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May 27, 2010

Choosing An SEO Expert

I've posted a few times about do-it-yourself tips for search engine optimization.   Professional SEO companies can be expensive, so doing SEO yourself, especially if you're starting out, can save you money.  Moreover, doing your own SEO, at least for a short period, gives you a better understanding of how it works, thus enabling you to evaluate professional SEO companies.

But let's say you reach a point where despite best efforts, you're still not getting much visibility in the search engines.  Or you've gotten so busy that you no longer have the time to diligently tag your blog posts or research key words.  In these situations, you might consider hiring a professional SEO company.   And if you take that route, this article from the ABA's Law Practice Management magazine, Making Your Web Site Visible: How to Find a Good SEO Company by Sharon Nelson and John Simek is required reading.

For starters, just as with marketing consultants, choosing an SEO company is a process fraught with peril.  Hiring a shady or unethical company that uses deception or under-handed techniques can will get you visibility, alright.  It just may not be the kind you want.

Importantly, Nelson and Simek recognize these dangers.  Thus, they advise lawyers to seek out personal recommendations from colleagues and to avoid companies that guarantee top five placement on Google  in a month - because that's an impossible promise to keep without some kind of gamesmanship. 

In addition, the SEO business tends to attract fly-by-nighters and get-rich-quick types.  So Nelson and Simek suggest that you research the company's history to determine how long it's been in business and how many people it employs.  They also point out that reputable SEO companies will list their clients -- you can then search for those clients on line and see how they present in search results.  Finally, Nelson and Simek recommend that lawyers use SEO companies that have worked with attorneys in the past, because those companies tend to be more familiar with the ethics constraints that lawyers face.

Lawyers should also compare pricing (which varies widely between companies) and closely review the terms of the contract, including whether any minimum duration is required.  Also, the arrangement with the SEO company should include preparation of regular reports so you can determine whether the SEO campaign is working.

Perhaps Nelson's and Simek's best advice is essentially to manage expectations.  As they emphasize throughout, SEO companies can help, but at the end of the day, they can't do much to improve your visibility if you're not producing content or taking other action to drive traffic to your site. 

SEO is only one part of the marketing equation.   So while you might hire an SEO company to kick your marketing campaign up another notch, realize there's no point in investing time and money to improve your website's or blog's SEO if clients have nothing to see when they arrive.
September 11, 2009

Legal Marketing Round Up

It's time for another round up of updates on previous posts.  Without further ado, here's a bunch of quick follow up tips from around the blogosphere:

1. Be Careful Whom You Hire As  a Marketer  A few months ago, I asked whether you should hire a legal marketer and warned about some of the potential red flags to avoid in choosing a marketing consultant.  At least one unfortunate attorney failed to read my advice, and now, she's found herself the brunt of serious criticism around the blogosphere. 

Colin Samuels' Infamy and Praise Round Tuit 2 provides the best summary of the sordid affair.  Apparently, a California attorney retained a marketing consultant (well, actually, she bartered for his services) who chose to build her online presence by scraping content from other blogs, including Houston criminal defense lawyer's Mark Bennett's Defending People.  The consultant also set up a number of alias Twitter accounts under the California attorney's name in a lame effort to boost her SEO.  Mark Bennett took the consultant to task  here and here, with the end result of spreading the story around the blogosphere, damaging the attorney's representation in the process.  Two lessons here:  (1) bad publicity isn't necessarily better than good publicity and (2) DON'T outsource your marketing efforts.  Hopefully, this attorney will read my earlier post on guarding your reputation online so that she can minimize the negative commentary.

2.  Recyle and Re-purpose for a Successful Blog In my post on ebooks, I described how you can recycle or re-purpose content you've created for blogs or other publications to include in the ebook. However, the concept of re-purposing or multi-purposing is also useful to understand if you're trying to build a successful blog, a topic I've covered here. Over at Blog for ProfitCalifornia Defamation Law Blogger Adrianos Facchetti describes how he multi-purposed his blog content to gain visibility in his niche of Internet defamation in just six months time.  Facchetti explains:

This is the "hub and spoke" strategy.  This is how it works.  Let's say I write a really great post and I want to make sure a lot of people read it. The first thing I would do is to upload it to as many websites as possible. So, I would upload the post to several bookmarking sites like social median and digg. Then I would upload it to JDSupra. Then I would tweet about it.

