By Richard C. Miller
KANSAS CITY OFFICE
4717 Grand, Suite 820
Kansas City, Missouri 64112
1021 E. Walnut
Springfield, Missouri 65806
PERSONAL INJURY AND WRONGFUL DEATH LAWYERS
CONTENT IS KING: At last, there is a marketing medium that depends on content, not on the size of ones marketing budget. And at long last there is a marketing medium that offers more to potential clients than just a slogan and a 1/800 number–content is king. You can compete with the Yellow Page advertisers, even the TV advertisers through a well planned and performing website, if you understand the way people use the Internet to find lawyers. In fact, you will have to understand your Internet market in the future because this will become the primary way of not only finding information, but lawyers as well. There are three steps to attracting a potential client to your law firm through the Internet. First, they must find your website; second, they must stay there; and third, they must contact with you.
FINDING IT: Finding your website is the most important, but the least understood aspect of Internet marketing. Search engines are constantly changing the algorithms used to rank websites and many are now going to various forms of pay for placement. It is essential that you implement a search engine optimization program in order to keep up with the search engines. It is just as essential that you hire an expert in this area so you know how to spend your money wisely. The days of relying on meta tags and a unique site description or title are gone; now you must enrich your content with key words and phrases, which are properly placed, appropriately emphasized and regularly revised. Then turn your site over to an expert who understands the Internet and can “optimize” it.
STAYING THERE: That brings us to the second point–how to keep Internet browser on your website once they find it. Content here again is king, but the presentation must entice the viewer to investigate your site. This begins with a well-written home page, but your site’s navigation also must make it easy to find that secondary page the visitor seeks. People surf the Internet–they do not dive in unless they find something worth their while. The home page has to pique their interest using as few words as possible. At the same time it must contain the right key words to attract the search engines, which have more patience with verbosity. The website must be organized through navigational bars and internal links so that visitors find what they want in as few clicks as possible rather than becoming lost in useless information.
CONTACTING YOU: Finally, when visitors viewing your website find what they want, will they contact you? The closer your content is to their concerns, the more likely a visitor is going to pick up a telephone and call, or at least send an e-mail (particularly if your website makes it easy to do so). For instance, if they find that you have handled a case remarkably similar to their own you have a much better chance they will contact you over a competitor. So do not just describe a general personal injury practice, describe the practice for which they are looking.
FEEDBACK: A good intake system identifying the source of not just cases opened, but all contacts, is essential for determining if you have accomplished these three goals and if so, through what Internet marketing efforts you have done so. This information tells you where your marketing dollars are best spent. Over 50% of our contacts come from either our firm website (26%), ancillary special purpose sites (15%), or general Internet searches (12%). Referrals constitute most of the remainder—from attorneys (31%), non-attorneys (10%), organizations (2%). The Yellow Pages is a distant third (2%), along with miscellaneous (2%). However, we still find that our referral attorneys send us better contacts than we get off the Internet. Despite the higher volume from the Internet, we still open more cases from referral attorneys than any other source. But our website is a rapidly expanding source of new business.
10 INTERNET MARKETING LESSONS LEARNED THE HARD WAY
1. WRITING TEXT: A trial attorney friend complained to me a couple of years ago that he spent a lot of money developing a fancy website, but he was not getting many “hits” as visitors were called back then. While he had some content on the site it did not begin to explain the extent of his knowledge and expertise in the area of litigation in which he specialized. Clients who visit your website expect more than just a transplanted yellow page ad. And search engines absolutely require more content. But whatever content you provide it must be dually crafted to attract these two audiences. First, KISS: “keep it simple stupid.” Unfortunately, the text must be written down to the most common denominator, which means focusing on an audience that reads at the high school level, or less. In the age of TV and sound bites, your writing should be similar—short, succinct, one issue paragraphs that are easily scanned, and then hopefully read. Your home page should fit entirely on the opening screen without any scrolling or it will be to long for some Internet surfers. At the same time you have to use the key words and phrases that will attract search engines to your site and cause them to rank you high under search terms that are important to you. Because search engines usually focus on the first 250, or perhaps 500 words per page, the search terms you emphasize must be at or near the top of the home page or whatever other page you optimize. If you have to choose which audience to satisfy go for search engine recognition because without them your potential clients will never find your site.
