The way clients are seeking legal representation continues to evolve—in fact, in 2019, it’s estimated that the average consumer will require 6-8 digital ‘touches’ before becoming a prospective client. Does your firm know how clients are finding you, and are you controlling the information they’re encountering along that journey?
Search engines, review sites, social media, online legal directories, and your website are all touchpoints that your potential clients are looking at as they determine whether to hire you or not—and each one can impact whether they choose to retain your services or hire a competitor instead. In this episode, legal marketing expert Gyi Tsakalakis of AttorneySync and Minneapolis-based attorney Jess Birken will cover the basics and benefits of managing your law firms’ online presence.
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Why Online Presence Matters
Gyi Tsakalakis: When I started doing this in 2008 — in fact, this is the story I tell a lot is when I was actually practicing, this is like 2005, when I would talk to lawyers, they would say oh, people would never use the Internet to hire a lawyer, and that’s still 2005, so it’s not like 1997 or anything.
The example that I always use though is that no matter how somebody hears about you, they are going to look you up online and most people are going to start that journey with Google.
Jess Birken: You know, it’s 2019, and unless you are arrested in a jail cell, I don’t think anybody is actually looking through the yellow pages to find you anymore. So having a seriously credible online presence becomes really important.
I talk to other attorneys and they will say, oh, well, I get all of my business through word-of-mouth referrals. Well, yeah, me too, but the first thing they do is whip out their smartphone and Google my name. You have to be online at this point in life.
Derek Bolen: I am Derek Bolen.
Andrew Booth: And I am Andrew Booth. And this is ‘Matters’. ‘Matters’ is a podcast presented by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based technology provider, where we look at small changes that can make a big impact to your daily life and practice. In this episode we will be talking about your online presence and why it matters.
Derek Bolen: When you are looking to buy a new product or service, what’s the first thing you do? If you are like most people, you start with a little online research. You might want to compare offerings, look at which service provider is closest to you, or read a few online reviews.
As it turns out, your legal clients are the same. They will look you up online, so how you appear online and whether or not they can find you at all matters for your law firm growth.
Andrew Booth: If you want potential clients to be able to find you online, you need to know about SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO means optimizing your website so that it shows up when your potential clients use search engines like Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo to look for a lawyer in your practice area and location.
Search engines are basically massive databases that take an inventory of everything on the Internet. When you use a search engine to find what you are looking for, whether it’s a lawyer, a new kitchen appliance or dating advice, a number of ranking factors determine what pages show up at the top of the list. Knowing how to get your site at the top of the first page of results makes you highly visible to the types of people who are looking for you.
Initially, there were a number of popular search engines including Yahoo Search and Ask Jeeves, but today, over 90% of searches go through Google, which has essentially defined the industry around search engines.
Derek Bolen: Beyond SEO, it’s important to think about the client experience, which we discussed in our first episode. How a potential client sees you online is really the first step. This means your online presence won’t just influence whether or not they choose you, it could shape their overall impression of you. So it’s worth investing in how you appear on the Internet.
Gyi Tsakalakis: SEO. So SEO has been really abused as an acronym, but it stands for Search Engine Optimization. I look at it as anything you can do to improve your business’ visibility in organic search results.
Derek Bolen: Gyi Tsakalakis is founder of the digital legal marketing agency, AttorneySync and is widely regarded as an SEO expert within the legal industry and beyond. When asked about why some lawyers might still not be taking SEO seriously, he has got a few ideas.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Depending on who you are talking to and what you are talking about, it comes with a lot of negative connotations, right? So a lot of the “SEO snake oil folks” will say things like, oh, we can get you to rank number one overnight, and people spend a lot of money on it, and then nothing happens, and then they are like this Internet thing doesn’t work.
Derek Bolen: Lawyers aren’t marketing experts, but have a tendency to not invest in SEO because of bad experiences with online marketing and SEO gurus.
Gyi Tsakalakis: It’s old habits die hard. I think lawyers tend to pit traditional notions of like relationships and reputation against the Internet and they don’t recognize that they really complement each other. So like providing great service, doing great work, developing a great reputation, building relationships in the real world, the Internet is just a supplement to all that stuff.
