Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writing for Your Audience Versus Just for SEO

A few weeks ago I wrote a post in which I discussed how strictly adhering to search engine optimization guidelines can, at times, do more harm than good. This is because by focusing too emphatically on specific search terms we sometimes risk alienating visitors to the site who may be looking for content not related to those keywords.

Today I would like to address another concern regarding an overemphasis on SEO. Too often, many law firms (and many businesses in general), perceive their web site to be a tool used to generate new business. This is fine and is, in fact, one of the ways in which a quality web site can serve a positive function in the firm’s business development efforts.  

But it is not the only one. Any purchasing process involves both the generation of potential new customers as well as converting those prospects into clients. A web site is not just a lead generation tool—it is also a conversion tool. As such, it is visited by prospects for information about the firm, its areas of focus, its attorneys and also to get a sense of the very essence of the practice.

When content is developed that focuses too heavily on having the “right” keywords appear the “right” number of times in the “right” places, we lose sight of what we are actually trying to do – sell the site visitor on the merits of our organization. This requires a writing style that understands the target audience, that is user-friendly and that underscores the firm’s benefits. When we do not do that, we run the risk of falling into traps exemplified by the admittedly exaggerated line, “Smith & Jones are divorce attorneys who focus on divorce and assist those individuals going through the divorce process to get through that divorce process smoothly.” 

While Google and the other search engines have learned to account for such extreme examples of trying to get keywords into the content as often as humanly possible, the point remains the same.  There is a fine line between writing for SEO purposes and writing to the needs and interests of the reader. If you don’t focus enough on the SEO elements, you risk losing new visitors. Focus too much on the SEO and not enough on what you are saying (or how you are actually saying it,) you risk losing prospects. Copy written in a format as highlighted above will almost certainly not convert educated, high net worth prospects into clients that family law firms so often seek to obtain.

In many ways, this has become a very critical part of legal marketing in the 21st century. The degree to which your firm moves more in one direction versus the other needs to be carefully thought-through and should be a function of the type of practice areas in which your firm is active, the sophistication level of your target audience, the culture of your firm, how the percent revenue generated from different practice groups breaks out and the nature of the “purchasing” decision making process of prospects in your firm’s areas of emphasis. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Thinking Small: Niching Your Practice

If you have absolutely unlimited marketing dollars at your disposal, then read no further.

If however, your law firm is like most, then making the most out of limited resources is an essential strategy. 

There are many ways in which to do this of course, but one way often resisted by law firm management is seeking niches for the practice’s offerings. In suggesting this, I am referring to a strategic approach that actually seeks to narrow, rather than broaden the number of target prospects.

Before we get into the “How,” let’s first discuss the “Why.”

Effective marketing involves gaining exposure. In most cases, gaining such exposure is an expensive proposition – be it in hard dollars or in human resources. Obviously, some firms are better able to fund exposure-generating initiatives. For example, a personal injury law practice may inundate the broadcast airwaves simply because it can. Another firm may rule the page rankings on Google and other on-line directories because it has managed to allocate the manpower to consistently generate new content and establish new links. Yet a third firm consistently finds ways of getting its attorneys on the pages of major newspapers and interviews on network television because it has paid high-powered public relations professionals to do just that.

Firms that own a greater “share-of-voice” have a much easier time generating the kinds of exposure that generate revenue. Unfortunately however, they also make it that much more difficult for the “little guy” to play in the same arena. While its true that a small personal injury practice can run a television campaign just like its larger competitor, the fact that this effort will be drowned out by a much larger media budget often makes such an initiative futile at best.  Instead of generating more clients, it simply drains whatever precious financial resources the smaller law firm has. Similarly, a search engine optimization program that lands a firm on page twenty is not even worth the effort to get there. And that PR campaign? Public relations, more than most other marketing tools can, at times, be risky.  Your story idea, your pitch – they are all at the mercy of editors, producers, etc. 

The problem that many law firms have is that they seek to be a big fish (or even a medium fish) in a big pond. Sometimes it is far wiser to be a larger fish in a smaller pond.  Most successful firms that do so have found a way to establish a niche for which they are specifically known. Their pool of prospects may be smaller, but amongst that pool, they enjoy heightened levels of awareness.

There are many ways in which to find and create that niche. Take a person who has suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident as an example. That person may very well not research “attorneys” or even “personal injury attorneys” when seeking a lawyer.  Instead, that individual may well seek out a lawyer who truly understands the ins and outs of spinal cord injuries. Similarly another practice may focus on brain injuries, while still another on birth defects.

