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January 13, 2010

More on Mobile Marketing

Back in August, I mentioned a Pew Internet Report which found that approximately one third of African Americans access the Internet through a cell phone or other mobile device.  I recommended that lawyers serving African American clients make their websites and blogs mobile compliant to facilitate easy access via a hand held device. 

Now, I realize that I should have expanded my advice.  Because even if only a tiny portion of your target clients currently access the web through mobile devices today, very shortly, many more will.  By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device, predicts Gartner Research.  Thus, as we move through the second decade of the twenty-first century, all lawyers will reap benefits by expanding their marketing efforts to the mobile arena, while those who fail to will lose out.

From Gartner's Press Release:   

the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter.

Mobile Web users are typically prepared to make fewer clicks on a website than users accessing sites from a PC. Although a growing number of websites and Web-based applications offer support for small-form-factor mobile devices, many still do not. Websites not optimized for the smaller-screen formats will become a market barrier for their owners -- much content and many sites will need to be reformatted/rebuilt.

While 2013 is still three years away, lawyers are better off getting out in front, rather than scrambling to play catch up.  So what can lawyers do to expand their presence in the mobile online world?  Below are four ideas:

1.  DO design websites and blogs with mobile use in mind.  The
Online Marketing Blog recommends keeping fonts basic, stripping out images to optimize loading time, remove third party services from side bars and focus on delivery of content.   For those running WordPress based blogs, design for mobile devices is even easier: you can use a WPtouch iPhone
If you run a WordPress blog, you can use a
Word Press iphone theme plug-in to automatically create a small-screen friendly version of your blog.

2. DO develop content with search in mind.  As web access goes mobile, find-ability will be critical.  After all, users aren't likely to have the patience or agility to run Google searches and scroll through results on a 2" x 3" screen that downloads slowly.  Moreover, a significant percentage of mobile users will be searching for local assistance:  consider, for example, an abused wife who's left her home and needs a lawyer to file a restraining order or a businessman arrested for DUI.  In both of these scenarios, the prospective client will be searching for a lawyer away from home and will want to find someone within a specific jurisdiction.
 
The Online Marketing Blog suggests focusing on local directories (a topic I wrote about here) to improve find-ability in mobile search:

The best way to ensure you are found on mobile devices is to make sure your site is in all the local search directories with full and accurate profiles. Places like Google Local and Yahoo local probably receive more traffic from users who want to find business in a certain area. When I've used my phone to search the web, I was searching for specific businesses to visit.  Social networking through mobile is also popular and through links, can drive web site traffic. A combination of search and social is the direction where I see the bulk of mobile traffic going.

3.  DO explore creative ways to establish a mobile presence, but DON'T be tacky.  Fort Lauderdale, Florida based lawyer, Jason Turchin just released the free iphone MyAttorney app, reports the Florida Sun Sentinel.  Granted, the MyAttorney feature which enables cell phone users to call their lawyer at the touch of a button arguably meets the tacky test.  But in my view, MyAttorney is redeemed by inclusion of useful tools, such as a checklist of what to do in an accident and a feature for submitting a case inquiry and uploading and submitting photos.

4.  DO get moving on video  Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the importance of video to online marketing.  As user access moves to mobile devices, video marketing takes on even more importance.  For some users, reading text on a mobile device, can prove cumbersome even at an optimized site.  By contrast, video is much easier to view on a phone, and users can still listen even if they have difficulty seeing the video, they can listen.   Most mobile phones already integrate YouTube seamlessly into their design, and consumers have grown adept at watching videos on the small screen.  Chances are, they'll be equally adept at listening to education-based videos or scrolling through video interviews with attorneys on their phones as well.      
   
Are you good to go in this decade's on-the-go marketing world?  And if not, what are you doing to prepare?  
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?