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.

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