A new world is already upon us. I spend most of my days speaking with attorneys, and the ones who are finding success are the ones who are embracing our new Internet-dominated world.
I got started in the legal industry over 7 years ago. My early clients didn’t really believe in using the Internet to grow their firms. As a business model, it was unproven. Fast-forward to today, and every attorney on planet Earth has been approached about the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) or mobile-responsive websites. This isn’t without justification. In many ways, the web has now leveled the playing field for solos and small firms to compete against the largest law firms – and win.
That’s really incredible when you think about history and the time it takes for most industries to evolve and mature.
All this education has spawned thousands of Internet marketing companies with their hands held out ready to take your money. The marketing and promotion of SEO/Internet marketing companies has made top search engine rankings competitive in most markets. While the number of prospects searching Google has also increased considerably, it likely hasn’t kept pace with the growth of new competition in your jurisdiction and area of practice.
1. The Web Is Growing at Lightning Speed
Times Have Changed
When I started my Internet marketing company almost 8 years ago, very few attorneys believed in the web. Why? Because they were making some profit from traditional advertising and referral sources.
Most attorneys didn’t see the Internet coming. I still have seasoned attorneys call me, even to this day, shocked that the Internet is working and admitting to me that they have completely missed the boat.
I’m from a younger generation, and I was fortunate enough to become fixated with the Internet when AOL only let you spend 30 minutes online—before you could even buy their “1,000 Hour” and “2,000 Hour” CDs in Best Buy and Circuit City. I learned early that there was something amazing about the web. It was only natural for me to enter the web field when it was time for me to start my career.
Still, I don’t know if I even saw the “Internet trend” as much as I was in the right place at the right time. Today, I’m incredibly grateful for my industry.
AOL, Circuit City, and Gateway Computers may still exist, but they are mostly extinct because they couldn’t adapt to the changing landscape of their markets. They didn’t innovate.
Staying Ahead of the Game
As stated by the famed management guru, Peter Drucker, “Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.” In other words, business is all about marketing and innovation – nothing else really matters in the end.
Now more than ever, this is the direction in which the legal industry is headed.
I had a wonderful conversation last week with a solo attorney in Massachusetts. He has a small immigration practice just outside of Boston.
During our call, he started naming business and marketing numbers that I rarely hear from attorneys. We discussed his ROI, his margins, his conversion rates, his cost per leads, cost per case, and more! I’ve worked with many law firms over the years, some of which were the largest in their markets, and they didn’t know these numbers.
I can’t tell you how many time I’ve tried to explain to attorneys about the importance of call tracking numbers, utilizing live chat, adding fresh content, updating old (and sometimes plagiarized) content, utilizing new tools for optimization, creating a mobile-responsive website, and a host of other issues.
I’m not fighting to get our clients to use these technologies because they benefit us, but because they benefit the firm.
Wouldn’t it be helpful to know exactly which keywords resulted in the most phone calls for your firm? Yet, I have to fight clients tooth and nail to get them use this technology (which is surprisingly cheap at around $40/month). By staying ahead of the competition now, you won’t suffer from the changes that will occur within the next few years.
2. The Legal Industry Will Undergo Mass Consolidation
Every industry goes through it.
I’m reading a biography of John D. Rockefeller, called Titan. It clearly portrays how much the oil industry changed during Rockefeller’s lifetime. There were thousands of oil companies when John started, and how many do you know of today?
There are thousands of Internet marketing companies today, but in 5-10 years, they will be consolidated. The industry is more competitive than it has ever been, and with the current market saturation, it’s incredibly difficult to compete.
Don’t be surprised if smarter firms jump in and steal your market share. They will outspend you in marketing until you bleed to death.
I was reading an article lately on BOX, the cloud-computing service. Do you know how much money they spend on sales and marketing? 100% of their revenue. They are essentially buying their way to the top of a market that will be incredibly lucrative in five years.
So, with all this unfortunate news, how do you compete? Knowing that change will take place puts you ahead of the game and gives you the opportunity to make important decisions now.
3. You Don’t Have a Compelling Reason for Clients to Hire You
Odds are, your firm isn’t the only one in your jurisdiction competing for clients in its areas of practice. So, if you want to win in today’s hypercompetitive market, you have dial in on what makes you different. This is commonly referred to as your unique selling proposition (USP). In other words, what makes you stand out from the rest? What do you have to offer that others don’t or can’t offer?