2. SPECIAL EFFECTS: Do not use special effects as an introduction to your homepage, such as flash images or moving pictures etc. The same rule of the lowest common denominator applies here too. While you may have a few clients who can afford fancy computers or are technically advanced, if your clientele is like mine, most of their computers take a long time to download a fancy website. Remember, all an impatient surfer has to do is click a button and your site is history. That does not mean to say you should not use a few still photographs or visual images to make the home page or other key pages look better and attractive graphics to keep them interested in the text. This is one area in which less is more for a personal injury practice, so save your money.
3: LAWYER LISTS: Associate your site with key lawyer listing services or use a search engine optimization expert to publicize it—better yet, do both. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of lawyer listing services out there in Internet space, but few are worth the cost unless they are free. One of those exceptions, West purchased FindLaw a couple of years ago, which was a much more popular lawyer listing site. West has spent a lot of money since then optimizing its FindLaw site and those who list under it. While expensive, I think that most of the services offered by FindLaw are worth the cost as long as you keep your site basic and develop enough content to attract visitors. The other lawyer listing worth considering is sponsored by Martindale Hubbell. This listing is particularly important if you maintain a good rating with this organization. While I am sure that there are other Internet legal directories that are worth some money, I have not found them yet, but I am still looking. By listing with FindLaw or Martindale you get the power of their marketing budget, albeit diluted by all the competitor firms, which list with them. Consequently, the yellow page concept unfortunately applies here. If you are going to jump, jump big and spend the money necessary to get a top listing in their internal search results within your geographic area and under your practice areas. The cost is still less than alternative forms of advertising and the potential is much greater in the long run.
4. SITE OPTIMIZATION: If you want people to find you outside lawyer listings look into search engine optimization (SEO). This service, which is offered by FindLaw as well as Martindale, is also available from a number of independent experts with varying experience and ability. Search engine optimization is basically a game in which the expert tries to keep up with the changes in how search engines find and rank websites, or at least no more than a step or two behind them. Unfortunately, this gets into not only some money but also your time because it requires that you revise your website more frequently, from several times a year to monthly. SEO begins by incorporating the search terms people use to find you into your home page text and in other key areas of your website. But there is a lot more to it than that. For instance, links are becoming more important to search engine rankings, both internal and external. Internal links direct traffic through your site to the most important content, which contains the most important search terms. External links provide the means for a visitor to exit your site so they may be counterproductive. But they are necessary evil because by offering to link to someone else’s site, they may return the favor with a reciprocal link. The more and higher ranked the websites linking to yours, the more important your site will be considered. You can also create your own links by setting up a separate website to emphasize a particular practice area, optimize the site and then connect that website to your home page or some other page within your main firm website.
5. SEARCH TERMS: While “automobile accidents” is a common search term for people seeking a personal injury lawyer, all of your competition will use the same phrase and you will get lost in the masses. We have found that because we do a lot of firearms, skiing and other recreational cases, visitors find us almost as often using the term “sporting accidents”. Optimizing our site with “sporting accidents” increases our traffic and allows us to distinguish ourselves from the competition. Most website hosts provide data on how people find your site, including a listing of the search terms used with their frequency. After your site has been operational for a few months, do a study of these key terms and incorporate them into your website. If you use a generic term such as “automobile accidents” modify it geographically such as by the state in which you practice or better yet, a major city if you are located in one. But more importantly, if there are unique search terms that apply to your practice which appear to be high in the rankings, incorporate them into your text as well. You can also throw in a few other terms under which you would like to be found to see what happens. The key is to find those words or phrases that are both common and unique: generally used by the surfing public but specific enough to distinguish your practice.
6. RANKING REPORTS: The SEO expert will list your home page and the other pages you want to optimize with the various search engines, emphasizing the key words or phrases on your home page, the page description or title and other information that each particular search engine uses use to rank web pages. Your website host should also be able to provide you with a ranking report showing where you are listed under important key words or phrases with each of the search engines. Keep in mind the rules of this game are constantly changing and are gradually moving toward paid rankings which can take a number, of forms, from purchased top spot listings on certain search engines to pay per click results on others. A good SEO expert will help you make decisions regarding how to best spend your Internet marketing dollar without requiring you to delve into this arcane topic.
