Jun 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?