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 – 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!