Search engine optimization is not Internet marketing. SEO is one component of online marketing but the two are far from synonymous. Despite this fact, that is how too many companies—especially law firms—approach Internet marketing. They hire someone who has programming or coding experience to manipulate Google’s algorithms to get their sites to pop up higher in search result listings.
That approach may seem to have worked for a while—which is why so many attorneys have jumped on the bandwagon—but you can be sure that is all about to change. SEO in general has been evolving and Google recently introduced the first phase of yet another new algorithm that will target this approach head-on, at least for searches conducted on mobile devices.
What Google Wants
More and more, Google places the emphasis on how well your site or other online content truly helps your intended audience. You could say that Google wants is what your clients want. This does not include developing crafty ways to “win” at SEO with the sole intent being to lure people to your site. Building pages that serve only as a gateway to your site with no real content of value, for example, will have a better chance of garnering you a Google penalty than it will good SEO ranking.
Your Online Presence
In order to avoid nasty penalties and to get the search results—and the business—you want, law firms must focus on creating an overall online presence. This should be a profile that showcases your expertise and tells people how you can help them and why they would want to work with you.
Think about your own experiences here. If you meet an accountant at a networking function or are given the name of a financial planner by a colleague or a friend, what is one of the first things you do? You quite likely will look that person up online. You might scan the business website or the person’s LinkedIn profile or even both. What you find there will give you a sense of them as professionals and help you determine if they offer the knowledge or service that you may need.
Well, if you do this what would make you think that others don’t do the same thing when given your name? Even people that find your site in a search result may decide to look at your LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, blog or other online activity. What they see—or don’t see—can directly determine whether or not they call you.
So, the question then becomes, does your web presence paint the picture you want people to see? Is it professional and representative of your experience? Does it offer people multiple ways to learn about you and your areas of practice? Does it inform and help people? If the answer to even one of these questions is no, you have untapped opportunities at your doorstep.
How to Create a Good Online Presence
In addition to a standard website, there are some other tools that you should make use of when creating your online presence. They should and could all interface with your website, however, to develop an integrated profile and experience. Following are four tools that your law practice should utilize:
A blog can help you in multiple ways including the ability to provide SEO benefits. It is important to note, however, that the way in which a blog helps SEO is not by outwitting some search algorithm. Instead, a well-done blog informs readers and may even help them to make decisions. It can also create a connection and engagement with your audience. These are some key things that Google looks for with its algorithms.
A well-written blog gives you a perfect vehicle to display your expertise and knowledge to your prospects and clients as well as to other professionals or colleagues. Of course, your blog topics should all relate in some way to the areas in which you practice.
For example, if you are a family law attorney, writing a blog about how to effectively co-parent after a divorce can be very useful and interesting to your client base. If you are a business law attorney, a blog about how to choose between a corporation, an LLC or some other business operating structure would be a logical topic. Relevance should be your guiding principle when developing your blog posts.
Staying in contact with people that you have already done business with or had some exchanges with is one of the best ways to future-proof your practice. Repeat clients and referrals are worth their weight in gold. An informative email newsletter is a fabulous and cost-effective way to cultivate this ongoing business.
The best way to get the most mileage out of your newsletter is to keep the basic email short but provide links to more in-depth information. Give teasers or introductions to topics with a link to your blog, for example. You could also include a link to a video.
Another great idea is to team up with another professional in a related field and have them include a guest post—and you could do the same in their blog. Let’s say you are a tax attorney. It would be appropriate for you to have an accountant write a guest blog that you include in your email newsletter that offers information related to your practice area but adding to your own knowledge. This also gives clients great security in knowing that you team with other qualified professionals as needed.
In addition to including a video link in an email newsletter, you could host a video series on your website or even set up your own YouTube channel (but then link this to your website as well). Keep each video short and the topic very specific as attention spans are short. But, if your videos are well done, people will watch more than one.
Videos can provide the same great opportunity to let people see your expertise but they also add the ability for them to literally see and hear you. This deepens their experience with you and expands their overall impression of you. Videos are also one thing that people like to share with others which can help you as well.
You may gasp when you see this at first but take note—social media very much has a place in the law firm marketing toolkit. Facebook may not be highly popular among teenagers anymore but it remains highly utilized among people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Placing Facebook ads targeted at your demographic can be highly lucrative and Facebook has also made doing this far easier than it once was.
Note too that LinkedIn is a social media site and very much the professional gold standard. A lack of presence on LinkedIn is likely to be a big flag to potential clients as today’s world looks at a LinkedIn profile as standard in the business world.
Some industries have their own specific social platforms. Houzz is a great example of this and targets the home renovation industry. Attorneys who work in construction law could do well to look at a presence here that may include advertising as well.
Twitter is more than just a news feed source of sorts. It also provides capabilities to host what are webinars in a way via the Twitter forum. Advertising on Twitter has also matured and grown up to offer very lucrative opportunities for professionals.
These are by no means the only things you can or should do to create your professional online presence but they should be some of your first considerations. Again it is important to point out that each of these avenues should connect to your website which could be thought of as a central hub for your entire online presence. This will not only resonate well with your audience but also with Google as it shows the search engine giant a cohesive picture of your practice.
You have no doubt experienced the difference that comes from meeting a client in person versus only talking to them on the phone or even only emailing with them. The greater the level of engagement, the more likely you are to win or keep that client. The same principle applies to your online presence.
When you give people more ways online to find you and to learn about you, you can boost the level of engagement and increase your chances of being the one that is called and retained. And here may be the best part—you don’t have to do this on your own. Just like your clients should know when to rely on your expertise, so too should you know when to rely on the expertise of others.
Find a reputable company that truly knows good Internet marketing campaigns, not just SEO algorithm management, and let them be your guide through the development of your web presence. You’ll be glad you did.
Edward Kundahl, Ph.D., M.B.A.