General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

 
Volume 17, Number 6
September 2000

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT

SITE PLAN 12 STEPS TO PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE

By Dennis M. Kennedy

Even the greatest website in the world does you no good if no one visits it. It's what you do after you publish the site that will determine its ultimate success. Follow these 12 steps to create a strategic plan for promoting you law firm's website.

1. Determine Your Purpose.  Your plan to promote your website begins with a basic question: Why do you have the site? Your answer will help you define your target audience and suggest the level of promotional efforts needed.

2. Set Goals.  Your goals should be specific, well defined, and attainable. Websites can be used to market services or products directly. Other valuable uses include streamlining client intake and support, providing technical legal information, and reducing the costs of printing and postage for brochures and other marketing information. Goals can change over time, but they will help you create a framework for your promotional efforts. Goal number one will be finding the best ways to reach your target audience.

3. Put the Plan in Writing.  Promoting your website is a continuing process that will evolve after a number of false starts. You will need to develop some checklists and logs of what you have done and plan to do to promote the site. Take notes on how well each strategy has worked. A written record of this information will help you avoid duplicating your efforts and will give you a road map for promoting new sites you may develop.

4. Choose Your Domain Name Wisely.  Web searchers typically will try the most obvious domain name (www.yourlawfirm .com.) to find your site before they resort to search engines or other finding techniques. If you do not choose a good domain name, you will make it unnecessarily difficult for people to find your site. Don't use non-intuitive names such as initials familiar only to insiders in your firm. Try to get a first-level domain name (www.yourlawfirm .com), and avoid long, unwieldy Web addresses with second- or third-level names. Many law firms today use the common name of the firm or the common name with "law" added. There is also a bit of a trend toward more creative domain names, like www.visalaw.com for an immigration law firm.

5.  List Your Site Effectively in Search Engines.  The highest-quality traffic probably will not come from search engines, but being findable with a search engine is nonetheless important. Many visitors will find your website by using a search engine such as AltaVista, Hotbot, Excite or Google-but sometimes for unexpected reasons. Your website will not appear magically in a search engine index. As a general rule, you must affirmatively add your site to an index. Usually, you can do this simply by clicking an "Add URL" button at the bottom of most search engine home sites and submitting the requested information. You also need to design your site and promote it so that someone performing a keyword search on a topic will be directed to your site. Keep your target audience       in mind. There are many ways        to enhance your findability with search engines. Visit www. searchenginewatch.com for an eye-opening lesson in how search engines operate.

6. List Your Site in Direc-tories and Finding Lists.  There are other, better ways to reach your target audience. These include directories such as FindLaw (www.findlaw.com) and Catalaw (www.catalaw.com). You can get your site included on a specialized list of sites relating to a given legal topic or practice area. This technique narrows the scope of your promotion and helps you attract Web users specifically interested in your topic.

7. Consider Reciprocal Links and Targeted Web Advertising.  If you do your homework before you publish your site, you will find several excellent websites and lists of resources that can be linked with your site. The real utility of the Web comes from these lists of hyperlinked sites. The easiest way to get your site linked from a site you like is simply to ask the site's webmaster to add a link (generally, they will ask you to add a reciprocal link on your site).

8. Use Offline Tools. Excellent, focused promotions of your site can come from both Web and non-Web efforts. Telling existing clients about your website is an important first step. Put the address of your site on your business card and stationery and in telephone directories. Announce the debut of your site with a special mailing, including e-mail. Even on the Internet, nothing works better than word of mouth. Tell your clients, employees, colleagues, and friends about your site. Press releases and biographies in articles and seminar materials can also publicize your site.

9. Obtain Favorable Mentions.  People are eight times more likely to believe a recommendation from an independent source than they are to believe an advertisement. An excellent way to promote your website is to secure favorable mentions from independent sources. This requires that you have good content, design, or something else that will earn favorable reviews. Enhance your prospects of favorable publicity by sending e-mail to columnists and other journalists who write on Internet topics.
10.     Continue Your Promotional Efforts.  Law firms often put a lot of effort into promoting the rollout of a website, but then neglect to follow up with other promotional efforts. A key aspect of promotion is achieving and sustaining good momentum. Monitor what's happening. You might get a great placement in a search engine and then find a few months later that your website has fallen in priority. If you are adding content regularly and updating the graphic design of your site, it makes good sense to focus on promotional efforts at the same time. Promotion is as important as updating content.

11. Evaluate Your Results Regularly.  Simple hit counters are inadequate to help with promotional efforts and indicate a certain lack of Web sophistication to many Internet users. Sophisticated Web traffic reports can be supplied as part of your website hosting arrangement. You can learn fascinating things about the flow of traffic into and through your site and study the success of different promotion techniques. The number of subscribers to e-mail newsletters available at your site is an excellent indicator of the number of quality visits. Use this information to reinforce existing sources of traffic and to help find new locations for reciprocal links or advertising.

12. Go Back to Item No. 1.  Do you still have the same reason for maintaining a website? Like content and design, your promotional efforts will evolve as you learn and as new techniques become available. A written plan will help you focus your marketing efforts and improve them on an ongoing basis. Checklists can be especially helpful. A promotional plan can put you well ahead of many other law firms that have websites. It can give you an important competitive advantage and help you connect with the audience you want to find.

Dennis M. Kennedy practices computer and Internet law at Thompson Coburn LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 40 of Law Practice Management, March 2000 (26:2).

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