June 2009 Archives

June 22, 2009

Clients Search Globally, But Lawyers Need to Get Found Locally.

A search engine like Google or Microsoft's recently released competitor Bing are great tools for a global search of the entire web.  And that's great for those lawyers who have a dominant presence or a unique niche that appeals to clients nationally.  But where most search engines have a hard time is at a more granular level, i.e., in helping users find local businesses and services -- be they restaurants or nail salons or daycare centers or law firms -- right in their own backyard. 

For lawyers who target clients in surrounding communities, the search engine's "local" blind spot creates an enormous disadvantage.  Large "mill" law firms with regional or state-wide practices are able to dominate solos and small firms in search engines, pushing them down to the second or third page of rankings.  And while these larger operations may not have offices in close proximity to a prospective client, that client may choose the firm by default because a more convenient solo option never appeared in the search engine.  

As I've written previously, blogging can help close the search engine gap.  For example, lawyers can improve local SEO by choosing a domain name for a blog that is very location-specific, such as BlueHillTennesseeLawyer.com, or referencing the names of local communities within posts.  However, if you're not inclined to blog, Google just launched another tool which can help improve your visibility on the local level and, more importantly, generate data that can help you to better target local clients. (As a disclosure, my husband is a Google employee, but he does not work on any of the search tools and in fact, never mentioned this tool to me -- I learned about it independently online).

As described at Tech Crunch, Google is attempting to build up its Google Local application, which generates local search results and provides listings that pop up in Google Maps.  But in order for the tool to be effective, small businesses need to claim their listing profile.  As I've already discussed, listing a profile at Google Local can help improve your SEO in local markets.  In addition, Google Local also lets users include photos and create "coupons" (though you'd need to check with applicable bar rules to determine whether you can ethically offer discount coupons).

But as if that wasn't enough incentive to add your profile, now Google is offering this Small Business Dashboard which provides free data that can help businesses evaluate the effectiveness of their local marketing efforts.  The Dashboard provides statistics on how many times a business comes up in search results and which keywords generated those results, how many times people generate driving directions to the business on Google Maps, and, most importantly, where those people come from.

How can Google Local and the Dashboard help your marketing?  For starters, let's say that you continuously receive calls about bankruptcy matters, notwithstanding that you specialize in estates.  By checking the keywords by which users are finding you, you may discover a phrase on your website that attracts clients with bankruptcy problems.  You can use that information to tailor the text on your site to lure clients with matters in your specific practice areas.  Or, let's say that you learn that for some reason, many clients are coming to your firm from another part of the state -- perhaps as much as 40 miles away.  You could consider adding a virtual office component to your practice, or holding office hours once a month at a temporary office closer by as a convenience to these clients.

Through the Internet and powerful search engines, all of us have the ability to search and be found globally.  But for those lawyers who serve the surrounding communities, none of that matters unless clients can find them locally.  So why not act locally and set up a Google Local listing for your law firm?
June 22, 2009

Legal Marketing Blawg Update Post: Email Marketing

A few months back, I posted on the importance of client newsletters as a marketing tool and offered some tips on how to create newsletters to make them appeal to existing and prospective clients.  Not surprisingly, many businesses recognize the benefits of e-newsletters -- so much so that Forrester Research predicts that email marketing campaigns will reach $2 billion by 2014, reports Lisa Barone at Small Business Trends

Barone believes that email marketing is one of the most effective low-cost ways for small businesses to inform and retain existing clients.  She writes: 

Email marketing is all about customer retention. It's about building stronger relationships with customers who already know you and decided that, yes, they want to keep hearing from you. They want to stay up to date on what you're doing, they want to hear about new products, they want to hear about hot deals, etc. The messages that land in their inbox help keep your company name in their top of mind and force them to constantly be thinking about you.
Barone offers some advice about email marketing campaigns.  Though I don't recommend that law firms bombard clients with promotional activities (and indeed, doing so might not even be ethical), many of the tips are readily transferable to e-newsletter campaigns.

In addition to the advice from my earlier post, Barone recommends that you develop content with your existing and prospective clients in mind.  For example, do your clients want educational articles to help with a specific task?  Are they interested in short case studies or quick updates on new legal developments?  Once you understand why clients have subscribed to your newsletter, you can generate content that suits their needs.  If you serve a diverse clientele -- for example, families who need estate planning and individuals with employment matters -- you may want to consider two separate newsletters.     

It's also important to "brand" your newsletter, using the logo or colors that are consistent with your website.  That way, the template will help reinforce your brand to clients.

