It comes as no surprise that law firms are always on the lookout for more client work. That goes without saying. After all, a law firm without clients isn’t much of a business. Unfortunately, regardless of how much talent a firm has on the books, finding more work tends to be the biggest challenge facing legal practices. A recent study looking at how people find lawyers showed that not much has changed in the past 100 years: people mostly still find their legal representations through other relationships, which takes much of the power of direct marketing out of the hands of the lawyer and into the hands of fate and word-of-mouth. That makes it tough to adapt to and reach a young and wealthy demographic that is increasingly more likely to turn to the internet to find a service.
You could argue that this demonstrates a failure to adapt in the digital age, but the research shows that it’s not so much a failure as it is just a natural urge by people to rely on friends and family for advice. The interesting — and important — thing the research tells us is that, while relationships made for 36.6 percent of all acquired work for lawyers (compared to 16.5% for the web), it was both the 18-24 age bracket and high-income earning (above $150,000 p.a.) demographic that were more likely to find a lawyer via an internet search. What does this mean? That the future is digital, and it’s not too late for lawyers to jump on the bandwagon.
Understanding How People Find Lawyers
If the typical law firm’s weak spot is finding new clients, yet clients keep coming to them on their own accord, the firm faces the dilemma of having to exclusively rely on word-of-mouth to drive its marketability. Now of course that’s not a bad thing, but it takes power away from the business in being able to control the message it’s relaying onto potential clients. The fact that relationships are still the prominent form of referral for lawyers is no surprise, because the law is complicated (and expensive) and people trust their family and friends.
However, we’re seeing a shift in how people find and respond to referrals and marketing. It comes as no surprise that the 18-24 age bracket prefers to use the internet, but they’re also less likely to need a lawyer. Their network of friends probably never had a need for one, either. As such, once they do need a lawyer, they’re forced to look online. We gather that from the research, but we can also assume that even with a referral from a friend, this specific demographic would still rely on an internet search for more information. They grew into the digital age, after all.
It’s definitely reasonable to assume that even someone who relied on a relationship to find a lawyer still used the internet in some way to help them come to a conclusion, regardless of demographic. The research could very well be skewed to exclude a second point-of-action, such as doing a Google search after having received the referral. Considering the size of the Facebook user base, it’s also reasonable to assume some “referrals” came from people via the social network.
The important thing to take from this research — whatever the interpretation — is that relationships are still the number one way people find lawyers, regardless of whether that included the internet or not. There are ways to translate this into an efficient digital marketing plan, and it doesn’t involve simply creating a Facebook page, attracting Likes and posting a few funny pictures. If relationships are still the number one reason why people use a lawyer’s services, then finding a way to expand upon and solidify that relationship is the key to an online presence that leads to growth.
Digital Strategies To Use In 2017
Understand How The Client Found You
Potential clients want to know that they can trust a law firm. We can gather this by looking at how people come to know about lawyers, and that is through friends and family: people they know and trust. Even when they arrive through online sources, the research tells us that somewhere along the line, the person was referenced by someone they’re close with. This isn’t so much a marketing strategy as it is a starting point for building one: without acknowledging and understanding how and why a client has come to you, it’s difficult to establish much of a relationship.
A survey conducted by Beaton found that clients tend to be very loyal … once they find a lawyer they can trust. There’s obviously a clear correlation between the loyalty a client has for a firm, and the ways in which they engage the firm for services in the first place. This ties into a digital marketing strategy in interesting ways. Trust is very important online, and while advertisements such as banner ads and search engine ads are effective in attracting people to a website, they don’t do enough to establish trust, which, as we can see, is of particular importance in the client-lawyer relationship. Nielsen’s Global Trust In Advertising Report shows that action exceeds trust when it comes to most forms of digital advertisements, whereas friend recommendations, branded websites, and strong content plans have consistent levels of trust and action.
With that said, let’s broaden the scope and look at some specific ways digital marketing can lead to growth for law firms.
Use Content To Build Awareness
The Trust In Advertising Report lists editorial content as the only advertising format where consumer trust exceeds action, albeit not by much. What’s important here is that the action to engage a lawyer is, as we’ve covered extensively above, driven by trust. A survey conducted by Forrester research called “How To Build Your Brand With Branded Content” found that, aside from friends and family being the most trusted form of promotion (including consumer reviews), professionally written content and information found on a company’s website are incredibly important for building trust. The century-old method of treating current clientele with respect and utmost care is foolproof, just as the research shows us, but attracting new clients — or, convincing those that have been recommended — most likely comes down to a content plan.
We know this, because trust is still the number one factor when it comes to selecting a lawyer. The sort of content is obviously going to have significant influence. Blogging, along with social media, allows a lawyer to display expertise in their field before they have a chance to engage the client. We can assume that the reason this form of promotion is trusted more than traditional banner ads is because it’s not forced onto the person: it’s self-serving content that the potential client has discovered after their own research. Displaying a level of expertise may seem like a traditional way of promoting a law firm, but that’s because it is. There’s no reason then that the successes of speaking at seminars and conferences shouldn’t be relayed into an online environment with similar levels of effectiveness.
Utilize Social Media
A survey of more than 101 major law firms found that more than half have won business as a direct result of social media engagement. That’s a fairly good ROI considering how inexpensive a social media profile can be to run, even with a social media professional guiding you. The disappointing reality, however, is that less than a quarter of those surveyed had integrated social media into their marketing and PR plan. There are some potential reasons for that: there are trust issues between firms and their employees, with more than half of those surveyed saying they want staff to have a disclaimer on their social media profiles, and that they had genuine concerns about a breach of confidentiality online.
