Blending Digital Tactics into Your Law Firm’s Marketing

Aug 30th, 2019 | Company News, Law Firm Marketing, Legal Marketing in Brief

The world of marketing has always been and will always be a relationship business.  All of the digital marketing and speeches in the world can only take a relationship so far. Maintaining consistent contact with referral sources and doing good work for existing clients is integral.  Also, for firms looking toward succession planning, having the next generation of lawyers meet a potential client or referral source is equally, if not more important, to the long-term case flow of a firm.

Beyond individual marketing, firms need an overall online presence that includes a differentiating and updated website.  Differentiation is critical; it always has been. But Altman Weil found “50% of law firms do not believe they project a distinct, compelling value that differentiates them from competitors.[i]  In times when demand for legal services is flat, firms need a “compelling” differentiator—whether that be a niche practice, a particular skill, or some other offering.  A firm’s website needs to capture what it provides that is different or better than any other firm, and such branding requires an honest look at the firm’s strengths and weaknesses.

As the firm puts together its marketing plan and considers its differentiating factor, it can start to consider the other tactics that other firms have found to prove most useful.

Look into ongoing search engine optimization (SEO).

Historically, firms have paid third-party providers/optimizers to work on the site submissions, link popularity program, page coding, custom meta tags, and keyword positioning of their website’s pages in order to dominate the first page rankings on the search engines.  Many plaintiffs firms have long employed SEO as a method to obtain cases, but business and corporate firms are joining the party.

Why does this work?

First, the buyers (or potential clients) themselves are considered to be next generation post-recession consumers and business owners also known as “digital natives.   These consumers grew up using the web and as a result are far more likely to use a variety of online resources to identify providers.  Online resources include search engines, social media, professional networking sites like LinkedIn, and other platforms. This is not considered to be a fleeting trend.  By the year 2025, Millennials will account for 75% of the workforce.

Second, there is much more information users can gather from the Internet. Many buyers take matters into their own hands rather than relying on opinions or recommendations from colleagues. They conduct web searches and vet potential providers online through the providers’ vendor websites. This trend is reflected in the continuing rise in total Internet searches, which now surpasses 2 trillion per year.

Research shows that today’s buyers tend to rely not only on Internet searches, but on a variety of strategies and sources of information:

  • 8% of professional services buyers check out a prospective firm’s website
  • 2% search for firms online
  • 4% of buyers ask friends or colleagues if they’ve heard of the firm
  • 9% of buyers check the firm on social media
  • On average, buyers use at least 3 of these approaches to check out a firm before contact and retention

Instead of questioning whether a person would search in Google for a “shareholder dispute attorney” or “car crash lawyer Denver,” most firms realize this is the new normal.  At the very least, SEO is important for the individual names of lawyers and the law firm name to show up properly in a search.

But SEO alone is not enough.

Creating recent, relevant content is a major component to the success of a firm’s online presence. It supports the SEO efforts and helps to promote your firm to the top of the search engines for specific keywords. Unfortunately, retweeting or resharing stories from other sources is not enough to create a meaningful presence.  Blogs and content development are often pain points for lawyers.  Writing takes time, and typically, lawyers are short on time.

Ideally, a firm should post new content monthly in order to maximize SEO efforts and maintain that online presence.  To ease the effort of generating new subject matter, lawyers can create alerts or blogs related to national or local events and cases. For example, when Aretha Franklin passed away without a will, it spurred a number of blog posts around the importance of having a will. Firms may consider using public awareness events, such as national playground safety week, or another type of national holiday to focus their content on consumer safety.

Content that is educational while still being readable is not always an easy task for the legal industry.  Many times, lawyers approach blogs as if they are law review articles, which can make them difficult to understand by a non-lawyer reader.

Blogging is actually easier.