I also made sure that my blog posts updated automatically to my LinkedIN profile and to my Facebook profile via RSS feed.
My goal was to get my content in as many different places as I possibly could, which I did.  Use this strategy. It works
.

There's similar advice over at the Baby Boomer Entrepreneur, which in addition to Facchetti's suggestions recommends (1) recording blog posts for podcasts or videos and (2) circulating blog posts to Ezinearticles.com, a heavily trafficked site which will rock your SEO.

 

April 28, 2009

Tips for Delegating Marketing on the Cheap

Many lawyers find themselves in a catch-22 situation in the economic downturn.  On the one hand, they realize that they need to step up their marketing efforts to attract more business.  On the other hand, feeling cash-strapped, they're loath to spend money unnecessarily.  And when business finally comes through the door, lawyers are more inclined to jump on it to earn some money and relegate marketing to the back burner.

Large firms have long dealt with the problem of yo-yo marketing efforts by maintaining professional marketing staff who can keep the machine running even while lawyers are busy.  But few solos have the resources to invest in full-time marketing staff, or even to hire a part-time marketing professional.  Moreover, many solos run a strong independent streak and are loath to delegate any tasks, including marketing.

Truth is, there are few tasks that are easier and more cost-effective to delegate than marketing.  Below, identify those marketing functions that lend themselves to delegation and find some affordable ways that lawyers can outsource some of those tasks.

1.  What you can delegate and what you can't.  Delegation can help lawyers with their marketing, but there are some functions which can't be outsourced.  For example, if your marketing strategy includes lunch or coffee dates with prospective referral sources, clearly, you can't send an assistant in your stead.  However, as I'll discuss below, what you can do is ask your assistant make the initial contact with referral sources, with you following up personally to issue the invitation. 

Some tasks fall in the middle of the line.  For example, you could hire a ghostwriter to write articles or a blog for you, or use a social media guru to Twitter on your behalf.  I don't recommend delegation in these circumstances because it's not genuine -- I prefer my readers to hear my voice in my writing because it conveys a sense of my personality.  Though there's nothing wrong with asking an assistant to help identify blog topics, edit posts, and every so often put up a post under your name during a busy spell, ultimately, you should avoid having someone acting as "the man behind the curtain".

Finally, as a lawyer, you alone are responsible for compliance with ethics rules governing advertising.  If you outsource preparation of an advertisement or marketing campaign, you need to review those materials thoroughly to ensure that they don't run afoul of ethics rules in your jurisdiction.

2.  Tasks suitable for delegation.  Now that we've covered those tasks that lawyers shouldn't delegate, what's left?  Plenty, as discussed below:

For seminars, delegate room reservation, set-up of online webinar software, scheduling, registration, marketing, materials reproduction, mailing campaign, registration and surveys.

For articles or e-books, delegate research of potential topics, potential publication sources, supporting research, editing, formatting, and distribution.

For blogging, delegate blog set-up, topic collection, gathering resources, editing and formatting posts, monitoring blog statistics, and blog publicity.

For cold calls, delegate organizing contact lists and numbers, making initial contact and scheduling the followup call.

For social media, delegate the setup of accounts or profiles (based on information provided by lawyer), identifying potential followers (on Twitter) or connections (on LinkedIn), sending requests for testimonials, and monitoring lawyer's online presence.

For general marketing, delegate identifying growth areas, preparation of white papers and surveys to support marketing efforts or circulate to potential clients, graphics and logo preparation, contact management, and sending news items in clients' newsletter.

3.  Who to delegate to?  There are plenty of professional marketing companies that can handle all of these tasks for you, but they can also be costly.  Instead, try working with virtual assistants, many of whom have experience marketing their own businesses and are highly skilled when it comes to social media and online tools.  Professionals students, such as law students or business students, can also help out on most tasks, particularly those requiring more specialized marketing or legal research.  Don't overlook your family either -- your spouse, parents, or kids can help fold or stamp fliers, or register attendees at a seminar.

As for cost, virtual assistants and students provide fairly cheap labor, while you can often consign friends or family for free! 

