For many of you, this post will spend too many words to state the obvious: Getting clients to your law firm from the web in a profitable and professional way doesn't happen overnight.
Nonetheless, we get this question constantly. So, here's an overview of some of the most common internet marketing strategies, channels, etc, and how long you may have to wait to "get results."
Even today, when most lawyers and their marketing people think about "getting online," they think of a "website."
But what is meant by a "website" means very different things to different people. Likewise, what a website "should do," also varies wildly.
For the purposes of this post, when we say "website," we mean the traditional static "brochureware."
Put another way, these websites are online business cards.
In the context of legal marketing, these websites serve the function of providing information about the firm and the lawyers at the firm. Information like:
Better static law firm websites speak to a targeted audience to distinguish the firm and demonstrate the benefits of hiring the firm over competitors.
These websites are most likely to be found by people who:
This is the most common way that lawyers get started online.
In its simplest form, this merely requires a domain, a hosting account, a WordPress.org installation, a theme and some page content.
Forgetting, for the moment, effectiveness, a basic law firm website can be built in a couple of hours. No, really it can.
In fact, for someone with experience launching WordPress sites, the majority of that time will likely be spent waiting for the hosting account and DNS records.
For an effective website, you should expect the process to take a few months. Most that time should be spent on planning and deciding how you want to communicate the value of your services to your target audience.
In terms of results, you can begin to measure "results" as soon as you launch.
What should you measure? Here are some ideas:
However, in the context of "brochureware," a better metric of performance is probably improving "conversion." In other words, out of all the people who visit your site, improving the number who contact your firm (typically via phone, form fill, live chat, email, etc).
You should measure, test and work to improve conversion from time your site is launched.
Your mantra here is to figure out what motivates and persuades visitors to contact you. This might include things like:
Conversely, you shouldn't expect any traffic from "unbranded organic search." In other words, you shouldn't immediately expect people who search for "chicago criminal defense lawyer," to find your site.
Time to launch: A few weeks to a few months.
Time to results: Largely dependent on your professional reputation and existing recognition. For lawyers who have an "established name" or actively network, you should see direct and branded search visitors quickly. Of course, you will also have to persuade them to contact and hire you.
Blogging has quickly become the darling of the law firm internet marketing world.
But blogging is hard and time-intensive. And good blogging is really hard and really time-intensive.
A blog is really easy to launch. Like a website, to get started, all you need is a domain, a host, WordPress, and a theme.
Of course, next you need posts.
Posts are what distinguish effective blogs from wastes of server space.
Effective legal blogs come in a variety of forms and, despite what some lawyers say, can be effective tools for client development.
But most are pretty lousy (more on this in a moment).
Here is the single biggest sign of effective legal blogging for client development:
People who contact you to inquire about your services say things like, "I read your post on [insert post topic] and wanted to ask you if you could help me with [insert legal issue you can help with].
Whoa, what a concept!
Here are a few others:
Starting to see how this is going to be hard and time-intensive?
This is why some lawyers decide to get some help. Sometimes that help is helpful. Other times it's hurtful. But that's a different post.
Time to launch: A few weeks to a few months.
Time to results: Largely depends on the quality of your posts and your existing authority in your field. Assuming you're a new lawyer and don't have a lot experience blogging, you should expect it to take several months to several years before your blog has any impact on your bottom-line. Sure, you're likely to earn some long-tail search traffic. And maybe some of that traffic will convert into new business. But in terms of blogging as a primarily tool for business development, you should include this in your long-term arsenal.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) includes all of the things that you can do to improve your visibility in organic search results.
A lot of people think of SEO as a product, like you can get a box of SEO or pour some SEO on your sites.
Organic search is a channel. SEO is a process intended to improve business metrics from the organic search channel.
With regard to legal marketing, at least in one context, SEO is the process of attracting more clients from the organic search channel.
That's it. No secrets. No magic dust to sprinkle.
But moving a lot people from a search on Google to a paying client is a process that has a lot of moving parts.
First, you have to make sure that there's nothing technically "wrong" with your pages that might be impeding its performance in search results. These include things like HTML optimizations, speed, text, site architecture, etc.