Becoming the one who “knows” inevitably provides one with a leg up. “Type of injury” is just one way to niche a PI practice. There are others.  One can also niche by “Cause of injury.” We see this in promotions for practices that focus on motorcycle injuries or truck accidents.

Segmenting the community is yet a third means of niching. Having a full grasp of the needs, wants and habits of a particular ethnic or national group is a good way to not just generate exposure, but also create to an atmosphere of goodwill and understanding.

Finally, there’s geographical niching. Limiting your marketing efforts to a confined area allows you to leverage your human and financial resources. Now you do become the “big guy,” albeit in a smaller setting.

The whole concept of niching is not just for the PI firm.  It is applicable to just about any other practice area. Some of this involves “drilling down” to a sub-topic within a topic. We worked with one firm with a strong corporate litigation department that asked us to promote its understanding of the much more specific area of independent contractor law.  Another criminal defense practice sought to focus its efforts on bullying. When the issue of domestic partnerships arose, one firm sought to emphasize its understanding of that topic in its consumer outreach.

Yet another way to leverage a niche is to identify industries with which the firm has experience. Being a corporate litigation law firm conveys one thing. Being the corporate litigation firm for energy companies conveys quite another.

If you have tremendous resources, by all means, go out there and “shout” your selling points.  If however, you do not have such resources, don’t try and shout so you won’t be heard. Rather, go out there and shout – even if it’s to a smaller crowd.

Learn more about marketing your practice area...




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

You Really Want Your Law Firm's Web Site Optimized for... What???

We recently encountered a situation that was a textbook example of how strict adherence to SEO guidelines can potentially do more harm than good for a law firm.

The case involved a small multi-practice firm seeking to drive up web traffic for its personal injury business.  The firm’s web provider had done a good job in optimizing the site for PI, splashing all of the keywords and images across any and all of the site’s pages. The firm’s experience in handling PI was highlighted throughout and attorney bios emphasized personal backgrounds in this area of the law. Not surprisingly, traffic to the site increased several-fold. All of this would, under normal circumstances be considered a good thing.

Except that in this case, it was not.

The bulk of the firm’s revenue stemmed from practice areas geared more towards business and government than towards the general public. Its target audience, which often included business decision makers and governmental officials, was far less prone to visiting web sites based on online directory searches than it was to visiting web sites as a means for learning more about the firm as based upon professional referrals. Visitors to the site wanted to ascertain the depth of understanding the firm had in regards to business and governmental matters, the experience its attorneys had in these areas and the range of services the firm might provide.

Yet, when such visitors came to the site, they were besieged by headlines, photos and verbiage that screamed “Personal Injury” – in some cases, even on pages that had nothing to do with that topic. Instead of coming away with the perception that this was a firm with many practice areas, one of which was PI, the net takeaway was that this was, in fact, a personal injury law practice that, yes, “dabbled” in a few other areas as well. In short, the firm lost its opportunity to convey its legal acumen in areas where it was critical that they do. When one considers that personal injury did not represent even the largest of the firm’s revenue segments, it’s not hard to see how detrimental the SEO initiative was to the overall health of the firm.

This is why it is so very, very important to take a holistic approach to the task of business generation.  Things are not always as they seem. In this case, there was a discussion to be had that probably never took place. That discussion would have elicited 3 possible approaches to address this dilemma. First, the firm might have taken a balanced approach and done the best that it could in highlighting all practice areas including PI. Second, it might have determined that personal injury represented the greatest potential revenue stream, all other practice groups be damned. Or third, it might have understood that optimizing for PI might cannibalize its other revenue sources and decided to have two sites, one focusing on the firm at large and the other, dedicated to personal injury and optimized to the hilt.


In deciding on a marketing approach – whatever type of business development tools are being used, it is important to understand how such tools fit into the big picture. Failing to do so only risks having that big picture become not so big.

Monday, January 19, 2015

It’s a New Year. Time to Start “Pondering”

A few years ago, I opened my annual series of blog posts by concentrating on such traditional marketing functions as creating a firm-wide marketing plan, developing an appropriate promotional budget, and determining optimal target markets to pursue.  But every once in a while, I believe it is wise to step away from the “traditional” and indulge in a little creative brainstorming designed to push one’s firm in directions it might previously have not considered. And really, there’s no better time to do this than at the start of a new year.
 
