What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Stephanie Chew:
Stephanie Manor Chew is award-winning law firm analyst andDirector of Sales and Head of the Elite Sales Team at Digital Law Marketing. For the last 16 years, she has been helping clients build credibility and increase their visibility online through the full lifecycle of digital initiatives. From custom search engine marketing and social media positioning, to targeted content and online reputation management, she makes sure that DLM clients get what they need, when they need it.
Gone are the days when you could simply outsource everything to an SEO agency and expect results. To rank on Google today, law firms must take an active role in overseeing and executing their marketing plan. Stephanie Chew, Director of Sales at Digital Law Marketing, finds that the company’s most successful clients collaborate with them to achieve the best possible outcome. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about why content is no longer king; why a firm’s intake process is the most important part of lead generation; and how consistent Google reviews can boost your SEO efforts. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Stephanie Chew. She is the Director of Sales at Digital Law Marketing, and she’s speaking to us from Annapolis, Maryland. The company is headquartered in Nashville but is basically a virtual firm and works all over the country. Digital Law Marketing encompasses a wide range of digital aspects today, and no law firm can live without them. From SEO to PPC to social media, a law firm can make a case for each of them, especially when they work together. Today, Stephanie is going to educate us on what’s new in digital law marketing, where we should start and what we can’t live without. Stephanie, welcome to the program.
Stephanie: Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Sharon: Stephanie, tell us your background. How did you end up doing this? You didn’t tell your mother this is what you wanted to do where you were little, I don’t think.
Stephanie: It’s funny; I always wanted to be in advertising in some respects. I was just telling my daughter this the other night when we were watching the Super Bowl. Watching the Super Bowl with my father, I was always so fascinated by the ads, and I always knew I wanted to do something around advertising and marketing. After college, I started with Trader Publishing Company, which is now Dominion Enterprises. It has changed hands a couple of times, but it’s basically selling advertising space to car dealers. Then it turned into apartment communities, like for-rent magazines, things of that nature, and then that led me over to the SEO world, the website world. Then I started working with law firms in 2009, and I’ve been here ever since.
Sharon: That’s a long time with law firms. I can relate. I wonder what would have happened if I had been in advertising when SEO started. I’m involved in SEO, but I thought advertising was my dream job and quickly found it wasn’t. What would you say that lawyers have to do differently in digital marketing?
Stephanie: They have to be a part of the partnership. In the first part of my career, we would come in and help firms and companies by putting ads in newspapers or books, and the firm or the business really didn’t have to do much. Now the most successful firms out there are involved with their marketing, maybe not as much as we are, but they’re a pretty big part of it. More than they ever have been. For instance, getting reviews is incredibly important now, so the firm has to work to get reviews. We can make a firm tell Google how amazing the firm is. We can create an amazing website with wonderful content, great SEO strategy, but if the firm isn’t getting reviews, they’re not going to get business. Now, more so than it’s ever been, the firm has to be behind the digital focus and be a part of what their partners are doing to help them become successful online.
Sharon: That’s interesting, because when I read a review, the first thing I look at is, “Is this a legitimate review or is something the company wrote?” I hadn’t thought about how involved lawyers have to be, how involved everybody has to be. It’s not just something done in the back room.
Stephanie: Right. The firms that are the most successful online, the lawyers are actually asking for those reviews directly themselves. We’ve seen firms where they’ve hired people to get reviews for them. They’re never as successful as the actual attorney asking for that review themselves. So, asking for those reviews is one thing we always push our firms to do because, like you said, you look at those reviews to see if they’re real or not. Most people look first at the newest reviews, the most recent review that was posted, and then they look at the lowest review. Those are the two categories that people care the most about. So, it’s important for the firm to be involved just as much as the marketing company to make sure your reputation is good too.
Sharon: Do you explain that from the very beginning, that they have to be involved?
Stephanie: Yes, and we will only work with firms that will be involved. We’re very lucky that we’re exclusive, so we only work with one firm per practice area per geographic location. If a firm isn’t a partner with us, there’s only so much we can do for them. But having that partnership, we are the best in what do. We like working with the best firms. It creates the best partnership for everybody’s success. But yes, it’s very important that they’re also a part of their own success up front.
