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September 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 6 |Page 25
Technology

Hot Buttons

Embracing Electronic Marketing

A rundown of the many tools you should be putting to use.

Whizbang is a great word to describe the manifold powers of the Web to assist lawyers with their marketing. For many lawyers, though, the Web’s powers can seem so overwhelming that they only stick a toe in the water instead of embracing all the extraordinary tools afforded by the electronic era. Here are some things you should be doing to use e-marketing to the fullest.

Let us inspire you. Studies have shown that spending just five hours a week on marketing of all kinds can raise your annual income by $37,000. Spend more time, make more oney. And the results can be like a snowball rolling down a hill—have a bigger client base, get more referrals and a more constant level of work. Research by Thomson Findlaw found that 56 percent of consumers needed a lawyer in the past two years. Plus, many of those consumers had a need for multiple legal services during those same two years.

So how do you reach these folks? Lawyers have traditionally relied on Yellow Pages ads, networking in the community and among fellow lawyers, and sometimes newspaper ads or articles in legal publications. If this is what you’re doing, exclusively at least, it’s time to think again. The action has moved online. And if you want to appeal to those folks who are online—which, as we all know, is an ever-increasing majority—you too must be online. And as powerfully as possible.

Here are tools and tactics to help you get the most whizbang for your e-marketing bucks.

How Do You Make Your Web Site Work for You?

Without question, the place to start in e-marketing is by having a good up-to-date Web site. It is common today for lawyers to report that more than 20 percent of their business comes directly from the Internet. If you factor out repeat business, lawyers are reporting that more than 50 percent of the remainder of their clients have visited their sites after seeing a print ad, hearing about them from a friend, being referred by another attorney, reading an article they wrote, seeing them lecture or so forth. People go to Web sites to find directions to law offices, to see a photo of their prospective lawyer and, most importantly, to see if they feel that this lawyer has the expertise to serve them effectively.

How well does your site stack up? Clearly, if you have no Web site at all, you’ve got work to do. Ditto if you don’t have your own domain name. Clients are increasingly Web-savvy, and no one wants to do business with jlawyer@aol.com. (She can’t possibly be a “real” or a “respected” lawyer, people think, if she doesn’t have her own domain!) For the bargain price of $99.95, you can buy your domain for five years at www.networksolu tions.com (our preference simply because we can always reach a human being if there’s a problem). You can buy them even cheaper from other domain name registrars (many lawyers use www.godaddy.com), but you may not find the service as first-class as Network Solutions.

How do you go about designing an effective Web site? Rule number one: Use a pro. Web sites need to be tested against all commonly used browsers and there are many tricks and tips that an amateur won’t be aware of. Rule number two: Design for Google. Although the stats vary, roughly 75 percent of those online use Google for searching. As a fringe benefit, if you design for Google, you’ll do fine by most of the other search engines as well.

The trick, of course, is designing well for Google. The infamous Google algorithm, which determines how well sites show up on Google, is guarded with the same fervor as the recipe for Coke. Worse yet, the algorithm changes, since those who would like to “cheat the system” (putting white keywords on white text was a classic in the old days) must be thwarted. Google does a credible job of catching the cheats, so our advice is to do what we did: Create a site that is wholly honest, broad and deep in good content specific to what you do.

A word here about search engine optimization (SEO) companies. There are credible companies but there are also a lot of snake oil salesmen. Beware of any promise that you can be number one on Google for a price. First, you should worry about the company trying to cheat to get that result, and second, you should worry that you are throwing your money down a rat hole. Good SEO companies (and some Web design companies do SEO as well) will let you know that this is an ongoing process. If all you do is wine importation law or bicycle head injuries, you might stand a good chance of coming up tops in the rankings because you have a real niche practice. But if you’re a divorce lawyer, a personal injury lawyer or a business lawyer, forget it. There are too many of you out there.

Remember that most folks looking for a lawyer search by two things: location and area of law. Your site should reflect those things in multiple locations, but most notably on the home page. People used to try to “stack” those sorts of keywords (also known as metatags) in the source code of the Web site. Hence, Google now ignores metatags when it ranks sites.