And so to me, it’s like so obvious they go hand in hand, but I think because they have been sold a bill of goods about the magic of the Internet and it’s the secretive black box and they can’t really understand it, they tend to harbor these ideas about it and they have been burned. I mean frankly, they have been burned by a lot of marketing people that are promising them the world, not delivering, not being transparent, not holding themselves accountable.
And so I think that that — in their defense, I think that they have had the bad end of the stick in some respects because they have been taken advantage of.
Andrew Booth: There is also to some extent a lack of education around SEO in the legal industry. Why? Lawyers simply don’t have the time to educate themselves on even the basics of SEO, and with the online landscape evolving every day, this only becomes more difficult.
This problem is something we saw in Clio’s most recent Legal Trends Report. Lawyers are busy. They are spending just 2.4 hours per day on billable tasks, but are spending several hours per day on billing, firm administration and business development, and 75% work outside of regular office hours as well.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah. Well, the thing that I am — there are a couple of things that always seem to come up. One is, and I think this is a reflection of they are — lawyers are very busy in general. I think every year the Clio Trends Report shows utilization, productivity, and time issues that lawyers are facing. And so they don’t have the time to learn and do the research. And so a lot of times I will come in just thinking like, these are lawyers, they probably spend some time getting like the basic language down if they are going to buy something, but unfortunately, they really don’t.
And so they tend to be not as sophisticated for legal marketing — as legal marketing consumers. And so that’s one of the things that we have really tried to take the approach of is like, let’s get the information out, let’s help educate people so they can make informed decisions when they are trying to hire somebody to help them.
But yeah, I guess I think that, and then of course, this is the historical, the resistance to the idea that people would actually use the Internet to hire a lawyer, we still face that even 10 years into this, where people will say, well, my clients don’t use the Internet like that. And I am like I bet you they do, you just don’t know how they are doing it. And the thing is you never know what your next client that doesn’t call you would have done, because you never hear from that person.
Jess Birken: I think reality for a lot of attorneys, right, it’s like, it does feel like a black box. You just sort of hope for the best. You do what your marketing people tell you to do and then you hope that it works.
Derek Bolen: That’s Jess Birken, owner of Birken Law Office, a firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that specializes in serving the nonprofit sector. She believes in the power of a good website and has invested in making hers unique, clear, and easy to navigate. But she can see why other lawyers haven’t done this. Why invest in something if you can’t directly measure the impact?
Jess Birken: I mean it’s hard to say, and that’s what’s I think frustrating for attorneys, because SEO and marketing, unless you are really good about tracking back like where everything came from, it feels like, oh, I spent all this money and I am not exactly sure where things come from. Because even if you have like a form that people fill out that says, how did you find me, which I do, and they say, online search, you are like okay, what is it? You can’t really always trace it back.
Derek Bolen: Jess solves this problem by doing her best to approximate where new potential clients are coming from.
Jess Birken: I know anecdotally that it’s working for my firm. When I meet with someone in a consultation and they say, I loved your website, your website was awesome, or I watched your YouTube video about X, Y, Z and I really liked it. So it’s just those like the little nuggets of information about what they were looking at before they actually made a decision to contact me, that tells me the online stuff is working.
Derek Bolen: Either way, the numbers don’t lie, whether lawyers want to believe it or not, presenting yourself well online is critical to whether or not potential clients choose you in 2019.
Andrew Booth: In fact, it’s estimated the average consumer will require six to eight touches before becoming a prospective customer. This number is likely higher when dealing with a high risk, high emotion hire like a lawyer. If you are avoiding educating yourself on SEO and digital marketing best practices, you could actually avoid providing clients the information they need to make a decision to hire you.
Jess Birken: Somebody quoted a stat somewhere that I used in a CLE I was doing recently that said like 97% of all people use the Internet before making a purchasing decision. That’s crazy, right, like 97% of people look at reviews when they are making a purchasing decision, I think it was. And 85% of people say that they trust online reviews more than they trust recommendations of their friends and family.
So the credibility that’s seen from having an online presence, I think it can’t be overstated.
Andrew Booth: So you want to level up your online presence. How do you know where to start? Framing your focus and decision making around SEO can help you zero in on what’s actually going to be most useful for your clients on your website and it will help more clients find you in the first place. Specifically, you will want to make sure people living in your area can find you.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah. I basically break SEO down into like three big buckets. So there is technical, which is like the stuff you can do to your actual pages. So that’s like title tags and robots and that kind of stuff, the stuff that machines actually read.