Sharon: When you say success, is that lead generation? Is it just what they’re doing?
Stephanie: Yes, lead generation. Our goal is to help firms become visible online organically. Our main focus is search engine optimization, which is organic placement on search engines. We do paid ads, and we’re very good at doing paid ads as well, but it’s that organic placement that you get the most return from. The more rankings these firms have on the search engines, the more phone calls they’re going to get and then hopefully the more cases they get. It really does work that way. We can track a ranking on the search engines, and then we track their phone and work with them to hear how many cases they’re getting, and it really does work in that direction.
Sharon: Social media and the paid stuff aside, do you encourage lawyers to write articles? Does this help?
Stephanie: With our clients, we handle all of the writing because there are couple of different ways you have to write. Number one, you have to write to make sure you’re the voice of the firm and it makes sense. You’re writing about cases you’re looking to get, but you also have to make sure you’re writing so the search engines can recognize you. For instance, a very popular search phrase right now is “near me,” like “car accident attorney near me,” “car accident lawyer near me,” “dentist near me,” “best optometrist near me.” It’s making sure you get those “near me” keywords in your content, making sure your content includes questions and answers, because a lot of people are asking questions of the search engines.
We do have firms that like to write themselves. Attorneys are wonderful writers, but if they’re not writing so the search engines can recognize what they’re saying, it’s not going to help them become more visible when it comes to these search phrases. It’s a balance. We do all the writing for our clients with their approval, but if somebody does want to write here and there, we encourage that. We would just help with massaging the SEO and the content.
Sharon: Would you massage the SEO or the stuff that makes them go higher in the rankings? If they have a website already, would you say, “It’s wonderful, but we can go in and do some things”? What do you do?
Stephanie: 99% of the time, we rebuild and redesign and develop the website first. The reason we do that is because a lot of how your website is built is how you’re going to perform on the search engines. For instance, if you have a very slow website, Google does not like that. Your site speed is a factor if you’re going to rank or not. So, we like to go in and clean up the website so we have a good product to work with to then help with SEO. From there, we write content, build out the content, create site maps, really get to know the firm, their voice, and figure out the types of cases they’re looking for. Then we write content around that to help them rank on the search engines.
Sharon: Are you called in when they say, “We’re about to embark on a rebuild of our website”? It seems to me they already have one when they call you in.
Stephanie: Sometimes that happens, where we start working with a firm and they just rebuilt their website, and we have to give them the bad news of “I’m really sorry, but this website isn’t going to perform.” We wouldn’t take on that client because we want to set up the proper expectations of success for our clients. If you have a marketing company tell you, “Oh no, that’s O.K. Your website’s slow, but we could still work with it,” that would be a red flag because it won’t work as well as it could if you redid the site. It happens sometimes.
Sharon: Going back to the “near me,” I don’t even enter that, but that comes up as a choice to click on.
Stephanie: Yeah, that’s usually right.
Sharon: That’s interesting. What do you mean by content writing? Is that what you mean when you’re making sure the content—
Stephanie: When it comes to content, you have the content pages on the website. Some of the most popular content pages on a law firm’s website would be their practice area pages. You might have a page on wrongful death. You might have a page on car accidents. You might have a page on personal injury. Then each one of those pages includes content. The type of content on that page could be question and answer, could be including those words “near me.”
Google pulls from that content to determine how you’re going to rank based on the way the person is searching. You’ll see a lot of times where Google does an instant answer. If they’re asking a question, “what is the statute of limitations in the state of California for a wrongful death case,” a law firm’s content page could answer that question, so they’ll bring it up as the first result.
There’s also blogging. You want to make sure you’re blogging on a regular basis. In the past, it was as much content as you could put on there. The phrase “content is king” is gone. That used to be the way we spoke when you would push content, push content, push content. Now, it’s more about the quality of content versus the quantity of content. It’s making sure it’s good content that’s enriched with the types of cases you’re looking for, and written well so the search engines recognize you as an expert on that topic with experience and expertise in the discussion. Google will see that and help you rank better based on the content and what you’re saying.