4.  Change your mindset.  Ultimately, to succeed at delegating, you need to change your mindset and build it in to all of your plans.  Start breaking down marketing tasks into lists and specifically identify whether you or an assistant will handle a particular matter.  Once you formally list an assistant as responsible, you'll be less inclined to take on the work yourself.

Just like yo-yo dieting, on-again-off-again marketing efforts aren't particularly effective or healthy for the growth of your firm.  By delegating marketing tasks, you can ensure that they continue to move forward even during those times when you're too busy to pay attention.
January 5, 2009

Should You Hire A Marketing Expert?

Free information on marketing a law practice abounds on the Internet. Just visiting the law marketing blogs listed in the sidebar here could provide you with several weeks' worth of material on marketing a practice. And if you tire of blogs and online materials, there's a wealth of marketing books for lawyers and non-lawyers (next week, I'll list some of my favorites).  Still, let's say that despite these free materials, you feel that you still need help to ramp up your marketing efforts.  Should you hire a marketing consultant or pay for a high end marketing package?  While I can't make the decision for you, below are several considerations that you should take into account in evaluating what types of marketing products and services to pay for.

Cost.  Marketing consultants can be costly, ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars.  Some consultants also produce marketing packages or tool kits, or may offer ongoing group coaching or master mind sessions.

Most marketing consultants will tell you that it takes money to make money.  Even so, that doesn't mean that you should mortgage your house to pay for marketing services.  If you spend more than you can afford, you'll add additional stress to your marketing efforts.  So instead, keep cost in mind when choosing a consultant or marketing package.  See if a consultant offers a group rate so that you can share the costs with other attorneys.  In addition, ask whether a product or a service is available on a trial basis or comes with a money-back guarantee.  Many times, selecting an appropriate service or product is a matter of trial and error, so it's important to have a way to get your money back if you don't receive any value from a program. 

Which product or consultant should you use?  With so many marketing programs and consultants available (just do a Google search if you don't believe me!), how can you choose?  Consider the following questions:
  • Is the consultant an attorney or former attorney?  My own personal preference is to choose a marketing consultant who is either a practicing attorney or who formerly practiced.  A close second is a consultant with considerable experience working with attorneys.  Why is working with a lawyer so important?  As many of us know, most bars heavily regulate lawyer advertising, imposing all sorts of rules ranging from the breed of dog that can be used on a law firm logo to  the legality of using client testimonials at a website to a lawyer's ability to join a business networking group.  To be sure, lawyer marketing consultants may not be familiar with ethics issues in all 50 states, but at a minimum, they'll be sensitive to them.  By contrast, a marketer with no background in the law or with lawyers could recommend a marketing campaign that revolves around an ethically prohibited practice.
  • Does the marketer have experience in your specific practice area?  Some marketing concepts -- such as the importance of follow-through or using a diverse portfolio of marketing techniques -- apply across the board, no matter the practice area.  But the effectiveness of other marketing practices may depend on a given field.  For example, networking with moms at the PTA or local mothers' groups may be effective for a probate practice, but it's hardly an effective way to lure a securities client.  Try to discern what type of experience a potential marketer has in assisting people in your practice area or, at least, a similar practice area.
  • What kinds of materials does the consultant or attorney make available as a trial?  Most marketers recognize that lawyers must feel comfortable with the marketer's style and approach to create a productive working relationship.  So these days, most marketers will make a reasonably substantial sample product -- such as a free tele-seminar or a recording or an e-book to download -- available at no cost.  Many marketers will also provide a free initial consultation.  This information can help you determine whether you would like to work with a particular marketer.
  • How effective is the marketer at marketing his or her own services?  Is your marketer effective at promoting his or her own services?  Does he or she have a professional-looking and substance-packed website or blog?  Or is the marketer's site sloppy, full of misspellings and lacking in any substance?  Point is, if marketers can't market themselves, how can they market you?
  • Can you contact personal references?  Will a consultant give you access to previous clients?  A personal reference from a former client will give an objective third-party evaluation of the marketer's skills. 
Avoiding red flags.  Sadly, there are all too many opportunistic gurus who see an opportunity to prey on desperate attorneys who are struggling in hard times.  Here are a few red flags to avoid:


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