There’s around the web, which is primarily links and shares and other signals like that.
And then I think it’s probably more on page, but you have got to focus on local. So if you are a consumer-facing practice, like personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, Google is going to show Local Pack Results. And so the biggest thing that you can do there is getting your business information consistent across the web, making sure your name, address, phone number is consistent. Making sure you have claimed your Google My Business Profile.
In fact, if you are going to do nothing else for SEO, just go to Google My Business and claim that profile and provide great service to clients and when they are happy and they want to do something nice for you, tell them to go to Google My Business and leave a review for you, because that’s going to be the lion’s share of visibility an organic.
Derek Bolen: Reviews are extremely important for your online presence. They act as a sort of risk mitigation for your potential clients. A positive review means someone else used your services and was satisfied with their experience and result, so it’s more likely that the potential client will be too. Without the social proof, your online presence might not be giving prospective clients the confidence they need to hire you.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah. So just like we — lawyers hate this, but just like consumers do when they go to Amazon to shop, like they want — consumers want to know, legal services consumers want to know what other clients have to say about you. So if you have no reviews, that sends a message to that person that’s reviewing you. If you have all five-star reviews and they all look like they are fake, that says something about you. If you have a one-star review — there’s an example I always use that this gentleman is a big TV spender and he is driving all this TV advertising money to his website. So people are going searching him online and he has got like 10 one-star reviews on Google. It’s like think about the money you have wasted to actually harm your reputation by sending people to go see what all of your unhappy clients have to say about you.
Derek Bolen: Reviews may also help you show up in search engine results, since they are a signal that your firm provides the desired level of service that people searching for a lawyer in your area are looking for.
Gyi Tsakalakis: There’s kind of two ways. In the Local Pack, the three major factors in local are relevance, distance, and prominence. And so reviews, according to Google’s documentation, and you have always got to take what Google says with a little grain of salt, remember, they have got to make money too, so they can’t give away all the secrets. But reviews are part of the prominence factor in local.
So having reviews that people use contextual language, so if they are using words in their review that talk about your practice, it’s more likely that you are going to show up in searches for those kind of listings for those searches. And there is also — there is talk of the sentiment analysis. So Google, in theory, wants to show law firms in their results that are providing great service to clients, because otherwise people are going to be frustrated, they are not going to go to Google if Google is sending people to bad lawyers.
Andrew Booth: In the same vein, it is also important to be genuine online. When clients are looking for a good lawyer, they are looking for more than a legal deliverable; they are looking for a legal experience that meets their needs. Does your website show that you provide that?
Gyi Tsakalakis: I think branding plays a role in it, but at the end of the day, it really comes down to providing great service to clients and finding ways to motivate them to go and leave reviews and sing your praises online. Because that’s really what the next potential client cares about is, is like how do you treat your clients, like are you providing a good service.
A lot of the issues that lawyers help people with are some of the worst times of their life, and so, are you empathetic? Is that coming across in your search appearance? Do you have video testimonials of clients? Do you have videos of you talking about why you practice law, like why it’s important to you, because that stuff matters to people, like that’s the relationship aspect that the web supplements that I think a lot of people overlook when they are so focused on like the direct response, non-branded SEO.
Andrew Booth: If you are ever curious to see what’s making lawyers successful in terms of their online presence in your area, Gyi has a suggestion.
Gyi Tsakalakis: I will tell you what, here is the really easy way to do it, go search in your area and see who comes up, because guess what, those from a strictly tactical SEO standpoint, those are the people that are winning because they appear in the organic results.
Andrew Booth: So we know that it’s important to optimize your firm’s website so that you are found via Google and other search engines, but it’s also important to create an online presence that resonates. It’s about providing a positive client experience right from the start of the client journey. Bring this mentality to building your website and you will make it easier for your clients to find and connect with you online.
Derek Bolen: For Jess, the decision to improve her firm’s website was an obvious one, though it took some time for things to come to life. She started out on her own, but soon made the decision to hire expert help, which she found by chance via her co-working space.
Jess Birken: Yeah, like most attorneys that are solos, I basically wore all the hats when I first started out. So I definitely knew that I needed to have a great website, so I worked on building my website and I worked on that with a guy, a freelancer, who could do the coding that I wasn’t capable of doing, but I didn’t have any marketing person at that time or anything other than the Google search engine to really help me try and figure stuff out. So I definitely was on my own in the beginning.
