I was privileged to be a part of a discussion among a group of solo and small firm lawyers in varying practice areas recently about their online marketing initiatives: what their online marketing experience consisted of, what worked and what didn’t work, etc.
Not surprisingly, a lot of those attorneys indicated that they knew they needed websites so that potential clients could ‘vet’ them after they had already received their name or a referral, or to provide additional information for existing clients, but that they didn’t see the utility of a law firm website for attracting new or potential clients. Most of the attorneys who felt that way also expressed dissatisfaction with the type of client who was finding them on the internet, saying that the clients who came to their firms through the internet were ‘low value’ clients who either wanted free information or who didn’t want to pay their full fees.
After some discussion it became clear that the real question these lawyers should be asking is not whether the internet is the wrong tool to attract high value clients, but whether their websites were not performing the way that they should because they weren't actually built to attract high value clients - or with clients in mind at all.
Google’s New Hummingbird Algorithm
At the end of last month, Google announced that it had implemented a new algorithm, “Hummingbird,” which is a bigger change than the recent “Penguin” and “Panda” Google algorithm updates. As always, Google’s focus is on the web visitor; Google wants those who search the internet to get the best possible results as fast as possible.
The new change relies less on individual keywords and more on collections of words and phrases and their semantic meaning, which will place more emphasis on “long tail” keywords – in other words, longer phrases, rather than individual keywords. A major reason for the new algorithm is the fact that more people use “conversational search;” rather than searching on individual words, web visitors are typing in (or using voice commands to speak) a question, and the new algorithm helps Google focus on the meaning of the entire phrase, rather than on simply matching individual words contained in the search.
Google has also now started encrypting all keyword data so marketers can no longer track traffic by keywords from organic search.
Ken Wisnefski at Wired.com says:
“The Hummingbird update will put less emphasis on matching keywords and more emphasis on understanding what a user is most likely hoping to obtain in their search results. If I can give businesses one piece of advice after this update, it’s to prioritize a well-rounded online marketing strategy that continues to deliver a clear message. Every business in America has an audience, but not every business in America understands the needs of their audience. The companies who prioritize the needs of their users and create content to satisfy those needs will see the biggest successes in the future.” (emphasis added)
What does all of this mean for lawyers and their websites? It means that lawyers need to be more conscious than ever of how their website works and whether it sends the right message. Lawyers should focus more than ever on the clients they want to attract, learning about the needs of those clients and what information is most important to them.
If your site is attracting the wrong kinds of people, maybe it’s time to stop blaming that on the internet and start taking a look at how you might improve your site to attract better clients.
A few quick tips:
Target Your Ideal Client
Your website needs to provide information about you, your firm and your services, but it shouldn’t be all about you. It needs to be about your client.
Speak your client’s language. With the new Google algorithm, it’s more important than ever to ensure that the language you use on your website tracks the way your clients talk about their issues. If they don’t use legal terms that lawyers typically use or if there are industry-specific terms they do use, your site should reflect that. Don't speak like a lawyer on your site - speak like your clients.
Some things to think about: Does your site provide useful content to your clients? Is it a resource that they will return to over and over again? Are you providing information that affects them and their business or the issues that affect your representation? Do you describe your ideal clients on your site so that the best prospects will recognize themselves on your site?
(You can download my Checklist for a Client-Focused Website here).
Update Content Regularly
If your website is stale, you’re losing opportunities. First, stale websites get poor rankings in search results. Remember: search engines are looking to provide web visitors with the most relevant, up to date content possible. If your site hasn’t been updated in years, not only is the search engine crawling your site less frequently, but it’s assuming that the information on the site is old and therefore, less relevant.
Failing to update your site also gives those who land there a poor impression of you, particularly if you have sections of your site entitled “news” or “recent events” and those areas are not updated; you don’t want your most recent event to be 2009 if it’s almost 2014. And if your site doesn’t contain the most updated information about your area of practice or the issues that affect your clients – particularly if there have been big changes recently or your area of practice has been in the news – neither Google NOR actual web visitors are going to see your site – or you- as an authority on the subject.
Provide Substantive Legal Information
Speaking of being an authority, does your website simply say that you have experience, knowledge and expertise, or does it demonstrate that you do? One way to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about is to ensure that your site contains the kind of information potential clients or referral sources are most commonly looking for when they are researching their issue online.
Articles, legal updates, case studies, frequently asked questions and other substantive legal content will help establish your expertise in the eyes of your web visitors and potential clients.
Be Mobile Friendly
According to the marketing experts at HubSpot, by 2014, more people will access the web via mobile than via a PC, and yet 46% of users express frustration with accessing web content on mobile devices. That means that just because your site is ‘available’ on mobile devices, doesn’t mean that it is optimized for mobile or that users accessing your site from a mobile device will have a pleasant experience.
And while we’re talking about ease of use of your site, you might want to review this post to see how user-friendly your website is in general.
Be Present on Social Media
Google’s algorithm has historically been heavily influenced by links, because it sees links as confirmation of a site’s relevance and usefulness – people only link to your site if the content they find there is helpful to them or to their audience. Shares, likes and interaction on social media are the new measures of relevance, and they can be impacted by anyone with a social media account, whether they have their own website or not.
Like it or not, these days you need a presence on social media if you want to draw attention to your content. You need to build relationships with other lawyers, referral sources and potential clients online and interact with them by liking, commenting on and sharing their content if you want to be visible online.
Although many people still aren’t talking about it in the legal industry, Google + is important for lawyers to pay attention to. It is, after all, Google. Some experts are even saying that Google Plus is going to become a fundamental aspect of Google SEO.
To learn more about Google+ and lawyers, check out this article from my Lawyer Meltdown site.
Use Simple SEO Principles
Google hasn’t completely abandoned other factors that go into search rankings, (and other search engines use these factors, too)so be sure your site includes SEO basics like good title tags and meta descriptions which show up in search results and make sure you make use of relevant internal links to help visitors navigate your site. Link to external sources as well, when it makes sense to do so.
Use headlines, titles and subheads, and make your content easily to skim so that when visitors do land on your site, they can easily find the information they’re looking for.
Next time you’re tempted to discount the internet as an effective tool for legal business development, remember that it is likely that even high value clients are using the internet as a tool to search for information about the legal issues that affect your area of practice – and be sure that if they do, your site is the one they’ll find.