FIVE WAYS TO EXPAND YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE - How to Put Your Practice Center Stage on the Web
If you like to inform, network and communicate to develop new business, then today’s Web tools are for you. The recipe for their successful use is the same as in the offline world: You want to provide value, be of service to your target market, and be consistent in conveying your brand.
Try these five steps to build your Web presence and stand out in ways that will result in business growth. You don’t need to be a high-tech maven or upend the marketing budget to implement any of them.
Step 1: Tie Your Brand to Your Web Presence
At this moment, your main Web presence is probably your Web site. But does it clearly mirror your personal brand? A good brand is central to an effective Web presence.
A well-defined brand identifies what makes you different or unique in the legal profession in a clear, specific and consistent way. It clarifies to all potential clients why they should choose you as their lawyer.
At a minimum, your personal brand must provide transparent answers to three questions: What is your expertise? What makes you stand apart from your competition? What makes you trustworthy? Too many lawyers fail to answer these questions in their online endeavors and thereby fail to get the most return from their activities. So if you haven’t yet created a personal brand, get going on it today. (See the January/February Law Practice features on “Branding Yourself Online” and “Web Sites as Branding Tools” for more about online branding strategies.)
Step 2: Reevaluate Your Keywords
This is closely tied to Step 1. With your desired brand in mind, think about what keywords people would actually type in a search engine to find a lawyer like you. For example, if someone types the words “trademark attorney” in the Google search box, the search engine returns pages and pages of results that relate to this search. If your practice focus is trademarks, you want to be prominent in those results, which will give you a significant edge over your competitors. To achieve that, you need to select the right keywords and use those keywords throughout your Web text because that connects searchers, namely your potential clients, to you.
You can evaluate and select keywords by using a keyword research tool like Wordtracker.com, which will tell you which terms people use when they search for services like yours. This tool gives invaluable data in the form of a “100-day count,” which reveals how many times a specific term (keyword) or combination of terms (keyword phrase) was used in all Internet searches in a period of 100 days. Importantly, it also provides a “competition” count, showing how many times the term appeared in competing Web sites.
Here’s a simple but revealing example: Let’s say your practice focuses on estate planning and you speculate that most of your prospects type “estate planning trusts” in a search engine when they seek a lawyer in your field of law. However, an alternate keyword phrase would be “estate planning and trusts.” Running both phrases through Wordtracker shows that “estate planning and trusts” is the far better one, as you can see in the results shown in the chart below.
You want to evaluate your current Web site based on your keywords research as well as your personal brand. Make a list of all the changes you believe are needed. Distinguish between short-term and long-term changes. Make the short-term changes and plan the long-term ones.
While those changes are in progress, here are three more steps that you can start implementing today to further boost your Web presence. They involve three categories of sites that are part of the Web 2.0 toolbox:
- Social networking
- Content sharing
- Social bookmarking
In these next steps, you are to choose a specific site for each of these categories and then begin actively participating in them.
Step 3: Join a Social Networking Site
Online networking complements traditional face-to-face networking by giving you the ability to connect with people from all over the world at any time. Many sites now focus on networking, but the most popular and well-known ones are MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn. A big advantage to having a presence on one of these sites is that your site profile will pop up in Internet searches for your name, too.
MySpace and Facebook have millions of users and are both aimed at the general population. Facebook now goes far beyond its original community of college students, although MySpace is generally still deemed a site for the younger crowd. However, it may still provide potential for building your brand or expanding name recognition depending on your expertise and target market.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, is the leading business-oriented networking site, making it a good business development tool for professionals like lawyers. In addition to putting up a profile that conveys your expertise to the site’s other users, you can build your business network by joining LinkedIn groups like the Patent Law Group or the Solo Attorney Practitioner’s Forum, or perhaps groups related to industries in which your clients and prospects work. The key characteristic of LinkedIn is that you can jump across networks and reach out to people in the networks of your contacts.
A few networking sites dedicated to legal professionals now exist as well, including Legal OnRamp (for in-house counsel and invited outside lawyers) and the ABA’s LegallyMinded (an
online community for all sectors of the profession). These could be great options for connecting with peers to grow your network and referral base.