Without the benefit of research or hard data, without the input of “experts,” colleagues, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends or even mother-in-laws, it’s a good idea to just ponder the future of the business that we’re in and gaze into the crystal ball as to how law firms will stand out in the future. Some sample questions to consider are noted below:
 
What is the future of online marketing?
Many have stated that “content is king,” but at some point we must ask, “If everyone is bombarding the world wide web with content for their web sites, their blogs, their social media posts, etc., at what point will we have reached message saturation?  And when that point comes, how will law firms reach out to new prospects and customers?  Will we return to more traditional media? Find new ways of using the internet? Or perhaps find completely new ways of reaching out to our prospects? The answers may not be very clear now, but staying ahead of the curve now is one way of avoiding irrelevancy down the road.
 
What new practice areas might emerge or even be created?
Years ago, I was surprised to be contacted by a law firm that focuses its practice exclusively on the area of reproductive law. I had never heard of that before, nor had I ever really thought about how law firms might niche themselves so narrowly.
In every industry, and in every part of life actually, there are highly specific areas of knowledge that if leveraged and promoted smartly, can lead to greater levels of profitability. For example, one of our law firm clients focuses a big part of their practice on bullying. Many other firms focus on high technology, but one could drill that down further to emphasize “technology and ethics,” and go further still by becoming the “leaders” in all of the legal issues related to social media.
 
Who will be the new and/or “hot” cluster target groups?
We’ve had baby boomers, yuppies, Generation Xers and soccer moms. What’s next and what might the current socio-economic landscape suggest for how groups of people might soon be categorized?  The current generation of Facebookers and Snapchatters will soon become our clients, our employers and our colleagues.  How does that bode for how law will be practiced?  What opportunities exist to reach them?
 
What is the future of interpersonal networking?
How will we schmooze in the future? Is business development still really about face-to-face interactions or are we heading to a world in which our clients and colleagues are people we never see and perhaps may never actually meet?  What effect will this have on the law practice of tomorrow, particularly those B2B practice areas where personal interaction has been such a staple of revenue growth?  Will business still be conducted on the golf course or simply move over to the cyber version of that same golf course. Wherever it is going, if you can be there first, so much the better.
 
What values will resonate the most?
What will your firm’s calling card be?  Quality? Price? Value? Speed? On-line Accessibility? Changing times demand changing thoughts on such attributes.
 
Where will your geographic market be?
Everyone else is going global? Do you need to be there as well? Are you positioned to do so? How will you accomplish that?
 
The list of questions of course could go on and on. And if you were expecting brilliant answers to the above, I am sorry that you’re probably disappointed. The point is however to underscore the value of first generating the questions.  Because it is only through those questions that we can start to stand out from the many others with whom we compete for share-of-mind, clients and revenue. 

If you would like to discuss strategies for marketing your practice in 2015, contact us at (856) 810-0400.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

So,... How Did You Do? 10 Questions to Ask about Your 2014 Business Development Efforts

In a few weeks, you will all be besieged by scores of emails, promotions, and invitations, etc. asking you to begin the new year “right” by purchasing whatever product or service is certain to make 2015 the “big” one in terms of revenue, new client generation, and cost efficiency.

But before you begin the 2015 planning process, this may also be a good time to take a step back and assess 2014, because all products and services aside, this is the best way to ensure that successful initiatives are duplicated or enhanced, and that any mistakes made are avoided.

So, that in mind, I offer you the 10 questions every managing partner/legal marketing professional should ask as 2014 winds to a close:
 