7. PAGE CONTENT: So after clicking past your home page what will a visitor find? Tombstone websites that have no content besides a simple home page are just that—dead. Even those websites with a little content in the form of a brief description of the firm, short resumes of its attorneys and a means to contact them are not competitive in today’s Internet environment. So what should a personal injury lawyer’s website contain? It must contain all of the above basics in a unique presentation that entices a surfer to dive in and then enough of the right content to keep them swimming around until they select your firm for their legal needs. Put links in your home page text to secondary pages you consider important and to resources you want to emphasize, such as your Martindale Hubbell rating and its importance. The attorney resumes should be lengthy and linked as well to presentations they have made or articles they have written. Link to the websites of organizations to which you belong, if not too competitive. Put all articles written by firm members on your website with an index describing the general contents of each article so the search engines can find them. Firm newsletters should also be added to the website with a similar key word index so that search engines can use their content to rank your website. A description of your practice areas is critical because it allows you to concentrate important search terms on a few key pages, so they can be optimized like the home page. The search engines will find this content and rank secondary pages, sometimes higher than the home page. Perhaps the most important page for a personal injury practice is one listing past cases, with sufficient descriptions so that people can find something similar to their own legal matter. Whether you include the amount of verdicts and settlements is a matter of discretion, which can be argued both ways. A consumer tips section is a valuable tool to highlight key pieces of litigation, particularly if you are looking for more of the same. Something more creative could be a page entitled: “Scam of the Month” which focuses on particularly heinous tortious conduct. Remember that the law of defamation applies to website publication and the cases seem to be suggesting that venue lies wherever the website has been seen. A contact page is also critical—this should request just enough information to determine whether you have an interest in the case, but no more than is necessary because people will not take the time to fill it out. Use a general e-mail for all contacts from the website rather than listing the e-mails of individual attorneys, as we have found that the first attorney will receive the brunt of the e-mails, calls and other contacts. If you have a lot of time on your hands there are a number of other things you can do to attract visitors such as: hosting a chat room which is similar to Internet talk radio; solicit and respond to legal queries through frequently asked questions (FAQ’s); start up an Internet publication–the options are only limited by your imagination and your time. Check out other legal sites for ideas to adapt and use as your own.
8. RANKING METHODS: In the beginning God created the Internet so people could find information and it was good. But then man came along and spoiled everything. First, people reserved more website URLs than they could possibly use to make money from others. Second, people bought search terms on directories and resold them on a geographic base. Third, people created directories within their site and sold listings by practice areas. Then people segregated their market by selling banner ads, top spots and other preferential listings. The search engines got into the business and started charging for preferred listings, which now appear ahead of rankings based on content. Then people got the idea that Internet advertisers would pay by the visitor for each one who clicked through to their website. Eventually, this pay per click ranking was put out for bid so that the prices continue to increase. The Internet has taken the best and worst from time-share sales, yellow pages competition and multi-level marketing to create a garbled mess which bears no resemblance to the original creation. The goal of all websites is to be ranked at the top of what may be a very long list of competitors under as many key search terms as possible. This can be achieved in a number of ways, some of which are free and others not. Search engines use various algorithms to rank websites based on what they consider important. Human editorial boards review submitted websites to both categorize and rank them. Paid rankings can take the form of anything from buying a top spot or banner ad to paying for each visitor who clicks to the site from a general directory or other listing. You can also see how well your website ranks compared to all others in terms of overall traffic and request for content. Google has a green tool bar that ranks websites on a scale from 1-10, which can be added to your Internet browser screen. www.alexa.com provides a ranking of websites based (from number one into the millions) based upon the number of visitors and the amount of content they request—it also shows whether the site’s popularity is increasing or decreasing. The best suggestion I can give you in this area is to consult an expert—I recommend Richard Lozano at 1/(866) 769-3723 or www.poweradvocates.com (See his periodic newsletters for an explanation of various search engines)
9. IMPORTANT REFERENCES:
Internet marketing consultant: www.poweradvocates.com
Search engine help: www.searchenginewatch.com
Search engine optimization: www.seoforgowth.com
Automated website submission: www.bcentral.com
Human edited website submission: www.positiontech.com
Pay per click sites: www.overture.com
Website ranking data: www.alexa.com
Website copy writing services: www.successdoctor.com
10. MISCELLANEOUS RULES: A single key word is better than a key phrase. People use the singular over the plural. “Lawyer” is a more common search term than “attorney”. Excessive repetition of key words is called “spam”. Search engines will penalize you for spam. This may include black listing your website so that it will never be ranked. Do not play risky tricks such as of search terms. Do not put them in text so small it cannot be seen or in the same color as the background of the page. The risk of getting caught is greater than the ranking benefits. Links are great particularly if they come from another site into yours. The higher ranked the websites linked to yours, the more important the search engines will consider your site. Enter into reciprocal linking arrangements between your website and corollary ones, but not competitors. Links within your own website are also good. Not only do they help search engines find important content, but also to help your visitors find the same.