If a client searches Google right now for keywords that are relevant to your practice, and they actually find your website, why would they hire your firm over the other firms that are also listed on the first page of their Google search results? Unfortunately, in today’s savvy Internet world, a prospect probably won’t hire you just because they found you.
We, as marketers, have trained consumers over the years to “shop” for everything. When I want to buy my wife flowers, do I pick the company at the top of the search results, or do I look at a few sites to see pricing, who offers free shipping, and a bigger selection?
Your prospects are doing this when they search for legal services as well.
I’m guessing that if you’ve tracked your receptionist’s close rate over the last 5 years, it’s dropped – possibly even drastically. When a consumer called you five years ago, they called to “sign-up” with your firm. Today, they are calling to get more information from your firm:
- “Have you handled X type of brain injury?”
- “What was the result?”
- “Who will be handling my case?”
- “How much experience do they have?”
If you haven’t received these types of calls yet, they’re coming. These are the types of questions that the next generation of clients will be asking.
Today, your new potential clients are reading your website and searching out your social media pages. Have you updated your Facebook page in the last week? Month? Year?
There isn’t one single thing you need to do to take your firm to the next level. You need to have a complete mind shift. Consider the following hard questions as you consider the future of your firm and the direction you want to go:
- Do you understand why your clients chose you?
- Do you understand the exact pain points your prospects are experiencing before they contact you?
- Do you understand the solution you bring to your clients?
- Do you understand your ideal target market?
- Does your website content speak to their needs, desires, and concerns?
If not, how can you possibly hope to connect with them? Now is the time to understand your clients, know what they are looking for, and know how you can continue to work with them in the future.
4. You Don’t Have the Business Knowledge to Win
The “law firm,” as we know it, will change drastically over the next 3-5 years. They will need to focus on efficiency as well as making intelligent business and marketing decisions. The firm’s business development efforts will be run by data. When you want to make a decision, your questions will be:
- How much can we afford to spend per new client?
- How much time should be focusing on XYZ case?
- What’s our cost per lead?
- Where are the greatest opportunities to improve our lead flow by 15%, while decreasing our costs by 5%?
Acronyms like CRO, SMO, and ROI will be part of your daily life. You will run your firm from a dashboard analytics service such as Geckoboard or Domo where you can see the status of your business up to the minute.
The game is changing.
5. The SEO World Changes All the Time
As someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes SEO – and has done so for the last 10 years – I need to give a warning on where this industry is headed.
As it now stands, those who are on the cutting edge of SEO are making their way to the top. They have learned how to find the right strategies to put their law firms on the top of a Google search. However, in two to three years, SEO will no longer be profitable for the average client. If you don’t rank in the top 30 results for your keywords in a few years, it’s going to cost a fortune to rank your website ethically. The ROI will not be worth it.
When I started my company, SEO was simple. You stuffed the page with some keywords, bought a few links and you were in the top 3 results in a Google search within 90 days.
After spending 10 years solely focused on helping nearly a hundred law firms like yours achieve high rankings and generate leads, I can tell you that the current landscape of law firm SEO looks quite different.
Today, SEO incorporates social media, PR, blog outreach, content development, blogging, citations, Google+ Local, conversion optimization, and content theming.
In the future, today’s SEO companies will look more like PR firms. Instead of monthly ranking reports, you will see analytics dashboards with your daily ranking changes, and traffic leads in one place. All successful firms will have someone on staff who is dedicated to managing and promoting the firm’s reputation online – asking all satisfied clients to write favorable Google reviews and responding to negative feedback on the fly.
As foreboding as it sounds, I predict that in three years, if Google still has the organic results as we know them today, it will be unprofitable for a firm that isn’t already ranking in the top 30 results to compete on Google. As quickly as things are moving, it will be nearly impossible at that point to catch up with those who are already near the top.
Today we can still take a firm with a brand new website in a brand new market and help them compete. I don’t think that will be possible in three years – possibly even two.
“All the attorneys I know are in feast or famine.”
That quote from a client sums up the industry, and the stories I hear every day from attorneys just like you confirms that it’s true. You will have a few successful law firms at the top, and everyone else will be fighting for the scraps.
Here’s the bottom line: How will you set up your law firm for success beyond 2015?
For the busy attorney, this online marketing landscape may seem confusing and frustrating. Yet, when faced with the that truth building a thriving law practice pivots on adoption of these strategies, there are a few key steps you should be taking right now.