Sharon: Is that per lawyer? Let’s say on the home page of the website you have banners or badges that say, “We’re the best.” Or is it in the bio?
Stephanie: It would be in a practice area page. When somebody does a search for a car accident lawyer, let’s say, Google wants to provide them with the most specific information they’re looking for. So, they’ll more likely pull up a car accident page from your website and show that over your home page. Your home page should be a summary of everything you do, and then the content pages are more specific on each practice area. When somebody does find you, they’re going to find that practice page usually over your home page, but all of your content should include things that are easily identifiable for Google.
Sharon: I always laugh when I see a bio that says they specialize in 20 different things, because how many can you specialize in? What would you do? Would you put everything the firm does? What would you do in order to come up?
Stephanie: With a bio, you really want to focus on that attorney and what they’ve done and that’s it. When it comes to the actual practice area pages, that’s where you would focus on that practice area. Then maybe you could put in a little sentence or two about which attorney does that, if that makes sense. There are ways of doing it. It’s not necessarily a right answer or a wrong answer. It depends on the firm, the market, the practice area. But there are ways you can incorporate that being specific to the attorney and what their expertise is versus what the whole firm does on the bio page, if that makes sense.
Sharon: It does make sense. Should you put successes like, “We won a case that was really hard to win for $10,000 and John Smith did it”?
Stephanie: Oh yeah, verdicts and settlements pages and verdicts and settlements in general are some of the most visited areas on the websites. People want to see numbers. There are some markets where they might not be allowed to put verdict and settlement numbers on their website, or the firm doesn’t feel like it’s appropriate to do that. But by the way, law firms that put their numbers on their websites get more attraction than the ones that don’t.
Sharon: The big question is do people choose a personal injury firm because they like the lawyer? It’s a nice, touchy-feely firm versus one that’s won all of these big numbers but they might not like as much. How do you choose? What’s more important?
Stephanie: That’s a good question. Again, it comes back to the person choosing and what’s important to them on why they’re choosing, but if you don’t have the big numbers, you definitely want to talk about what you’ve done. A lot of people want to feel that they can relate to that attorney. I always say talk as much as you can about things you’ve done to help other people. If I had a case that was specific and I read that that attorney has helped other people with the same thing I have, I’m more likely to work with them regardless of what the numbers are because I feel like they could help me. If you don’t have those big numbers, you want to discuss what you’ve done because people will be able to relate to that.
We’re also big believers in putting personal information into those bios. Talk about your hobbies, talk about your children, because people relate to things. There are so many situations where I’ve heard that this attorney got a case because somebody saw they had the same hobby, they went rafting or whatever it was, and their son had passed away, or that they were calling him because he had the same alma mater. Obviously that is a big one people gravitate toward. Outside of politics—I would stay away from writing anything related to politics—the more information you can humanize yourself with, it’s going to help people connect with you better and they’ll end up hiring you.
Sharon: That’s interesting. I’ve heard that both ways. I tend to relate to people, so I would like to know more about them. That’s interesting that you should put it in your bio. Are you usually called in the beginning or are they already underway? Why are you called in? Tell us about your business. That’s several questions, sorry.
Stephanie: That’s O.K. Usually we’re called in when a firm is looking to take their law firm to that next step and they’re looking for more cases. They’re not showing up online. They’re not getting phone calls. They’re not getting cases online. A lot of times, we’re called in to firms that have worked with referrals for pretty much their whole law career. They’re always getting referrals, and they’re tired of paying those referral fees to other attorneys. They’d like to generate cases themselves from the internet. Then we would be brought in to help them analyze what’s going on in their market and what their current web presence is. Then we can put together a plan to get them to where they need to be to generate more calls that generate the cases they’re looking for. It’s usually somebody that wants to make more money off the internet in some way, like they’re tired of paying referral fees and/or they’re looking for more visibility and better-quality cases. We hear that a lot; that we help firms create better-quality cases over anything else.
Sharon: Better quality meaning larger cases, bigger numbers?
Stephanie: It could be anything. It could be that it’s a firm that did a bunch of slip and fall cases and now they’re getting bigger and better quality personal injury cases. It’s medical malpractice firms that used to get a lot of junk calls and now they’re getting quality calls, things like that. We’re really good at SEO, and we’re really good at creating more rankings for somebody organically. Usually when somebody finds a firm organically, they tend to be better qualified, quality leads.
