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Cast your net

17 May 10

With the internet now the first port of call for potential clients wondering which solicitor to consult, some advice on the (mostly free) Google resources for enhancing a firm's web presence

by Philippe Fauconnier-Bank

You are probably already aware that online advertising is quickly becoming a necessity for the legal industry. Experience is leading firms to consider online advertising as a successful, measurable alternative in most fields in which members of the public are looking for legal advice. Many of your colleagues have discovered that rather than being an obligatory cost, their website can actually form a vital client and revenue channel.

Research by Nielsen/Webvisible has shown that 80% of consumers research a product or service online before making a purchase offline from a local business. With 53% of UK adults (rising to 66% amongst 16 to 24 year olds) using the internet every day (Eurostat), it will be no surprise that people are no longer reaching for telephone directories to find information they need. Increasingly we live in an on-demand world. People expect to be able to have access to everything, whenever and wherever they choose. Your business and your clients are no different; these trends are mirrored within the legal industry. A recent study showed that search engines were the top source of discovery and comparison, with 74% of legal clients using a search engine to find a law firm’s website (Google/Touchpoint).

If you are interested in expanding your client base, you must consider how your clients will find you. Ask yourself, does my website represent our firm accurately? Can potential clients get in touch quickly and easily? How am I generating awareness of, and visits to, my website?

Based on my experience and observations, the key ingredients to success in the industry should include:

  • Be found: Always on, every market, full coverage
  • One approach: Integrate on and offline activity
  • Data-driven: Manage actively based on data

Generating traffic

Google Webmaster Central (www.google.com/webmasters) is a free resource to help you enhance and increase traffic to your site through organic search engine listings. Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe the services your firm offers. You should think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it. For instance, if you offer conveyancing services, you may wish to include a guide to the process on your site – demonstrating your value to visitors at the same time as helping to attract newcomers.

Clearly display your contact details, and supply visitors to your site with a quick and easy way to submit their details to you. As such, you may wish to include a short contact form on every page – simply allowing people to send along a name and number can significantly improve your conversion rate from website visitor to client.

You should also make sure you take advantage of the ability to list for free on Google Maps using Google Places. This allows you to appear, and control how you appear, when someone searches for you with Google Maps – great if someone is looking for a local solicitor.

Effective targeting

It is not always feasible to appear at the top of the listings for all services offered, or all aspects of your business. As such you may wish to consider advertising on search engines with a “pay-per-click” (PPC) marketing campaign. AdWords is Google’s answer to that need (adwords.Google.co.uk).

Unlike traditional advertising (and many online forms), this type of advertising is targeted to people’s specific interests. In fact, a potential customer will only see your ads when he/she is searching for products and services like the ones you offer. You can also target your ads to countries or territories, or to specific regions and cities, which is a definite advantage if you offer services exclusively within the Scottish legal system.

If you are already advertising offline, in a local newspaper or perhaps with some outdoor advertising, you should ensure that your online presence is integrated. It is worth checking that someone seeing your advertising would be able to use it to find your website for further information. Make sure that anyone searching for any slogans or phrases you might employ, even your firm’s name, is presented with a link (either a search or paid listing) to your website.

Email newsletters are a great way to cement your position as a trusted adviser to both existing and potential clients. These are easy and straightforward to do if you already produce a print newsletter: simply repurpose it for online delivery. The beauty of email newsletters is that there are no printing or postage costs; they are cheap (free) to create and distribute. If you encourage your readers to forward on the newsletter, you can widen your audience even further.

Data reporting

For many solicitors, the biggest advantage of advertising online is the plethora of data and reporting that allows you almost unlimited insight into the return-on-investment of your marketing budget – telling you which keywords are performing well and which ones aren’t. This allows you to make data-driven decisions about managing your advertising campaign, allowing many one-partner or even fee-earner firms to compete alongside their larger competitors.

This access to data doesn’t have to be limited to paid marketing campaigns. A Google Analytics account provides free access to detailed reports on how people found your site and how they explored it, in addition to other metrics that you can use to enhance the visitor experience. For instance, you can gain insight into which pages on your website are generating the most interest; a great indication that these might be services that you would want to promote further. One of our legal clients even opened a new office on the back of successful advertising and our analysis of their Analytics data.

Another free tool is Google Insights for Search (www.google.com/insights/search/). This analyses a portion of Google web searches to compute how many searches have been made for the keywords in which you are interested, relative to the total number of searches made on Google over time. For instance we recently noted that in the New Year, divorce enquiries were increasingly at a rate significantly above other legal industry searches. For existing family law advertisers, this kind of information allows them to ensure that they are advertising on related keywords in order to take advantage of the higher level of interest. Insights for Search allows you to examine the seasonality of searches – for instance, if you were aware personal injury enquiries have historically increased during the winter months, you might consider redistributing your marketing accordingly.

You can build your client base quickly and effectively by making sure that you are reaching your clients when and where they spend their time. If you would like to take advantage of the benefits of online advertising there are a few places to start. The Google Online Classroom provides free online training, delivered by local AdWords experts, to help you achieve long-term advertising success. There are excellent videos on YouTube – youtube.com/googlebusiness – covering everything from PPC advertising through to data analysis with Analytics. If you think you need help setting up a PPC campaign, feel free to email me at p.fb@google.com and I would be happy to put you in touch with the relevant team.

In a month or two’s time, when you’re enjoying the benefits of taking a few moments to consider your approach to online advertising, you’ll look back and wonder what took you so long to get started. Do a search for “AdWords” this week, and I promise you will find your way to success from there.

  • Philippe Fauconnier-Bank is a legal account executive at Google

% of consumers who use search engines to:

Find a law firm’s website: 74%

Discover legal services or law firms they were unfamiliar with: 64%

Find a independent reviews of law firms or solicitors they were considering: 38%

Find the best offers from law firms: 24%

Google Touchpoint Survey – 2009

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