So what does Google like? We don’t pretend to know the exact specifics or the precise order, but most experts agree that the following are very important:

  1. Domain name
  2. Site title (the first header on the home page)
  3. Inbound links
  4. Other headers on your home page
  5. Hyperlinked text on your home page
  6. Changes on your site, which indicate currency
  7. The depth and breadth of your site, including the overall frequency of recurring terms
  8. The remaining home page language

It’s not just Google you have to design for, of course. Who are your potential clients? If your target prospect is Joe Sixpack, you need to talk directly to him. Perhaps you have the boldface text “ARE YOU IN TROUBLE WITH THE LAW? WE CAN HELP,” along with a picture of a man being handcuffed. You are now talking directly to Joe—and his family. On the other hand, if you are marketing to corporate executives, you need a “Brooks Brothers” kind of site. Mind you, don’t think gavels and law books. That’s old hat and doesn’t tell anyone anything. Think creatively, use your imagination, and stretch your use of the English language and photos to say something new.

In addition, you have to offer things on your Web site that folks want, such as a portfolio about your services, firm newsletters, white papers, links to related resources and other types of reference materials that could be useful to them. Your site should also offer a way for prospects to contact you with a description of their problems, and it should have a map and directions to your office. (Don’t forget parking instructions if needed.)

But remember, no matter how spiffy your Web site looks today, all Web sites inevitably age. Site design and content is an ever-moving target so make sure you review your site periodically to keep it current and modern. As the old chestnut goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Here are just a couple of ideas for keeping new content flowing to your site in ways that will also expand your e-marketing’s reach:

  • Write articles. If you can’t get them published elsewhere, at least you can post them on your own Web site. And you might be pleasantly surprised to see how easy it is to get your articles published elsewhere online—or how many bloggers might be happy to mention and link to a good and relevant article by you.
  • Lecture to your community. Or start teaching CLE courses, and then make sure all your speaking engagements and accompanying presentation materials are listed on your Web site. When you have enough events, put a “Speaking Calendar” on your site, with a clear and easy way for folks to contact you to arrange a presentation. Remember that it is critical to teach, not sell, at the presentations. If you know your stuff, they’ll remember you without the sales pitch. Once you have your feet wet as a lecturer, advertise yourself to bar groups, civic associations and the like using your electronic contact list. (We’ve even lectured on cruises—a great gig if you can get it!)

Now let’s rummage through some other Web-based business development tactics.

What’s the Deal with Online Networking?

Networking in the old days was a royal pain. You had to get in the car to drive somewhere you probably didn’t want to be to shake hands with people, some of whom you quickly came to realize you didn’t want to know, in order to eat a rubber-chicken lunch listening to someone you didn’t want to hear talk about something you weren’t in the least interested in. And all this in the hope of making connections while burning away billable hours. Mercifully in the brave new world of the Web, networking is far easier. The following are a few of the best ways to build connections.

  • Join an electronic discussion group. Look for groups in your area of practice or in your geographic area. Simply giving a helping hand here and there, or appearing competent in your area of practice, will generate referrals.
  • Do work for your local or state bar association. Almost all of this work is now done electronically or by telephone conference, with only the rare personal meeting. This is a great way to form a network of colleagues.
  • Join and work with an ABA entity. This can also be useful, particularly if your area of practice extends beyond your state. The authors have certainly developed some of their most cherished friendships through the Law Practice Management Section—and without question, the networking afforded has been beneficial to business while at the same time providing an avenue of giveback to the legal profession.
  • Use your content management system to the max. Use it to send newsletters (electronic is cheaper, of course), to remember birthdays and holidays, to offer congratulations, and to send news of interest. Remember, if you choose to send a notable news story to a group of clients, send the e-mail to yourself and blind-copy everyone else. People get testy when their e-mail addresses are broadcast to strangers.
  • Set up e-mail distribution lists. This way you can easily contact the members of any particular group at any time without typing in individual addresses.
  • Use your Task List’s reminder function. Solos and small firms sometimes use this feature as a “poor man’s case management” tool, but it is an invaluable tool for reminding you to perform that marketing task that has somehow gone the way of good intentions. If you told someone that you would get back to them about a subject of mutual interest and you don’t have time today, make sure it becomes a task that nags you digitally until it gets done.
  • Remember that doing good is marketing. This was certainly one of the stranger discoveries the authors made. Having been active in good causes for years, it came as a very pleasant surprise that folks involved with us in those causes were quick to refer us. Likewise, potential clients who knew of our philanthropic work were astonishingly more likely to hire us. The wonderful truth here is that many clients will be drawn to someone they perceive as nice. Don’t puff yourself up, but don’t be shy either—put your community service on your Web site. That section of our site actually draws more hits than any page apart from the home page. Who knew that being nice could have such collateral professional benefits?

