If you've talked to any member of The Modern Firm after your website launch, you'll notice a common response to growing your website traffic: more content, more content, and more content. Along with links, Google has confirmed that content is the top way they measure authority for your site. It makes sense that a website with more relevant content would be looked at favorably as a source where users can get answers to the questions they are entering into the search engines.

With at least 2 trillion (2,000,000,000,000!) searches per year, there is exceptional value to being ranked towards the top of the search results page. With exceptional value comes exceptional competition. This poses a problem for a small law firm: the searches that you want to rank for are also being targeted by large law firms and even massive aggregation sites like lawyers.com and Avvo. With even the most diligent work, it can be nearly impossible to rank for large-volume queries like "divorce lawyer."

(When we did that search recently, the top 5 results were from divorcenet.com (nolo), avvo.com, lawyers.com, findlaw.com and (again) findlaw.com. Not one local law firm).

The question then becomes: how can you compete without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars like a major traffic site?

The answer lives in the Long Tail.

Telescope with word: Focus

What Is the Long Tail?

In 2004, Chris Anderson wrote an article for WIRED that was so successful he turned it into a book of the same name. Reading the entire article or book is highly recommended. For the scope of this blog post, we'll focus on the following notes from the article:

  • "Now, with online distribution and retail, we are entering a world of abundance. And the differences are profound."
  • "Not only is every one of Rhapsody’s top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it’s just a few people a month, somewhere in the country."
  • "Take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are..."

The unifying idea here is that it is so much cheaper and easier to find specific content on digital platforms (like searching for subject matter using Google), consumers are able to find and use niche content. To analogize, filmmakers don't have to compete for the limited retail space at Blockbuster anymore: Netflix can upload as many movies at it wants in an infinite showroom for immediate availability based on searches or browsing for almost any specific genre you can think of.

The most competitive searches — the red zone on the graphic above — are broad searches such as "divorce attorney" and "how to get a divorce." They make up a tremendous portion of the total number of divorce-related searches, as is reflected by the competition to rank highly for this search.

Down the "long tail" you have more focused searches ("I need a divorce attorney that specializes in child custody") that don't get the same volume as the broad searches, but are significant in number and can be even more valuable to your firm (more on that later). The more specific the search is, the longer down the tail you go. This is exactly where we want to be: while it may be difficult to compete against national websites promoting divorce attorneys, Google can quickly recognize that you are a divorce attorney in your town who is a child custody specialist — and reward you with that particular valuable traffic.

How Do I Come Up with Long Tail Ideas?

By tailoring your website content to a specific niche, whether it be for one article or site-wide, you can take advantage of lower competition in order to rank higher and build your authority with potential clients.

Start by thinking about the types of searches that your clients might be entering into Google. When you want to rank for "divorce attorney," think about your unique practice focus within that massive category. What do your clients say that you do best? Review your exit interviews and online reviews to see why clients loved your services. Was it the particular attention you paid to the situation with their children? Did you encourage mediation and make the process easier on everyone? By focusing on your strengths, you can attract the cases you like best, as well as make it easier to write content for your website since you're knowledgeable in that particular niche.

Another successful tactic can be to view the searches that people are already entering on Google. While Google now hides most of the data about the search queries that caused them to land on your page, you can generate ideas in other creative ways. One great way is Google's Auto Suggest feature. Google will complete your searches with other popular entries that users are entering into the engine. By typing in the start of an idea into the search bar, you can discover additional ideas that are further down the tail.

Google Auto Suggest screenshot

Tools like UberSuggest make it easy to compile giant lists of topics to write about. Don't forget — the more specific, the better.

It's worth noting that you can use this concept in different ways: you can completely focus your entire practice on one niche, or you can use one article to target a potential client base.

Ann Arbor real estate attorney Bill Ager used this tactic well: by publishing an article "Are you entitled to a State Real Estate Transfer Tax (SRETT) Refund?", Bill has received a tremendous amount of traffic from Google. So far in 2017, it is the most visited page of his site after his homepage. The best part about this article? In it he describes how people can apply for the SRETT free without any help from him. This helps his practice in two ways:

  • Free exposure: since Bill is willing to offer advice that no one else is, his website will be visited by thousands of clients who could use his services in the future.
  • You'd better believe that Google takes note of sites that offer their customers valuable information like this, and it rewards that information with higher rankings for the entire site.

Like any great asset, the short amount of time he took to write it up will pay dividends for years to come.

How Can Long Tail Searches Be Better?

If "down the tail" has so much great opportunity, why are so many of the searches (and so much of marketing spending) at the fat head of the tail?

The long tail is a fantastic response to the over-commoditization of services. It is where the opportunity lies for smaller organizations now that it's so much cheaper to reach customers. As a smaller firm, you have the ability to narrowly focus promotion of your practice and absolutely dominate a cross-section of the law, blocking out larger firms that have unlimited budgets for marketing but can't focus. Become the authority in the areas on which you focus and your potential clients will see that you are an expert.

Think of it like a mechanic. You have three options:

  1. "We will fix anything with a motor."
  2. "We service all makes and models."
  3. "We're Your Specialist In Japanese Vehicles"

Now, if you're driving a Ford truck, you're going with #2 most likely (although you'll have to pick between a wide variety of those shops).

However, if you are driving a Lexus and take excellent care of your car in Ann Arbor, MI, there is one place to go: Japanese Auto Professional Service. They're happy to remove a large percentage of car owners in Ann Arbor from their potential customer base, because they know that, if you have a Japanese car, you are much more likely to use their focused and expert services. With a 4.5/5 rating on Google and Yelp, it's clear that their customers are happy with the results as well.

One quick caveat: you have to make sure the market is big enough. You can't be the "divorce specialist that is open from 3-4PM on Wednesdays only and handles cases where a Yorkshire terrier was purchased for a wedding anniversary" attorney. Pick two major categories and use that intersection.

"This sounds like a lot of work — why can't I focus on outranking the big sites for the broad searches, instead?"

Well, you can. Absolutely. And it works. Google's PPC (pay-per-click ad) platform allows you to buy positions at the top of any search you desire, and only charges you when someone clicks on your ad and visits your site. Moreover, because you can filter target searches by geography, time and other factors, you can profitably find new customers by buying your way to the top of the results pages for valuable searches like "local divorce attorney."

PPC is an excellent method to target searches that would cost an exceptional amount to rank for organically. However, it requires a large marketing budget and an account manager who knows what they are doing.

How Can I Get Started?

Put yourself into your client's mindset, keeping in mind their issues when they call you for an initial appointment. Write down 5 questions they would enter into Google to get those questions answered.

Now add one more layer. What more can you add to this search? How can you focus this topic into a subgroup that has a more specific problem that only you can excel at? Write up a 750+ word article on each and become the expert in these arenas.

If you're stuck for ideas, use the UberSuggest tool above and select 5 of those common Google searches.

The Modern Firm excels in creating content for the long tail (as well as in managing pay-per-click campaigns for the broader searches, if you choose to take that path). We have a team of J.D. writers who will help you brainstorm topic ideas and write the articles to increase the traffic to your site. Just email marketing@themodernfirm.com and we will be happy to discuss how we can assist you down the Long Tail.