Differentiate or Die: 4 Steps to Set Your Law Firm Apart Online

law firm website

By Stephen Fairley

Differentiate or die may sound harsh, but it is a stark reality when it comes to marketing your law firm, especially if you are a small firm or solo practice in a consumer-centric practice. With so many attorneys to choose from, it is no longer good enough to be a great lawyer. Word-of-mouth is not going to build a successful law practice these days.

A 2014 study by Hinge Marketing found that consumers looking for a professional service provider (including attorneys) are using the following ways of checking you out: 81 percent look at your website; 63 percent search online; 62 percent ask friends; and 60 percent use social media.

So how do you build a credible online reputation for your firm while differentiating yourself from competitors? Here are four steps that will take you in the right direction:

STEP 1: Take a New Look at Your Old Website.

How long has it been since you updated your website? If it’s been a year or more, then it’s time to take another look at how you can improve it to better serve prospects coming to your site for information.

There are four things you should look at to improve your law firm website:

Design – Humans are visual beings, and how your website looks visually is critical to conveying the message you want people to remember about your firm. People respond better to visual information – and remember it longer – than plain text. So if your site is heavy on text and short on compelling visuals, you need to change that.

Video – Research says 90 percent of the information transmitted to the human brain is visual. Research on retail websites by Internet Retailer showed that 85 percent of visitors were more likely to make a purchase after watching a video. Having videos on your website means visitors will stay longer. Plus, video allows you to communicate your firm’s attributes directly to a prospect and gives them a real feel for who you are, what you are like, and how you do business.

Navigation – No one has the patience to wade through a series of links and sublinks just to get to the information they want, so your site needs to serve it up immediately via a well-thought out, easy-to-use navigation system. Start with the big buckets; what are the two to four major practice areas you want to promote or the top three problems your prospects face? Then look at the secondary buckets. Don’t waste space by trying to get every single thing you do on the home page of your website. If the information your visitors are seeking is not immediately apparent, they will go somewhere else. Scour your site’s analytics to see where people are abandoning your pages – this means they are not finding what they came for.

Mobile – In the next year mobile searches will outnumber searches by desktop and laptop combined. If your website is not mobile responsive then you are missing out on valuable prospects.

STEP 2: Learn How to Stand Out in Local Search
The next thing you need to pay attention to is how to make your site stand out in local search.

The majority of people who need a lawyer look for one that is close to where they live. This is why local search is so important when it comes to marketing your law firm online. Here are the steps you should follow to ensure your firm shows up well in local search results:

Find the right keywords. You must use the same keywords people use when they search online. If you are a divorce attorney in Mesa, AZ then your main keywords should include all the different words people could use to describe their legal issue, such as divorce, child custody, spousal support, father’s rights, visitation rights, etc. You should use either attorney or lawyer and then target the cities in the east valley, such as Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale, Tempe, etc.

Optimize your website and content with local terms. Your website should feature your full company name, address, phone number and a geo sitemap to help search engines find you. Your content should also reference your geographic location, but don’t overdo it – loading your content with too many keywords is a big mistake these days and Google will punish you for it.

List your firm on Google Places for Business and Google+ Local. To learn how, just Google it!

List your firm on local directories. Tip #3 covers Google, but you also need to get your firm listed on Yahoo Local, Bing and top legal review sites like Avvo.

Be sure listings are consistent. Use a consistent firm name, address and phone wherever these appear online – on your website, your social media profiles, your blog, etc. Google is very specific so be careful. For example, if your address is 123 Anywhere Street, Suite 100 you could write it any of these ways—all of which are considered different addresses by Google:

123 Anywhere Street, Suite 100
123 Anywhere St, Suite 100
123 Anywhere St., Suite 100 (notice the period)
123 Anywhere Street, Ste 100
123 Anywhere Street, Ste. 100 (notice the period)
123 Anywhere St, Ste 100

To Google all of these are different locations. All of them must be exactly the same. To find out how your address is listed go to www.Yext.com and search for your business.

