Minnesota Lawyer: Assessing Your Law Firm’s Online Marketing Strategy

Reprinted With Permission of Minnesota Lawyer

Assessing your law firm's online marketing strategy

A Website need not be elaborate to be effective

By Michelle Lore | August 14, 2006
michelle.lore@minnlawyer.com

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There is no good reason for a law firm not to have a Website, at least according to Web designer Brendan Chard, who last week spoke at a MinnCLE conference devoted to solo and small firm practitioners.

A Website need not be elaborate to be effective, Chard told the crowded room of attorneys. "The primary information your Website needs to include is who you are, why you are great and how to get in touch with you," he said.

Chard's comments were made during "Websites and Online Marketing: Make Them Work For You" one of many continuing legal education (CLE) seminars offered at the second Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms conference in Duluth. The 2 ½ day event was sponsored by Minnesota CLE.

Chard's presentation showed audience members how to make a Website a key part of their marketing operations and demystified how Web sites, search engines and online advertising work.

A Website is just one piece of the marketing puzzle, Chard said. "But it's a big piece that can help create a more cohesive image for your firm."

Why have one?

According to Chard, who specializes in designing Websites for small law firms, there are several benefits to having a Website. The first is that a well-designed site can be a very effective marketing tool.

"It integrates all your marketing; it pulls it all together," Chard observed. It can also control the law firm's image and increase referrals to the firm, he said.

Chard pointed out that often the first thing people do after getting attorney referrals is look up the lawyers' names on the Internet. If the first lawyer does not have a Website, people will move on to the next name on the list, he said.

A Website can also generate cold calls, Chard noted.

The second purpose of having a Website is its utility.

A good Website will streamline communication between a potential client and the law firm, said Chard.

By including on the site what the firm does, directions to the office and contact information, attorneys and staff can avoid having to answer phone calls seeking this information.

All inclusive

Chard told audience members that the most important things to include on their Websites are attorney profiles and contact information.

The contact information should include the law firm's address, directions to the office, a phone number and an e-mail address. A map to the office is also helpful, Chard added.

The attorney profiles should include things like:

  • the attorney's educational information;
  • the courts the attorney is licensed in;
  • the attorney's direct phone number and e-mail address; and
  • a summary or bullet points of the areas the attorney practices in.

Chard also advises putting a photo of the attorney on the Website. People want to know what the lawyer looks like, he said.

Other information that could be included on a law firm Website, although not as crucial includes:

  • relevant articles the attorney has authored;
  • reasons potential clients should choose the attorney to do their legal work;
  • favorable news clippings that mention the attorney;
  • achievements or awards the attorney has won;
  • a list of frequently asked questions and answers;
  • a newsletter if the attorney or firm publishes one;
  • helpful information or links to other sites; and
  • documents such as intake forms that can be printed off, filled out and sent in.

Chard said it is also be a good idea to include a list of representative clients and people the attorney has worked with in the past.

The error of their ways

Chard has seen a lot of errors in law firm Web designs over the years.

The primary mistake, Chard said, is to design the site yourself. You are attorneys, not Web designers, he stressed. "Let the professionals do what professionals do."

Another mistake is burying the attorney's contact information. "Make sure it's easy to find," he said.

In addition, some lawyers load the site up with things like original resolution photos or graphics that slow down the site's performance. Attention spans on the Web are short so be sure your information comes up without much delay, Chard stressed. "Make sure your Website is quick."

Finally, avoid leaving your Website "under construction," Chard observed. It's a sign of laziness and an inability to get things done. "It doesn't look good. It's not a sign of progress and growth" he said.

Chard encouraged attendees to find a good Web designer. He suggested asking around to find out who other attorneys have used, searching the Web for someone or placing an ad at Minneapolis.craigslist.com.

Remember, low cost does not always mean good, Chard emphasized. It takes time to develop an effective site and it's not an easy process, he added.

Debunking myths

Chard took some time to debunk several of the Website myths that pervade the Internet.

If you build it, they will come. That's not necessarily true, Chard observed. It takes time and effort to design a Website that will show up prominently in search engines, he said.

Websites are hard to change. Not true, said Chard. "It's easy to make changes right on the fly."

There's a page limit. Also not true, according to Chard. There should be no limit, and it's easy to make additional pages, he said.

It's the only marketing tool you will ever need. A Website is not the only marketing tool an attorney should have, but it should be the centerpiece, Chard contends. All other marketing and advertising efforts should pull potential clients towards the Website to deliver a more complete message.

Marketing tricks

There are a variety of ways to market your Website, according to Chard.

Options include advertising the site in lawyers' directories and referral sources, conducting an e-mail campaign to everyone in your address book, or advertising it in more traditional forms like print, television or radio.

One of the most effective ways to market your site, however, Chard observed, is through search optimization. When people are searching the Internet looking for a lawyer in a particular practice area or geographic area, you want your name to come up at the top of their results list. There are ways to optimize the chance of that happening, according to Chard.

Chard explained that when pulling up Websites in response to a user search, search engines like Google and Yahoo consider a variety of factors, including:

  • page content;
  • keyword density (i.e. how many times a work like “injury” shows up on the site);
  • titles on the pages;
  • the number of pages on the site;
  • the content-to-size ratio;
  • inbound and outbound links;
  • the age of the site; and

All of these factors influence how high up on the rankings list your site will be, said Chard.

A sponsored search is another way to direct people to your Website, Chard continued. Under this marketing method, attorneys request that their site be prominently displayed on a user's results list following a search. Attorneys pay the search engine a set amount every time someone clicks on their site. They can narrow it down to a geographic area they've defined or a specific practice area, Chard explained.

"You are driving a totally targeted [audience] to your site" Chard observed. It can get expensive, but it can also be very effective if it's done right, he added.

The advantages of a sponsored search are that the attorney's site is given instant visibility, the attorney can target traffic and there are no long-term contracts or commitments required.