When you are first starting out, your website is basically, almost like invisible to Google because Google is like oh, that’s new. That’s nice. That’s not really relevant. We don’t give that a lot of credibility. And so as a result you don’t get a lot of traffic because you just don’t have any gravitas to your website. There is nothing associated with your law firm. There are no important back links or anything pointing to you.
So deciding to work with a marketing person, once I kind of got my feet under me, I started to think about the bigger picture of marketing, like strategy and SEO and what should I be doing, and I knew that I was — I went to school to be a lawyer and I basically have an MBA for nonprofit, but I still am not a marketing expert. So I really just wanted to get somebody’s professional advice, and in my co-working space where I office, there happened to be a marketing strategist who I became friends with and I would listen to him talk and it just sort of started to rub off on me that it was like, oh, you know what, I really need to think about this. I need to do this. And so I ended up hiring him after the first six months of being in practice.
Derek Bolen: Hiring expert marketing help has definitely helped improve Jess’ website and online presence. But according to Jess, creating an effective online presence doesn’t have to be that complicated. It’s largely about showing clients that they are in the right place and being clear about what kind of lawyer you are.
Jess Birken: One of the most important things you can do with your website, but all of your social accounts and other online things is really help clients know that they are in the right place. The goal is anyway, when someone looks at my website or watches one of my sort of promotional videos that they are going to understand who I am as a person and what kind of lawyer I am. Like, I am the kind the lawyer that might wear a hoodie to the office once in a while. I am the kind of lawyer that will work with you to solve a problem. That I am very approachable and that I am business-minded. And that helps people figure out like what your sort of like work ethos is and I think that that’s super important so that the expectations are clear and that they are getting what they are expecting.
Andrew Booth: Beyond initial communication factors, Jess also talked about the importance of the client experience on your website.
Jess Birken: And likewise, I think it’s also super important to have all of those client experience things, like someone being able to like pay their invoice by clicking a link on my website or find my phone number or be able to find my online scheduling, just making all of those things available online to the greatest extent possible so that my clients have as little friction as I can possibly create.
Andrew Booth: Again, clients aren’t just looking for your legal services. They are looking for peace of mind, reassurance and knowledge that their legal matter will be taken care of in a way that they are comfortable with. Using your website to set expectations from the get-go can help you attract and work with more of the clients that fit well with your firm and make the service you provide more than just a commodity.
Jess Birken: So when my clients hire me, they are not just hiring me to produce the work; they are hiring the experience, they are hiring the sense of security, they are hiring the relationship.
If they just want somebody to fill out a form from them, they can go to a document filing service. They are definitely buying something different when they are deciding to hire me. Trust me, my clients are very thrifty. They are people that run nonprofit organizations, they are always trying to do more with less. There is no shortage of information on the Internet, if you just want to start googling and looking for sample documents to write a grant agreement or whatever you are trying to do.
Derek Bolen: If you are looking to hire a marketing consultant to update your own website, Jess has some advice to help ensure your website doesn’t turn out looking just like everyone else’s.
Jess Birken: It’s interesting, because I get a lot of credit for my website and I don’t think that everybody is necessarily like as creative or visually-oriented as I am, and I don’t think my website is that fancy, but just compared to other lawyer websites. I did it on a fairly shoestring budget and I think that the biggest trap that lawyers fall into is they just get sucked into, oh, I need to fix my website, so I will just throw money at this problem and I will get sucked in to some marketing thing with some firm that claims to do all these law firm websites and they will make it better. And a lot of times what they do is just end up in some other factory that just makes fancier websites with eagles and gavels and flags.
And they don’t know any better, so I would really encourage people to like back up three steps and think about like who are you and what makes you unique? Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you want to do your job? Why do you do what do? Why do your clients like you? And like really back up and think about like who your ideal client is. What motivates you to do your job? And then get outside of the whole like legal marketing sphere and look at what are like non-lawyer websites that you love, that you think are beautiful, just get outside of the bubble a little bit.
Derek Bolen: Jess and Gyi shared a few more tips to help make sure that you and your firm are putting your best foot forward online.
For Jess, it’s about showing potential clients you can offer what they are looking for, sharing a bit about yourself, and making it easy to contact you.
