Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When Is It Time to Re-Design Your Web Site?


Whenever we are contacted by a new law firm prospect, we are inevitably asked, “So, what do you think about our web site?
We try to answer this question as best we can, being honest as to our opinion – regardless of what that might mean in terms of our pursuing this client further. If it’s a great site, we say so and look to discuss ways in which we might leverage this fact. Other times, we may suggest that the firm make some changes to the site, be it of a design, textual and/or of a technical nature. And of course, if the site has some major issues, we are forthright about the need to start over – regardless of whether that site was originally developed by the prospect’s wife, kid or mother-in-law. 
It’s the latter of these situations that I would like to address today – How do you know when its time to scrap your current site and begin again from scratch? 
I think, there are, for the most part, five situations when building a new site makes sense. I’ll try to identify these and categorize them as best I can. But please, feel free to let me know if I’ve missed the boat on some or missed some obvious reasons altogether.
Situation #1: There’s a Major Change at the Firm
This one’s a no-brainer. If the Smith Law Firm, which provides elder law services to folks in Worcester, Massachusetts decides to merge with Reynolds, Reynolds & Reynolds, a multi-practice firm serving all of New England --- well, that’s a great reason to get rid of the old and bring in the new (or at least to get integrated into the larger firm’s site). Similarly, if the law firm that offers family law services now decides to expand into PI, immigration law and estate planning – that is likewise an obvious reason to create a new site that reflects the firm’s new direction. Taking on a new partner may or may not suggest a new site as may expanding into new locations. Similarly, your major competitor’s launch of a splashy new site (one that’s getting a lot of attention) may also provide a reason to pause.
Situation #2: The Site No Longer Does What You Need it to Do
There was a time, not so long ago, when the typical law firm site consisted of not much more than a “Home” page, an “About Us” page, a “Practice Areas” page, an “Our Attorneys” page and a “Contact Us” page. Today however, two things have changed. First, content development has taken on a much bigger role in determining firm ranking on the online search engines. And with that, comes an inherent need to put that content somewhere. Second, technical advances have made interacting with potential clients so much easier and certainly much more compelling. Whether its connecting with them on their mobile devices, downloading white papers, registering for a firm webinar or seminar, filling out an inquiry form, or being directed to a firm blog, today’s web sites are multi-faceted. If yours is not mobile friendly and providing opportunities for your prospects to interact with the firm, you are a) immediately seen as out of step and b) missing a multitude of opportunities to generate leads and improve your conversion rate. If this is, in fact, your situation –it’s time to create a new site.
Situation #3: Your Site Looks Outdated
This reason is a little less obvious. After all, when your site was first developed, it looked great! So how do you know when its time to say good-bye to the old and say hello to that brand new you? Two tell-tale signs. First, if you are already asking yourself this question, then chances are it’s time to move on. Second, if you show your current site to your teenage kids and they tell you it’s “old,” listen to them. It’s kind of like the forsaken spouse – the one who had created the site in the first place is often the last to know. 
Situation #4: Technical Problems
Less common, but important nonetheless, are those situations in which the site’s technical glitches have become more trouble than they’re worth. For example, we once inherited a law firm’s web site that had all kinds of issues, the worst of which was that it been hacked and infected with cryptic coding that linked it to, shall we say, “adult” web sites? Unless, your firm specifically wants to be connected with pornographic URL’s, it might be best to have such mistakes corrected. And if they can’t be easily addressed, well, in the words of that famous football coach (don’t know who), “It may be time to punt.” There are, of course, a whole host of technical issues that can arise. Some can be “fixed,” but at a certain point, it usually becomes clear that a major change is in order. 
Situation #5: You’re Not Getting the Results You Want
This is probably the biggest reason of all. When the law practice starts seeing some of its site metrics decline, it may be time to take a closer look at the site. Are you getting less traffic? Are visitors staying on your site for shorter and shorter lengths of time? Is your site’s load time putting a drag on how high Google lists you on its directory? Are the quality scores of your landing pages not what they once were? These are all potential indicators of a problem that may or may not have to do with the site itself. You will need to dig a little deeper, test a lot, and do some inductive reasoning. But if you determine that the site itself may be the cause of your problems, well…
In most cases that we come across, the decision to make the change to a new web site is due to a combination of factors. For example, a site that is technically obsolete may also be outdated from a design perspective as well. 
Regardless of the reason however, while there will obviously be some expense in making such a change, the purist in me suggests that one look at this as an opportunity to reinvent the firm on more favorable terms – one that may actually promote both revenue as well as profit growth

Thursday, September 29, 2016

To "Seminar" or "Webinar?" That is the Question.