Second, you have to put "stuff" on your pages that people want to find, read, share and, perhaps most importantly, link to.
Sure you can Beg, Borrow and Buy links to your site. But be careful! Some of these "link building" strategies can be embarrassing for you. Some can be unethical (in the legal ethics sense, not the metaphysical sense). And some of them can get you in trouble with search engines and actually harm, as opposed to, improve your visibility.
Third, assuming you actually get people to find your pages in search results, you still have to motivate them to contact you.
Fourth, assuming you attract people to your pages and motivate them to contact you, they still have to hire you.
Sounds exhausting, no?
Because this approach is so hard, a lot of people try to short-circuit the SEO process with varying degrees of success.
Some folks have figured out ways to "trick" Google. And there's not doubt, some them work. At least for a little while.
But when they stop working, they can have a devastating impact on your business.
My advice is to think about building an organic search presence like you would your offline professional "presence."
This means focusing on forging, nurturing and solidifying relationships. It means doing real law firm stuff (h/t Wil Reynolds).
It means meeting and regularly chatting with more Brians. It means putting your clients first.
These are the people most likely to talk about you, share your pages and link to you. And of course, get the technical stuff right too.
Time to launch: Technically, your SEO process begins from the time you start researching your audience. But that's a long way from getting crawled, indexed and served-up in competitive relevant organic search results.
Time to results: Largely dependent on your ability to fix your website, create content and earn links to your pages. We usually say six to eight months to see significant changes. Obviously, we've seen exceptions to this general rule. But you should definitely think of SEO as a long-term play.
Isn't there anything lawyers can do to "get results" in the short-term? YES! You can advertise!
And by "results" I mean ad impressions and clicks (not return on advertising investment).
There are a lot of different ways lawyers can, and do, pay for advertising online.
One of the most popular is paid search advertising. This is typically done on a pay-per-click basis, but there are others.
Perhaps the most recognizable paid search engine advertising is Google AdWords.
You can create an AdWords account and launch a campaign in mere minutes. Shortly thereafter, your ads will start appearing in paid ad spots on Google. Soon after that, you will start getting clicks, for which you will pay Google.
Now here's the kicker: Clicks for competitive keywords can cost ~ $100 per click!
That's not $100 per client. That's not even $100 per potential client inquiry. That's $100 per click.
And if you don't know what you're doing, you'll quickly buy a bunch of worthless clicks and decide:
Ew, this AdWords is trash!
Meanwhile, your competitors who have either learned how to effectively manage their AdWords campaigns (or hired someone to do so), will thank you for pausing your campaigns and closing your account.
The truth is that getting your mix of keyword bids, ad copy and landing pages to translate into paying clients is hard. So, while you can get your ads up and running immediately, you probably shouldn't.
Time to launch: Minutes to hours.
Time to results: If you think AdWords is set it and forget it, you may never realize results. Most lawyers don't. On the other hand, if you've spent significant time learning about how AdWords advertising works, you can get results pretty quickly. Otherwise, you should find someone who knows how to manage and optimize paid search campaigns for firms like yours.
If SEO has been hailed as a magic legal marketing bullet, social media is the gun from which it is often fired (hmmm).
Social media should not be viewed as an internet billboard.
If you tweet, status update, etc, your advertising message you should expect:
In even worst cases, you might get a letter from your state bar telling you to knock it off.
On the other hand, social media can be a great way to:
You know, a lot of the same "stuff" you did before the internet.
The difference is that now you can reach people beyond your local community. And you don't have to buy airfare and accommodations to have a conversation.
Even if you decide to never use social media, you should probably sign-up for some of the major platforms. Here's why: they'll give you some control of what appears in search results for searches on your name. For example, here's a search for my name:
This is an example of why you should use firm and attorney names for social profiles (and of course it's much more authentic too).
But social media really includes a lot more than popular sharing sites. For example, blogging is a social media. Commenting on online forums and news sites is a form social media.
I think you get the picture.
Time to launch: You can sign-up for Twitter in under a minute.
Time to results: How long does it take for you to get results from sending emails? How about text messages? What about cocktail parties? If you're going to focus on anything, focus on authentic engagement metrics (i.e. replies, comments, shares, etc).