Internet Marketing for Lawyers
Getting Cases over the Web
Tom Foster, Foster Web Marketing, Alexandria, VA
Note from Ben Glass: I asked my very smart webmaster, Tom Foster, ([email protected]) of FosterWebMarketing.com to contribute to this site.
Here’s what Tom has to say:
If you are an attorney, you know that the process of finding a case can often be more of a chore than winning one. Especially in personal injury law, competition for clients is exceptionally fierce. Any marketing advantage a lawyer can win (or purchase) can make the critical difference in obtaining first dibs on a case. As a result, many lawyers spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on advertising in print, radio and television. Some of this advertising is effective and worth it. And some of it is clearly not.
Now, imagine a world where you have so many potential cases coming in that you are referring out more cases than you accept for your own practice. And imagine doing this without paying advertising companies a dime. Where is this fantasy land?
It’s online, and through your own website. Although the web has been around for a while now, it’s definitely not too late to create an affordable and effective website that can supplement your current marketing efforts. In time, and by consistently following a few simple strategies, you may soon find that your website can carry the entire marketing arm of your firm, and allow you to reach into areas you didn’t even know existed.
About Today’s Search Engines
When searching online for information, most Americans obtain their information through one of three major search engines, in this order: Google, Yahoo and MSN. Together, these three engines control more than 96 per cent of total search engine portal traffic. What the public will find online is largely determined by these engines, and whether the public will find your firm online depends on how well you can promote your presence through the engines.
Each search engine maintains an index of web pages it locates on the Internet. This index is reviewed, updated, and changed on a daily basis. Almost any page can be indexed, provided it meets the “quality” guidelines established by the engines.
But if you are trying to compete on the web, simply being indexed or adding meta keywords to your website, won’t be of much help. The goal of a small law firm is to get good placement, not for who they are, but for what they do. Placing # 1 for “Jim’s Law Firm” may impress your friends and peers, but chances are you won’t reach the people who need your services. If your practice involves medical malpractice or personal injury, you want to rank well for words related to those matters.
How Search Engines Rank Your Pages
So how do search engines make the all important determination about what sites get top billing for important keywords, and what sites are banished to page 972 of the search returns? That formula is the most tightly held secret a search engine can possess.
Obviously, search engines do not want anyone figuring out how to rank well on their pure search returns. Search engines make their money on paid advertising - like Google Adwords - and anyone who knows how to manipulate the engines to place in the "pure" returns (which have much higher click thru rates than paid advertising) is a threat to search engine revenue.
To prevent this, search engines change the weight and factors that they use to measure a page's relevance at monthly, weekly and (increasingly) daily intervals.
This keeps search engine returns more diverse – and more importantly, prevents people from knowing the formula for circumventing paid advertising altogether. They also have teams of human editors reviewing pages for indications of “spamming” – such as hidden text, gateway pages and other techniques that search engines dislike.
For the search engines, the goal is to ensure that pages listed on page 1 returns are the most relevant and informative pages the web has to offer. Anyone else who wants that exposure must pay for it.
With that said, there are some basic factors that all of the engines measure clearly refer to in terms of ranking their pages.
Those factors include:
Visitors: Sites that obtain the most visitors for a subject rank better than those that don’t. Search engine spiders measure the bandwidth of a site’s daily traffic. From this data, it generates estimates about how many visitors are going to your site. Those with more visits get the higher rankings. In this sense, it’s true that the rich get richer.
Reciprocal Linking: Sites that have other sites pointing to them rank better than those that don’t. Search engines view each reference to your site in their indices as an endorsement of your site. The more endorsements you have, the better your site will rank. Naturally, endorsements from bigger and more popular sites count more toward your reciprocal linking than endorsements from smaller sites. So if your site is listed on CNN, and also listed on your son’s website, the link on CNN will contribute more to your reciprocal linking than your son’s site will.
Google calls this reciprocal linking factor PageRank Score. Using a scale of 0 to 10, Google assigns PageRank score based on what other sites are pointing to your site. Sites with a high Page Rank (4 or better) gain many visibility advantages over other sites.
To get a graphical image of how the search engines see your site in relation to other sites, you can go to www.touchgraph.com/. Select the Google Browser option, and then type in www.vamedmal.com and click the Graph It! Button. After a minute or two, you’ll see the interconnectivity between my site and a variety of other sites that I reference on my site, or that reference my site on theirs.
I recommend using my site because I know it generates results. Smaller and less optimized sites with low reciprocal linking don’t even register on Touch Graph. But if your site does register, this gives you a birds-eye view of your site’s place on the web. If your site doesn’t register, keep reading!
Content Updates: Adding new and relevant content to your site on a consistent basis is a critically important way to keep the search engines interested in your firm. Think of it this way: If you want to see the latest news and information about a topic, product or service, you probably want information that was published last week, not last year. Today’s leading search engines feel the same way, and sites that meet the timely expectations of Google, MSN and Yahoo succeed far better than sites that ignore them. On search engines, the sites that you find on the first three pages of a keyword search are almost always sites that add new information and topics at regular intervals.
Small law firms with developing sites can get good returns on the search engines, too. To do it, they need a versatile content management system that allows them to edit existing pages and add new pages about topics and services that serve to educate and inform visitors.
"SEO" means search engine optimization. It is a method of studying trends and preferences of the major search engines - primarily Google, Yahoo and MSN; - and the factors they use in evaluating and ranking a web page. These engines tend to favor pages that are written a certain way, and use measurements such as keyword density, keyword frequency, word count, incoming links and other factors to determine how closely the page matches an end user's query on a keyword.
Search engine optimization is not a one-time event. Competing with the best on today’s leading search engines requires knowledgeable and steady stewardship over your site. This ensures that your site’s content is fresh, relevant and places well on the engines.
No one knows the “one way” to achieve consistent success on the Internet. That’s because there isn’t just one. There are about thirty little things you need to each month to keep your site competitive. Even then, there will be periods where nothing seems to work in the wake of major changes in policy and evaluation at Google, MSN or Yahoo.
For attorneys, most of us have started our Internet adventures with a listing in the many legal directories – Findlaw, Westlaw, Personal Injury Lawyer, to name a few. These directories are great, but there’s one problem. EVERYONE is on them. On Findlaw, for instance, typing in the zip code 22302 gets you five pages of returns. If you pay a lot more, you can buy space on the first page… along with a dozen others.
Paid Placement Directories can be effective (or used to be), but the best ones have exclusivity clauses and limit their clientele to one attorney per state or region. Assuming you can secure the type of services you want from a Directory, the upfront costs can then range from $100,000 to $200,000 per year.
Additionally, the directories are falling out of favor with the search engines and this strategy of placement did not fair well over after the latest update to Google’s engine. Most of the directories have resorted to paid placement instead of organic placement.
The bottom line is that content updating is the most proactive, straightforward, and least expensive way to increase your site’s performance.
(go to part 2 of Web Marketing)