The survey also tells us that individual lawyers are better at using social media to attract clients than a firm is more broadly. A law firm could stay on this path, but it risks creating division between the individuality and personality of a certain lawyer, and the underlying philosophy and vision of the law firm they represent. While social media is being severely underutilised by law firms, it’s proven successful.
There is, however, a big challenge in representing a law firm on social media: establishing trust. It’s something that carries on through each major online marketing strategy, because we see that different types of advertising have different levels of consumer trust. In fact, only 15% of responses to the Forrester research said they trust social media posts by companies. That most definitely shouldn’t deter a firm from including social media in its marketing and PR budget. Relationships and trust are so important to landing new clients, and social media is the perfect tool for both establishing and maintaining relationships. Marketing a practice online, and representing a practice’s expertise in an online environment are pretty much polar opposites, and it might explain why law firms are so hesitant to go online: they simply don’t understand and/or appreciate how to nurture their relationships through social media.
How can a firm do that? By finding ways to translate the positive referral into an online space, and understanding what had established that trust between client and firm that led to the recommendation. Promote clerkships, hold graduate seminars, and offer a human side of the firm through webinars and other videos, photos, and lawyer biographies. Another way may be to build a page (or pages) around a specific topic and field of law, and provide expertise on that.
Search Engine Advertisements
Search engine advertisements are actually the most trusted form of online advertising outside of self-served content like recommendations and professional-written content. The downside is that for law firms, it’s probably the most expensive form of digital advertising. Bing, Google and Yahoo! all offer PPC (pay-per-click) advertisements that appear in search results for specific keywords and phrases. Legal terms are among the most expensive on all three platforms. Terms like “lawyer” and “attorney” cost hundreds of dollars, while more specific terms based on niche areas of the law attract a higher price tag.
PPC advertising is definitely good for a law firm, as it immediately puts the firm front-and-center on the front page of a search result for a specific phrase. Finding the right words is what’s important, and that can be difficult for a firm with such a broad range of services. The competition is also fierce, so this whole strategy takes a lot more effort than simply tagging “lawyer”, the firm’s city, and creating a fancy ad.
A law firm will need to differentiate itself, and focus on keywords that service niche areas of the law, even if they’re related to the most lucrative (like injury claims). It helps to start thinking like a client: think about the service being offered, and what you might search for online. Law firms want to take advantage of high-volume but low-competition keywords: this means that a lot of people a searching for a particular word or phrase, but that few other law firms are using the keyword to advertise their business.
Of course, trust again ties into how a PPC ad is shaped and designed. Negative terms such as “cheap” or “no win, no pay” may turn away affluent customers, although those terms may be useful when servicing different demographics. This is why understanding and knowing the primary audience and who the services are primarily aimed at is important in choosing and rejecting certain phrases.
The ROI is difficult to gauge, and online marketers are generally bullish in how responsive and effective PPC ads can be in turning a visitor into a paying customer. The good news is that anyone looking for a lawyer tends to be a person with high purchase intent, and this audience statistically offers a higher click-through rate than organic search. RE-targeting may also assist in this regarding, improving awareness about a business after someone has left their website. It tracks users that have visited the site and immediately “bounced” without looking elsewhere on the site. This user is then targeted with ads from the site they left, and is a method 90% of marketers believe is more effective than organic search results.
There is a way to utilize both paid ads and organic search, however, and an SEO strategy remains an important part of the law firm’s digital marketing strategy.
Research conducted by GroupM shows that 94% of search engine clicks are organic search results. The higher the purchasing intent, the more likely the person is to click a PPC ad at the top of the page, but there’s a balancing act for law firms to service an audience that is looking for trustworthy lawyers that fit a specific niche area of the law. Google’s search algorithm being as complex as it is tends to favor the sites with the best content and a high level of credibility. While an SEO strategy can take weeks or even months to implement, combined with a PPC ad strategy the results can be extremely effective.
PPC ads demonstrate an ability to invest in advertisements, but they don’t necessarily generate a high level of trust, at least not to the same level as editorials and other expert content. Google conducted research about the effectiveness of SEO when coupled with a PPC campaign, and the results showed incremental growth in clicks when PPC ads and organic listings appeared together on the same page.
There’s also the fact that natural search engine results are among the most trusted forms of promotion, and so tied in with a strong content plan that services a niche and offers expertise, a strong Google ranking acts as another piece of the puzzle in establishing trust and building relationships with new and current clients.
Finalizing A Digital Strategy
It doesn’t hurt to experiment to find what works and doesn’t in an online space. Particularly when it comes to PPC advertising, social media and content strategy, including SEO, there’s a lot of trial-and-error involved, and there’s also the prospect of shuffling through endless data to try and make sense of it all. Without having legitimate goals and KPIs for a marketing strategy, it’s quite possible the money is being spent on something that has zero ability to translate into a sale or client.
That’s why a professional marketing and SEO expert is so useful. While creating a social media profile, starting some search engine ads and writing some blog posts seem simple, they cost time and money, and without the results to justify the effort, it’s hard to see the benefit. Online marketers can find ways to balance all of the strategies above to formalize a single online presence, eventually driving clients to your law firm. Understanding how a client found you is one thing, but knowing how to keep them — and how to encourage them to refer you — is another challenge a law firm simply doesn’t have the time or resources to cover.
Any law firm’s marketing and PR budget should include all of the strategies above. Finding the right balance and having the patience to expand upon traditional methods of recommendation is ultimately the guide to growth for law firms in 2017.