Feature

How to Avoid Marketing Scams

Joseph Dang

Lawyers are frequently preyed upon by marketing agencies. Go ask a group of lawyers how many of them have spent thousands of dollars on a marketing company with no return on investment. I’m sure many will raise their hand.

But you are trying to run a practice and need clients. You need a website. You need visitors to the website. You need prospects. How do you find a company that will provide these services without ripping you off?

Marketing Vultures

Ben Glass of Great Legal Marketing uses the term “marketing vulture” to describe most of these companies. I hung out in one of the largest Internet marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) forums and witnessed many discussions among service providers involving lawyers as their target market. Some of the individuals were brand-new marketers who decided yesterday they wanted to join this industry, and they’re getting advice today on how to target lawyers for their services.

Lawyers are highly prized as a group because the fees we earn are generally high and, let’s face it, most lawyers are not great marketers. Law schools rarely offer practice management and marketing courses, and until recently lawyers were not even allowed to advertise. Some lawyers still hold onto the notion that advertising and marketing are beneath the profession.

All these factors lead to a profession where lawyers who do not know how to market and advertise must nevertheless market and advertise to survive. So we get preyed upon by website design companies, by SEO companies, and by lead-generation companies. The really dangerous companies are the ones who combine all three services into one.

How to Avoid the Vultures

First, avoid any company that employs deceptive practices to get you on the phone. I don’t need to tell you that solo and small firm lawyers get unsolicited phone calls from marketing companies almost daily. A few well-known companies are well known because of how aggressive they are in trying to get you on the phone. Companies have called my office using a local number under the false pretense of being a potential client. Only when I answered their call did they reveal who they were.

Think about it: If they were really good at marketing, they would not need to deceive you. They would employ ethical marketing and advertising strategies to attract you. As a highly regulated, licensed professional, do you want someone like that handling your marketing and advertising?

The best way to avoid losing money to a marketing company is crowdsourcing: asking other lawyers about their experience with the company you are researching. Look for e-mail discussion groups, Facebook groups, and LinkedIn groups consisting of solo and small firm lawyers like you.

The ABA SoloSez e-mail discussion list (solosez.org) is a very active group with about 1,500 members, and it’s the first place I’d start. Almost every question asked about a marketing company is met with several responses. The exception would be very local and small agencies.

So ask around. Also, check to see if the company has any testimonials on its site. Do a search on the lawyer giving the testimonial. Ask for references from the company, and follow up with those references.

Measure Everything

Whether you are looking for a website design company or a lead-generation firm, you must measure everything. If you can’t calculate your return on investment for every marketing dollar you spend, you will end up throwing money away.

No matter which service or company you end up using, there is usually a way to track performance and your return on investment. This is the most crucial step to ensure you aren’t flushing money down the drain.

At the end of every month or quarter, you need to have the ability to look at how much you spent on a particular service and how much that service brought in (I will describe specific ways to do this later in the article). This is probably the most important thing you can do when marketing.

Keep the Obligations Short

Try not to sign any long-term contracts. I like companies that offer month-to-month contracts or short terms of 90 days or less. If they are confident their service will produce measurable results, then they should have no problem offering short terms on the contract.

Some services will need time to work. SEO services, for example, will require months of patience to see results. Pay-per-click services also will take a few months to optimize. You might see month-to-month terms, but you’ll want to stick it out for a few months while the process works its way through.

Other services, such as lead-generation services, should produce immediately.

Whatever the service, do not lock yourself into a long-term (12 months or longer) obligation where you’re just throwing money at a service that isn’t producing any results.

Website Design Companies

When it comes web design, you can spend anywhere from $100 to $10,000. For lawyer websites, I suggest keeping it simple. You want your website to stand out but not be so unfamiliar that your visitors won’t recognize it as a law firm website.

You are not trying to win website design awards. You are trying to get clients. Go find a law firm website in your area of law that you know is generating leads. Study what that website is doing and improve on it in your own voice and style.

When you are looking for a website design firm, you can hire a developer who will install a WordPress theme and customize it for you a little. This can be done for less than $1,000. An off-the-shelf theme is even cheaper. A custom WordPress theme will run $2,000 to $10,000.

I recommend WordPress installed on hosting (not wordpress.com or similar services) so you can control everything.

A few things to look out for:

  • Make sure you own the entire website, not just the design. Check the contract language.
  • You must also own the domain name, as well as the account where the site is hosted. Do not let the developer control these two things. I’ve seen many lawyers held hostage when they end the relationship, and it turns out the developer owns the domain and hosting account. Don’t let this happen to you.
  • Don’t hire designers who just want it to be pretty. Your goal is sales and conversion. Ask them about conversion rate optimization, and if they don’t know what that means, move on.
  • Look for hidden fees and charges. Some developers will say you need to pay a certain amount each month. If it’s a lot, ask what that includes. Shared hosting is not that expensive, so if they are charging $50 to $200 per month for maintenance, ask why their fee is so high.

SEO

Like lead-generation services, SEO is definitely rife with fraudsters and swindlers. Be careful here. You will need to ask several questions:

  • Are they “white-hat” or “black-hat?”
  • How do they generate links?
  • Are you going to get a link report each month for every link they generate to your site?

You need to track and measure the results of your SEO firm. You need to know the monthly number of visitors to your site before you hired the firm—and not only the whole number of visitors, but also where these visitors were coming from (out-of-state visitors may be useless for your firm). You can use Google Analytics (analytics.google.com) or a plug-in such as StatCounter (statcounter.com) to measure this.

Then track the increase (if any) of visitors to your site, and verify these are visitors from your geographic area if you are not running a nationwide practice. Finally, you need tracking numbers on your website. If you use one number across all your marketing efforts, you won’t know where they came from.

You can use CallRail (callrail.com) to insert a dynamic number on your website so when a prospect visits your website and calls your firm, you will know the website generated the call, and not a business card or advertisement.

Lead Generation

Lead generation is the process in which a company uses its own properties to generate prospects, qualify them, and sell the leads to you. Again, be sure you measure the results, and do not get locked into a long-term contract.

You also must ask how many other lawyers the company sells the same leads to. Ideally, you’re the only lawyer in your area, and this is an exclusive relationship. Some lead-generation companies will sell the same leads to two to four other lawyers, and then it becomes a race. You might end up with no new clients while paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for those leads.

After a few months, look at how many leads you paid for, how many you converted into clients, and the fees those cases generated. If you’re just breaking even, or worse, losing money, then it might not make sense to continue with the service.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

There are companies out there that will run a pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaign for you. PPC advertising is where you advertise with Google or other search engines and you pay for each click (or call) your ad generates. It’s much more complex than that, and there is a lot of optimization that can be done to minimize costs and maximize conversions.

Certain practice areas, especially personal injury, have very expensive ad rates, $100 per click or more, so it is imperative you use a company that will design a high-converting landing page.

If the PPC company doesn’t even discuss landing pages, hang up or leave (after politely saying “no thanks,” of course). Also, because you are paying for every click, you need to use tracking numbers (CallRail or something similar) to isolate PPC prospects versus your general website clients.

Conclusion

Avoiding marketing scams and vultures really comes down to avoiding long-term contracts and tracking every single marketing effort. If you faithfully follow these two rules as well as the specific tips above, you will be a step ahead of these shady marketing companies.

Joseph Dang

Joseph Dang is a personal injury attorney in San Diego, California.