Get reviews. Reviews of local businesses are becoming increasingly important in search results, so if you’ve made a client happy with your service, ask them to submit a review or testimonial saying why they loved doing business with you. One thing you should never do is fake a review or testimonial. If they sound too glowing or like you wrote them, it will do much more harm than good.

One important caveat: Direct your clients to your Google Local listing and Avvo, not Yelp!. I have had far too many attorneys tell me how they received their first negative review on Yelp! followed quickly by a sales call asking if they wanted to advertise. If they advertised, often the negative review would disappear and as soon as they stopped paying for advertising, their positive reviews suddenly disappeared and the negative one(s) reappeared. In the last few years there have been over 2,000 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. I hope at some point in the future I can reverse my recommendation, but for now I think it’s best to stay away from actively promoting your law firm on Yelp!.

Optimize your social network profiles. Every social media site that your law firm is on should include the firm’s name, address, phone and a link to your website. Remember to keep it consistent across all networks. At a minimum, your law firm needs to be on Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn.

STEP 3: Invest in Content Marketing
Content marketing is the latest buzzword for what we at The Rainmaker Institute have been teaching for years: creating and sharing content (words, pictures, videos) to aid in client education, differentiation and client acquisition. And while you may be brilliant at crafting legal arguments to win a point, there is an art to crafting content that speaks to typical consumers in need of your services and attracting them to your law firm. Here’s how you can excel at content marketing:

Over-invest in high quality content. There is seemingly no limit to the amount of legal content on the Internet these days, and the proliferation of this content means yours has to be better and more consistent to get attention. So stop doing what everyone else is doing and look for ways to stand out with landing pages, interactive infographics, videos and other attention-grabbers. To truly set yourself apart you need to update your website/blog with new content at least 3-5 times every week. This is a longterm commitment, but will pay off over time.

Include SEO best practices. Hone in on the keywords that are driving traffic to your website right now and dig deeper for keywords you aren’t targeting that have potential to attract more visitors. Use these to build high quality content around.

Be a great storyteller. In a hyper-competitive market for a reader’s attention, it’s the great stories that get read and shared. Have a great hook to pull those readers in, and be sure your story has a satisfying end that is worthy of the buildup. Pay special attention to crafting an interesting headline. If your headline isn’t catchy no one will bother to read any further.

Deliver data in new ways. Humans are visual beings, so if you can deliver your data visually in an engaging way – through an online slide show, an infographic, a video or interactive visualization – you are likely to see better results than if you just convey the messaging in words.

Answer your prospects’ questions. Don’t beat your head against a wall trying to come up with great ideas for content. Instead, look to your clients and answer their top 10, 20 or 30 questions. By doing this, you can position yourself as an authority and provide information your potential clients are actually seeking.

STEP 4: Enlist Your Employees
Many law firms have a LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter profile and the savvy firms are actually publishing some great content and engaging with audiences of prospects and referral sources. When someone Googles your firm, those social media sites are likely to be among the first results that pop up.

But remember, people buy from people they know, like and trust. So it’s even likelier that instead of Googling the name of your firm, they could be searching under one of your attorney’s names or another person at your firm. And that brings us to an often overlooked online marketing tool: your employees! No matter what the roles of the people at your firm, all employees should be mindful of how they are representing your firm online. While you can’t really dictate what they should put on their profiles, you can encourage them to:

Create quality profiles. Hopefully your employees are proud of where they work, so letting them know how they can help the firm by maintaining a high quality profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks makes sense. Offer them consistent language to use in their profiles that reflect your firm’s branding strategy, and ask them to include links to your firm website and blog. Have them post professional photos, especially on LinkedIn.

Share valuable content. You and your employees should always be engaging your connections with valuable content, whether that is a position paper from your firm or something relevant to your clients and prospects from a third-party source.

Keep building your networks. When you take on a new client, ask to connect with them online. Do the same with referral sources and prospects, but be sure you actually know them. Relevance matters when it comes to your connections, even more than size.

If you’d like to learn more about building a robust online reputation for your practice, contact me for a complimentary strategy session with one of our trained marketing consultants. Please call or email me and put “Free Strategy Session” in the subject line.

For more information on setting your law firm apart online, visit www.TheRainmakerInstitute.com.