Sharon: Do you keep your eye on the changes in the Google algorithm?
Stephanie: Yeah, we have a SEO specialist that works with digital marketing. We’re all senior level, too. I always like to mention that because our SEO specialists are also very recognized in their SEO space. We have one Google Product Expert that works for us. She’s one of 50 in the world. She’s outstanding. We also have a Google Local Search expert who’s been nationally recognized. They’re the ones that keep up with the trends and how things are changing, and then we push that down to all of our firms. We’re constantly moving in different directions with content and with SEO strategies based on the changes in the Google algorithm and changes in how we as human beings search. It is ever-changing. If you looked back 10 years ago from today, it’s totally different to what we’re doing. Even a year ago, it’s a different strategy than what we were doing.
Sharon: That sort of leads me to the next question. When I search, you have to skip like 10 sponsored ads. Is it possible to be high organically?
Stephanie: Absolutely. It’s interesting because Google has put a lot of emphasis on their paid ads. They have a newer ad called the Local Services Ad. It’s been around for two years now, but those are the ones where there are pictures at the top of the page. They’re considered Google screened, but they’re driven by reviews and making sure that somebody answers the phone and other things in your budget. But the biggest driver of those is how frequently you’re getting reviews, which is interesting that Google is doing that. So, there are different types of advertising they’re doing, and they’re pulling in an organic element with those reviews. Below that you have your pay-per-click, which is the paid advertising for Google Ad Words, and then you have your local. But yes, local SEO is still the sweet spot of getting calls. The firms we see, the majority of the calls come in through that local SEO space.
Sharon: When you say you only take one practice area and one geographic area, do you have a map divided up? What do you call a geographic area?
Stephanie: It depends on the marketplace, but a lot of it has to do with where the office is located. For instance, we have a state where the firm has 10 office locations throughout the state. Well, they’re the only personal injury firm in that state because they have so many offices, so we’re not going to work with anybody else. It comes down to who their competitors are. Our whole thing is we’re not going to work with your competition. If it’s too close for comfort, we go to our clients first and have them tell us if it’s O.K. if we work with them, yes or no based on the competition, and we will or we won’t. We do not cross that line at all. We are 100% exclusive, and that’s why. We only have a handful of clients per state because it’s all we want. We don’t want to be the biggest SEO company out there. We want to be the best, and we feel that we are.
Sharon: What do you do if you’re in a room of lawyers, whether it’s partners or not, and they say, “Reviews aren’t a problem. Sally in marketing handles the reviews”? What do you do then?
Stephanie: It depends. Maybe Sally in marketing really does do a great job and she is getting multiple reviews a week. That would be awesome. We wouldn’t have a problem with that at all. But if Sally in marketing hasn’t gotten a review for six months, we can see that. We can say, “Oh, that’s great, but the best thing for firms is to get consistent reviews on a regular basis. Two to three reviews a week would be ideal.” We can show that they’re responding to them, that they’re engaging with that list, and we really push that.
We’ve had situations where we have gotten firms top ranked—I keep trying to say first page, but there are no pages anymore when it comes to Google. It’s about rank. You can’t even scroll. So, we could get somebody at the top of the rank of the search engine, but if their reviews aren’t good, nobody’s going to call them. We’ve done our job, but nobody’s going to call you if your reviews aren’t good. It’s a two-way street. We coach our firms. We encourage them. We do a lot with intake. We can audit phone calls and help them figure out how people are handling their calls. It’s a lot of coaching and encouraging and trying to do our best to get them to do their part, too.
Sharon: I think you just preempted my next question. You can have wonderful numbers, but if they fill out the intake form and nobody sees it—
Stephanie: Yeah, if they’re not answering the phone. We see this a lot. We’ll do audits with some of the most successful firms in lots of different situations. I’ll never forget there was a catastrophic injury/medical malpractice firm, and a lady called very upset saying that her daughter was just diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and the woman’s like, “I don’t know if we do that. Hold on. Let me check. Yeah, we do that.” Now the confidence is shot. There’s no way. These are not the people to hire.
