As the World Goes Mobile, Is Your Marketing Up to Speed?

Volume 39 Number 4

By

About the Author

Robert J. Ambrogi is a lawyer, writer and media consultant based in Rockport, Mass. His blog, LawSites, tracks new and intriguing websites for the legal profession.

Law Practice Magazine | July/August 2013 | The Big Ideas Issue

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is going mobile. The question is: Is your marketing keeping pace?

Do you have a website that is easy to read and navigate on a mobile device? Does your site include smartphone-friendly features? Have you thought about how to optimize your site for mobile search? Have you given thought to your own app? Should you consider mobile advertising?

If these questions leave you wondering why you would even bother, consider the numbers. According to a 2013 Nielsen report, 94 percent of U.S. consumers have a mobile phone, and the majority of those mobile phones are smartphones. On top of that, 1 million new smartphone users crop up every week, according to a report from Asymco.com, a mobile phone industry analysis website.

And then there are tablets. One market research firm estimates that tablet shipments will grow from 121 million units in 2012 to 416 million units by 2017. Forrester Research estimates that 112.5 million U.S. adults, more than one-third of the population, will own a tablet by 2016.

USING MOBILE TO FIND A LAWYER

Consumers are using their mobile devices for everything from social networking to shopping to watching television to banking. They are increasingly adding another item to that list—searching for an attorney.

Twenty-one percent of consumers used smartphones, and another 12 percent used tablets to search for an attorney, according to a survey commissioned by LexisNexis and conducted by the Research Intelligence Group. That survey was conducted in March 2012, so the actual number of consumers using mobile devices to search for an attorney is likely to be even greater these days.

These numbers demonstrate that ever-increasing numbers of consumers are more frequently using mobile devices to access the Internet, to research products and services and, yes, even to locate lawyers. What this means for law firm marketing is simple: Adapt or disappear. In short, every law firm should take some basic steps to ensure that mobile consumers will not overlook it.

CREATE AN APP FOR THAT?

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Should your firm develop its own application? Many firms are doing so, from solos to megafirms. In fact, there is even a blog devoted to tracking and reviewing law firm apps, Law Firm Mobile.

One of the earliest law firms to launch its own app was Morrison & Foerster. In 2010, it launched MoFo2Go, an iPhone app that provides information and news about the firm and its attorneys. You can use the app to search for MoFo attorneys and read their biographies, learn about its various office locations and read the firm’s press releases and client alerts.

Possibly the first firm to have an app was Spar & Bernstein, a New York immigration firm that introduced an app in December 2009. It provides a feed of the firm’s news, Twitter posts, podcasts and videos, and includes the functionality to book a consultation or submit a legal question.

Cool as it may seem for a law firm to have its own app, I am not sold on the value of an app for marketing. To my mind, law firm apps are most effectively used to serve existing clients, not to target new ones.

As an example, Aaron Kelly, a solo in Scottsdale, Ariz., created an app to give his clients mobile access to information about their cases. The app integrates with both file-sharing site Dropbox and project management site Basecamp. In this way, the app lets clients review their documents and check the status of their matters. The app also integrates PayPal so that clients can use it to pay their invoices.

Creating an app to reach new clients, however, is an entirely different story. The first challenge is that, in most cases, a potential client has to know about you before ever downloading your app. That means you have to have already reached the potential client through other forms of marketing and interested them enough to prompt them to want your app.

The next challenge is coming up with a raison d’être for your app that will entice consumers. Consider the MoFo app mentioned above. Unless you are a client of that firm, you are not likely to use a firm-specific app to search for lawyers’ bios. You would more likely go to a general lawyer search site.

Similarly, consider the Arnold & Porter app that allows users to read posts from its Consumer Advertising Law Blog. It’s a perfectly fine app, but how many people would want to install a separate app devoted to a single blog? Probably no one but the blog author and the author’s proud parents.

IF APP YOU MUST, BE PRACTICAL

If you are nevertheless tempted to create your own app, then at least make it something practical that consumers can use. As an example, North Carolina divorce lawyer Lee Rosen offers the North Carolina Child Support Calculator. Rather than focus on Rosen and his firm, the app allows users to do something useful—determine the child support to be paid under the state’s guidelines.

Consider also that developing an app is not cheap. The cost to develop a custom app can range from $2,000 to $250,000, depending on the functionality and complexity.

Various off-the-shelf options also exist for law firm apps. One company, Digome, offers apps that range in price from $995 to $3,995, plus annual support and maintenance fees of 20 percent of the purchase price. The app’s design is confined to a template. You can change its color and add your logo and your firm’s information, but every firm ends up with an app that uses the same basic design.

Another company, My Pocket Attorney, sells law firm apps starting at $449 plus a $29 monthly fee for Android apps, or $999 plus $69 a month for Android and iOS apps. Various features, such as global positioning system directions, one-touch calling and social media integration, cost extra.

MAKE YOUR SITE MOBILE-FRIENDLY

Regardless of what you decide about an app, every firm should take certain steps to make its digital presence accessible to mobile consumers.

The most critical step is to ensure that your website is optimized for mobile devices. If it is not, your site may be distorted, unreadable or difficult to navigate in a mobile browser. Mobile consumers will not struggle to find their way through your site. They will simply move on to the next firm.

There are different ways to optimize a website. One is to keep your site’s design clean and code it using HTML5, the latest version of the HTML markup language. HTML5 is written to be easily and consistently understood across browsers and devices. HTML5 makes your site mobile-friendly and also enables mobile-specific features such as geolocation.

Another approach is to use mobile device detection. This detects when a visitor is using a mobile browser to access your site. If so, either the visitor is automatically redirected to a mobile-optimized version of your site or your site is adapted to mobile-friendly formatting.

For either of these approaches, you will probably need help from a Web design professional. However, for the do-it-yourselfer, plug-ins are available for many popular blogging and content management systems that will automatically make your site mobile-friendly. Systems for which plug-ins are available include WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal.

In addition to coding your website to be mobile-friendly, you should consider adding features that take advantage of smartphone capabilities. Two salient features are common to mobile-friendly websites:

  • Click to call, a conspicuous button that allows a mobile visitor to your site to call your office directly with just one click
  • One-click directions, a button that lets visitors click to bring up their device’s maps application and see directions to your office

Of course, it should also be easy to email your firm from the mobile device.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

If your firm is already engaged in some form of advertising on the Web, you should consider whether to expand into mobile advertising. Some analysts say that mobile advertising will surpass standard Web advertising by 2016.

The transition from Web to mobile advertising is not as simple as adapting your existing ads to a different medium. Mobile demands a different approach. Given the smaller screens on mobile devices, ads have to be designed to make the best use of limited space. On top of that, mobile users tend to be highly intolerant of ads that are intrusive.

Another consideration for mobile marketing is to optimize your site for mobile search. The suggestions outlined above for optimizing the design of your site will also help optimize your site for mobile search. It is also critical to think about the words and phrases likely to be used by mobile searchers. Mobile searches are likely to use shorter phrases, and those phrases are more likely to have a local bent to them.

Some say this is the year in which mobile will surpass the desktop for accessing the Web. For law firms, the time is now to make your digital marketing mobile-friendly. Otherwise, you risk virtual invisibility to a significant slice of your market.

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