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 and 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 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'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 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