When law firms of any size discuss their marketing and business development tactics, the question invariably comes up: Do we want to run a seminar?
Most often, it is followed immediately by another: “Or how about a webinar?”
The two have become intrinsically linked and for good reason. Both allow law firms and attorneys to highlight their expertise on a particular topic and both offer the potential to interact with event attendees.
But they are not exactly the same in the potential benefits and drawbacks they bring to the challenge of business generation. 
As long as there has been something to “teach,” people have given seminars and workshops. With the exception of an individual face-to-face interaction, seminars are probably the best means for allowing potentials client to get to know you. It gives them an opportunity to see how you look, think, speak and how you feel about particular issues. For better or for worse, attendees will leave a seminar with a sense as to the kind of person and the kind of attorney you are. This is important because it minimizes the perceived risk the prospect may have in retaining you. 
There are other benefits as well. Seminar promotion provides further exposure for the firm and its knowledge of a particular topic – even amongst those individuals who elect not to attend. They also give firms an opportunity to disseminate tangible material in the form of print handouts. Such material can be invaluable in making sure the attendee keeps the firm top-of-mind well as a “pass along” piece for generating referrals. Finally, seminars invariably lift the status of the speaker. For that one hour, he or she is “the” expert in the room. 
But seminars are not without their drawbacks. First, when one adds up the cost of facility rental, catering and promotion, the expense can be significantly larger than one might initially think. Second, they are not readily scalable. It is difficult to replicate even the best of seminars to a broad geographic area. And finally, logistics may dictate that prospects who might have an interest in your topic are nonetheless unable to attend your event.
Enter the webinar-- the information age’s contribution to making presentations to large groups of people. Webinars offer many of the benefits that seminars do not. First, they are not confined to a particular geography. You can use a webinar to speak with prospects in as small or as large an area as you deem important. Individuals can attend these online events from the comfort of their own desk… or bed. And they can be wearing a fancy suit or be lying in their pajamas. It doesn’t matter. No one can see them. Further, webinars are easily recorded and archived, meaning that even those who could not attend the event have an opportunity to make up for their egregious loss another time. Today, webinars also offer a variety of options for interaction between presenters and attendees in the forms of Q & A, polls, etc. Finally, unlike with seminars, if attendance for your webinar is poor, no one but you will know. You will never have a large room filled with empty chairs. In fact, I’ve witnessed webinars that were presented to an audience of … one!
But, (and there is always a “but” isn’t there?) …. Webinars can be boring. It can get tedious for attendees to stare at their monitor over an extended period of time. More important, webinars lack the personal touch that allows the prospect to get to know the presenter. And for the presenter himself, making presentations to an audience you cannot see presents an interesting challenge. Without visual feedback, it is difficult to know whether you are getting through to your audience. You won’t even know if your best one-liner is being met with a smile or a rolling of the eyes.
So how does a law practice determine which approach is best to pursue?
As one might guess, that answer lies on the kind of practice you are promoting, the inherent nature of the topic to be discussed, the makeup of your target prospects, and of course, one’s budget. 
Allow me to take each of these up in kind.
Certain practice areas lend themselves to one form of presentation over another. For example, a law firm that focuses exclusively on family law probably draws its clients from a rather small geographical area. In contrast, a firm that is dedicated to business law probably targets an area that is much larger. Reaching this audience via a single seminar may be difficult. In general, the more locally your practice is focused, the more likely it will be that seminars represent a better option. 
But not always… 
What happens if our family law firm wishes to present a workshop on domestic violence or a bankruptcy firm wants to outline the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. This is because individuals may have serious reservations about exposing their vulnerabilities in front of others (e.g., “Oh, so you have been hit by your spouse too?”). Webinars offer anonymity and thus might make more sense for sensitive matters.
The make-up of your target market is the third variable to consider. If your firm is business-to-business focused and wishes to reach as many CEO’s as possible, webinars provide a means for doing so. If your goal is to get a smaller group of CEOs to get to know you personally, then seminars probably present a better option. 
Finally, there’s the matter of cost. As mentioned, webinars offer a lower-costing alternative to seminars. Yet, while at first blush, this may appear to make your decision a no-brainer, this cost savings must be weighed against the acquisition costs of gaining new clients. It is quite possible that that expensive seminar may actually do better on a cost per new client basis. 
In conclusion, as with all elements of marketing, there is “no one size fits all.” The key to success in utilizing either method lies in having a real appreciation of the merits and drawbacks of each and an appreciation for how prospects “consume” such media.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How to Evaluate The Results of Your Legal Marketing Pay-Per-Click Campaign