Intake is such a big part of these firms. It’s probably the most important part that our lawyers aren’t paying attention to right now. Not all our firms, but in our industry in general. We’re doing a lot with our clients to help them with that, but in our industry as a whole, I feel like intake is probably the area that can be improved the most.
Sharon: People don’t talk about that enough, I think. They talk about how much money everybody is spending on SEO and organic, but not about when the calls come in, where they were sent or what happens.
Stephanie: It’s really a salesperson on that line if you think about it. As you said, firms are spending thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of dollars a month in marketing, but who’s answering that phone? All your dollars are going out the window when you don’t have the right person. They usually want to cut costs on those types of positions, when really it should be handled as a sales organization. Some of the more sophisticated PI firms, those large firms that are coming into different markets, are handling those as sales calls. It’s changing. I’ve seen firms do a great job, but I do think that’s one of the first things that is overlooked. Hopefully it’s coming to light now. More firms are starting to do better at it, but you’ve got to take care of all the parts.
Sharon: There are a lot of parts. I was laughing when you said content is king because that’s what people used to say. There was a time, a long time ago, when you could tell somebody, “Just write a lot about what you do and you’ll be O.K.,” but that’s long gone.
Stephanie: Yeah, it’s gone now.
Sharon: Would you say that a website is the hub of everything a person is doing when they’re doing paid ads and SEO?
Stephanie: I probably would have used to say that, but what I would say now is if you do a search for the firm’s name on Google, that is the new homepage. Whatever you see that comes up there is what I would be more concerned about than even the homepage of your website. The reason I say that is because if you do a search—let’s say you’re a car accident lawyer and somebody finds you by doing a search for car accident lawyers. They are going to see your presence on Google pop up first. Sometimes they’ll go directly to your website; sometimes they’ll look at your reviews before even looking at your website; sometimes they’ll look at where you are before doing that. There’s a lot of information they can find out before even getting to your website.
If somebody does a Google search of your firm name, on the right-hand side of that search is usually where you’ll see the Google information and Google reviews, but on the left-hand side is all those other directories out there, which could have bad reviews. That shows up before somebody even gets to your homepage. It used to be that your website is the hub of everything. It’s still incredibly important, and maybe it still is the hub, but when it comes to your reputation, you really need to see what Google has on your firm. What is your brand telling people before they even get to your website? What are all these directories saying? What are all these reviews saying about you?
Sharon: What are you seeing with all the sponsored ads? I just happened to look at your website, and there are about five sponsored ads before you even get to yours. What do you do? Is that part of it?
Stephanie: If you were to google Digital Law Marketing, there are other law marketing companies that will bid on our name to show up ahead of us. That happens. Or somebody could be bidding on digital marketing or terms like that, but people can see that they’re sponsored or paid ads. You can see that right there. Most people, if they’re looking for the real website, will pass those and go directly to the organic.
Now, some people search differently. Some people would click on the first one they see, but users are becoming a lot more sophisticated than they ever have been, so they understand what an ad is. Sometimes ads are the best result. Google has also done a good job with the ad program so that sometimes the best information you’re finding is in the ads. It depends, but it’s hard to get away from those ads. One thing you could do as a business is bid on your name. For instance, we bid on Digital Law Marketing, so we’re one of the first that pops up when somebody does type in our name. But you do want to make sure you’re aware of what is on the internet about your brand.
Sharon: It seems like the world has changed so much as a marketing person who’s interested in everything you’re talking about. For the firm to be at the top and on social media and everywhere, you need a bunch of experts. They need their own team. You can’t be an expert in everything or just a lawyer who’s interested in marketing.
Stephanie: You’re absolutely right. We touch on social media, but there’s so much more you could be doing with social media. There are so many different avenues and elements of everything. You could have, like you said, a whole team. You hire a company like ours to manage the website, the SEO, the paid ads. Then you have somebody that does social media video, optimization and things of that nature. Then you get somebody that just does PR. PR companies and SEO companies work really well together because it creates good results when they do. There are so many different things. It’s not just hiring one person and they can do everything.