One final, interesting point -- the day that you send emails matters.  According to Barone, emails sent Tuesday to Thursday receive the highest open and clickthrough rate.  By contrast, those sent on Monday are most likely to be lost, while those sent on Friday are most likely to be ignored.  If your schedule doesn't permit you to personally send newsletters on those days, then consider delegating e-newsletter prep to an assistant.
June 5, 2009

Legal Marketing Round-Up

Once again, it's time for a round-up post, updating information that I covered in earlier posts.

1. Lawyer-Bloggers All A-Twitter About the Value of Twitter 

Back in February 2009, I considered whether lawyers should be using Twitter, ultimately concluding that at the very least, they ought to give it a try.  Last month, however, lawyer marketing expert Larry Bodine stirred up a controversy with this piece contending that Twitter isn't a very effective tool for lawyer marketing.  Bodine highlighted Twitter's high churn rate, with 60 percent of users dropping off after just a few months' use and pointed out that other tools such as email promotions and blogs were more effective ways to drive traffic to a website.  Most significantly, Bodine argued that Twitter was a time sink -- a distraction from getting real marketing work done that didn't lead to serious business.

Bodine's post earned him lots of criticism in the blogosphere, which David Barrett exhaustively summarizes at Linked In Lawyer.  Most of the commentary emphasizes that Twitter isn't an end in itself, but a supplement to other marketing tools, such as creating an introduction to warm up a cold call or other personal connection, or helping lawyers reinforce their personal brand.

2.  Are Listservs Obsolete?

Back in December, I made the point that the new generation of social media still hadn't rendered listservs obsolete.  Fast forward six months... and is that still the case?  Via the Legal History Blog, I came across this interesting article, Where Do Legal Listservs Fit in A Social Media World? by law librarian Greg Lambert.  Lambert notes that while listservs still remain a great way to build relationships, network, and discover new resources, at the same time, they have drawbacks such as "lazy research" (obvious questions sent out to 2500 members) and a tendency to generate flame wars if left unmoderated.  Lambert favors Ning (which I'll post about on Monday) as his tool of choice for combining the ease of use and spontaneity of listservs without the drawbacks.  I checked out the Law Librarian Ning that Lambert referenced -- and while it's a nice looking site, it lacks the fluid interaction of a listserv.  At the same time, the participants have all filled out bios, which can facilitate connections and networking.
June 3, 2009

Can A Wikipedia Entry Help Your Law Firm?

If you're like most lawyers, you probably use Wikipedia for a variety of purposes, from finding a layperson's explanation of a legal concept to getting the back story on current events.  Some of you may be avid enough users that you may have even registered for a Wikipedia account and contributed to some of the entries.  But chances are, you never considered creating a Wikipedia page for yourself or your law firm.

Truth is, up until a few weeks ago, I didn't either.  But as I described in this post at Legal Blogwatch, most major law firms already maintain pages on Wikipedia.  What's more, the
UK Law Society points out, Wikipedia has enormous reach:

Wikipedia is one of the largest reference websites -- 684 million visitors yearly. For a sniff of its power, whether you like it or not, cogitate on this snippet from the New York Times 'Bits' technology blog on 30 March, entitled 'Microsoft Encarta Dies After Long Battle With Wikipedia': 'Microsoft delivered the coup de grâce Monday to its dying Encarta encyclopedia, acknowledging what everyone else realised long ago: it just couldn't compete with Wikipedia... In January, Wikipedia got 97% of the visits that web surfers in the United States made to online encyclopedias, according to the internet ratings service Hitwise. Encarta was second, with 1.27%.' That's how powerful Wikipedia is.
With that kind of traffic, a listing on Wikipedia could theoretically bolster a firm's search engine visibility.  So I decided to test my theory and ran a couple of searches on some of the law firms listed in Wikipedia.  Sure enough, the firms' Wikipedia listings came up within the top five to ten front page search results on Google.

Still, is a Wikipedia entry worthwhile for solo and small firm lawyers?  For starters, what kinds of information would you include in the listings?  Many large firms with long histories describe the firm's origins and provide bios of firm founders and well-known alumni.  But solo and small firm lawyers might not have enough background material to include.  A smaller firm might also link to reported cases or cross-reference practice areas described on Wikipedia.  For example, a bankruptcy lawyer could cross-link to the entry on Bankruptcy in Wikipedia, thus providing a good resource for clients with basic questions.  Likewise, lawyers could cross-reference the city where they practice or hobbies they enjoy.

Ultimately, I don't think that Wikipedia is an indispensable component of a lawyer marketing portfolio in the same way as a website or blog or business card.  But for lawyers looking for something different or who can devise a unique use for Wikipedia, it might be a marketing tool worthy of further consideration.