Jess Birken: So I think the top things that a law firm website needs to communicate is really — and I am a huge Seth Godin fan, so it’s like, are you in the right place? Seth Godin likes to say, people like us do things like this. So I really think your website needs to communicate to clients on some level that they are in the right place.
Then I would say number two is you have got to have a great bio page and your bio, your About Me section should be written in first person, because you are talking about yourself. You don’t do that in the third person in reality, so don’t do it. There’s great content out there and articles about how to write a good bio, but that’s like the number one page that people will go to on your website is to read about who you are, so I think you really have to have a good bio page.
And then the third thing I think would be that you have got to have — you have got to reduce the friction for them to get in touch. So you have got to like have a clear call to action, have a clickable phone number, have a really easy to find contact form, that whole like reducing the friction to get them to take the next step and inviting them to take the next step is really important.
Derek Bolen: In addition to creating a knockout website, you will also want to make sure your firm is listed on other online platforms and directories, where applicable, as well.
Jess Birken: There is the big ones, like there are the big places that you need to be. Like you should have a profile on LinkedIn and maybe you should have a Facebook page and you should claim your profile on Avvo and those sorts of things are sort of the obvious. You should be listed with your Bar Association if you can, with the Better Business Bureau.
But then there — there may be like niche-specific places that you want to be. So, for me, as a nonprofit focused attorney in Minnesota, there’s this organization called The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and they have basically like a vendor list that tells nonprofits like, hey, this is the directory of people that work for nonprofits in our community and I am listed on there because that makes a whole lot of sense, and people call and they say, oh, I found you on the directory at the Council of Nonprofits website.
Derek Bolen: Finally, Gyi recommends getting feedback on how people found you online so that you can improve your representation in those areas.
Gyi Tsakalakis: I think the best thing that I would tell any lawyer is ask your clients, be like, how do you — put them on in front of a computer, if you needed to find a lawyer like me, what would you do? How would you start your search? Would you go ask friends? Would you look them up online? What would matter to you? Like those are the questions — you guys talked about this today, get feedback from your clients. Get feedback about your own service, but also get feedback about how they found you, how they formed an impression about you, because those are where you can find your blind spots and where you can improve and then use content to fill in those gaps so that the next person who is looking for that information, you are supplying it for them and they are more likely to give you a call and hire you.
Derek Bolen: If you would like to learn more about SEO and how to create a strong online presence, Gyi recommends checking out Moz, that’s moz.com, and Clio’s Guide to Marketing your Law Firm Online. And if you have listened this long and you are still not convinced about the power and importance of a strong online presence, Gyi has a few words that might convince you.
Gyi Tsakalakis: I am always interested to hear lawyers that have that opinion, and I do think that there are practice areas that their clientele isn’t online as much as the average consumer. However, I would try to educate them that no matter how people are looking for them, at some point they are going to go online and want to know something about what it’s like to work with them, what their knowledge, skill and experience is, what their reputation is in the community, who they know, who their mutual connections are.
I mean there is nothing more validating than going online and saying oh, hey, we are actually mutually connected to these other people I trust. Because at the end of the day people still hire lawyers based on the people they know, like and trust. The Internet and SEO and social media are all just more tools to help reinforce those connections.
Andrew Booth: As humans, we crave connection, and while the Internet can be a crowded, frightening place, it can also be a place where the legal clients who need your help connect with your firm, get a good first impression and get the services they need. With consumers and businesses alike regularly using the Internet as part of their buying process, an online presence is crucial to your law firm’s growth and success.
Derek Bolen: But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Make it clear that potential clients visiting your site are in the right place. Tell them a little bit about yourself and make it easy to contact you. Ask for online reviews and claim your profiles elsewhere online. And, if you can, get feedback regarding how your clients are finding you.
Andrew Booth: Finally, remember that the Internet is a tool to augment the relationships you build and the word-of-mouth that brings you business. It won’t replace the good old-fashioned community building that connects lawyers with clients. In fact, it will make it stronger. You can find more information to help you build a better online presence for you law firm in the Resources section of this podcast.
Derek Bolen: Thanks for listening to the fifth episode of ‘Matters’. ‘Matters’ is produced by Andrew Booth, Teresa Matich and Derek Bolen, and by Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider. Be sure to subscribe to Matters to ensure you never miss an episode. If you would like to learn more about Clio, please visit us at clio.com.