  1. How successful was 2014 in terms of new client generation?   Were increases in firm revenue a result of ongoing or repeat client business or the result of the firm’s business development initiatives?
  2. Where did new business come from?  Was new revenue concentrated amongst a relatively small group of clients or scattered across a wider range of new clients?
  3. Which marketing activities were most effective in generating new business?  This is a trick question, because not all marketing tools can be easily measured and most new business comes through exposure to a number of different types of business development efforts.  That being said, either quantitatively or qualitatively, is there a sense as to what worked this year and what did not?
  4. Which practice areas benefitted the most from business development initiatives?  Very important.  Different practice groups have different marketing needs. Did the firm ”do right” by each group in terms of implementing the most effective marketing strategies?
  5. Were human resources employed in the most profitable manner possible?  Let’s face it.  Not everyone is good at everything. Some individuals are natural salespeople while others are more comfortable sticking strictly to “lawyering.”  And even among those who are particularly good at generating new business, different people have different skills.  Some write brilliant articles.  Others are terrific presenters. And still others are just gifted when it comes to making small talk at a social or business function. Did the firm take all of this into account in implementing its 2014 plans? 
  6. How efficient was the business development function?  It’s great to have generated new revenue, but far less so, if the expense involved outweighed that revenue. Aside from obvious out-of-pocket costs, how did internal processes affect the business development function? Were marketing committee meetings productive? Did outside vendors get clear direction from the firm and did the various projects flow through the firm smoothly and swiftly?
  7. How was the firm perceived?  Did the firm get adequate feedback from current clients, new clients and prospective clients as to the perceived quality of a) the firm’s work product, b) the firm’s image and c) the firm’s sales “pitch.” 
  8.  How successful were firm competitors in 2014?  Did competitors make inroads into the firm’s business?  Steal any clients? Did any new competitors emerge? If so, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  9.  What relevant issues, trends, news events were “hot” subjects during the past year?  Did the firm leverage its expertise in certain areas of the law? Did it keep an eye on happenings in the world, the community, the legal industry and its target industries?
  10.  How did the results of 2014 compare to what had been anticipated and planned for one year ago?  How good was the firm at forecasting its future and spotting opportunities and potential trouble spots?  What might the firm have done differently to better anticipate and meet its practice-building needs?

So, there you go.  Ten questions to ask yourself before the curtain drops on 2014.

But think, once you’ve answered them, you’ll truly be ready for the next big assignment – developing your attack plan for generating more business in 2015.

If you would like to discuss strategies for marketing your practice in 2015, contact us at (856) 810-0400.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three Ways to Use LinkedIn to Build Your Law Practice

It hurts to admit this. And I never thought I would.
 
But I like LInkedIn.
 
I really do.
 
I think that’s because LinkedIn takes a lot of the “social” out of social media and gets down to business. And if you ‘re one of those people who doesn’t care about tweeting from every restaurant you go to, lamenting your latest relationship or sharing videos of your 2-year-old nephew’s latest antics, then Linkedin provides a great forum for you and your firm.
 
It does so in a number of ways.
 
First, LinkedIn offers the opportunity to highlight your professional accomplishments. But as, if not more important, it allows law firms a platform for “bragging” about the organization’s accomplishments. This can be as simple as just having a company page on the site or as detailed as adding “showcase” pages highlighting specific practice groups and/or legal services. Content relative to such groups or services can then be posted onto these showcase pages. If your organization is already developing content for other social media sites, a blog or the firm newsletter, then having something to post becomes relatively easy.
 
Second, in addition to its content publishing capabilities, as a social media site, LinkedIn obviously allows you to build personal networks of professional connections. Where it departs from other types of social media is in its ability to facilitate interaction with what it labels as second and third connections. Reaching out to friends and colleagues (i.e., first connections) is a no-brainer. But attempting to meet (online or off) second connections opens up a world of opportunity. And you do it by actually working off of your first connections. For example, in reviewing the connections of your connections, you notice that your friend Suzy is also connected to Joe, the head of that big bank you’ve been trying to get in to see for years. By reaching out to Suzy, you can ask for a “warm” introduction to Joe. And we all know that warm leads will top cold ones any day of the week.  There are actually systems you can put into place that allow you to explore the connections of your connections as based on very specific criteria on a regular and automated basis.
 
Finally, there are the LinkedIn groups which allow users to reach out to individuals in the same industry, from the same college, with similar interests or who may be potential clients of the firm.  I say “reaching out,” but I could just as easily say “targeting,” because that is what using the groups (and the aforementioned second degree connections) allows you to do – target. In some ways, it can even replace the renting of lists in your marketing arsenal. If your firm is marketing B2B services, then developing a program through Linkedin may actually be more effective (and less costly) than doing so through such lists of addresses, email addresses or telephone numbers.  That is because, on LinkedIn, the data is usually more up-to-date, the individuals have elected to be involved and the opportunity for warmer referrals is significantly greater.
 
There’s a lot more to it, but I believe LinkedIn has the potential to be a great marketing tool for law firms – particularly now when the number of individuals on board has reached a critical mass. Like anything else, it does require some elbow grease, but the results can be well worth it. 
 
If you would like more information on how we can help you publish content online and build your social media network, contact us at (856) 810-0400.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Managing Partner’s Marketing Lament: The Need for Greater Accountability

“How will I know whether the marketing is working?”