Is It Worthwhile to Start a Blog?

Possibly. Today blogs are easier than ever to set up, thanks to content managers like WordPress (www.word press.org), Blogger (www.blogger.com) and TypePad (www.typepad.com). However, you need to keep up with a blog and get entries made on a fairly frequent basis to keep the blog current. You also need to get the word out about your blog—often through other bloggers—and that can be a real effort. There are now, amazingly, more than 1,200 legal blogs. Another great stat: Over 50 percent of reporters surveyed in May 2007 said they had quoted at least one blog in the past week. Reporters research online, too—and if they find a current blog entry from you on the subject of interest, who knows, they just might call.

Is It Worthwhile to Do Podcasts?

Once again, possibly. A podcast is basically a sound file (think digital radio broadcast) where you spend perhaps 20 to 30 minutes discussing a topic and then you can post that podcast on your Web site (and you can post it for free on iTunes as well). But while that doesn’t at first sound like a big investment of time, podcasts are more work than blogs, especially if you want to achieve good sound quality and edit the end-result to get rid of the “ers” and “ums” and “you knows.”

We suspect podcasts will remain in the hands of the geek lawyers for a while, until the technology is simplified as much as blog technology has been simplified.

What the Heck Is Anti-Marketing?

Let’s talk for a moment about anti-marketing online. There seem to be a host of ways in which lawyers represent themselves poorly, and if you really want to embrace the Web’s power in your business development efforts, there are some gaffes you need to avoid.

  • Don’t send out e-mails that look like a junior high student wrote them. Turn on your spell checker and grammar checker. And for heaven’s sake, proofread before you hit Send.
  • Be careful of the auto-complete function. It is all too easy to send e-mails to folks other than the intended recipient. The potential ethical problems here should be painfully obvious.
  • Avoid the use of emoticons, with the exception of smiles where appropriate.
  • Avoid long, painful disclaimers. If your disclaimer is too long, it will make you sound pompous and overblown with legalese.
  • Make sure you have a signature block in your e-mails. Include your name, firm name, address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address and Web site URL. This is Marketing 101.
  • Don’t let client e-mail grow beards. It is fair to set reasonable expectations about how fast you will answer e-mails (don’t forget to set up an “away from the office” message when you’re out of town) but then you must abide by those expectations. Commonly, lawyers will say that e-mails will be returned on the same day or the next business day—but failure to follow through on that timeframe is a fast way to lose clients, and an even faster way to lose prospective clients.
  • Don’t spam. Ever. It may be tempting, but it is against the law. Even if you send out single, personalized messages in compliance with the law, it will be seen as spam by Recipients and they will react angrily.
  • Have an electronic version of your elevator speech. This is the speech in which you summarize who you are and what you do in a compelling 15 to 20 seconds. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Keep a fast template at hand that you can customize and send out as needed.
  • Get prospective clients off e-mail and onto the phone. Your chances of “landing clients” are much higher if they can speak to you—and it is far less time-consuming. Once they are on the phone, remember the tried-and-true principles of marketing: Smile when you talk because the smile will be in your voice—and listen, listen, listen. Prospective clients have a story to tell, and they will like you better for sympathetically listening than for talking about why they should hire you.

How Do You Measure ROI?

Return on investment: three words that bedevil the lawyer trying to maximize the benefit of an insufficient number of marketing dollars. Make sure that every client who comes through the door fills out a client intake sheet that asks two pivotal questions:

  • How did you hear of us?
  • Have you visited our Web site?

The second question is critical because Web site visitation is so often the validation used after someone has seen your ad or heard about you from a friend. Just because they didn’t first learn of you from your site doesn’t mean that your site isn’t working well for you in a collateral fashion!

Make a simple chart to find out where your clients are coming from. Keep your dollars there for they are being soundly spent. If you are spending money somewhere and it is returning nothing, try putting those dollars somewhere else and see if you can do better. (See the sidebar for some tips.) Far too many lawyers scatter their dollars hither and yon without a plan and without ever figuring out what actually worked for them.

True, marketing takes work. But hey, it’s not all about luck. Or as Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

About the Authors

Sharon Nelson and John Simek are President and Vice President, respectively, of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a computer forensics and legal technology firm based in Fairfax, VA. They are coauthors of The Electronic Evidence and Discovery Handbook: Forms, Checklists, and Guidelines (ABA, 2006).

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