I spend a lot of time trying to explain to lawyers that the Internet is much more than another advertising platform. I also spend a great deal of time trying to undo the damage that has been done by unscrupulous and irresponsible law firm SEO consulting agencies. So, here’s another attempt to explain inbound marketing, how SEO fits into an inbound marketing plan, and how your law firm can benefit.
By and large, lawyers are addicted to advertising. Flip on the radio or television any day of the week and you’re likely to come across several law firm advertisements. I don’t know what it’s like in your city, but here in Chicago, you can’t drive into the city without seeing several billboards containing the faces of lawyers and their promises to work hard to get you justice. Buses, bus stops, park benches, and taxi cabs are all covered with lawyers advertising their services.
Advertising in this way is outbound marketing which is probably dying, and in the very least, evolving. Here’s what Hubspot’s Brian Halligan has to say on the subject:
When I talk with most marketers today about how they generate leads and fill the top of their sales funnel, most say trade shows, seminar series, email blasts to purchased lists, internal cold calling, outsourced telemarketing, and advertising. I call these methods “outbound marketing” where a marketer pushes his message out far and wide hoping that it resonates with that needle in the haystack.
I think outbound marketing techniques are getting less and less effective over time for two reasons. First, your average human today is inundated with over 2000 outbound marketing interruptions per day and is figuring out more and more creative ways to block them out, including caller id, spam filtering, Tivo, and Sirius satellite radio. Second, the cost of coordination around learning about something new or shopping for something new using the internet (search engines, blogs, and social media sites) is now much lower than going to a seminar at the Marriott or flying to a trade show in Las Vegas.
Lawyers are familiar with this concept. For years, they have become accustomed to pushing their messages our hoping to reach those needles that actually have a viable case or need their particular services. They have become possessed by this idea, this one, very simple idea. And it’s very difficult to convince them that there’s another way.
According to Halligan, “the other way” is inbound marketing:
Rather than do outbound marketing to the masses of people who are trying to block you out, I advocate doing “inbound marketing” where you help yourself “get found” by people already learning about and shopping in your industry. In order to do this, you need to set your website up like a “hub” for your industry that attracts visitors naturally through the search engines, through the blogosphere, and through the social media sites. I believe most marketers today spend 90% of their efforts on outbound marketing and 10% on inbound marketing and I advocate that those ratios flip.
The best analogy I can come up with is that traditional marketers looking to garner interest from new potential customers are like lions hunting in the jungle for elephants. The elephants used to be in the jungle in the ’80s and ’90s when they learned their trade, but they don’t seem to be there anymore. They have all migrated to the watering holes on the savannah (the internet). So, rather than continuing to hunt in the jungle, I recommend setting up shop at the watering hole or turning your website into its own watering hole.
However, to get from advertising on the back of a bus to building an online hub takes an open mind, patience, and an understanding of how people use the Internet.
Enter Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
As a former personal injury lawyer, I didn’t think it was possible to carry a title that prompted more eye-rolls, jokes, and cynicism, until I became an SEO. It is no secret that when most of us see or hear the letters S-E-O, we cringe. In fact, while at the ABA Techshow this year, it was almost comical to see friends scramble to find ways to introduce me without using the phrase SEO or search engine optimization consultant.
Like other professions and industries that have a black-eye, much of the negative reputation surrounding search engine optimization is deserved. Like you, my inbox, comments on my blogs, and telephone are inundated with promises, guarantees, and other SEO crap.
And so, unless you’re an SEOmoz disciple, while reading this post, I humbly request that you forget everythng you’ve ever heard about SEO.
Search engines are one of the main “watering holes” online. If you are still skeptical about investing time and money into web marketing generally, and search engines specifically, I’d like to suggest an experiment. For one week, document the number of times, and the manner in which, you use a search engine. You’ll probably be quite surprised.
For better or for worse, search engines are our gateways to the web. And your potential clients and new business opportunities are there.
Let’s start with how I describe effective SEO for law firms:
When you boil it down, effective law firm SEO strategy involves publishing great search-mindful content and developing creative strategies to get that content in front of people who are ready, willing, and able to consume, link to, and publicize it.
While I believe that all your inbound marketing and SEO strategies must work in concert, if I was forced to prioritize, I would suggest that around 80% of your success online will hinge on the quality of your web content and about 20% on your ability to get that content in front of the right audiences.
If you’re looking to learn more about how SEO can actually work, I recommend the following:
- From Google: Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
- From SEOmoz: The Free Beginner’s Guide to SEO
- And specifically how SEO can be applied to a law firm: Our Law Firm SEO Blog.
SEO can definitely help law firms attract new clients. However, the model is longer and more circuitous than the 3-step consumer buying path described above. Consider this path:
- A prospective client Googles a highly specific search phrase, such as “impact of 2010 financial reform act on credit unions”.
- That person lands on an article or blog post you’ve written on that exact subject.
- They read your piece and are impressed with your insight.
- They surf your website and notice that you specialize in the exact legal micro-niche that concerns them most.
- They sign up for your newsletter and subscribe to your blog.
- Over the next few years, they follow your blog and read your newsletter. Perhaps they also hear you speak at a conference. The more they hear from you, the more respect they have for your legal insights.
- They hire you when a need arises.
And this is merely one example.
You see, people use the Internet and search engines in a vast variety of ways. Some use them as yellow pages replacements. Many, many more use them as research tools. And when you’re website, blog, profile, or other “professional online presence”, becomes a source of information, answers, and solutions, you will catch more elephants.
Have questions about how? We’d like a chance to show you.