In evaluating the effectiveness of your firm’s pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaign, there is really only one metric that matters: What is the quantity of the qualified calls and inquiries your firm is receiving?
That’s it. No other metrics matter and for law firms, the data that you do get is really only diagnostic in nature. Fortunately, proper assessment of what I would call interim metrics offers some clues as to a) why your campaign is performing at the level that it is and b) what you can do to improve your results.
In order to mine this data for the “nuggets of truth” that they hold, let’s look at some of these metrics more closely.
Obviously, the most important of these is clicks. If one believes in the funnel approach to marketing and sales, then the more clicks one has, the more likely one is to generate leads and ultimately more conversions. Hence, when we see the level of clicks decreasing, we try to assess whether this trend is a function of the campaign itself or of other considerations. For example, we recently implemented an effort on behalf of a family law firm that focused primarily on post-divorce and enforcement matters. While the level of clicks was considerable, the client did not initially obtain the results (i.e., leads) they were seeking. When the strategy changed to focus on broader terms (e.g., alimony, domestic violence, etc.), the level of clicks declined – but the level of inquiries actually increased. More important, the level of “qualified” inquiries jumped dramatically. The reasons behind this had less to do with the logistics of the campaign itself, than the manner in which individuals seek out family law services. Hence, in this case, the low level of inquiries indicated a problem with the keywords that had been utilized.
But other factors may be playing a role in an upward or downward trend as well. Has a new competitor entered the fray and upped the cost-per-click, thus in effect, “shrinking” your budget? Is that competitor paying a premium price to be ranked top three no matter what the cost? Such trends may also be a function of seasonality (in which case you should compare results vs. the same period of the previous year) or a decline in importance or volume of a particular topic (e.g., favorable economic conditions may lessen the level of “bankruptcy” searches.) The latter can be explored in further detail by researching whether the overall volume of impressions (the number of times the search engines serve up each of your ads) or the number of searches for those keywords themselves have also gone up or down. If changes in your click volume and site traffic are reflective of trends in these metrics, then you are running with the herd. If they’re better, then “congratulations” – you’re doing something right. And if they are worse… well then, it may be time to make some changes.
The click-through rate offers yet another glimpse into what is going right or wrong with your PPC program. If your click-through rate is relatively high or trending upward, this suggests that your ads are doing their job in terms of attracting visitors to your site. If not? You guessed it…. Change them. Add a call to action.
Click volume is also a function of the quality of your web site’s landing pages (i.e., the pages to which visitors are directed from these ads.) Are they of sufficient relevance? Look at how Google is assessing your landing pages as based upon the quality score (from 1 – 10) they give for each of your keywords. That score is part of Google’s algorithm and is one factor in determining how high your sponsored listing is ranked as well as the cost of the clicks. If you are receiving low scores, consider either utilizing different keywords, or more likely, enhancing the relevance of your landing pages.
As I have discussed in a previous postaverage position may or may not be another indication as to why click volume is trending one way or the other. Depending on the situation, higher rankings may be a goal unto itself, but in some cases, you may actually get more clicks on the dollar by accepting a lower position.
Finally, if you want to get really fancy, you can analyze the cost per client acquisition by dividing your PPC expenditures over the number of clients obtained (and then measuring that versus the revenue obtained). But even in doing this, be careful. You’re not selling Ty-D-Bol. Unlike for high volume retailers or manufacturers, one especially large or especially small client can skew results dramatically.
Ultimately, your best indication of results, will come not from reports on the metrics of your PPC campaign alone, but from aggregating your quality leads. All of the other metrics come into play only in the service of enhancing your efforts.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

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

A couple of years ago we encountered a situation that was a textbook example of how strict adherence to SEO guidelines can potentially do more harm than good. 

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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Marrying IT with the Legal Marketing Function