Step 4: Choose a Content-Sharing Site
Content-sharing sites allow individuals to contribute information for the specific purpose of having that information shared across the Web. These sites come in many flavors, and the contributions can take different forms, namely written, video or audio. If you choose your topic wisely, contributing to one or more of these sites can help you showcase your expertise to the site’s visitors.
Public wikis such as Wikipedia, where anyone can contribute or modify written content, fall under this category. Most pages in Wikipedia are linked to other pages on Wikipedia that focus further on the particular areas. Another site for sharing content in written form is Squidoo, on which you choose a subject and build a mini-Web site on that subject, called a “lens.” More and more law firms are using these lenses to show their expertise and create links back to their Web sites.
A growing number of lawyers and firms are also extending beyond the written word and putting up informational videos on the number one video-sharing site, YouTube. If you are good in front of a camera, the videosharing format might be an ideal way to put a personal face on your brand. Or, if you are the podcasting type, a growing number of sites facilitate the sharing of podcasts as either audio or video files. Posting a podcast series on your own Web site and allowing visitors to subscribe to it via an RSS feed can be a good idea, too.
Remember also that blogs are great tools for sharing your knowledge on the Web. This is true even if you don’t maintain a blog of your own, since you can track relevant blogs that are written by others and contribute comments based on your expertise, thereby building positive name recognition. Likewise, the micro-blogging site Twitter, which is experiencing an explosion in popularity, offers another means of content sharing. Your answer to the question “What are you doing?” is the content on Twitter. You may use a maximum of 140 characters to answer. In the main, this tool is effective if you have people who like to follow what you are doing.
Step 5: Participate in a Social Bookmarking Site
Social bookmarking started as a way to store and manage Web page bookmarks independent of a specific computer or browser. It has since developed into a popular instrument for users to share certain Web pages with other users who have similar interests. A key characteristic of social bookmarking is ranking, which reflects how many people recommend certain Web pages by bookmarking them. Highly ranked pages get good results with search engines. Tagging, by which you assign keywords to help collaboratively classify pages, is another characteristic of many of these sites.
One of the biggest social bookmarking sites is Digg, where users select, share and discuss articles and videos and bookmark the pages when they find the content valuable. It can also facilitate network building, since you can invite contacts to track URLs that you are recommending and vice versa. Also very popular in the social bookmarking world are Delicious, where users can add content and site visitors can rate it, and Reddit, which focuses on what’s new and popular online. Each allows you to submit your own links and to provide comments about existing links.
Another social bookmarking site is Technorati, which is primarily designed as a search engine for blog postings. You can set it up so that your blog automatically informs (pings) Technorati of each of your new postings. Technorati will then add the posting to its directory, helping make you visible to a much broader public.
Tips for Putting the Steps to Use
In the foregoing steps, you’ve aimed to expand your name recognition, your brand, your network of contacts and your business by freely sharing your knowledge on the Web. To guide you further, here are a few quick closing tips.
- Don’t rush in defining, or refining, your brand. Because the process requires a good deal of thought and research, doing it right naturally takes some time.
- Use the free trial offered on www.wordtracker.com.
- Find out what content-sharing site your clients and prospects use most.
- Also take care that the form of content you contribute (written, video or podcasting) fits your talents—or those of someone else in your firm. If, for example, if you want to reach clients through a video, look for the best presenter among your partners.
- Use your chosen bookmarking tool selectively. Bookmark only your best videos, articles, blog posts or podcast links.
- Read Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works by Janice Redish (Morgan Kaufman, 2007) to learn how people read differently online.
- Read The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet , 3rd Edition, by Gregory Siskind, Deborah McMurray and Richard Klau ( ABA, 2007).
About the Author
Carla Schnitker is a law firm management and Web marketing advisor. Formerly a working attorney, she specializes in change management and leadership development.
Client development will be explored at these ABA TECHSHOW 2009 sessions, both on Saturday, April 4:
- Identity Marketing: Creating and Protecting a Brand Called “You”
- Supercharge Your Referrals
COMPARING SEARCH RESULTS
KEYWORD PHRASE 100-DAY COUNT COMPETITION
“estate planning and trusts” 96 46,900
“estate planning trusts” 20 170,000
Source: www.wordtracker.com (11-17-2008)