The online marketing world has changed dramatically since the years when people were in a rush to throw their hats into the Web site ring. Indeed, it changes and evolves every day. While some law firms remain without a site, most practices, regardless of size, have an online presence.
You or your firm may have built a compelling site for your practice a few years ago. Or you may have put up “brochureware,” which duplicates your firm’s print collateral.
In other words, you, or someone you hired, approached the creation of your Web site like any other piece of marketing material: Its design focused on your key messages but without inherent differences between the website and your printed collateral. Then, either the designer or another company “submitted” it to dozens of search engines. With good reason, you were probably relieved that your firm was online.
So why should you worry about your Web site now? Because people – potential clients and referral sources – are looking. How often have you heard, “I was given your name and looked at your Web site, and now I am giving you a call”? What you don’t hear is, “I was given your name, and looked at your Web site along with that of your competitor. Because your competition’s Web site did a better job of showcasing their expertise, I am calling them.”
If it’s been a while since you brushed up on what’s happening in the world of on-line marketing, you may want to consider doing so now. To explore this realm, you will need to familiarize yourself with a few basic terms relating to search engines.
One of the first buzz words you will encounter in today’s Web world is “search engine optimization.” This means designing and maintaining your Web site so that it ranks as high as possible on your preferred search terms in the four key search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN and AskJeeves.
Working to “optimize” your Web site for high rankings in the search engines without paying to be ranked is called “organic” or “natural” search. Its opposite is “sponsored” search, in which you pay for a high ranking. Many marketing plans include a combination.
For optimum marketing impact, a Web site has to be designed and maintained for the highest possible search engine ranking when someone enters your selected search terms, such as “employment law in Los Angeles.” This presents several challenges.
The first challenge is that each of the search engines uses a different algorithm for its ranking, and these algorithms are always changing. Another challenge is that many of the search terms, especially in the legal realm, are very competitive; for example, there are many employment lawyers in Los Angeles.
How do the search engines determine your ranking? One of the key elements is relevance: how relevant the wording on your site is to the search term. If the search term is “employment” and the word appears often on your site, your ranking is higher in this arena than the ranking of someone whose site has it appearing only once or twice. However, as the search engines get more sophisticated week by week, if the word “employment” occurs way too frequently, it could count against you.
Also figuring into the rankings are inbound and outbound links and their relevance to the search term. These are your site’s links to other Web sites and the links that lead from other sites to yours.
For example, if you practice real estate law and your site is linked to the California Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors, it gives you an edge compared with a competitor who does not have those links. Similarly, if another organization’s site, say the California Association of Realtors, links to your site, it gives you an advantage in the rankings.
The rankings also take your site’s “freshness” into account. This refers to how often the information on the site changes. A static Web site loses out to one where information is added or updated on a frequent basis. That’s only one of the reasons why it’s important to keep adding press releases, articles and information about upcoming seminars or talks.
Of course, new information also gives people a reason to keep visiting your site. In turn, the number of visitors also plays a role in your rankings. Most important, however, fresh information is essential to making your site a showcase, a place to toot your horn and keep your markets informed of your activities that highlight your expertise.
When you make changes to your site or even one page, you can either resubmit it to the search engines, or allow them to find you. Search engines have “spiders” which crawl through the Web making note of changes and updating information.
The operation of search engines involves a tremendous amount of detail, but that’s it in a nutshell. So why should you care about your search engine ranking? Many professionals doubt that clients will ever find them just because they did a search on, say, “business attorneys in Walnut Creek.”
However rare that may be, marketing is a numbers game, and today everyone is looking for information online. And, when it comes to marketing a law practice, growth is usually incremental, not in huge leaps.
The truth is that prospective clients come to you as a result of your “marketing mix”: your mix of tactics. One client may call you after hearing you speak at a seminar, another may have been referred by a colleague, and a third comes as a result of doing a search on the Web.
We have touched on only a fraction of what should be considered for marketing a practice online. The bottom line is that online marketing and your Web site can no longer be an afterthought or something that you do once and leave alone. The world of Web site marketing is a whole new ballgame, and now that you know some of the rules, why not play to win.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.