Businesses of all kinds have historically had a difficult time reconciling the respective roles of those in the marketing and in the accounting/financial departments. It has always been understood that marketing should "pay out." Yet those who performed that function had difficulty articulating how each element of their program contributed (for better or worse) to the company's bottom line. 
Now however, that “fuzziness” of respective roles has carried over into the IT department as well. Marketers of all kinds (and legal marketers in particular) might well ask where marketing begins and ends. More often than not, in today’s information driven society, it begins and ends at the desk of the firm’s technical guru. 
For proof, one need look no further than the importance CRM software plays in the business development process. If attorneys (particularly at larger firms) had to procure, understand, implement, train and then utilize such applications on their own, it is doubtful this technological advance would be as widespread as it is today. Same holds true for the marketing guys who may well understand how to develop a message, place an ad, disseminate a press release or even create a pay-per-click campaign, but who at the same time, would have difficulty recognizing the compatibility of one legal application with another.
So much of legal marketing today revolves around online activities. Yet it is the IT folks who understand the benefits (and limitations) of the various social media outlets, the changing algorithms involved in search engine optimization, the capabilities of online dissemination services, and the potential of the firm’s web site to convey everything the firm wishes to convey.
The law firm that places too great a distinction between marketing and information technologies runs the very real risk of inefficiency, but even more important, is almost certain to miss out on opportunity. A much wiser approach is to promote the full integration of the IT folks into the marketing decision making process.
By doing so, law firms are almost certain to discover ways in which to efficiently stand out from competitors through both substance and style. And even in the information age, “standing out” is still what marketing is all about. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Word-of-Mouth Revenue and the Value of a Client

Toothpaste marketers have it easy.
It’s not hard for them to figure out the value of a client… or in their case, of a customer. They know the margin they make on the product, how many tubes that customer will buy and how often that customer will come back to buy it. Moreover, the word-of-mouth phenomenon is not prevalent. After all, how often do you give or receive referrals on which toothpaste to buy?
But what about the marketer of legal services?
For most practice areas, there is no “typical” client. And there is absolutely no way of knowing or even estimating how many times that client will come back for more services. But most important, the value of a client is determined not just by the revenue that client brings in, but also by the revenue that client generates through word-of-mouth and referrals. Unfortunately, most law firms fail to track that information and thus fail to get a full understanding of what each client represents to the firm.
This lack of information can have a direct impact on the firm’s fortunes. For example, a client that brings in greater revenue may be “appreciated” more than the smaller client whose contribution to overall firm revenue is significantly less. Yet, that smaller client may be of greater value to the firm simply through its connections to other potential sources (i.e. prospects) of new revenue.
When data regardingfrom where referrals are coming is not collected, law firms miss the opportunity to not only understand the value of each client, but also the opportunity to nurture those sources of “down the road” revenue. They may not see that that client who used to send lots of business their way is no longer doing so, and thus they may not recognize that his or her perception as to the quality of their services is no longer what it was. They may not see that Mrs. Smith merits a lunch invitation, Mr. Jones has earned a larger gift basket come the holidays, or that the XYZ Company is in danger of becoming an ex-client.
To be able to act on this information, law firms must first be able to capture it. Yet this need not be a daunting task, By simply asking the question (as one would regarding through what medium a client heard about the firm), and tracking the revenue generated through these sources, a great deal of actionable data is obtained.
You can find more information regarding the tracking of word-of-mouth revenue and the value of a client at etiometrix.com.

In the meantime, I look forward to the day your firm’s success in business development can be quantifiably tracked to perceptions of its work quality. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why You Should Not Focus on Search Engine Rankings



Let me start by saying something sacrilegious. Search engine rankings do not matter. Well actually, they do matter somewhat, but not as much as many think. That is because many legal marketers tend to look at where their site is listed in a Google search as the end result of a search engine optimization (SEO) or even a pay-per-click (PPC) effort rather than as just another interim metric.

“Wow. We’re listed in the top three!” we’ve heard many a client attest, undoubtedly feeling as though they’ve discovered the holy grail. Similarly, we’ve known some clients where anything short of such placement is cause for excessive hand-wringing.

The truth is that the only reason why it’s good to have a top listing is to generate greater number of impressions (exposures to the web site listing) so that more people both visit the site and then contact the firm in some manner.

The variable that many miss is the expense involved. For example, consider a situation in which one firm is paying $10 per click to achieve a number one ranking and generates 100 total clicks with a total expense of $1,000. Then consider a second firm that is ranked further down the page. This firm spends $400 and generates 60 clicks. Compared to the first firm, the efficiency this firm has achieved at $6.67 per click will allow it to either invest more dollars into the campaign (additional keywords, etc.), invest in other marketing vehicles or recoup the savings.

The same can be said for an SEO program in which a staff member or outside vendor is paid to ensure that the firm is listed high on the organic section of the search engine directories. The cost of obtaining that top listing must be weighed against the potential revenue lost by being listed lower. What was the cost of that effort versus the additional revenue earned by being listed first?

The point is not that search engine placement is irrelevant, or that being first is not often the preferred position. Rather, such a position is a means to an end, as is the monthly budget applied and the dollar amount of the click bid itself. If the goal of your firm’s PPC or SEO initiative is to generate more revenue for the firm, then the leads (or actual clients) generated per dollar is a much more significant metric. As important, it is also a better metric for directing you as to how your on-line dollars should be allocated.