Sharon: But the marketing person or the lawyer who’s interested should also be auditing calls or at least know what’s happening.
Stephanie: Yeah, and there are so many different tools now. We use something called dynamic call tracking where you can record every call. We’re constantly spot checking and listening to our clients’ calls to make sure the leads are being handled properly once we bring them to the law firm. If they don’t, they’re not going to see the success of their marketing dollars.
Sharon: Have you ever had to make changes because of the dynamic call tracking?
Stephanie: Yeah, we’ve had to. We’ve actually had to not renew agreements with clients. In almost 10 years with Digital Law Marketing, we’ve only lost a handful of clients, and two of those we actually let go ourselves. The reason we let them go is because they weren’t helping themselves and they weren’t helping to be a partner. At the end of the day, nobody would be successful. Lots of times we have these hard conversations with firms and say, “O.K., this what we found out. We did an audit and 40% of the calls aren’t being answered.” The firms are very receptive to it, and they make changes quickly. That’s why they hire us, because they know we’ll help them with making those decisions. We’ve had lots of hard conversations with firms, but if firms aren’t willing to help themselves, it’s hard for us to help them.
Sharon: I presume you’ve been in the position where you’ve come in to replace another SEO firm.
Stephanie: Oh, yeah.
Sharon: How long should a law firm wait to see results?
Stephanie: Good question. We ask all of our clients at Digital Law Marketing to give us one year of SEO. After that, it’s month to month. We don’t renew clients because if you don’t want to be with us after a year, then we’re probably not the right fit. But we don’t lose clients because we can show you within a year what we’ve been able to do for you. If it’s not us, then try somebody else. I would definitely give it a year.
Just yesterday, I had a call from somebody who was frustrated because their marketing company had been working for three months and the results weren’t showing up. I’m like, “You really need to give them longer than three months. Give them a good year. I’m not going to say you’re going to be at the height of your performance in a year, not at all, but you will see progression.” We tell people all the time, “We’ll be able to show you in the first 90 to 120 days how you’re ranking better, how you’re getting more phone calls.” We continually show that progression because it takes years to get really good visibility on search engines. You’re telling Google who you are over a long, consecutive period of time of building your brand, but you will see progression quickly. You’re just not going to see ultimate results for some time.
Sharon: You must have lot of people say, “A whole year? You want me to wait a whole year before I start to evaluate?”
Stephanie: People have figured it out now. It used to be more of a challenge five years ago, but people have figured it out. SEO takes a while. With paid ads you can see a return a little quicker, but it’s still not as quick as it used to be. With paid advertising, we tell everybody to give it at least three to four months. There are so many people that are doing paid advertising, so it takes a little longer. It used to be that you were able to see results in a day, but it’s different the way things are working now. It just takes time, but if you’re consistent and you’re doing the right thing over a consistent period of time, you will see the right results with the right company. You have to make sure you trust who you’re working with, too.
Sharon: That’s probably a big factor. One of the last questions, if you can tell us, is about how people find you. Do they only find you because of a web search, or do they find you other ways? How do they find you?
Stephanie: The law firm?
Sharon: Yeah, how do your clients find you, so they call you versus another company?
Stephanie: They could do a web search and find us that way. We are Diamond Sponsors of the American Association for Justice, the AAJ. It’s a national organization. We’re also sponsors of the National Trial Lawyers. We do travel a couple of times a year to conventions and meet new firms. A lot of our clients come from other clients because our clients tell our story a lot better than anybody else. On our website, we have a bunch of FAQs and testimonials from our clients, but they can look us up on Google, social media and through our website.
We have a form on there so we can do free SEO audits for firms. We’d love for them to fill that out and see if it’s something we can help firms with. We are working with firms all over the country, but we do have markets available, so we’d love to hear from anybody that’s interested in not having to hire a company again. A lot of times, people come to us and say, “I’m tired of switching companies every year or every two years.” Our clients don’t have to do that anymore. So, come to us and you don’t have to continually look further.
Sharon: That’s a big point of differentiation. For everybody listening, we’ll make sure to have the website link and any other links. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it, Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thank you for having me, Sharon. It was fun.
Stephanie: Take care.
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