In the course of founding, developing, and continuously attempting to improve a growing solo law practice, I’ve researched and used many forms of attorney/lawyer marketing. From Yellow Page ads in the phone book, to billboards, to radio ads, to online directory listings, to sponsoring celebrity golf tournaments, to pay-per-click search engine ads, and everything in-between. This article is my attempt to provide an overview of the basics of lawyer and attorney internet marketing.
Interestingly enough, attorneys weren’t even allowed to advertise when my father started practicing law. The American Bar Association (ABA) historically believed that attorney/lawyer advertising was unprofessional and would cause people to possibly file frivolous claims. However, in the 1970s, attorneys John Bates and Van O’steen took the ban of attorney/lawyer advertising all the way to the United States Supreme Court. It was a groundbreaking case, and the advertising ban was overturned.
“Siri, find me a lawyer.”
Times have changed. Modern attorneys must market their services, and most attorneys must market their services online. It used to be the case that a law firm only needed a brochure-style website (with name, address, phone number, and a photograph of the attorney). Having a site like that today is the equivalent of having a magazine ad in a magazine with over four-billion pages. No one would be able to find you, or remember you. Below are the basics to get you started on developing an online presence for your law firm.
Create a law firm website immediately, if you don’t have one already
The building of a website requires you to select a domain name, and you’ll want to choose this name carefully. Conventional wisdom once was that you should stuff your domain name with keywords (e.g. www.auto-accident-attorney.com). The current school of thought is to instead focus on branding your real name or the name of your firm (e.g. john-doe-law.us, or rosecitylaw.com). Whatever domain name you choose, make sure to also purchase variants to eliminate possible confusion and to keep others from stealing your name (e.g. consider purchasing not only john-doe-law.us, but john-doe-law.com, and john-doe-law.net).
After you’ve purchased your domain name, you’ll need to select a domain host. This will be the company that will maintain a server where your website files will be stored. These files make up your website and will be accessed by the browsers (literally) of visitors to your site. There are many different domain hosting companies (e.g. GoDaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, etc), and there are also many different formats you can choose for your website (e.g. WordPress, Wix, Joomla, Drupal, HTML, CSS, etc). If this all seems a bit over your head, hire a company to set it all up for you. Just make sure that you own your site and all the related access to content and data from the site.
Claim your Google Business Listing
If you have a physical office somewhere, chances are you already have a Google Business Listing, whether you know it or not. At this point, Google has essentially mapped the entire world and indexed it in some form or another. You’ll want to officially let Google– and your prospective clients know– that you are listed on Google maps and in their business directory.
Claim your Facebook Business Listing
Much like Google, Facebook has got into the game of courting consumers and business owners. Whether you know it or not, you likely have a Facebook page for your business. Claim it. Own it. Start populating it with correct information (name, address, phone, website address, and photos). Note: Your Facebook business page should be separate from your personal Facebook page.
Claim your Bing Business Listing
Let’s face it: Bing is the ugly, shorter, weaker brother of the powerful, tall, fit, and handsome Google. But Bing is a Microsoft product, and with 80-90% of the computers in the world still running some version of Microsoft Windows, there are many users who are routed or funnelled through Microsoft to use Bing as the default search tool. Claim your Bing Places for Business page. The process will be very similar to claiming your Google Business Page.
Now, Decide How Far You Want to Go Down The Rabbit Hole
After you’ve completed the actions listed above, the question really becomes: How much time do you really want to spend handling Internet marketing on your own? Are you a proud do-it-yourselfer? Are you on a tight budget? Are you a control freak (ehem, “detail-oriented”)? Or would you prefer to focus on the practice of law? Do you have money to hire a professional?
If you want to do things on your own, here are some suggestions (in order of importance):
- Become familiar with WordPress or whichever content management system (CMS) you choose. Become familiar with responsive themes, plugins, widgets, and understand the difference between posts and pages.
- Hire a professional photographer and a professional videographer. Long-gone are the days where you can use a Walmart Portrait Studio photo or a hand-held selfie for your online professional image. You need professional photos for your site– and ideally a high-quality HD video on YouTube or Vimeo, embedded on your site.
- Weigh the costs and benefits of paid directory listings. For the most part, these are an absolute waste of money, but for some practice areas, they can at least make you visible if you cannot otherwise afford to be visible. For example, if you cannot get your site onto the first page of Google’s search engine results page (SERP), you might be able to get your site listed on Justia, Avvo, Nolo, or FindLaw and that could benefit you if they are on the first page of Google’s SERPs.
- Create a Google AdWords Express account or a Google AdWords account (non-express account). Create a Bing Search Engine Marketing (SEM) account. Start with some low-cost pay-per-click (PPC) ads to try testing some keyword search terms focused on your practice area.
- Become familiar with the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is where the rabbit hole starts to get wide, long, deep, huge, etc. See what I did there? I tried to optimize for the keyword “big.” But seriously, this is where you may want to hand things over to a professional (unless you have more time than money).
Selecting a Online Marketing Agency for Your Law Firm
There is something about the legal profession that attracts the worst in marketing companies. Once your telephone number and email are online, you will undoubtedly get calls from boiler rooms in India, Nevada, and Florida from solicitors promising to “get you on the front-page of Google.” Some will even lie and claim they work for Google.
How do you know who is legit? Of those that are legit, how do you know which can actually deliver what they promise? The truth is: You won’t know. Also, what is true today about SEO, may not be true tomorrow.
Google Algorithm Updates
Remember that rabbit hole we talked about? In addition to white-hatted rabbits (hehe), there are pandas, penguins, possums, and even hummingbirds. These are the names that have been given to Google’s search engine algorithm updates over the years. Google is like a river: Always flowing, always diverting, always changing. Even the best Internet marketing companies aren’t privy to the secret sauce that is Google’s source code. The best Internet marketing companies collect data, make observations, and then make predictions as to what they think Google will like in the future. What Google will value, prefer, and give weight to.
Two excellent choices for lawyer and attorney online marketing are: Mockingbird Marketing and LawLytics. I’ve used both briefly, and will likely be using Mockingbird again shortly. However, it’s important that you compare several companies to find who will best fit your needs. Online reviews can be faked or manipulated quite easily, so the best measurement of online marketing efficacy is actually off-line: Phone calls and conversations with other attorneys, lawyers, and law firms. Provided that you are not speaking with a direct competitor, most lawyers will be candid, and happy to share their experiences.