There are two types of blogs – short-form and long-form.  Short-form blogs are between 500-750 words while long-form blogs are between 1,500 and 3,000 words.   Traditionally, short-form blogs have been the standard; however, the rise of authenticity and credibility on search engines has forced writers to shift toward content-rich, long-form posts.

The key with all blogging is to make it concise and digestible. Whether 500 or 2,000 words, a reader only has so much attention, so using graphics and bullets are essential to being effective.

Another key tactic for firms to keep content on track is to create a content calendar. Similar to an editorial calendar, this will help those within the firm who like to write have guidance as to which topics are on the table.

Many law firms try to force every lawyer to write a blog twice a year and often fail miserably. But just like in-person marketing, anyone being forced to do something will not do it. Having a plan and calendar can provide those interested with an opportunity to contribute, while simultaneously relieving management of the headache to nag lawyers to write.

Another trend being implemented by firms is the use of ghost writers or freelance lawyers or journalists.  This can be a very effective tactic to develop regular content. It takes a significant percentage of the work out of the lawyer’s hands and, instead, shifts the lawyer into an editor role, making it less time-consuming.

The one caution to law firms using freelance writers is to be sure the service or writers are creating original content and not a piece that is shared among multiple service subscribers. Google and the other search engines frown upon duplicate content, and it can have a negative effect on the firm’s rankings.

Let’s not forget about social media. 

Firms need to have both a Company page and individual profiles on LinkedIn.  They should also consider a Company page on Facebook and maybe even Twitter.  Once a firm has a regular content flow in place, actively push it out on the firm’s and individual lawyers’ social media. Placing content on the blog is useful, but it is also passive—meaning that someone has to search to find it. Pushing it out on social media provides an opportunity to stay in front of connections, especially referral sources, reminding them of what you do.

Lawyers can no longer ignore the need for social media, nor can they ignore their database of contacts.

While law firm marketing has changed over the years, the fundamental and most common institutional weakness of even the most talented groups of lawyers has not – their mailing list (now otherwise known as their marketing database).

Whatever its name, most law firms either have no database at all, have incomplete lists on various platforms, or have failed to manage their database properly after buying software to manage it.

For those firms struggling to harness the software they purchased, studies reveal that most frequently they are unable to get enough attorney cooperation to complete the install.

Having no database, a disorganized set of them, or one that is outdated, introduces inefficiency and alarming hidden personal and financial expense.  This should be of paramount concern to rainmakers, particularly to those trying to transition clients to next-generation practitioners.

Every firm should be able to reach out in any medium to a contact of the firm.   Whether it be an e-alert, sending a holiday or birthday card, inviting clients to an open house, or reviewing the firm’s referral list – a database should be part of the firm’s foundation.

Firms that do this find their rainmakers become even more productive and their marketing budgets, as a percentage of fee volume, unaffected by initial installation and ongoing software licensing costs.

Last, but not least, consider the online shift to video. 

Video content marketing will take over the world. Statistics on how video can make a difference to a law firm and to the professional services world are not ones lawyers should ignore.

In general, 78 percent of people watch videos online every week, and 55 percent view online videos every day. It makes sense given that YouTube is the second most visited site after Google. According to study conducted by Cisco – one of the largest hosting servers in the world – by 2020, online videos will make up more than 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic.  In another research project conducted by Wordstream, it stated that 59 percent of executives say they would rather watch a video than read text.

The good news for law firm management is that most digital marketing can be automated. This allows lawyers to continue focusing on their work, while an umbrella of firm marketing continues to percolate in the marketplace around them.

The content generation scheme can be implemented by an internal marketing coordinator, an outside provider, or even a member of the professional staff who has a bit of free time or interest in digital tactics.

Remember, marketing is an ongoing effort.

Firms need to consider their immediate needs and their future plans, and they need to revisit their marketing efforts regularly to ensure they are designed to meet those needs and fulfill those plans.  As stated above, there is no “one size fits all,” but melding traditional and digital methods will maximize a firm’s exposure and assist in generating business.

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