“Why don’t (or can’t) my attorneys bring in more business?”

“Why do I need to market when most of our business comes through word-of-mouth?”


In our 20+ years of marketing law firms, these are by far, the questions we have had to address most often.  Attorneys are by nature, evidence-based individuals. They want data, facts, anything that can take the perceived risk out of a function that has traditionally not been so easily calculated for service businesses.

The difficulty in predicting results of business development efforts rests in a faulty linear mindset that wishes to see things from a “cause and effect” perspective.  Certainly a direct mail campaign, a pay-per-click initiative, a seminar can all be accurately tracked for the revenue they generate versus the costs required for their implementation. But in reality, this only offers a limited picture of what is working and what is not.  A truer understanding is generated when one takes a longer, more holistic perspective. For example, even a direct mail or seminar’s success or failure will, in large part, be determined by more image-oriented or branding efforts the firm will have implemented. How many individuals attend a seminar may well be determined by the pre-existing reputation of the firm; and the number of website clicks that turn into live inquiries is, in part, a function of the efficacy and quality of the website itself.   Marketing tools do not exist in a vacuum. To a greater or lesser degree, they serve to support and underscore one another. It is the wise law firm that looks to ascertain results by examining not only the linear relationships of specific vehicles and revenue generated (e.g., “How did that ad pull?”), but also the relationship between the marketing component as a whole with the revenue data.

This is not always an easy thing to do. For one, it means often relying on qualitative versus quantitative “data” for determining success. It may be difficult to assess (though not impossible as will be discussed later on) the value of an image-oriented campaign or that new firm brochure, but if one learns that “everyone is talking about it,” that’s a pretty good indication that something is going on. Similarly, a sudden spike in business may likewise be attributed to a new business development  initiative. Second, it means understanding how each element of a marketing program fits in with all the others. Pulling back support for an image-oriented campaign may, in fact, make that seminar, that pay-per-click program, or individual attorney networking that much less effective. 

The question of accountability in terms of attorneys’ rainmaking capabilities likewise must take the longer view. Not all attorneys are meant to be developers of new business. And some attorneys who are good at bringing in the rain may not even be the best of attorneys. Smart law firm management means smart use of firm assets – the bulk of which comes in the form of attorney talent.  Far too often, we have heard managing partners lament the paucity in their associates’ business development abilities.  And far too often, we have heard those same managing partners issue a directive that all associates must join a civic, religious or non-profit organization for the purposes of “mixing” with potential clients. The truth of the matter is that even among the best of business-generating attorneys, not all are proficient at networking. Yes, some are natural “schmoozers,” but others are better at writing articles or giving presentations or working with agency and marketing folks in a group. Proper allocation of human resources means utilizing the skills of the attorneys where they are most beneficial to the firm.  How does one measure that?  Much as one measures the effectiveness of marketing programs noted above.

Finally, we come to the concept of “word-of-mouth.” Business professionals utilize that phrase as justification for not investing in other forms of business development. Yet the truth of the matter is that “word-of-mouth” comes through two sources – a) interacting with people and b) doing good work.  Both require significant investments of time and money. “Word-of-mouth” doesn’t just happen.”  It happens because something is going on. Understanding who is generating that “word-of-mouth” revenue, how it is being generated and how the investment in it relates to other types of business development can help the smart law practice allocate its resources more prudently. Not all successful law firms may be marketing aggressively in the traditional sense.  But all successful law firms are consistently developing business aggressively through one means or another.

I mentioned earlier that traditionally, law firm management has had to rely on qualitative data to make decisions regarding their business development initiatives. For a long time, this has, in fact, been the case. However, Etiometrix, LLC recently developed an application called RainGauge which allows law firms to track results at the most granular (e.g., individual or departmental)  as well as at the most holistic levels. It also provides data regarding the amount of revenue that the firm (and individual attorneys) is generating through “word-of-mouth.’  This is particularly helpful as it gives a good indication as to the perceived quality of the firm as well as facilitates better decisions regarding which practices groups and individuals require or are justified in receiving greater financial support for their marketing initiatives.  You can check it out at etiometrix.com.

“Accountability” has become one of those catch-words thrown about by just about everyone. But true accountability requires understanding at what level results can and/or should be measured and how those results relate to all the different activities and players in the firm’s business development arsenal.



This is the final installment of a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers.