SEO becomes really complicated (and really expensive).
    I’m a huge believer in SEO for building web traffic. My company focuses on SEO to generate traffic to our websites. It works. But, it’s not cheap and it’s not quick. And it should not be the only thing that you do.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    (Online) Marketing 101: It Starts with Distribution

    I recently returned from a meeting of solo practioners put on the California Bar. There were a couple of sessions on online marketing, so I thought it was a great opportunity to hear the perspective of lawyers that were trying to get their head around how to use the Internet to market their practice.

    The primary focus on the session I attended had to do with building a website for your legal practice. This of course, is something that I believe is necessary for any practicing lawyer or law firm to do. Its hard to imagine how a professionally designed and informative website could hurt any legal practice.

    I figured that most lawyers would view their website as a great resource for existing clients or prospects that were referred to them, etc (which it is). This was not the case. Universally, lawyers only wanted websites because they wanted to be "found on google." The belief was that, if they were found on google, then they would get a windfall of new business.

    As the conversation continued, I felt as if I were living through 1998 all over again. I remember in 1998, entrepreneurs (like myself) were running around like madmen thinking that we would be instant millionaires if we could be the first to launch a website that did something (back then, the MBAs and VC's invested millions on the basis of "first mover advantage"). Guess what? It didn't work.

    Launching a website - or doing anything online - is the proverbial tree falling the woods. If nobody visits your website (other than your mother), how is it going to bring in new clients?

    The first question you need to ask yourself before you do anything online is: how am I going to make sure that I get distribution? It starts and ends with distribution. John Rockefeller taught us in the late 1800's the value of distribution. Almost every hugely successful company in the world has become hugely successful because of distribution strengths. Like Wal Mart. Like Coca-Cola. Media companies derive almost all of their value because they have distribution.

    I'm stating the obvious, right? Right. In the next post, we'll discuss why SEO is not going to deliver the results that you think it will.

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    Why I Started This Blog

    Welcome to The Legal Blog (aka: How to Grow Your Practice via the Internet).

    About 9 months ago, I started working on ExpertHub. Even though the Internet has been around for almost 15 years, I felt like ExpertHub represented a market that was ripe for a significant improvement (that is, finding a lawyer online). Nine months later, I still feel that way . . . in fact, I think the opportunity is even greater.

    Prior to ExpertHub, I spent the previous 12 years in online media, including the last 4 years at a company called Netblue/VendareNetblue/ Connexus. Although that company did not become a household name in Internet marketing, I was afforded an incredible opportunity to learn about some pretty different segments of online marketing. We spent many millions on display media at Yahoo, MSN and many, many ad networks. We ran email campaigns to the tune of many millions each month- both double opt-in super premium email and bulk (or what many refer to as spam). We spent hundreds of thousands each month on paid search. We bought and sold and parked domain names . . . etc, etc.

    Throughout it all, there was one common theme. First, you could always get to the truth if you analyzed the data (lots more to come on that). Second, very few people did (look at the data that is). So, they made up stories about what was happening and that's what the investment bankers and the press largely believed and wrote about.

    In other words, the truth how online marketing works is poorly understood. That's not really a huge shock - I'm sure every industry is like that to some extent. But I have to admit I was shocked when I started talking to lawyers about how to use the internet to build their practice/ get clients, etc.

    So, I started this blog with the goal of providing some insights into online marketing. I hope you find it helpful!